Art Credit: Adapted from photo by Leonidas Drosis,
CC BY-SA 4.0

Good Thinking | 

Episode 10

Seekers Wanted: Interview with Dr. Anthony Sweat

60 min

What kind of thinking skills do we need to develop in order to gain and maintain the kind of robust faith we desire? This question is the central subject of a book by Dr. Anthony Sweat entitled Seekers Wanted: The Skills You Need for the Faith You Want. In this book, Dr. Sweat offers keen insights into many of the principles of truth seeking Scott and Casey have been exploring throughout this series, as well as many others. They were excited to interview Dr. Sweat for this episode of Church History Matters to discuss his book and to dig deeper together into what good thinking looks like, especially regarding doctrinal seeking.

Good Thinking |

  • Show Notes
  • Transcript

Biography of Anthony Sweat

Anthony R. Sweat received a BFA in Painting and Drawing from the University of Utah, and his M. Ed. and Ph. D. in Curriculum Instruction from Utah State University. He worked for thirteen years with seminaries and institutes of religion and now serves on the religion faculty at BYU. Anthony Sweat is the author of several books and articles relating to teachings of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, such as Repicturing the Restoration, which features his artwork, and Seekers Wanted: The Skills You Need for the Faith You Want. Anthony and his wife, Cindy, have seven children and live in Springville, Utah.

Key Takeaways

  • Casey, Scott, and Anthony Sweat discuss the contents of Brother Sweat’s book, Seekers Wanted: The Skills You Need for the Faith You Want, as well as principles discussed in this podcast series. Some of the main points they touch on are as follows.
  • Anthony discusses how in the church we encourage seeking learning by study and by faith, but sometimes people, though they are invested in doing so, aren’t sure how to go about that seeking, and that’s one reason he wrote the book—to communicate effective ways to seek.
  • Anthony discusses how “seek” is a term used often in the scriptures, such as in passages like “seek ye first the kingdom of God,” and “seek this Jesus, of whom the prophets and apostles have written.” We are commanded by Jesus Christ to seek certain things.
  • Anthony discusses the importance of building a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and how experience with Christ is the ultimate way to know of Him. 
  • Early Saints weren’t always clear about what was and wasn’t from God, and we can fall into a similar trap, but that trap can be avoided with careful thought and consideration about the things we experience that we think may come from the Spirit of God.
  • Scott and Anthony discuss the principle that the Spirit leads us toward Jesus Christ.
  • Anthony presents multiple frameworks he teaches his students through which they can run thoughts or ideas to come closer to a knowledge of the truth and a confidence in the truth.
  • Casey, Scott, and Anthony talk about the three lenses discussed in earlier episodes of this series and what they do when practices in the church or teachings of leaders of the church may not perfectly match what some scriptures teach.
  • Casey, Scott and Anthony discuss what it does and does not mean to sustain the leaders of the church.
  • Anthony points out that ambiguity is a part of life and shares ways to become comfortable with ambiguity while we are seeking clarity.
  • Anthony shares why he is still a faithful member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Related Resources

Scott Woodward: What kind of thinking skills do we need to develop in order to gain and maintain the kind of robust faith we desire? This question is the central subject of a book by Dr. Anthony Sweat entitled Seekers Wanted: The Skills You Need for the Faith You Want. In this book, Dr. Sweat offers keen insights into many of the principles of truth seeking we have been exploring throughout this series, as well as many others we didn’t cover. Casey and I were excited to interview Dr. Sweat for today’s episode of Church History Matters to discuss his book and to dig deeper together into what good thinking looks like, especially regarding doctrinal seeking. And, as usual, we were not disappointed. I’m Scott Woodward, and my co-host is Casey Griffiths, and today we dive into our tenth and final episode in this series dealing with truth seeking and good thinking. Now, let’s get into it. Hello, Casey.

Casey Paul Griffiths: Hello, Scott. How are you?

Scott Woodward: Good, man. We made it to the end of our truth seeking and good thinking series. This is our final episode.

Casey Paul Griffiths: It’s been a wonderful series, and I don’t think we’ve settled on a title. Good Thinking, I think, is what we kind of put on the webpage, so.

Scott Woodward: Yeah. Good Thinking. Is that too generic, or do you feel good about it?

Casey Paul Griffiths: No, actually, it sounds really great.

Scott Woodward: Good Thinking.

Casey Paul Griffiths: What we’ve been focusing on is just how to think clearly about church history and doctrine, so . . .

Scott Woodward: And we have—we’ve saved for our final episode one of our favorite guests. We’ve never had him on, but he’s just one of our favorite people.

Casey Paul Griffiths: Yeah.

Scott Woodward: Tell us who we have here with us today, Casey.

Casey Paul Griffiths: Everybody loves this guy, and we are happy to have him with us. Anthony Sweat is with us. Let me tell you a little bit about Anthony Sweat. So Anthony R. Sweat received a BFA in Painting and Drawing from the University of Utah, and his M. Ed. and Ph. D. in Curriculum Instruction from Utah State University. He’s on the religion faculty at BYU, but before that he worked for thirteen years with seminaries and institutes of religion, and he’s the author of several books and articles relating to teachings of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Anthony also does some tremendous research that focuses on effective religious education, and I’m going to mention, I think, my favorite Anthony Sweat book, which is Repicturing the Restoration.

Scott Woodward: Ooh.

Casey Paul Griffiths: Which not only features text written by Anthony but art. Anthony’s a really, really gifted artist. He put together a book that has scenes from the Restoration that probably have never been seen before: things like the 1835 First Vision, or the Colesville Branch meeting, or Joseph Smith looking pretty scraggly after he got out of Liberty Jail. It’s one of my very favorite books. I can’t mention Anthony without talking about his wife, Cindy, who is wonderful as well, and they have seven children. They live in Springville, Utah. So we brought Anthony on because he’s written a book that covers good thinking called Seekers Wanted: The Skills You Need for the Faith You Want. And so, Anthony, welcome. We’re so glad to have you here.

Anthony Sweat: Thanks, my friends. What a joy to be with both of you, two of my great friends that I love and respect so much and love the work you guys have done in so many areas, but man, on this podcast as well and on this epistemological series, if we can use that fancy word, but just good thinking. You guys have done great work on good thinking, and I really hope I can add something of value today.

Scott Woodward: Wait, wait, so have you actually listened to our series, Anthony?

Anthony Sweat: I have, my brother.

Scott Woodward: Holy cow. Casey, we have arrived.

Casey Paul Griffiths: Wow.

Scott Woodward: Anthony Sweat listens to Church History Matters.

Casey Paul Griffiths: Respected authorities listen to us.

Scott Woodward: Yes.

Casey Paul Griffiths: And then probably dismiss us, but they do listen, so that’s . . .

Anthony Sweat: I’ll be honest: I listened to you on 1.75 speed, but, man, it was sure good at 1.75 speed.

Casey Paul Griffiths: That’s when I’m told I’m the best. I want to plug really quickly, Anthony and I also work on another podcast called Y Religion that you’ve probably heard of. Anthony was the host for a long time, I think just barely got turned over to John Hilton, but tremendous work on Y Religion.

Anthony Sweat: Well, in that podcast we try to bring the research of the religion faculty here at BYU to the everyday person. Casey and I, we worked on that for four years together, so.

Casey Paul Griffiths: Oh, yeah. Yeah.

Scott Woodward: Well, then, Anthony, we have something in common. We do a podcast with Casey Griffiths.

Anthony Sweat: Look at that.

Scott Woodward: What a guy to do a podcast with, right?

Casey Paul Griffiths: Wow.

Anthony Sweat: I know. Great stuff.

Casey Paul Griffiths: You guys, I am standing in your shadow and not getting sunburned because of it, so . . .

Scott Woodward: Okay, so, Anthony, our guiding question for this series has been, what mental moves are made by intelligent, critically thinking Latter-day Saints whose faith is strengthened rather than damaged by diving deeply into our church’s history and doctrine? Right? We’re trying to get at the frameworks of thinking that durable disciples use when they approach scripture and history, and our theme scripture has been D&C 88:118: “As all have not faith, seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom. Yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom. Seek learning even by study and also by faith.” The Lord says seek three times in that verse, and he talks about doing it in community of other seekers, and he talks about gleaning wisdom and learning together from the best books. It just so happens that you have written what I want to call—and I don’t want to embarrass you too much, but I want to call it one of the best books on the topic of good thinking about our history and doctrine that we think all Latter-day Saints should get a copy of and learn together from.

Anthony Sweat: Thank you.

Scott Woodward: It is tremendous, Tony, and that’s why we’ve invited you here: to talk about that. First of all, tell us just what led you to writing that book. Like, what need were you trying to fill? What did you see out there that made you say, I should write a book about seekers wanted?

Anthony Sweat: Well, I appreciate those kind words, my brother, very much. I wrote it because, like you say, we often say having questions is good or you’re going to come across things that are difficult, but we often don’t give the skills or operationalize for people how to do it. I like to say, I don’t want to tell you so much what to think as I want to help you with how to think or how to seek. That was the point of this book is if we’re told to seek learning by study and faith, well, then how do good thinkers, good scholars, good disciples, whether academics or everyday folks in your ward and stake, how do they do it? And what I want to do is kind of give some skills or some frameworks or perspectives of how do you seek learning by study and by faith, and the book approaches that in that realm. So a lot of these things are things that I teach in class. A lot of these are skills. If we say things like, well, it’s good to wrestle or to use your guys’ jujitsu metaphor, you keep saying, well, if we’re going to do that, it’s like, well, we’ve got to teach people how to wrestle. Like, what are the moves? What are the skills? And you guys have done a great job, and, like I said, in your series. And that’s what I was trying to do in this book is say let’s try to make explicit what good seekers seem to do implicitly. That’s the void I was trying to fill.

Scott Woodward: Love it. And your tagline’s perfect: the skills you need for the faith you want.

Anthony Sweat: Yeah.

Scott Woodward: So good. So we want to dive into that today. We want to look at some of those skills. We have some overlap. We’ve talked about some of the same things that you talked about in your book, but you also talk about other things and additional skills that I think it would be very valuable for our listeners to hear about. So, Casey, where should we go from here? What should be our first question? What do you want to ask?

Casey Paul Griffiths: One of the things I liked about your book was that you start out by defining the term seeker, and that being a seeker is what we’re going for. You list a bunch of questions that a seeker might ask, things like, is this really church doctrine, something that you’re hearing taught? Or do you want to know how to research something related to the Restoration, but you don’t know more than Google and the church’s website? Have you ever questioned whether your personal promptings were from God, just yourself, or the great deceiver? Do you wonder how becoming more holy, keeping sacred covenants, despite repeated personal shortcomings? Do you want to understand how to live celestial covenants, like the law of consecration? These are all characteristics you associate with being a seeker, but I want you to define that term for us and how being a seeker can help us draw closer to Christ.

Anthony Sweat: Yeah. Great question. To be a seeker simply means you’re a searcher. It’s somebody who’s willing to look and to dig. I mean, there’s so many times the Lord says to seek, and to seek so many things in the scriptures. “Seek ye first the kingdom of God.” “Seek and ye shall find.” We’ll talk a little bit more about this, but in particular it says, just have this scripture right here in front of me—this is Ether 12:41, “And now I would commend you to seek this Jesus of whom the prophets and apostles have written.” And so, you know, to seek means that we’re willing to do the work. Seeking, as Steven Harper, who—by the way, the title of my book—Steven Harper gave, before I wrote this book, he gave a great address in a BYU women’s conference called “Seekers Wanted,” and after I wrote this book, I was like, Steve, can I borrow that phrase for the title of this book? And he generously said, oh, yeah, happy to. But Steve in that great talk—

Scott Woodward: Such a good talk.

Anthony Sweat: It’s such a good talk. Steve said this: “Seeking is a long, patient, persistent process. Seeking is hard work. It is not for the weak-willed or faint of heart, nor for the intellectually or spiritually lazy, but it will sustain faith in a world intent on destroying it. Seekers are wanted in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The first converts were all seekers. Today’s converts are all seekers. We are all commanded to be seekers.” And I think Steve sums up well what it means to seek there and why it’s important. You know, Joseph Smith one time said that if we’re to comprehend God, our mind must stretch to the utmost heavens, and we simply can’t be passive and expect to rend the veil, so to speak, and to comprehend and know God. It requires work. It requires effort. It requires knocking. It requires acting. It requires seeking, so . . .

Scott Woodward: Yeah.

Anthony Sweat: Just one more quote: Elder Uchtdorf said this, “We are seekers. You and I, we are light gatherers. Don’t ever stop seeking, even if it takes your entire lives to find the precious light and truth you are seeking, it will be well worth the effort.” And I just wholeheartedly agree. That’s why I think it’s important to be a seeker. The more I’ve tried to seek, as, well, I’m sure you guys could testify also of, the more truth and light I think I’ve got. It’s brought me closer to God to make these mental efforts, not further away.

Scott Woodward: Yeah. And effort is the right word. That quote from Joseph you were just alluding to and—where he says, “The things of God are of deep import, and time and experience and careful and ponderous and solemn thoughts can only find them out.” That underscores a lot of effort.

Anthony Sweat: Yeah.

Scott Woodward: So it sounds like some of the things of God are of such a nature that if you’re not willing to pay the price, you’ll never be able to have, you know?

Anthony Sweat: Yeah.

Scott Woodward: You’ll never be able to understand. You’ll never be able to know. And we’re not just talking about intellectual effort here, right? We’re talking what you said in Ether 12—was that verse 41?

Anthony Sweat: Mm-hmm.

Scott Woodward: We’re talking about seeking Jesus. This is eternal life, to know Him and His Father. That sounds like that’s an enterprise worth the effort.

Anthony Sweat: And I’m glad you said, you know, even in my last comment I said this mental effort with your mind stretching, but it’s your whole soul stretching. It’s how we’re living. It’s how we’re repenting. It’s how we’re consecrating. You know, I know that’s not epistemological, but ultimately the only real epistemology is experience. As you just read in that quote, “only time and experience.”

Scott Woodward: Yeah.

Anthony Sweat: I mean, ultimately we can give all the frameworks we want, which are helpful. But, you know, I was just—this morning, in my own personal scripture study, I re-read 3 Nephi where Jesus tells the people to come unto him and to feel the prints in his hands, and his feet and in his side, “that ye may know that I am the God of Israel.” It’s an epistemological thing. And they said, “now we know of a surety.” So ultimately, the greatest epistemology is experience, a spiritual experience. And so I think that’s really what the temple’s getting at. You know, Joseph’s inviting us all into the grove. He’s inviting us all to take our fallen nature and come into the presence of God. He’s inviting us all to the June 1831 conference. He’s saying, hey, if you want to gaze into heaven for five minutes, you’ll know more about God and heaven than by reading every book or having every framework, every discussion that has ever been written. And, now, I’m not minimizing, because you and I are sitting here doing a series on these frameworks, which are important, but we can’t minimize this spiritual, consecrated, repenting, faith-based hope, charity, the, “by study and by faith” to ultimately have the greatest epistemology, which is to have your own personal experiences with God so that you can know God.

Casey Paul Griffiths: You’ve introduced some models in this book that are really, really helpful because the general epistemology in the church is you’ll get a testimony if you do this, but there are some skills to be honed when it comes to getting a testimony and then staying healthy when it comes to your testimony, and I think your book does a great job describing some of those.

Scott Woodward: Yeah. So maybe we could talk about one specifically here. In our series we’ve been talking about finding theological truth through—we called it the three lenses.

Anthony Sweat: Yeah.

Scott Woodward: Scriptures repeatedly, words of prophets repeatedly, and a confirmation by the Holy Ghost. Now, you touch on each of these same three elements in your book as well.

Anthony Sweat: Yeah.

Scott Woodward: And so I guess the question I want to toss your way here, Anthony, is how can we ensure that truth seeking by using these three lenses doesn’t just help us accumulate accurate information or interesting theological tidbits, but at the end of the day leads us to seek, to know, and to follow Jesus Christ?

Anthony Sweat: Well, as you asked that great question, I think of section 50 of the Doctrine and Covenants. This is verses 17, 18, 19: “Verily, I say unto you, he that is ordained of me and sent forth to preach the word of truth by the Comforter in the spirit of truth, doth he preach it by the spirit of truth or some other way? And if it be by some other way, it is not of God. And again, he that receiveth the word of truth, does he receive it by the spirit of truth or some other way? If it is some other way, it is not of God. In other words, it seems to be implying there that you and I can say facts or give tidbits of truth, as you said, or have knowledge, but if it’s not ordained in God’s way, it’s not of God. In other words, it’s kind of like maybe with your spouse you could win an argument, so to speak—you could be right—but if your approach isn’t in harmony with the Spirit of the Lord, you’re in the wrong, if that makes sense. You could win the argument and be wrong.

Scott Woodward: Right.

Anthony Sweat: And so the reason why I say that is because if it’s not leading us to follow the Savior, if it’s not producing faith, hope, and charity, which leads us to the fountain of all righteousness, I don’t care what facts or what scripture or what frameworks we’re using: I’m not sure it’s right. Does that make sense?

Scott Woodward: Yeah. 100%.

Anthony Sweat: Maybe we could talk about one specifically. I know that, you know, you guys have talked about, you know, the Holy Ghost leading us right, but the Holy Ghost’s primary role is to testify of Christ. The Holy Ghost’s primary role is not to give us certain thoughts or feelings or just to comfort us or to help us on a math test. You know, Elder Bednar has talked about how one of the—and you guys have touched on it in one of your episodes, that one of the main questions he gets asked is, is this me or is this the Holy Ghost?

Scott Woodward: Yeah.

Anthony Sweat: To me, that shows back to, like, a framework, epistemological framework with the Spirit, what that shows to me is I think the error we make is we value the process more than the product.

Scott Woodward: What do you mean by that?

Anthony Sweat: Well, like, for example, in Joseph Smith’s day the people thought that if they had some supernatural thing happen to them, they, well, that must have been God. You know, they had the power, as they would say back in that time. And they’re like, well, okay, I fell on the floor or I, you know, that one church history story, I saw a ball in the air and I chased it off a cliff, and they’re like, it was a mystical, powerful, unexplainable thing. Must have been God.

Scott Woodward: People convulsing on the floor.

Anthony Sweat: Yeah. We kind of look at that today, 200 years later, and we’re like, oh, silly them. But in some way, we kind of do it today where we think, well, every powerful thought or feeling that I have, because we focus so much on your thoughts and your feelings, well, that must be the Holy Spirit.

Scott Woodward: Yeah.

Anthony Sweat: 200 years from now, people might look at us and go, oh, silly them, because the Spirit’s job, yes, it speaks to our mind and our heart, but the Spirit’s job is to lead us to Jesus, and so that’s what I mean. We can’t place so much emphasis on the process. We have to focus more on the product. So the whole point of it is the Spirit leads us to truth, and truth is Jesus. Like, listen to these verses: This is John 15:26. “When the comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the spirit of truth, he shall testify of me.”

Scott Woodward: Mm-hmm.

Anthony Sweat: Here’s John 16: “When the spirit of truth is come, he will guide you into all truth. He shall glorify me.” And so instead of asking, like, what am I thinking and feeling, a better question would be, how are these thoughts and feelings leading me to learn of or to follow and listen to and become more like Christ? That’s what I mean by the spirit of truth. Is it just words of truth, or is it the spirit of truth? And the ultimate question we have to ask ourselves is, is this leading me to follow Christ and to become more like him and to have his spirit and his character with me?

Scott Woodward: Love that. We’ve got a friend here at BYU–Idaho who wrote a book with a fellow down at BYU, a little joint project. It’s a book called, What is Truth? But then they’ve crossed out what and put above it who. And it’s all about this epistemological, like, ultimate end game. Like, if you think about truth as something that you know or an intellectual fact, that’s going to be a different type of seeking than if you ultimately think of truth as Who, capital W, as Christ himself as the embodiment of truth. If you’re seeking truth with a capital T, you go about it differently.

Anthony Sweat: Yep.

Scott Woodward: So I love what you’re saying there about the Spirit. Ultimately, like, the end game is Jesus. And so if the Spirit is leading you toward Jesus, then you can know it’s the Spirit.

Anthony Sweat: Yeah.

Scott Woodward: If it’s not leading you toward Christ and to keep your covenants with him, you can take it to the bank that’s not from God.

Anthony Sweat: Yes. Amen. And that’s a wonderful book, by the way, that I’d highly recommend, too. And in essence, they say, you know, one of them is a Greek way of thinking—

Scott Woodward: Yeah.

Anthony Sweat: —where truth is, like, some independent set of facts that anybody can study and learn, like the Pythagorean theorem, whereas a Hebrew way of thinking is that truth is a person, and it’s about—you can’t separate your process of seeking truth from your journey to God is how they phrase it in that book.

Scott Woodward: Yeah.

Anthony Sweat: And I—that’s kind of what I’m saying right now. Back to, like, frameworks, that’s the framework we have to ask ourselves. Like, you could have all the independent facts you want on some—you know, I think COVID proved this to us. Sorry to bring up something that just made all your listeners get nervous when I even say the word COVID.

Scott Woodward: Oh, boy. Is he really going to go there?

Anthony Sweat: Oh my goodness. You might have to edit this out.

Casey Paul Griffiths: Oh, boy. Here we go.

Anthony Sweat: But you could take . . . You know, whatever your stance was on COVID or vaccinations or masks, it became so divisive for so many people politically, socially, economically.

Scott Woodward: Yeah.

Anthony Sweat: And you could have all the facts you want, but if it leads me to hate my brother and reject my family and cast people out and to cause contention, Jesus says, this is not of me. Does that make sense?

Casey Paul Griffiths: Yeah.

Scott Woodward: So you could have true facts but not be coming closer to the truth.

Anthony Sweat: Yeah. Exactly. Back to section 50, if I wasn’t explaining it well, you could have true facts, but not be in the spirit of truth.

Scott Woodward: Yeah.

Anthony Sweat: Because truth is being more and following more the Savior’s way and therefore coming to know Him better.

Scott Woodward: Love that. That feels like good thinking.

Anthony Sweat: Yeah.

Scott Woodward: By the way, that book we were just referencing is by Edwin Gant and Jeffrey Thain. It’s called Who is Truth? Reframing Our Questions for a Richer Faith. So just a plug for that awesome book.

Anthony Sweat: It’s a great book.

Casey Paul Griffiths: So we’ve talked about truth, but another major theme with epistemology is how to avoid deception. When it comes to discerning truth, how do we avoid deception? You spent a whole chapter of your book discussing this, and I wonder if you could give us kind of a short version.

Anthony Sweat: Yeah. The short version I’d give here is—so instead of valuing the process, we value the product, and so, you know, from the very beginning in the Restoration, you know, Joseph Smith, sometime in when he was living in Harmony, Pennsylvania between December of 1829 to January of 1831—so sometime in that, those years, you know, he kicks off and says, hey, I had an angel appear to me on the banks of the Susquehanna River as an angel of light or truth, and then all of a sudden Michael appears and detects the devil and says, hey, don’t listen to that angel. It’s not an angel of truth. And he gives Joseph certain keys.

Scott Woodward: Yeah.

Anthony Sweat: So from the very beginning of the Restoration, and all scattered through the Doctrine and Covenants, there’s this idea of you have to be able to discern truth from error, and you can’t just value the process, so this angel appears, more than the product, to where is it leading you to. And so one of the things that I talk about in the book, in Seekers Wanted, is we have to do a little bit better of having some guideposts or some checks. And one of the reasons why we make covenants, for example, is because covenants guide us against a tempted version of ourselves or a irrational version of ourselves. We make covenants during a time of strength to guard us against a time of weakness. And so, for example, you know, you take the anti-Nephi-Lehi’s in the Book of Mormon: They made this covenant to not shed blood, but then they were moved with compassion, surely a great feeling, and if we’re just relying on our feelings, they were moved with compassion to break their covenant, and Helaman had to remind them of their covenant and say, no, no, no, you can’t break a covenant that you made before. Don’t let your feelings overrule your covenant.

Scott Woodward: Yeah.

Anthony Sweat: Does that make sense there?

Scott Woodward: Yeah.

Anthony Sweat: And so I give my students three frameworks when they’re evaluating. We don’t cast away our thoughts and our feelings, of course, that’s how the Spirit’s working through us, but we use some guideposts. It’s almost like when you’re building a house, you know, you have your frame. You frame a wall, but you have your level, you have your tape measure, you have checks and balances. And so the three checks and balances I give them when they’re trying to work through, like, an epistemological, is this the Holy Spirit? Number one, is it within my realm of responsibility to make the decision? So in other words, the stewardship test is what I call it. Number two is the Brethren, current First Presidency. Is it in harmony with the united voice of the First Presidency and the Twelve, the current one?

Scott Woodward: Yeah.

Anthony Sweat: It seems logically inconsistent for the Lord to tell you to go contrary to the united voice of his servants through the same spirit that’s leading them. And then number three is simply the covenants or the fruits test. Is it consistent with my covenants? That’s not foolproof, but when all three of those things align, I can have greater spiritual assurance to know that I’m probably on the right path as I’m trying to discern, is this the Spirit, or is this just me? Is this leading me in the right path?

Scott Woodward: Yeah. I love what you said in that chapter. Let me just quote a little bit from you and then get your commentary. You said, “‘I felt the Spirit’ is a very common church phrase. I thought the Spirit is not.”

Anthony Sweat: I think that comes from you, by the way, Scott. I think I heard that from you the first time.

Scott Woodward: Did you quote me in your book?

Anthony Sweat: Probably. I probably didn’t give you credit as I should have.

Scott Woodward: No, that’s totally fine. Didn’t Elder McConkie once say, you know, these words may sound like the words of somebody else, but they’ve become my words, or something?

Casey Paul Griffiths: But now they are my words. Yeah, that kind of thing.

Scott Woodward: Sorry. I’ll continue the quote. You said, “If it feels right, it is. This is good and wise counsel, but taken it on its own, it can be foolishness. Our feelings can utterly confuse us, our emotions can betray us, our passions can torpedo us. Not all spirit is emotion, and not all emotion is the spirit. Positive feelings aren’t a default from God, nor are negative feelings always a sign of error. Some things that are wrong, like immorality or separating yourself from the church and its covenants, can feel good and liberating. Some things that are true and good, like the temple endowment ceremony, may feel strange to some at first because it’s unknown, foreign, or confusing.” So then you say, “Some feelings of discomfort can be from God because they can lead people to repentance and growth and change. And sometimes people have an adverse emotional reaction to something that is true simply because it contradicts their assumptions, culture, or tradition.” I mean, it feels like you’re helping us to, like, go a little bit deeper than just say, how do you feel about it?

Anthony Sweat: Yeah.

Scott Woodward: I hear you saying, don’t always trust your feelings, at least at first blush. What else do you want to say about that?

Anthony Sweat: Well, I think that would be—you know, in your series, you’ve talked about thinking slowly from that great book, Thinking, Fast and Slow. And I think we need to do that with our thoughts and our feelings. We have to recognize that our thoughts and our feelings are . . . They come from a lot of different places: culture, DNA, how we’ve slept, our emotions, our assumptions, and so sometimes in the church we lay down this spiritual trump card of, “I just feel real strongly that . . .” as though somehow if you and I feel passionately about something, well, that’s got to be God.

Scott Woodward: We would all agree and be in harmony, right? If feeling passionately about something meant it was from God, then we would all feel passionately about the same things.

Anthony Sweat: Yeah.

Scott Woodward: But we don’t.

Anthony Sweat: But we don’t.

Scott Woodward: Yeah.

Anthony Sweat: And so that’s what I’m saying. Some better thinking would be to slow down a little bit and to run—pay attention to our thoughts and feelings, but run it through some checks and balances. Like, is this within my stewardship to make this decision? Is this in harmony with what the united voice of God’s servants are teaching? And then third, does this produce the fruits of the Spirit? Is it consistent with my covenants? Does it lead me to Jesus? That’s the framework that I like to operate under as I slow down and try to think carefully and analyze carefully what’s going on inside of me, both in my mind and in my heart.

Scott Woodward: I love it.

Casey Paul Griffiths: You’re making me think of Edward Kimball’s wonderful article on the 1978 Revelation Official Declaration 2 where President Kimball kind of gathered together the First Presidency and Twelve and just basically said, I know I want this, but I’m concerned that that might not be the right answer. I want you to help me know that this is from God.

Anthony Sweat: Yeah.

Casey Paul Griffiths: So he’s the prophet, but he also was wise enough to know that his own feelings could be misinterpreted as a prompting from the Holy Ghost, so he asked, you know, fourteen of his closest friends to pray together and then move forward from there. That’s why councils are such a valuable tool that we have in the church to make good decisions.

Anthony Sweat: I love it.

Scott Woodward: All right. I think it’s time, Casey, for a little bit of mental pickleball or pickle-jitsu with Anthony Sweat. What do you think?

Casey Paul Griffiths: Let’s do it.

Scott Woodward: Anthony, you ready for this?

Anthony Sweat: Oh, man. Pickleball just hurts my back, so let’s make sure it doesn’t hurt me.

Scott Woodward: Yeah. I’m not sure why we settled on this metaphor, but it’s stuck, so we’re just going to continue with it.

Casey Paul Griffiths: You’re a pickleball fanatic, aren’t you, Scott?

Scott Woodward: No.

Casey Paul Griffiths: I’ve never indulged, myself.

Scott Woodward: I like it. I’ve played it. It’s super fun.

Casey Paul Griffiths: Pickleball’s an objectively funny word, so . . .

Scott Woodward: It is, it is. So we’ll just throw out some questions, and then I just want you to respond. Show us what good thinking looks like, here. All right?

Anthony Sweat: Mm-hmm.

Scott Woodward: In chapter 2 of your book you provide four questions that are designed to help guide us as we seek for official, institutionally sanctioned teachings of the church. I think that’s how you put it. Here are your questions: you said, number one, is it repeatedly found in the scripture? Number two, is it proclaimed by the united voice of the current brethren? Number three, is it consistently taught by current general authorities and general officers acting in their official capacity? And number four, is it found in recent church publications or statements?

Anthony Sweat: Yes.

Scott Woodward: Those are excellent. We like. We endorse. Now here’s the challenging little curveball for you. So what do you do when you encounter a teaching that isn’t really taught in the scriptures, so it doesn’t really pass that first test, but it is taught in church publications and by some church leaders. I’ll give you an example: partaking of the sacrament renews our baptismal covenants, or partaking of the sacrament renews all of our covenants, including our temple covenants. I’ve heard that taught. Or here’s another one I’ve seen in recent years: Mother Eve was very wise in partaking of the fruit in the Garden of Eden, when actually scripture says she was beguiled. She was deceived. The temple says she was beguiled. But I’ve heard it in general conference that Eve was very, very wise in partaking. And so you sometimes have things that don’t really pass test one, but they do start to be taught in church publications. What do you want to say about that? How do you maneuver in that space? Help us think through that.

Anthony Sweat: Well, that’s a good serve on pickleball there.

Casey Paul Griffiths: Fastball.

Anthony Sweat: Yeah. Yeah, the challenging thing about that is, you know, like a lot of things, the answer is it depends. Because, like, take for example, we’ve cited before, I cite in my book and with those four things, and you guys have talked about how the scriptures are the touchpoint of all doctrine. Like, if they don’t square with the revelations, then we’re not bound to accept them.

Scott Woodward: Yeah.

Anthony Sweat: The difficulty, though, is—and you’ve talked about different scenarios when that happens. There’s times when current things that are taught don’t square with the revelations, and that’s what we should do. So I know this is maybe a simple one because it’s a practice, but I—like, I could show united scriptures that say that missionaries should go out without purse or scrip.

Scott Woodward: Yeah.

Anthony Sweat: Meaning without money and food.

Scott Woodward: That’s right. Yeah.

Anthony Sweat: Like, so we can’t say, well, the church is going off-base because we’re sending our missionaries out with money and food.

Scott Woodward: Yeah. We’re contradicting the scriptures.

Anthony Sweat: We’re contradicting the scriptures. My answer would be, you know, when you’re taking more doctrinal things like that, you do measure them against the scriptures, but the scriptures don’t address every doctrinal question nor clarify every doctrinal truth, nor do they lay down every question we might have. And so do the scriptures even touch on what the sacrament is doing? Yes. They say it’s to remember the body and blood of Jesus. Can prophets through their official capacity add to what it’s doing also in renewing our covenant connection to him? Sure. The scriptures don’t have to say every single thing. My response is, well, it depends on what’s being taught or discussed. And then I would say you balance them between all of them. You say, well, I do look at what’s being taught in scripture harmoniously balanced with what’s being taught by church leaders collectively and what’s being proclaimed unitedly. That might not be what you want—well, how would—where would you guys take it?

Casey Paul Griffiths: I was thinking my first question would be is there a way to harmonize these two things if it feels like they contradict each other? For instance, on the question of Eve, it clearly says that Eve was beguiled.

Scott Woodward: Yeah.

Casey Paul Griffiths: At the same time, could it have been a wise decision? I mean, it’s clear that Eve didn’t know every consequence of what she was going to do. She just couldn’t have, based on the parameters given in 2 Nephi 2.

Anthony Sweat: Yeah.

Casey Paul Griffiths: But was she still making a wise decision? Yeah. Did she understand completely the consequences of that decision? No, in that sense, she was deceived. Was it still a wise decision? Yeah. So I think you can take a teaching like that and harmonize the two and make them work together, and that would be my first approach. I’m going to throw that out there.

Anthony Sweat: And that’s maybe what I’m trying to say, too, is I would try to harmonize or balance them between the three rather than pit them against each other or try to make them seem like they’re in opposition to each other. But I don’t know, Scott. I’d throw it back to you. Like, you served, and so I’ll say now you run around the net and hit your own shot back. What would you say?

Scott Woodward: Well, yeah, Casey and I introduced a term when we were talking about this back in our three lenses episode, just doctrinal confidence. You don’t have to say all or nothing, like this is true or this is false, but the scriptures, especially repeated teachings in scriptures, give you a sense of the degree to which you might have confidence in that teaching or that idea. Perhaps there’s a harmonized way to see both, you know? Like, my brain struggles calling Eve simultaneously beguiled, following Satan, and super wise and far seeing. And so, like, my level of confidence, kind of when I listen, I’m sitting in sacrament meeting and somebody says some statement like that, like, Eve was very wise, like, I’m not going to judge the person saying that. I’m just going to be thinking about, like, okay, that seems to contradict a lot of statements in scripture. And if you ask Eve, Eve, what did you do? She might say, the serpent beguiled me. I think that’s what she says. She didn’t say, well, what I was thinking about was, like, all of the consequences that would come if I don’t partake, and I was thinking about, you know, the far-reaching effect this would have so that man might be. Like, she just said, I got tricked, you know? In my brain, like, I think through scripture and, like, ah, that could be true, but, like, scripture seems to stack against that.

Anthony Sweat: Yeah.

Scott Woodward: But that’s why I threw it out. Like, that’s a hard question. I wrestle with stuff like that. Like, can I confidently teach that the sacrament renews our baptismal covenants? I see the logic. You know, when you get baptized, you promise to always remember him. You promise to keep the commandments. You’re taking upon yourself the name of Jesus. Those all seem to be articulated in the sacrament prayer. I think I can make a case.

Anthony Sweat: Yeah.

Scott Woodward: It’s just interesting that whenever Jesus talks about the sacrament, that’s not where he goes. He says, this is about remembering me.

Anthony Sweat: Me and my body and blood. Yeah.

Scott Woodward: Yeah, my body and my blood. That’s it. Yeah.

Anthony Sweat: Let me pickleball it back to you.

Scott Woodward: Uh-huh.

Anthony Sweat: What if the First Presidency and the Twelve had a united statement on it, and what if that united statement said, yes, the sacrament is about remembering Jesus’s body and blood, of course, but it also is a recommitment to your covenant discipleship because you’re taking His name upon you. It’s a recommitment of your covenants with Him. And let’s say that statement got canonized as section 139 of the Doctrine and Covenants.

Scott Woodward: Booyah.

Anthony Sweat: Now is it okay?

Scott Woodward: My confidence is soaring, yes.

Anthony Sweat: And that’s what I’d say. There’s a great verse in the book of Luke that never gets quoted. It’s in Luke 7:35. I’m like, why don’t we quote this more?

Scott Woodward: Okay.

Anthony Sweat: And it says wisdom is justified by her children. That’s such a cool teaching.

Scott Woodward: Unpack that for us.

Anthony Sweat: Jesus seems to be saying, give things time. In the church, we kind of have, I’ve heard it said before, we kind of have this doctrine of forgetting, meaning if things are true, they will continually bubble up until we come to truth, and if things aren’t true, they will start to fade away out of our discourse and out of our doctrine. Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene, for example. Well, that bubbled up if you and I were in the church in the 1860s through the 1890s.

Scott Woodward: Yeah.

Anthony Sweat: Well, there’s a lot of statements that could support that. Now, is that in the scriptures? No.

Scott Woodward: Right.

Anthony Sweat: And then turning into the turn of the century, that started to fade away to the point where the church said, we actually don’t have anything revelatory on that, then to the point where they said, do not teach that, which completely contradicted what they were doing in the 1860s through the roughly 1890s. And so wisdom is justified by her children. Sometimes if we’re not settled on something, maybe this—the simple skill is diligence and patience. Be diligent seekers, study it out, think hard about it, and then be patient, and the Lord will lead us into truth. Because we could use this and say, well, the scriptures clearly teach heaven and hell. Clearly.

Scott Woodward: Yeah.

Anthony Sweat: And then all of a sudden Joseph comes and obliterates it with his vision of the three degrees of glory. Could we say, well, I can’t have confidence in that because that’s not in the scriptures repeatedly. Well, that revelation got canonized, and over time that’s continued to be one of the beauties of the Restoration, so . . .

Scott Woodward: And it seems not to contradict it, but to expand the notions of heaven and hell, like, a ton.

Anthony Sweat: Yeah.

Casey Paul Griffiths: Another significant metric, just does this lead people to do good? Like, the idea that the sacrament renews your covenants, if that leads a person to reflect on their covenants, to think about the promises they made, and that leads them to do good, that feels like, you know, if we can’t support it from the scriptures, we can at least say, oh, it feels like a good idea. Let’s take it out for a test drive—

Anthony Sweat: Yeah.

Scott Woodward: Yeah.

Casey Paul Griffiths: —and see if it does lead to bigger and better and more pure things that lead us to Christ. Because the scriptures are wonderful, but I think we also accept that the scriptures aren’t perfect, either, that the scriptures have flaws in them and that one of the beauties of having modern apostles and prophets, modern church leaders, is that they can expand and expound on the scriptures, just like Joseph F. Smith did when he changed our entire conception of what happens immediately after death, what the spirit world was like.

Anthony Sweat: Yeah.

Scott Woodward: Yeah. I think with scripture you just have to be careful. I mean, I’d say it like this, that the standard works are the standard by which we measure our doctrine, but what that doesn’t mean is that all truth is contained in the scriptures.

Anthony Sweat: Yeah, exactly.

Casey Paul Griffiths: Yeah, well said.

Scott Woodward: So truth can be measured by scripture, and that’s what’s binding for us, but, yeah, there’s things that are obviously true—like, Anthony, with your example, like, what if the prophets canonize future revelations which expand our doctrine? It’s like, beautiful, right? That’s wonderful. That’s how it’s been happening, and we would expect that will continue to happen at some point, so the scriptures contain the truth that is binding doctrinally upon us, but that doesn’t mean we’ve got it all in the scriptures.

Anthony Sweat: Yeah.

Scott Woodward: Something like that. I don’t know. How would you massage that?

Anthony Sweat: Well, I think that’s well said. That’s one of the things that maybe separates us from some more traditional conservative Christian views where the Bible contains all the Word of God that we need. Our position as Latter-day Saints is we love the Bible and we love the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants and Pearl of Great Price, but we believe there are yet many great and important truths pertaining to the Kingdom of God that are yet to be revealed that are not contained in those standards by which we measure. We do measure, but we don’t limit, maybe is how I would say it.

Scott Woodward: Yeah. I like that.

Casey Paul Griffiths: There’s a wonderful section in your book about how we sustain the prophet and the leaders of the church. I was wondering if you could talk about that for a moment or two.

Anthony Sweat: Yeah. Thanks for that question, Casey. One of the chapters I wanted to touch on was that very question, and obviously, like everything, you have to analyze, what does it mean to sustain? And I think sometimes, back to thinking carefully, we can think that to sustain the prophet means that I 100 percent do or think or agree with every single tiny aspect that’s ever been said or done in the church. I don’t think that’s what sustain really means. I, in essence, put out a model that it says sustaining is a little bit more of a continuum. There’s different ways and areas that we sustain in. The ones that I gave are this, like—and I did this by looking at all the teachings that have been given on sustaining. What does it imply? And it implies that we study their words. It implies that we recognize—so we use our minds and study. We use our eyes and recognize that they hold the keys of the kingdom. We use our ears, and we listen to their inspired counsel or we give heed. We use our mouth that we speak positively. We don’t speak evil, misjudge, castigate, stone with our words or our comments and subthreads, the Lord’s prophets. It means we use our hearts to feel love and gratitude for their role and what they are doing. It means we use our hands to serve and contribute in the righteous causes that they’re directing us in, and it means we use our feet to follow the trajectory or the path, the directions that they’re taking us as a whole. So, you know, I don’t want to operationalize it too much, and maybe in the book I do. Like, I even provide, like, a Likert scale where people can evaluate where they’re at in each of those categories, but I guess the reason why I say that is because I currently serve as a bishop right now, and I did a temple recommend interview with somebody, and when I asked the question of, do you sustain the president of the church as the only one who possesses and is authorized to exercise all priesthood keys and as a prophet, seer, and revelator, the person hesitated and in essence said, I don’t know how to answer that question. And when I probed a little bit further, they said, well, I disagree with X, you know? And I said to them, well, I, you know, I’m not—my job’s not to interpret the question, but I don’t think the question was asking, do you agree with everything? I think the question was asking, do you sustain and recognize and uphold them as God’s anointed servants who hold the keys of the kingdom? And they were confusing disagreement with disloyalty. And maybe that’s the framework that I would give to think about as well. Disagreement does not mean, is not synonymous with, disloyalty, and there might come a time in your life where there might be something that’s taught or a program or a policy that’s implemented that rubs you a little bit wrong and that you see differently. That doesn’t mean you’re not sustaining the prophet or that you’re disloyal. And a three-step pattern that I teach in my class is if this ever happens to you, instead of, like, saying, well, they’re not a prophet because they must be wrong because I’m right.

Scott Woodward: Right.

Anthony Sweat: I tell people, the three steps I give them are number one, be honest with your views and your feelings; number two, exercise humility; and number three, express trust. So it looks something like, number one, be honest: say, like, well, I tend to see that differently. My perspective is this. However, number two, I recognize I don’t have all the data, all the facts. I don’t see everything, so I could be wrong or not fully informed.

Scott Woodward: Yeah.

Anthony Sweat: So therefore, number three, I still sustain and recognize and humbly support them as God’s key-holding prophet. Does that make sense?

Casey Paul Griffiths: Yeah. Tons of sense.

Scott Woodward: I love that. And, oh, man, that’s—and that’s so refreshing, right? Because I think that is a very widespread mistake in the church is that we think that sustaining the prophets means uniformity of thought.

Anthony Sweat: Yeah.

Scott Woodward: Being 100 percent aligned. And what’s interesting is when you actually probe the teachings of the prophets themselves, they never insist on that. In fact, I’m just looking at a few quotes right now that I pulled up while you were talking. I thought, oh man, if we could just get the spirit of Joseph Smith and President Uchtdorf and Hugh B. Brown, like here’s a few: like, Joseph Smith, Council of the Fifty. “Joseph said he wanted all the brethren to speak their own minds on this subject and to say what was in their hearts, whether good or bad. He did not want to be forever surrounded by a set of dough heads.” Then he said, “The reason why men always failed to establish important measures was because in their organization they could never agree to disagree long enough to select the pure gold from the dross by process of investigation.”

Anthony Sweat: Yes.

Scott Woodward: So good. Here’s another one: President Uchtdorf. He says, “Latter-day Saints are not asked to blindly accept everything they hear. We are encouraged to think and discover truth for ourselves.” And here’s one of my favorites from Hugh B. Brown, a member of the First Presidency at the time. He said, “We are free to think and express our opinions in the church. Neither fear of consequences or any kind of coercion should ever be used to secure uniformity of thought in the church.” He goes on, “People should express their opinions and be unafraid to think without fear of ill consequences. We should be dauntless in our pursuit of truth and resist all demands for unthinking conformity.”

Anthony Sweat: So good.

Scott Woodward: So I like what you’re saying, that it’s not about uniformity of thought, it’s about loyalty.

Anthony Sweat: Yes.

Scott Woodward: And at the end of the day, will you support them in their decisions, right?

Anthony Sweat: Yeah. It’s a little bit like a spousal relationship. All three of us are married men for many years now, and other than Casey, you know, Scott and I, we sometimes might disagree with our spouses. Casey and his spouse, they never have a disagreement ever.

Casey Paul Griffiths: We are 100 percent simpatico, and she’s listening to this right now.

Anthony Sweat: You know, we’re commanded in scripture to be one with our spouse, and maybe that’s more of a oneness in trajectory or a oneness in our purpose, not meaning oneness in exact thought.

Scott Woodward: Yeah.

Anthony Sweat: And so we might have a disagreement with our spouse. We all do. That’s a natural part of having a relationship. You’ll have two people who see things differently.

Scott Woodward: Yeah.

Anthony Sweat: But the difference is we’re not in opposition to our spouse. We have made a covenant to be in solidarity with them. Maybe that’s the word I’m searching for there.

Scott Woodward: I like that word.

Anthony Sweat: So, when we think of sustain, think of am I in solidarity with the prophets, meaning we’re engaged in the same work of the Lord, even though we might see something different. And when we, you and I, have a disagreement with our spouse, when sin enters in—back to, like, frameworks, sin enters in when we damage our relationship, when we jump to character accusations and judgments and, well, you’re dumb because you don’t think the way I do, or you must be uninspired because we haven’t come to the same conclusion, or we really harm our relationship when we vilify and publicly spread—could you imagine the hurt that comes to a relationship if publicly you disparage your spouse?

Scott Woodward: Right.

Anthony Sweat: Back to scripture, I’ve never seen the Lord be upset with somebody for having a different viewpoint than a prophet.

Scott Woodward: Right.

Anthony Sweat: When people seem to cross the line is when they stone the prophets, when they reject them, when they cast them out. Those could all be synonyms for, I’m suddenly not in solidarity with them. I’m not in the work with them. I’m now trying to oppose and bring them down.

Scott Woodward: Yeah.

Anthony Sweat: We have to just be careful of that, that we stay loyal to, even if we might see something different. So again, that three-part pattern: be honest with your viewpoints. Like, you know, I see it this way. I don’t personally agree with blank, and I see it a little differently, but I acknowledge that I might be wrong and a little limited in my views, so, third point, I trust and sustain, and I’m in solidarity with the Lord’s servants. That’s a very healthy way to approach when you or a loved one, a ward member, might have a difference of opinion on something.

Scott Woodward: That’s brilliant. I think that’s super helpful. So, Anthony, in chapter five of your book you talk about some concrete ways to, what you call, embrace ambiguity.

Anthony Sweat: Yes.

Scott Woodward: We talked about that a little bit in our episode on mental flexibility, but I thought you went into way more detail. I thought it was brilliant. What can you teach us quickly here? I mean, we’ll just recommend that our listeners just go get your book and read the whole chapter, but what can you give us by way of some teasers on what it means to embrace ambiguity? Why is that important as a skill that we need for the faith that we want?

Anthony Sweat: Yeah. I mean, ironically, I think sometimes in the Lord’s restored Church, where we say, like, we have answers, which we do, we misinterpret that as, we have all the answers.

Casey Paul Griffiths: We know everything.

Anthony Sweat: Yeah. That’s just not what we’re claiming.

Scott Woodward: Right.

Anthony Sweat: And so, because of that, sometimes we have an intolerance of ambiguity, and if we acknowledge that there’s ambiguities in there and can embrace that instead of being uncomfortable with it, that’s actually one of the best friends of faith, because it leads us to seek. It leads us to humbly say, yeah, we don’t have all the answers or the information on this, therefore I need to be open, and I need to better seek and exercise diligence and patience and thinking on this subject rather than close the book on it, if that makes sense.

Scott Woodward: Yeah.

Anthony Sweat: So, you know, I try to give three specific ways that we can do this. You know, embracing ambiguity doesn’t mean that we avoid searching for answers and questions. In contrast, it means that we do search and study but we just humbly acknowledge there’s some gray areas, some unknowns, some undecideds, you know? Where is the terrestrial kingdom, for example? We’ve heard that this earth will become sanctified and become the celestial kingdom. Well, where’s the terrestrial kingdom? Section 76 says celestial ministers to terrestrial and terrestrial to telestial. That means there’s some sort—or it implies, anyway, that there’s some sort of interaction between the three glories. Are they in the same physical space? How do we balance that with you will be with someone, but if you’re terrestrial, you won’t be with celestial? What does be with mean? Like, there’s a lot of ambiguities here.

Scott Woodward: Yeah. Yeah.

Anthony Sweat: And so the three things that I bring up, the three frameworks, are number one, you’ve got to learn how to be firm but flexible. Number two, avoid over claiming, and number three, do what I call make a split decision. And to explain those three, firm but flexible is not a contradiction. You’ve got to figure out: what are the areas that are essential? What are the non-negotiables, as an evangelical scholar, Dennis Ockholm, said? And so firm but flexible means, okay, this is the essence. This is the core. Like, for example, where’s the terrestrial kingdom? Well, the non-negotiable is we believe in eternal life. We believe in resurrection. We believe in living with God. That’s pretty non-negotiable to me. That’s where we need to be firm.

Scott Woodward: Yeah.

Anthony Sweat: Flexibility is where we can start to explore some stuff. So think of, like, your car, your driver’s seat, or your passenger seat. Those things are bolted down, man. Like, they’re bolted to the car. They are firm, but they’re flexible in that you can move it forward or backward. You can adjust the tilt.

Scott Woodward: Yeah.

Anthony Sweat: That’s what we have to learn how to do with some ambiguity: figure out what we need to be firm on, be a little flexible in some other areas. You know, firm, Jesus resurrected. Flexibility on—for example, if we found out that Jesus did not resurrect on a Sunday morning, if he resurrected on a Saturday morning—I’m not saying he did or didn’t—is our faith suddenly, like, shattered? No.

Scott Woodward: Yeah.

Anthony Sweat: And so be firm but flexible if new knowledge or new revelation or new things modify our understanding of something. The second one, don’t over-claim, that’s pretty straightforward of if we don’t know, be willing to say we don’t know.

Scott Woodward: Yeah.

Anthony Sweat: I think that was the key that helped Nephi learn more when the angel said hey, do you, Nephi, do you know the condescension of God? Nephi says, I know that God loves his children. Nevertheless, I don’t know the meaning of all things.

Scott Woodward: Yeah.

Anthony Sweat: And then the third, the split decision, means that you take some time to study and say, okay, what has been revealed and declared on this subject that I should therefore sustain and proclaim, and what hasn’t been, therefore is open to some theology and exploration on this subject? Those are just three more concrete ways that I try to help students or people better embrace ambiguity rather than reject it as a sign of, well, this is something that should harm my faith. Instead, this is a way to help it with my faith.

Scott Woodward: So helpful. President Uchtdorf, he says, “Yes, we do have the fullness of the everlasting gospel, but that does not mean that we know everything.”

Anthony Sweat: End of statement.

Scott Woodward: So perfect.

Anthony Sweat: Yeah.

Scott Woodward: Right? Like, I feel like that’s what you’re saying is, like, yes, we have the essentials. We’re bolted down on the fullness of the everlasting gospel, and when Jesus says gospel, he’s talking about a system of a few core truths, covenants, and ordinances that enable eternal life, right? When he says, this is my gospel.

Anthony Sweat: Yeah.

Scott Woodward: We’re bolted down on that, but we don’t know everything. We don’t have all truth yet. We’re on our way. And so I think what you’re almost giving us permission to do is to say, I don’t know, and that’s okay, but I’m going to keep seeking.

Anthony Sweat: Yeah.

Scott Woodward: I think the Lord’s injunction for us to seek implies that we don’t know everything.

Anthony Sweat: Yeah.

Scott Woodward: Keep seeking. Keep asking. Keep knocking.

Anthony Sweat: Or, as I borrowed from a business company, their slogan is, I don’t know yet. I don’t know isn’t an excuse to say, well, we just don’t know, as though, well, now we don’t need to ask, seek, and knock.

Scott Woodward: Right.

Casey Paul Griffiths: Yeah.

Anthony Sweat: “I don’t know” actually is more of an injunction to ask, seek, and knock: to say, yeah, this requires further study and thinking and time and ponder and experience to figure them out. And I don’t have the quote right in front of me, and maybe Casey and Scott, you know it offhand, but I’m reminded of Elder Paul Johnson of the Seventy, his statement where he said, sometimes we might even be drawn to certain quotes that are more declarative and black and white because they seem to dispel the ambiguity and they make us go, like, oh, I like this because now I can just say case closed, when in reality the case hasn’t been closed.

Scott Woodward: Yeah.

Anthony Sweat: And the quotes that are a little more ambiguous are actually closer to the truth than the ones that try to dogmatically just define it and say case closed because it actually isn’t closed.

Casey Paul Griffiths: Yeah. It feels like Dallin H. Oaks is the master of this. It feels like in every general conference talk he gets up and says, here’s what we know, and here’s what we don’t know, and here’s why it matters. Like, I remember him giving a talk on the afterlife, and he started out by quoting Brent Top by saying it’s clear that there’s more that we don’t know about the afterlife than what we do know, but then he proceeded to say, and here’s what we do know.

Anthony Sweat: Yeah.

Casey Paul Griffiths: I mean, it’s wonderful to see someone as thoughtful and as smart as him sort of embracing the idea of, yeah, there’s plenty of stuff that we don’t know, but when we know what we know, we need to act upon it, and it needs to affect and impact how we apply it.

Anthony Sweat: Yeah.

Casey Paul Griffiths: It’s a good skill. I would say as a mature member of the church, embracing ambiguity is one of the skills you kind of have to work on and understand how to sort things into those categories and move forward.

Anthony Sweat: Yeah. And so when something like that comes up, you know—for example, if somebody brought up something about, you know, heaven, like President Oaks is so good at—that’s what exactly what I do, and I say, well, okay, let’s stop. What is the non-negotiable here? What’s the essential that I should be firm on? And therefore, what does it open me up to be flexible on? Then number two, I say, okay, what should I not over claim on or not be—say is definitive when it’s not definitive, which leads to number three, what should I then continue to explore and be open to, and what are the declared aspects that I should sustain? I do that with a lot of stuff. That’s maybe more operational and explicit, but I think implicitly we all need to develop that skill when we come across things where we’re like, I don’t know. How do we handle this somewhat gray or ambiguous subject?

Scott Woodward: Yeah, so helpful, just those frameworks of thinking when you’re approaching historical or scriptural ambiguity.

Anthony Sweat: Yeah.

Scott Woodward: Man. Thanks for modeling good thinking for us.

Casey Paul Griffiths: Yeah. Thank you very much. And thanks for all your good work on this. Scott and I did five or six series, and then we thought, you know what? We’re kind of handing out fish here. We need to teach people how to fish. And I think you’re one of the real masters when it comes to approaching the gospel in a clear, concise, and thoughtful way.

Anthony Sweat: Thank you, my brother. That means a lot coming from you two great religious educators. Thank you.

Scott Woodward: We appreciate you. You help sharpen all of our thinking, and so we appreciate that so much, Anthony.

Anthony Sweat: Thanks, my brother.

Scott Woodward: We do just have one more question for you, if you don’t mind.

Anthony Sweat: Yeah. Let’s do it.

Scott Woodward: After all you’ve studied in church history—I mean, you know the history of the church as well as anybody. You know the theology of the church as well as anybody. What keeps you grounded as a believer in the Restoration? What keeps you going, and why do you believe in the truth claims of the Restoration?

Anthony Sweat: Well, I’ll use my careful thinking skills. I think that’s an over-claim to say that I know it as much as anybody. There’s surely a lot that know more than me. But maybe my quick response is, as I study the church’s history, the more I study it, the more I believe, because the church’s history is full of so much faith. It’s full of so many wonderful experiences and stories and examples and people, and studying history strengthens my faith. I think our church’s history is marvelous.

Scott Woodward: Yeah. Agreed.

Anthony Sweat: And maybe a framework that I use as I do so—back to frameworks, epistemological ways that we approach what we know or how we approach things, as mentioned in my bio, I’m an artist, and so sometimes I think in art analogies, and one of the things that makes art really beautiful, or maybe if you think art that comes to life, is that you have highlights, midtones, and shadows.

Scott Woodward: Okay.

Anthony Sweat: And where I’m going with that is, you know, highlights are the—those, you know, cadmium white Bob Ross pops, you know, that really make something come alive. Midtones are those mid-level grays or tonal values, and the shadows are the dark areas, and you need all three of those to make an image pop or really come to life. And I think sometimes we’re a little afraid of that with church history or church doctrine. We only want highlights. We only want the best of the best, but it’s in looking at the midtones. The midtones to me are just the everyday person, the everyday doctrine, the everyday great administration policy. It’s not controversial. It’s not problematic. It just makes the machinery move. And then the shadows, to me, are the areas where we’ve maybe not lived up to our standards. They’re the mistakes. They’re the missteps. They’re the things where we’ve gone a little wrong and we’ve needed correctives, to use President Nelson’s own language, like on the name of the church, and that doesn’t harm my faith. That, to me, shows that the church and its people need grace just as much as an individual needs grace. That shows me the Lord’s at work. That shows me that the Lord has given a standard and that we’re trying to live up to that standard and that one day we will, but that likely won’t be until the end of the Millennium when the Lord says the work is done. And so let’s not give up on the work and the Lord and the church and his servants or his people just because we’re in a process of restoring God’s kingdom, or we’re in a process of living up to and figuring out the standard the Lord’s given. That’s the way I approach, like, framework—instead of being bothered by a shadow, I say, okay, all right, let’s look at Moroni here. Let’s learn to be more wise. It doesn’t say to me the church isn’t authorized and the Lord’s not at work.

Scott Woodward: Right.

Anthony Sweat: It says this is an example to learn from. And the midtones are great things that we have to say, man, I’m grateful for these everyday things that just keep the oil and the grease and the machinery going, and the highlights are the angels, the revelations, the visions, the glories that we can’t deny. So the more I study church history, I see all of those at work and I see the Lord at work. It doesn’t harm my faith. It really strengthens it.

Scott Woodward: Wow. Beautiful. What a great artistic analogy. I love that so much.

Casey Paul Griffiths: Yeah. Well, Tony, we want to thank you so much for the time that you’ve given and the work that you do. Everybody go and get a copy of Seekers Wanted. It’s kind of a great how-to guide to approach church history and doctrine.

Anthony Sweat: Well, thank you, my brother, and thanks for all the great work you guys are doing. What a joy to labor with you guys.

Scott Woodward: Absolutely. Thank you for listening to this episode of Church History Matters. For more of Dr. Anthony Sweat’s good thinking, we highly recommend you check out his book, Seekers Wanted: The Skills You Need for the Faith You Want. And with that, this concludes our series on truth seeking and good thinking, or the toolbox of truth, as Casey likes to call it. Join us next week as we begin a brand new series on an important church history topic we think you’re really going to like. If you’re liking what you’re hearing on Church History Matters, we’d appreciate it if you could take a moment to subscribe, rate, review, and comment on the podcast. That makes us easier to find. Today’s episode was produced by Scott Woodward and edited by Nick Galieti and Scott Woodward, with show notes and transcript by Gabe Davis. Church History Matters is a podcast of Scripture Central, a nonprofit which exists to help build enduring faith in Jesus Christ by making Latter-day Saint scripture and church history accessible, comprehensible, and defensible to people everywhere. For more resources to enhance your gospel study, go to, where everything is available for free because of the generous donations of people like you. And while we try very hard to be historically and doctrinally accurate in what we say on this podcast, please remember that all views expressed in this and every episode are our views alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of Scripture Central or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Thank you so much for being a part of this with us. 

Show produced by Scott Woodward, edited by Nick Galieti and Scott Woodward, with show notes by Gabe Davis.

Church History Matters is a podcast of Scripture Central. For more resources to enhance your gospel study go to, where everything is available for free because of the generous donations of people like you.