I just finished reading “First Principles and Ordinances” by Samuel M. Brown.
Quick Take: I thoroughly enjoyed the first chapter on faith. Unfortunately, the others chapters seemed convoluted and overly complicated.
Samuel M. Brown is a medical researcher, Professor of Medicine, ICU physician, and historian of religion and culture. So a smart dude. In “First Principles and Ordinances” Brown strives to give a fresh perspective on the foundational principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ (Faith, Repentance, Baptism and the Gift of the Holy Ghost) in relation to the temple.
“We appropriately spend much of our religious lives with these basic principles; they deserve our ongoing attention and study. Often, though, familiarity breeds contempt. One important way to keep the fundamentals fresh is to examine them in a new light. These foundational principles deserve our willingness to explore them from new perspectives. Such exploration can create greater appreciation for concepts made dull through familiarity.”
The first chapter on faith was amazing. I devoured it. So many interesting perspectives on faith (I’ll highlight some below). But I got bogged down after that. For me, and I may just be a little dumb, the balance of the book seemed to have less continuity and at times felt overly complicated.
But despite my inability to take everything in, there are a few concepts I LOVED and hope to apply to my life.
(1) “For a fortunate few, a dramatic spiritual encounter is in fact the beginning of faith. … But these spectacular experiences are not the whole story. After all, this is a picture of faith that is entirely passive. When a mighty spiritual power is present, there is faith, but when the mighty spirit is absent, faith is gone. Such an approach to faith is not terribly healthy or durable. A spectacular encounter can be a place to start, as it was for Alma. But he went on, after the miraculous beginnings of his faith, to spend his entire life in service, in learning, and in testifying of Christ. A passive faith driven by external spiritual power is a place to start, not the place to end up.”
Drew’s Learning: For those who want a lasting faith, relying on, or expecting, continual spiritual explosions is not the way. Instead, we use those occasional experiences to springboard our worship into the daily “mundane” practices needed to keep our faith growing.
(2) “Faith—applied, strenuous faith—is what transforms us. … The facts or doctrines alone won’t save us. There is something that changes within us as we live the teachings, as we consciously choose to accept doctrines and follow them…”
Drew’s Learning: I’m certain I’d like to change this principle, but most of the time, to receive a witness of a specific doctrine first requires living it. We need to throw ourselves into something before God will give us a testimony of that thing. This will mean walking “a few steps into the darkness [before] the light will appear and show the way before you.”
(3) “…psychologists have suggested a rule of thumb for successful relationships. A ratio of positive to negative encounters higher than about 5:1 is associated with highly successful relationships, whereas relationships with a lower ratio of positive to negative experiences tend to fail. … A marriage needs love and tenderness, play and satisfaction, to offset the stresses that inevitably come. The same is true of faith: faith is an active relationship that requires attention, effort…”
Drew’s Learning: I’ve been married for over 20 years. I’m far from a marriage expert, but the one thing I know is that marriage is a ton of work. It is not something that gets stronger without putting in the work. I know this. But how often do I expect my faith to get stronger without putting in the work? Going through the motions will not suffice in a marriage or our discipleship.
(4) “Too often, people believe that a marriage is over when the romance matures, when in fact marriage has only then begun. It is much the same with faith. There will be time in our practice of faith when we disagree with or find our fellow saints disagreeable. Those down times will come as inevitably as they do in any relationship. In faith, we can balance those negative experiences with more positive experiences.”
Drew’s Learning: As we strive to follow Jesus Christ, difficult times are inevitable. The commandments will feel challenging, we will feel overwhelmed, there will be doctrine we do not fully understand, someone will hurt our feelings, etc. It is not a matter of if, but when. To counteract these inevitabilities, we need to foster and cultivate positive experiences. The positive can then carry us through the difficult.
(5) “Faith is not tested when what we want happens. Faith is tested when what we want does not happen. … all of us are prone to confuse faith itself with receiving what we want, and that sort of confused faith may falter when we are disappointed. … true faith grows in times of disappointment because those are the times we must commit. … Loving and trusting God when we do not see eye to eye, when God appears hostile or distant, is the true measure of faith. God is easy to love and seek out when we see him as a heavenly Santa Claus, filling our stockings with wonderful presents on Christmas Eve. The real God can be quite a bit harder to see and to love.”
Drew’s Learning: I love this! “God is easy to love and seek out when we see him as a heavenly Santa Claus.” My prayers are just loaded with gratitude when life is going exactly as I think it should. My prayers are very different when life seems hard and I’m certain God isn’t helping. But isn’t this the real test? Can we continue to follow when God is not doing as we ask? “Will ye also go away?” (John 16:67)
(6) “I do not mean to suggest that there will never be a time when fervent, private prayer will be met with a visitation of the Holy Ghost, that God will not call to us and reassure us in times of need or yearning. But in my experience, such miracles will be the exception rather than the rule. God loves us deeply, and he wants us to be caring for each other…”
Drew’s Learning: At times, I have felt disappointed that God is not like a vending machine. He does not dispense blessings every time I “put in my money.” I appreciate this reminder that God expects us to be the answer to our fellow traveller’s prayers. “God does notice us, and he watches over us. But it is usually through another person that he meets our needs.” (Spencer W. Kimball)