I attended Brigham Young University from 1988 to 2001, completing a bachelor’s degree in English … with multiple interruptions including work, a mission for the Church to Italy, and 9 years in the Army (during the U.S. Desert Storm invasion of Kuwait). It took me a long time to finish, in large part due to this pesky freshman math class that took me three expirations of a correspondence course and ultimately two semesters at UAA (The University of Alaska Anchorage) to complete, but I finally did it and that is a story for another day.
I reflect on my time at BYU with great fondness. It is an amazing place with an incredible spirit and I’m grateful to have experienced the lessons I did there. Looking back, there are a small handful of professors that stand out in my mind. I loved how Elouise Bell in the Humanities Department, Deirdre Paulsen (who I worked with co-founding and co-chairing the BYU Writing Fellows Peer Tutor Program, together with the incomparable, John Welch), and I really enjoyed working with my boss, Howard Bybee, at the Harold B. Lee Library: Howard headed up the Rare Books Collection and Department where I worked part-time for a while as a student.
Above all of these though, one professor I had from the BYU Religion Department stands out in my mind more than any other. His name was Roger Keller and he taught World Religions and Comparative Christianity, and the lessons I learned from him stay with me to this day. They were life-changing for a kid of 21 figuring out life and the world around him.
On the first day of our Comparative Christianity class Brother Keller opened up by saying, “If you’re here to learn everything good about us and everything bad about everyone else, you can get up, pack up your books, and go ahead and leave right now. That is not the purpose of this class. This semester, we will be learning together what’s beautiful in all of Christianity, and not just our interpretation thereof.” Mark my words,” he continued, “There is beauty and majesty in anything that brings people closer to Christ, as there is in many of the non-Christian religions around the world that, while they may view faith and God differently, still bring billions of people closer to goodness each day.”
What followed was one of the most impactful and memorable classes of my entire college career. Brother Keller’s class on World Religions was equally impressive, as we studied Muslim, Jewish, Hindu and other worldwide faiths as well.
Dr. Keller was a Presbyterian minister for 15 years who ended up joining the Mormon church after undergoing a serious study of The Book of Mormon and the accompanying merits of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (this is a feeble synopsis of a conversion that entailed much more than this, I’m sure). I don’t know all the details of his story but I know BYU snatched him quickly, with his long pedigree of degrees and more not long after he joined the church. We as students were very lucky they did.
Roger wrote a book called Reformed Christians and Mormon Christians: Let’s Talk! published in 1986. It’s a really insightful treatise of what we all have in common and how The Church is simply a new branch of the same tree that Christ planted and got started when He was on the earth back during the Meridian of Time. While we in the Mormon Church believe there was a “falling away” (an “apostasy”) which took place and took us into the Dark Ages and all the death, darkness, and terror that followed, we also believe that the gospel has now been restored: the same gospel in its entirety and perfect fullness that Christ established. Brother Keller’s book does a good job of explaining the history and bridging the gap between us and other Christians and explaining why we should all work together, rather than apart. The book and all it teaches is actually a great compliment to this blog on “building bridges, lifting each other up, and working together to share the real message of the Mormonism and of Jesus Christ. Rather than competing, conflicting, or working in separate directions, he reminds us that, if nothing else, we’re stronger as one. I highly recommend it if this topic is of interest to you. Click Here if it does and if you’d like to see Amazon’s page to order Brother Kellar’s book. Then, if you’d like to, click below to watch a really cool speech called Grace of Apologetics which he gave at a FAIR conference (The Foundation of Apologetic Info. and Research. Visit www.fairlds.org if you’d like to check out their site).
The video/speech is quite a bit longer than most videos I post, but if you are interested, check it out. And Brother Keller, if you read this, know how much you blessed my life and that of many others in your classes and we really appreciate the lessons you shared. It was 30+ years ago but I still remember them clearly.
For all I know, you’re retired now and serving a senior mission in Madagascar or somewhere like that. I hope you are and I hope you’re well.
Thank you for your example.
Patrick Laing – Portland, Oregon USA