At BYU, Pres. Thomas Monson relates how Harvard's Clayton Christensen got Book of Mormon testimony

Published: Wednesday, Nov. 2 2011 9:00 a.m. MDT

Clayton Christensen is a Harvard business professor and Salt Lake City native who is an active Mormon. (Evgenia Eliseeva, Eve Photograph) Clayton Christensen is a Harvard business professor and Salt Lake City native who is an active Mormon. (Evgenia Eliseeva, Eve Photograph)

PROVO — LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson pinned a large portion of his devotional address at BYU on Tuesday on the story of how Harvard business professor Clayton Christensen received his testimony of the Book of Mormon while a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford.

Below, we provide the striking full story President Monson told. It underscored his advice that students should anchor their lives in the gospel so their lights may shine as examples to the world.

A year ago, President Monson told a college basketball story about Christensen during the October 2010 General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Christensen decided, while playing for the Oxford basketball team, not to play ball in a championship game that fell on the Sabbath. President Monson used the story to illustrate one of what he described in his title as "The Three Rs of Choice." That story is also provided below.

President Thomas S. Monson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints speaks at Brigham Young University in Provo, Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2011. (Ravell Call, Deseret News) President Thomas S. Monson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints speaks at Brigham Young University in Provo, Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2011. (Ravell Call, Deseret News)

Both stories are based on a devotional address Christensen gave at BYU-Idaho on June 8, 2004, titled "Decisions for Which I've Been Grateful." Read it here. Find an audio version here.

For more about Christensen, a member of the Deseret News Editorial Advisory Board, see the links provided below the stories.

President Monson on Christensen's hard-won testimony:

May I share with you the experience of Brother Clayton M. Christensen as he sought to know for himself. Brother Christensen has served in many positions of leadership in the Church, including as an Area Seventy. He has received far too many academic awards for me to mention here. He is currently the Robert and Jane Cizik Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School. He is also an alumnus of Brigham Young University, and I believe his son Spencer and daughter Catherine are currently students here.

When Brother Christensen finished his schooling at Brigham Young University, he received a scholarship to go to Oxford University in England as a Rhodes Scholar. When he arrived at Oxford, he realized that it would be somewhat challenging to be an active member of the Church in Oxford. The Rhodes Scholarship Trust that had given him his scholarship had a lot of activities for the recipients of the scholarship, and if he were going to be active in the Church it would be difficult for him to participate in those activities. He intended to obtain in just two years a degree in applied econometrics — a program which took most students three years to complete.

This, of course added to his lack of extra time. He realized, as he thought through how involved in the Church he could be, that he didn't even know for certain if the Book of Mormon was true. He realized that he had read the Book of Mormon seven times up to that point, and that after each of those seven times he had knelt in prayer and had asked God to tell him if it was true. He had received no answer. As he thought through why he hadn't received an answer, he realized that each time he had read the Book of Mormon, it was because of an assignment, either from his parents or a BYU instructor or his mission president or a seminary teacher, and his chief objective had been to finish the book. But now, as he was about to commence his studies at Oxford, he realized that he desperately needed to know if the Book of Mormon was true.

He recognized, as well, that he had sustained himself on a belief in many of the doctrines of the Church and in his parents, because he knew they knew it was true, and he trusted his parents. Here he was, however, desperately needing to know for himself if it was true.

Oxford University is the world's oldest university. The building Brother Christensen lived in was built in 1410 and was beautiful to look at but horrible to live in. The only heat which was provided was from a small heater inserted into a hole which had been dug in the wall. He decided that he would commit every evening from 11 p.m. to 12 midnight to reading the Book of Mormon — this time with the purpose of determining if it was true. He wondered if he dared spend an entire hour each night, because he was in a very demanding academic program and he just didn't know if he could afford allocating such an amount of time to this effort.

Nonetheless, he did allocate the time, and he began at 11 p.m. by kneeling in prayer by the chair by his little heater, and he prayed out loud. He told God how desperate he was to find out if this was a true book, and he told Him that if He would reveal to him that it was true, then he intended to dedicate his life to building this kingdom. And he told God that if it wasn't true he needed to know that for certain, too, because then he would dedicate his life to finding out what was true.

Then Brother Christensen would sit in the chair and read. He began by reading the first page of the Book of Mormon, and when he got down to the bottom of the page, he stopped, and he thought about what he had read on that page, and he asked himself, "Could this have been written by a charlatan who was trying to deceive people, or was this really written by a prophet of God? And what did it mean for Clayton Christensen in his life? And then he put the book down and knelt in prayer and verbally asked God again, "Please tell me if this is a true book." Then he would sit in the chair and pick up the book and turn the page and read another page, pause at the bottom, and do the same thing. He did this for an hour every night — night after night — in that cold, damp room at the Queen's College in Oxford.

By the time Brother Christensen got to the chapters at the end of 2nd Nephi, one evening when he said his prayer and sat in his chair and opened the book, all of a sudden there came into that room a beautiful, warm, loving spirit that just surrounded him and permeated his soul, and enveloped him in a feeling of love that he had not imagined he could feel. He began to cry, and he didn't want to stop crying because as he looked through his tears at the words in the Book of Mormon, he could see truth in those words that he never imagined he could comprehend before. He could see the glories of eternity and what God had in store for him as one of His sons. Brother Christensen said he didn't want to stop crying. That spirit stayed with him for the whole hour, and then every evening as he prayed and sat with the Book of Mormon by the little heater in his room, that same spirit returned, and it changed his heart and his life forever.

President Ezra Taft Benson, 13th President of the church, said (in the October 1985 General Conference of the church), "When you choose to follow Christ, you choose to be changed ... . The world would shape human nature; but Christ can change human nature ... and changed men (and women) can change the world."

Brother Christensen has indicated that he loves to return to Oxford. Most of the people there are either students or tourists who have come to look at a beautiful university. But he loves to return there because it's a sacred place to him, and he can look at the windows of that room where he lived, and he recognizes it as the place where he learned that Jesus is the Christ and that Joseph Smith was the prophet of the restoration for the true church.

Brother Christensen has stated that he looks back at the conflict he experienced when he wondered if he could afford to spend an hour every day apart from the study of applied econometrics to find out if the Book of Mormon was true. He says, and I quote, "I use applied econometrics maybe once a year, but I use my knowledge that the Book of Mormon is the word of God many times every day of my life. In all of the education that I have pursued, that is the single most useful piece of knowledge I have ever gained."

Brothers and sisters, many of you probably came to Brigham Young University already knowing that the Book of Mormon is true, that Joseph Smith is indeed a prophet, and that this is the true Church of Jesus Christ. Some of you, however, may still be living on the testimony of others — your parents, your friends, your Church leaders. May I suggest that, as Brother Christensen did, you set aside time every day to find out for yourself if the Book of Mormon is a true book, for it will change your heart and change your life. If you seek this knowledge with a sincere heart, with real intent and having faith in Christ, I promise that you will receive an answer. And once you know that the Book of Mormon is true, then it will follow that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God. You will have that burning testimony and knowledge that this church is true.

To read a news account of President Monson's devotional address, see the story by Deseret News reporter Sarah Gambles.

President Monson on Christensen's Sabbath basketball decision:

In closing may I share with you an example of one who determined early in life what his goals would be. I speak of Brother Clayton M. Christensen, a member of the church who is a professor of business administration in the business school at Harvard University.

When he was 16 years old, Brother Christensen decided, among other things, that he would not play sports on Sunday. Years later, when he attended Oxford University in England, he played center on the basketball team. That year they had an undefeated season and went through to the British equivalent of what in the United States would be the NCAA basketball tournament.

They won their games fairly easily in the tournament, making it to the final four. It was then that Brother Christensen looked at the schedule and, to his absolute horror, saw that the final basketball game was scheduled to be played on a Sunday. He and the team had worked so hard to get where they were, and he was the starting center. He went to his coach with his dilemma. His coach was unsympathetic and told Brother Christensen he expected him to play in the game.

Prior to the final game, however, there was a semifinal game. Unfortunately, the backup center dislocated his shoulder, which increased the pressure on Brother Christensen to play in the final game. He went to his hotel room. He knelt down. He asked his Heavenly Father if it would be all right, just this once, if he played that game on Sunday. He said that before he had finished praying, he received the answer: "Clayton, what are you even asking me for? You know the answer."

He went to his coach, telling him how sorry he was that he wouldn't be playing in the final game. Then he went to the Sunday meetings in the local ward while his team played without him. He prayed mightily for their success. They did win.

That fateful, difficult decision was made more than 30 years ago. Brother Christensen has said that as time has passed, he considers it one of the most important decisions he ever made. It would have been very easy to have said, "You know, in general, keeping the Sabbath day holy is the right commandment, but in my particular extenuating circumstance, it's okay, just this once, if I don't do it." However, he says his entire life has turned out to be an unending stream of extenuating circumstances, and had he crossed the line just that once, then the next time something came up that was so demanding and critical, it would have been so much easier to cross the line again. The lesson he learned is that it is easier to keep the commandments 100 percent of the time than it is 98 percent of the time.

My beloved brethren, may we be filled with gratitude for the right of choice, accept the responsibility of choice, and ever be conscious of the results of choice. As bearers of the priesthood, all of us united as one can qualify for the guiding influence of our Heavenly Father as we choose carefully and correctly. We are engaged in the work of the Lord Jesus Christ. We, like those of olden times, have answered His call. We are on His errand. We shall succeed in the solemn charge (in Isaiah 52.11): "Be ye clean, that bear the vessels of the Lord." That this may be so is my solemn and humble prayer, in the name of Jesus Christ, our Master, amen.

To read President Monson's entire conference address, click here.

Christensen has been the subject of numerous articles in national media in 2010-11.

In February, a Forbes magazine profile of Christensen opened with this line: "Clayton Christensen is one of the most influential business theorists of the last 50 years."

Forbes writer David Whelan reported that "Clayton Christensen beat a heart attack, cancer and a stroke in three years. In the latest issue of Forbes magazine I interviewed the Harvard Business School professor and those close to him about his experience battling these three grave illnesses. The story covers it all: life, death and a plan to fix the health care system."

In August 2010, New York Times columnist David Brooks described Christensen's approach to living as "the Well-Planned Life" and compared it very favorably to what Brooks called "the Summoned Life."

"The first vision is more American," Brooks wrote. "The second vision is more common elsewhere. But they are both probably useful for a person trying to live a well-considered life."

At the urging of his students, Christensen himself shared more about his approach in a Harvard Business Review article he wrote in 2010 titled "How Will You Measure Your Life?" The article went viral online, one of the most popular online pieces ever published by HBR.

Deseret News reporter Jamshid Ghazi Askar reported that the three questions Christensen asks his students on the last day of class are, "First, how can I be sure that I'll be happy in my career? Second, how can I be sure that my relationships with my spouse and my family become an enduring source of happiness? Third, how can I be sure I'll stay out of jail?"

Deseret News reporter Michael De Groote published a profile of Christensen here .

Deseret News reporter Sara Lenz wrote about the book published this summer by Christensen and BYU-Idaho vice president Henry Eyring about how smart universities can radically improve higher education. The book is titled, "The Innovative University: Changing the DNA of Higher Education From the Inside Out."

EMAIL: twalch@desnews.com

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