Many years ago in 1968 someone at Church told me how to tell whether a teaching is “personal opinion” or “revelation.” If you agree with the opinion, then that is revelation. If you don’t agree, then it is personal opinion. And so it is with following the prophets, at least for many. If you agree with the prophet’s teaching, then he is “speaking as a prophet.” If you do not agree, then that is his personal opinion.
And of course, the Church has let MORMON DOCTRINE by Elder Bruce R. McConkie go out of print. Why? Other doctrinal works that have had far less impact on the Church have continued in print throughout the fifty years that I have been a member. I think it might be the result of this difference between personal opinion and revelation. A lot of saints were offended by Elder McConkie’s book because he included his personal opinions? So? What else could a person put into such a book? Unless he is authorized by God to bring forth scripture such as the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants, it has to be personal opinion. Elder McConkie included a disclaimer stating as much in the beginning of his book. Maybe we don’t agree with him about evolution. Maybe he was wrong about blacks and the priesthood. So what? Wasn’t he as entitled to his opinions as much as the next man?
Of greater interest to me is the assumption that a “personal opinion” on the part of a prophet means that it is not true. Who would have a better informed opinion than a true prophet of God? I know that on the matters of evolution and the black priesthood ban, McConkie’s opinions were not popular. Are all of mine? Are all of yours? Are we not entitled to a personal opinion even though others don’t agree with it?
Besides, cannot a person have a personal opinion that is also true? The fact that it is merely an opinion does not automatically make it false, does it? In my opinion, most of the personal opinions of Bruce R. McConkie and his father-in-law Joseph Fielding Smith were correct opinions, that is, they were true. Does that make them “official Church doctrine?” No, but so what? I’m not aware that the Church has much “official Church doctrine,” just the opinions of true prophets. “But they are not binding upon the Church,” some say. Hey… the truth isn’t binding either, not on most of us, and not on most churches. You can say that whatever is in the standard works is official Church doctrine, but what does that mean? A hundred different scriptorians will tell you a hundred different meanings for the same verses. Isn’t that supposedly why we need living prophets? Isn’t that why we rely upon personal revelation by the power of the Holy Ghost?
I think that the personal opinions of Elder McConkie and President Smith are more likely to be true than not. And even if I am wrong about that, I think they are entitled to have such opinions regardless. In fact, that is one of the best ways to learn whether your opinions are good. Voice the opinion, and listen carefully to the reasons people give you that they are wrong. I learn from that, on occasion.