Thoughts on David A. Bednar

I recently worked on reviewing the addresses of Elder David A. Bednar to put together a David A. Bednar quotes page over at From the Desk. As I worked on it, I noticed some interesting patterns and other observations that I thought I would share. These include a standardized structure he seems to follow, some core concepts that he reiterates over and over, and his sources.

Structural Patterns

Elder Bednar seems to have created a ritualized format that he uses in creating his general conference talks. If I had to summarize the basic idea, I would put it as follows:

  • Scripture quote as title
  • Introduction
    • Short story or scripture reference as a hook
    • Asking for the assistance of the Holy Ghost for both himself and the audience to learn together about [short summary of topics in address]
  • Main Body
    • Story or parable
    • Doctrinal exposition
      • This usually builds on the story or parable and revolves around scriptures, statements of Joseph Smith, or other prophets
  • Testimony and Promise
    • This is the conclusion section, but it is always titled as “Testimony and Promise”

Another pattern to his talks is that he seems to gather together a lot of major ideas in his BYU Speeches first (which are generally longer than his general conference addresses), and then pulls them into his general conference talks, though usually in an altered way. For example, his 2001 address “In the Strength of the Lord” (given while he was still president of BYU-I) contains a lot of his core doctrinal emphasis around the enabling power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. This later resurfaced in his general conference addresses in October 2004 (his first), October 2007, October 2012, April 2015, and October 2016. His 2009 address at BYU-I entitled “Things as They Really Are” resurface in his April 2013 and October 2019 general conference addresses. His April 2022 general conference address makes more sense when read after his 2007 BYU Speech, “A Reservoir of Living Water.” His BYU speeches are important backdrops for his general conference talks.

Core Concepts

Part of why his BYU Speeches form connections with multiple general conference addresses is that he is reiterating a core message over the course of his apostolic career. My paraphrase of that repeated message would be as follows:

  • The purpose of our existence is to become like God and Christ
  • Mortality is a test of our willingness to submit to God (through obedience to ancient and modern prophets) and an opportunity to experience things that we could not in an incorporeal pre-mortal state
  • The effect of the Atonement of Jesus Christ on us during mortal life is to make bad humans good (allow repentance and remission of sins) and good humans better (through giving strength to become better and more Christlike)
  • The strength to go from good to better drawn from the Atonement of Jesus Christ is called the “enabling power” of the Atonement, “grace,” and should be talked about more frequently
  • We access this “enabling power” of the Atonement of Jesus Christ through ordinances and covenants
    • Ordinances connect us to the Atonement as official channels of grace, allowing access to the “power of Godliness”
    • Covenants that are honored provide purpose and the assurance of blessings in both mortality and for eternity
  • The Holy Ghost is the agent of purification from sin and we should consistently focus on obeying the command to “receive the Holy Ghost” through living the Gospel of Jesus Christ
  • Satan opposes our progress in the Gospel, particularly through the misuse of our bodies and needs to be guarded against constantly
  • The goal of all of these is for us to become more like God and Christ rather than going through ritual motions and checklists

While much of this falls within the traditional Plan of Salvation narrative we are familiar with in the Church, there are aspects that are expressed in unique ways by David A. Bednar. The “enabling power” of the Atonement is something that seems to have been coined by Bednar, and the emphasis that the Holy Ghost is the purifying agent rather than the ordinances (e.g., the sacrament) is something that is more salient in his addresses than elsewhere.


David A. Bednar seems to be committed to articulating a view of the Gospel of Jesus Christ that is deeply rooted in the works of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Jr. I pointed out a couple years ago, when analyzing Russell M. Nelson’s general conference addresses, that Elder Bednar’s scripture citations rely heavily on the Book of Mormon (back then, 42% of his scripture citations were Book of Mormon, putting him in the top three living apostles for frequency of citing that volume of scriptures). Another observation I made while working through his general conference addresses is that while the Doctrine and Covenants isn’t cited as frequently as the Book of Mormon, it does seem to have an outsized significant impact in framing his discussions. Outside of the scriptures, Elder Bednar frequently refers to Joseph Smith’s teachings, particularly around the time that the 2007 Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith book was published by the Church.


Those are the major observations I have about David A. Bednar’s general conference addresses after reading through all 40 of them in two weeks. Hope you enjoy!

7 comments for “Thoughts on David A. Bednar

  1. Bednar lost me on a few really dumb things he has said. His structure is rigid, robotic, corporate, and without much humanity.
    “We access this “enabling power” of the Atonement of Jesus Christ through ordinances and covenants”, this frequent line of thought from Elder Bednar is almost incoherent to me. He equates “enabling power” with Grace, which is unmerited favor by definition and then undermines the principle by creating a “have to” to access this enabling power. It all seems like a convenient way to create a dependency on the institution as opposed to focusing on individuals’ spiritual development. I have heard frequent references to attempting to escape a transactional God, which is then reinforced at almost every turn. It sounds like Grace according to Bednar is more an “Enabled” power than and Enabling power.

  2. Thank you, Chad.

    I think one of the marvelous precepts that Elder Bednar has conveyed to the saints over the last little while is that they are probably more in touch with the spirit than they realize. He has taught the saints how to recognize the workings of the Holy Ghost and how to be an agent of positive action within the boundaries of its influence.

    I realize that your summary is based primarily on his conference talks–and that some of what I’ve mentioned (above) comes from the counsel that Elder Bednar has given in more intimate settings. Even so, I think his teachings on the things of the spirit is a wonderful example of how living prophets are able to unfold the scriptures in ways that make them more meaningful and directly applicable to the culture and people of their time.

  3. Bednar is odd, because on the one hand, he has indeed explicitly taught in Conference, like you said, that “The goal […] is for us to become more like God and Christ rather than going through ritual motions and checklists.” However, he’ll then also harp in Conference on Hinkley’s old “only one pair of earrings on women” preference as though it were a divine Prophetic litmus test—which, you know, can’t help but feel pretty checklisty.

    It’s hard for me to give Bednar the benefit of the doubt, because I attended BYU-Idaho shortly after his presidency there, and that place was nothing *but* a giant checklist. From the nonsensical and extra-strict Dress & Grooming standards (really, no shorts on campus, even when it’s 100 degrees out? Even when you’re going to the gym??) to the curfews and mandatory devotionals, the philosophy of the school entire seemed centered on the belief that forcing students to conform to an extensive checklist is the best way to improve discipleship—and the longer the checklist, the better! Meanwhile, the only reliable jobs for students in Rexburg were a pair of predatory call centers, and a bunch of Summer Sales outfits that produced the most flagrantly dishonest sales reps it will ever be your displeasure to work with. But they always followed Dress & Grooming standards! Indeed, Rexburg has graduated entire generations of young people who assume that outward appearance is more important than inward honesty. Needless to say, I saw very little evidence that Bednar’s extra-strict checklist approach produced any sort of real discipleship.

    Bednar would likely here protest that, again, the gospel isn’t about checklists at all, but on “becoming”; but if constantly hammering on outward appearances as both a college president and an apostle isn’t a checklist, then what is? He does not appear cognizant of his own contradictions.

    Now, Bednar has also stated in Conference (as OP has alluded to) that if the only words we hear are the ones he has spoken, then we have not truly listened to what the Holy Spirit is trying to speak to us. I fully agree with him. Ever since then, I have taken Bednar at his word, and paid attention to what the Spirit whispers to me personally, and disregarded everything else he has said.

  4. “Enabling power” is code for “works.” He’s a saved by works man. I believe you are saved by grace.

  5. I have a friend that wrote most of Bednar’s conference talks up till a couple of years ago when her family time made it too hard for her to continue. She was a student and worked in his office at BYU Idaho and then continued to write for him when he became an apostle. She has told me how the writing process usually works. He sends her a topic and some scriptures or a story he would like to include. She writes a draft and then he makes some changes and additions. He likes to build on definitions of words and adapt them to his message. Examples include agency, works, and enabling. Some of the elements from the OP are because of this writing process and the influence of the woman writing the talks.

  6. Lily,

    I think the idea of “enabling power” has more to do with transformation than works. Of course, the more we become like the Savior the more what we do will reflect his works. That said, I agree that ultimately we are saved by grace. Even so, our participation in the process of transformation is indispensable. Even though God does 99% of the work to get us there, if we don’t do our little 1% — which typically involves positioning ourselves to receive more of his grace through repentance — then transformation simply can’t happen as the Lord will not, indeed, cannot coerce people into being good.

  7. Not a fan of the guy. Comes across as too “I know and you dont” attitude in his talks. I guess I can blame that on his writer now and not him?

    Was in a meeting with him and he wanted to do a Q&A with the crowd of only current church leaders. He starts these by telling everyone to only ask appropriate questions. “Asking if I or any of my fellow apostles have seen Jesus is not appropriate.” A good way to stop people from asking that is to start by saying “none of us have seen Jesus so no need to ask.” No idea why asking that question to an apostle would be offensive or inappropriate. Glad JS didn’t feel the same about it…

    I do like the fact that in the books he writes (again that someone wrote for him??) there is a disclaimer of such like “this is just the opinion of the author and should not be taken as doctrine of the church” or something close to it. I am surprised how many members think a book written by these guys is church doctrine.

    JB – “follow spirit and disregard everything else” …nice!

    The Holy Spirit has never moved me in any of the talks I have listened to him say. Could be me tho.

    “The goal […] is for us to become more like God and Christ rather than going through ritual motions and checklists.”

    The members are for sure not understanding this point at all….We should change the name of the church to the “The Church of the Rituals and Checklists or Jesus wont love you”.. Can I get an Amen!

Comments are closed.