Chapter 6 in Blake Ostler’s new book is titled “Soteriology in LDS Thought”. For those of you not familiar with the term Soteriology, it is basically the study of salvation. As the article in Wikipedia puts it: “A particular stance on what constitutes salvation is thus known as a soteriology.” This chapter is a little unusual because it seems to be directed to non-Mormons in many ways and is largely focused on fending off accusations that Mormonism “preaches salvation by works and that it focuses on works to the exclusion of grace.” (189) Ostler goes about disputing this accusation by defining salvation in LDS thought and asserting that in LDS thought a low form salvation is possible without any work another than confessing Jesus as the Christ, and that only higher levels of “salvation” including exaltation are contingent on our works.
The Vision – D&C 76
Blake first covers the revelation known as “The Vision” in D&C 76. He points out that according to The Vision all of God’s works are saved except the sons of perdition:
42 That through him all might be saved whom the Father had put into his power and made by him;
43 Who glorifies the Father, and saves all the works of his hands, except those sons of perdition who deny the Son after the Father has revealed him.
The Vision does tell us that many will be assigned to hell for a time but that only those who merit being sons of perdition are not eventually saved in at least the lowest kingdom of glory, the Telestial kingdom. Blake says in several places that one must “confess Christ as the Son of God” to merit a release from hell and thus inherit Telestial glory. This is the same position that Jacob took in a guest post here at the Thang recently and I remain skeptical of it. As I and others noted in that thread, it seems that such a confession or such repentance would either be coerced and thus meaningless or could be without faith and thus be meaningless too. I suppose it is not unlikely that all will come to grips with the reality of who Christ is eventually but I think it is somewhat pointless to set this “confession” as a requirement for Telestial glory. It seems more like a footnote to me. If not, what would happen if some free-willed souls in hell who are not sons of perdition still refuse to actively “confess Jesus Christ” at the time of the second resurrection? Do they have to wait for a later resurrection (or forever) until they make this confession?
Is repentance work or not?
Along these lines, Blake says some things later that confused me a bit. On page 200 he says: “Repentance is a condition of salvation”. He then explains that repentance is simply accepting the gift of a relationship with God and that “accepting a gift is not a “work”". I think the idea Blake is pushing is that even the wicked must repent in this sense to get out of hell and into the Telestial kingdom (much as Jacob pushed in that post). So in addition to the problem I listed above, I am confused at how accepting this gift and repenting is not work. As I understand Blake’s position, God’s grace is the freely given offer of a personal relationship with Him. I think Blake is right on with that account. But accepting that gift means changing my character and that is real work. But Blake says:
Repentance is not a work, for it consists of accepting God’s offer of relationship in the only way it can be accepted – by turning around on the lonely path that we trudge all alone and by returning to the loving embrace of our Father. (201)
I think that is a beautiful sentiment and agree with the path Blake describes here. I simply can’t understand how that sort of repentance is not work.
Blake made a very interesting point about baptism that I wanted to repeat here:
It is also commonly assumed by Latter-day Saints that baptism is essential for salvation. However, that is not quite true. The Book of Mormon states that little children and those “without the law” do not need baptism. The rites of baptism for the dead are not performed for them because they are not in need of the ordinance of baptism. … It follows that baptism is not a necessary means of effecting salvation. (202)
Hard to argue with that. Some people are saved and reportedly even exalted without the ordinance of baptism in this probation.
At the end of page 199 as he is showing that faith in Christ always produces repentance he makes this statement:
God is not obligated to forgive us even if we repent and ask for mercy, but he is merciful to do so once we choose to turn away from whatever we do that alienates us from him and turn back toward him.
While I have no doubt that God has free will and could choose to not forgive us even if we repent, I am not sure he could make that choice and remain God. In other words, it seems to me that refusing to forgive a repentant child is a classic example of something that would cause the divine person who is God our Father to “cease to be God“. I think it is probably a matter of the Law of the Harvest that Blake refers to often in this book as well as the Law of Love he wrote about in chapter 3. God is surely free to break the Law of Love but I don’t think he is free to avoid the consequences of such actions.
There is a lot more to cover in chapter 6 but I’ll stop here for now. What do you think? Does even the minimum level of salvation in the Telestial kingdom require active repentance or not? If so, is that repentance work or not? Could God break the “Law of Love” and remain God? Is it proper to differentiate between salvation and exaltation always, sometimes, or never?