For the past two weeks I have been engaged in reading, thinking about, and reviewing John A. Widtsoeâ€™s â€œA Rational Theologyâ€. While I enjoy several of Elder Widtsoeâ€™s concepts regarding the pre-mortal existence, the book is lacking in a few areas which attribute to the reason why it has not had a longer lasting impression on our religion, and why it has sort of gone away from our religion.
To Illustrate this point, I would like to begin with a few quotes from the book.
â€œJesus actually came on earth, lived and taught the ancient Gospel again to the children of men, and in time suffered death so that the act of Adam might be atoned for and the earthly bodies of men might be raised from the grave.â€ (Chapter 8 )
â€œThe plan of salvation, including the atoning sacrifice of Jesus, the organized Church, the purpose and powers of the priesthood and the rights and duties of man upon earth, whether within or without the Church, was fully unfoldedâ€¦In the course of human history and in accordance with the Great Plan, Jesus, the Son of God, appeared on earth, to atone for the act of Adam and Eve, who “fell” that men might be.â€ (Chapter 11)
â€œThe candidate for baptism, presenting himself to one who has authority from Jesus Christ, is buried in the water and taken out again, as a symbol of the death and resurrection and the atoning sacrifice of the Savior.â€ (Chapter 17)
â€œAll this can simply mean that the earth, as well as all on it, are subject to the fundamental Great Plan, including the atonement of Jesus Christ.â€ (Chapter 31)
â€œBread is eaten and water is drunk as symbols of the body and blood of the Savior, given in the atoning sacrificeâ€¦God requires that the Sacrament be partaken of frequently, so that the atoning sacrifice of Jesus may be held before the people continuallyâ€ (Chapter 33)
â€œJesus, who on the third day rose from the grave, and after his sojourn among the children of men, took his body with him into heaven. This was the first fruits of the resurrection, made possible by the atonement of the Christ.â€ (Chapter 35)
So, you may be wondering what this quotes have to do with each other. This is every single reference to the atonement made in â€œA Rational Theology.â€ At no point in the book does Widtsoe connect Sin and the atonement. He only connects the Atonement and Death, and more directly, the atonement and Adamâ€™s act, which causes death. The Section which goes most in depth on the need for a Savior,is the first instance above, and is as follows:
â€œThe Need of a Savior. The purpose of the earth career was, however, two-fold: to learn to understand gross matter, and to acquire a body made of the essence of such matter for future advancement. The bodies laid in the grave must, therefore, be raised again. As the spirits, by their own act had not brought upon themselves death, so by their own act they should not be required to conquer it. It was necessary, therefore, that someone, in time, should reunite the broken wires and reestablish the flow of eternal life, and thus conquer death. For this work Jesus Christ was chosen. Jesus actually came on earth, lived and taught the ancient Gospel again to the children of men, and in time suffered death so that the act of Adam might be atoned for and the earthly bodies of men might be raised from the grave. By this work, the purpose of earth-life was completed, and Jesus Christ became the central figure in the plan of salvation.
Why death, so-called, should be necessary for us to achieve an intimate knowledge of matter, and why Jesus must die to permit the current of eternal life to flow freely between the earthly body and the eternal spirit, are not fully known. Through Adam man was brought on earth, subject to death; through Jesus, the Christ, the earth-acquired body will be lifted out of death to continue an eternal life in association with the undying spirit.â€ (Chapter 8 )
So, Why Gethsemane? What About Alma 7 and Mosiah 3 and â€œThe Lamb of God who takes upon him the sins of the world?â€ What about Grace?
Without these important items, Widtsoe may be sharing with us â€œA rational theology.â€, but he is either giving us an incomplete one or a pointless one.