An [evangelical] Survey of Mormon Teachings

March 26, 2007    By: Matt W. @ 11:45 am   Category: Atonement & Soteriology,Theology

In 2003, Dr. Cky J. Carrigan presented this survey for our edification and perusal. First, let me say I do not find anything in what I have skimmed from this article malicious, and actually was thoroughly impressed at the effort Dr. Carrigan put into it.

I thought I would post Dr. Carrigan’s conclusions here for our discussion.

LDS Derived Propositions on the Application
of the Atonement of the Son of God

1. There are two applications of the atonement of the Son of God: universal-unconditional and individual-conditional.

2. The direct object of the universal-unconditional application of the atonement of the Son of God is the transgression of Adam, which resulted in death and separation from God for Adam and his entire family.

3. The indirect beneficiary of the universal-unconditional application of the atonement of the Son of God is the entire family of Adam.

4. The universal-unconditional application of the atonement of the Son of God produces immortality in the resurrection for the entire family of Adam.

5. The universal-unconditional application of the atonement of the Son of God does not produce the highest degree of salvation (eternal life) for any individual in the family of Adam.

6. The individual-conditional application of the atonement of the Son of God applies only to those individuals who meet the conditions for eternal life.

7. The conditions for eternal life are directly related to the individual’s degree of repentance and obedience. Those who repent and obey to a greater degree receive a greater kind of immortal body and are assigned to a greater realm at the resurrection. The reverse is true as well.

8. The individual-conditional application of the atonement of the Son of God also applies to earth-born humans who died after their eighth birthday never having heard the LDS Gospel. These persons are given the opportunity to meet the conditions for eternal life during a probationary period in the realm of the dead.

9. The individual-conditional application of the atonement of the Son of God does not apply to the individual sins of murder or apostasy. The individual’s own blood must be shed to atone for these sins in order to merit eternal life.

10. The atonement of the Son of God does not result in the forensic justification of anyone.

LDS Derived Propositions on the Manner
of the Atonement of the Son of God

11. The atonement of the Son of God was not directly achieved by his death on the cross. The actual death of the Son was only a necessary event preceding his resurrection.

12. The atonement of the Son of God was directly related to his suffering and the flow of blood.

13. The atonement of the Son of God occurred during the simultaneous suffering and bleeding of the Son in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the cross.

14. The suffering of the Son of God was primarily the result of the Father’s withdrawing of his Spirit from the Son. The Father withdrew his Spirit while the Son was in the Garden and on the cross.

15. The Son of God bled in the Garden and on the cross. The blood of the Son of God flowed from his pores in the Garden and from his wounds on the cross.

I personally am not sure I agree with 2, 3, 5, 9, 10, 13, 14

I don’t agree with 2 because of the use of the article “the” If it read rather “a direct…” I would be fine with this statement. I say this because the atonement also universally gave us freedom as discussed in 2 Nephi 2 and universally gave us succor in our afflictions, as discussed in Alma 7.

I am not sure about 3 as I do not understand why Cky used the term “indirect” or “Children of Adam.” Here. Nothing I can find within his article gives me a clue as to his meaning either. Is Children of Adam synonymous with “all God’s Children?” And if we are the indirect beneficiary, who is the direct beneficiary?

I was uncomfortable with 5 at first, but his footnote helps immensely: “The universal-unconditional application of the atonement of the Son of God produces immortality for the entire family of Adam including every child who has died before reaching the age of eight years old and every mentally impaired person whose mental abilities are less than the mental abilities of an eight-year-old child. Since these two categories of humans in the family of Adam are not accountable for their sins then they will certainly enjoy the highest degree of salvation (eternal life). They will receive immortality on the basis of the universal-unconditional atonement of the Son and they will receive the highest degree of salvation on the basis of the individual-conditional atonement. They meet the conditions for the highest degree of salvation because they are righteous, having no sin accounted to them.”

For number 9, I think the whole “blood atonement” bit can definitely be rejected here, sighting the authority of SWK. I am not sure about this murder and apostasy bit, since there is really no way for us to judge the reasons a man murders or the reasons a man apostatizes…

I’m not sure where he pulled number 10 from, since the term “forensic justification” is used no where else in the article. From Wiki I am able to guess he means legal justification. Wiki gives the Lutheran version: This doctrine holds that God on His throne declares a sinner “not guilty” for Christ’s sake. Christians, who were once sinners are now righteous because Christ’s righteousness applies to them (i.e., it is imputed to them, or counted as their own). For Lutherans, it is necessary that justification is independent of and in no way depends upon works performed, thoughts had, or attitudes cultivated by believers. Is the Evangelical view the same? If so, I would say it is a debateable statement, depending on ones view of the D & C 45

13, I question merely because I’ve seen plenty of statements to the affect that the atonement neither began in Geth. Nor ended at Golg. It is infinite and ongoing.

And 14, I am totally unaware of. While I have heard Holland mention this in one talk, I have never seen it doctrinally expounded on elsewhere, to my memory, and especially not in relation to the Garden, where an angel was present.


  1. Although there are a few others that are questionable, (9) sticks out like a sore thumb as a precept that makes no appearance in contemporary LDS teaching. I imagine you might rather more easily find Mormons who believe that chocolate is against the Word of Wisdom than ones who believe that a murderer can atone for his own sins, let alone qualify for eternal life(!) thereby. In the minds of most modern Mormons personal ‘blood atonement’ probably ranks up there with ‘Adam-God theory’, just short of an official heresy at this point.

    In any case the only reliable sources for contemporary LDS doctrine are the scriptures and other current publications of the Church, not obscure citations from (unofficial) works published generations ago.

    Comment by Mark Butler — March 26, 2007 @ 3:26 pm

  2. Since no LDS person would elucidate his or her beliefs this way, it is merely categories without meaning as far as I can see. Where is the mention of the prevenient grace offered by the atonement that restores free will; the universal gift of light, the participation in Christ’s suffering and so forth? I just don’t recognize myself in this list.

    Comment by Blake — March 26, 2007 @ 7:07 pm

  3. Blake: while it is off on some points, I don’t know that it is that off. I think it may be incomplete, but I don’t think it to be too dreadful.

    I would say it lacks depth, but then again, so do most conceptions of the atonement…

    Comment by Matt W. — March 26, 2007 @ 7:29 pm

  4. I find it very disconcerting that what Mark Butler calls “contemporary Mormon doctrine” has changed so much in my lifetime. I realize that you fellows are a bit younger than I. However, (9) was widely accepted not long ago. I seem to recall it being connected quite often with D&C 19 (they must suffer even as I…) though this scripture takes a bit of a different slant. Anyway, I don’t know about apostates, but I was quite definitely taught that murderers would have to suffer for their sin with their own blood. Mark, it might be interesting for you to ask some older members if they consider this heresy.

    Comment by Bored in Vernal — March 26, 2007 @ 7:55 pm

  5. In regards to 9, I have thought that anyone who does not repent (either in this life or in the spirit world) would have to atone for their own sins (which suffering caused…), and that they WOULD receive a glory.

    Comment by Hayes — March 26, 2007 @ 9:09 pm

  6. Bored in Vernal,

    The biggest problem with point nine is the suggestion that somehow murderers will merit eternal life if they forfeit their lives, which I can hardly imagine anyone ever believed, let alone taught.

    I am aware that some (e.g. during the 1850s) have taught the weaker idea that a murderer may avoid losing his salvation (in a lesser degree of glory) completely by forfeiting his life and that there is a possibility this idea may have helped motivate the Mountain Meadows Massacre among other atrocities.

    In any case, there does not seem to be any scriptural basis for the idea that retribution has any benefit beyond simple deterrence (while there are numerous injunctions to refrain if at all possible). Logically, the proposition makes even less sense than the traditional doctrine of supererogation, i.e. that one person’s good deeds may make up for another’s lack.

    Whatever penance or restitution a murderer is required to make in the spirit world before he may be saved in some degree of glory is hard to say, but it makes no sense to me that some sort of cosmic balance is restored by another person’s death – or an externally inflicted punishment of any kind for that matter.

    Comment by Mark Butler — March 26, 2007 @ 10:12 pm

  7. For what it is worth, while in the mission field, I read a pamphlet on Blood Atonement by JFS. It was very clear to me that if someone committed murder, then the only way they could gain forgiveness was by the shedding of their own blood. I think that is why in Utah, one can accept death by firring squad. It has been over thirty years since I read the thing, so I might be off some, but not much. The Church definitely taught some kind of blood atonement in the past, not sure if it still embraces such a thing now or not.

    Comment by CEF — March 27, 2007 @ 7:15 am

  8. I too, do not see myself in some of the things said, but to be fair Blake, the first time I ever saw the word prevenient connected with grace anywhere in the Church was in your book. I do not think you represent the average member of the Church. Of course, not too many members on the bloggs represent average members of the Church. :)

    Comment by CEF — March 27, 2007 @ 7:26 am

  9. #6 Mark Butler,
    I am strongly tempted to ignore your response, but my curiosity has gotten the best of me.
    Paragraph 1: Are you saying that murderers will not inherit eternal life (as distinguished from exaltation?) Or are you just saying that they cannot earn this by the shedding of their own blood? If the latter, are you denying that this is an LDS-derived proposition?
    Paragraph 2: Are you disputing the suggestion that blood atonement may have been taught in the church at any point past the 1850’s?
    Paragraph 3&4: Are you making the point that because something does not make any sense, Latter-day Saints never believed it?

    I, on the other hand, see (9) and several of the other disputed points as quite representative of widespread Mormon thought.

    Comment by Bored in Vernal — March 27, 2007 @ 8:08 am

  10. Thanks for all the comments. It’s interesting because I thought #14 was the most bizarre statement, but #9 seems to have gained the most attention.

    As for Murderers shedding their own blood for atonement. the current book by Ed Kimball “Lengthen Your Stride” notes that the first presidency asked Bruce R. McConkie to issue a statement on Blood Atonement officially for the church. McConkie called it a theoretical idea which was not practiced by the church and that the necesitty of spilt blood was symbolic only, in any case.

    Here are some choice quotes from another form letter from McConkie, addressing the issue:

    You note that I and President Joseph Fielding Smith and some of our early church leaders have said and written about this doctrine and you asked if the doctrine of blood atonement is an official doctrine of the Church today. If by blood atonement is meant the atoning sacrifice of Christ, the answer is Yes. If by blood atonement is meant the shedding of the blood of men to atone in some way for their own sins, the answer is No. We do not believe that it is necessary for men in this day to shed their own blood to receive a remission of sins. This is said with a full awareness of what I and others have written and said on this subject in times past

    There simply is no such thing among us as a doctrine of blood atonement that grants a remission of sins or confers any other benefit upon a person because his own blood is shed for sins. Let me say categorically and unequivocally that this doctrine can only operate in a day when there is no separation of Church and State and when the power to take life is vested in the ruling theocracy as was the case in the day of Moses.

    THe whole letter can be found here.

    Comment by Matt W. — March 27, 2007 @ 8:22 am

  11. There is very little in the list that accurately represents my view of the atonement, but it is true that my view of the atonement is somewhat different than many of the prevailing views in the church.

    I totally disagree with the substance of (9). However, I did a theological/doctrinal survey of my extended family at a reunion over last Christmas vacation, and one of the questions was about whether murderers could repent. I was shocked to learn that there are people in my extended family who believe that. Sad to report.

    (10) seems to be dubious at best. No one in LDS discourse talks about the atonement in those terms, so I don’t know how they would come to the conclusion they did. I have misgivings about everything from (11) through (15). I am not sure why (15) is there at all. Are there people who don’t think Jesus bled when he was crucified?!? I think they would have a difficult time backing up the word “primarily” in (14) if these statements are supposed to be normative for the membership of the church. That is not a very common view.

    Comment by Jacob J — March 27, 2007 @ 9:36 am

  12. Interesting that as recently as SWK it was considered necessary to issue a clarification on Blood Atonement, and that BRM presented it as a theoretical idea that could only operate in a day when there is no separation of Church and State, rather than denying it as an erroneous doctrine.

    Comment by Bored in Vernal — March 27, 2007 @ 9:48 am

  13. btw please don’t construe my comments to mean that I believe this doctrine, just that I remember it being taught and accepted widely!

    Comment by Bored in Vernal — March 27, 2007 @ 9:49 am

  14. Re-guarding #12; I do not know exactly where it comes from, but there is something in the Church that says that a Bishop, acting as a judge in Israel, has the power to make life or death decisions. Of course it would only be allowed during a time when the Church could legally make such decisions, like during the millennium. I assume the Church still believes this to be true.

    Comment by CEF — March 27, 2007 @ 10:12 am

  15. Bored in Vernal,

    I am sorry to hear you were inclined to ignore my response. The excerpt we are examining claims to be a survey of Mormon “teachings” on the atonement, not a survey of Mormon belief. I readily admit that there are vestigial beliefs that find some currency long after the Church has determined they have no sound doctrinal basis, and which were also inevitably taught on occasion in the era before doctrinal correlation.

    Although I think that scripturally speaking “eternal life” can be shown to be a practical synonym for “salvation”, I read it (according to common usage) as a practical synonym for exaltation. And I believe it is an generally accepted precept that like David, a murderer can repent and be saved, but has likely forfeited his exaltation thereby (cf. D&C 132:39).

    My objection is to the idea that the shedding of the murderer’s own blood has anything to do with it either way. I think the McConkie letter linked above makes the case that it does not quite clearly.

    Comment by Mark Butler — March 27, 2007 @ 10:37 am

  16. Jacob J: on 9, I guess, could have some sound underpinnings. Even in Blake’s concept of the atonement, those who do not repent suffer for their sins. Personally, on the issue of murder, I see too many caveats. What if someone committed murder because they were mentally ill? What if their mental illness is undetectable by science? Are they accountable to God? The same questions could go for apostacy. Wasn’t it SWK who said sin is the result of unmet needs?
    I think 15 is there because it is not typical in non-LDS theology to have Christ bleeding in the Garden… For 14, I agree the primarily is an issue, and also, is there any reference to HF withdrawing his spirit in the Garden? I’ve never read such?

    BiV: I joined the Church in 1998, 20 years after the letter from BRM was written. Considering that the Church received a major revelation that year and officially repudiated the ideas at that time, I would say the now almost 30 years since that time is enough time for these doctrines to have disappeared. I mean A-G was also declared as officially not LDS doctrine by SWK, and only fringe would still claim it.

    Anyway, no worries, and I hope you know your dialogue is really appreciated.

    Comment by Matt W. — March 27, 2007 @ 10:47 am

  17. Mark, well said. The whole salvation-exaltation-immortality-eternal life thing in the church is problematic, the more I read, the more examples I see where all the terms are used interchangeably. While the standard is salvation and immortality on one side of the line and exaltation and eternal life on the other, I think there is enough mixing, especially in older texts, to make it rather confusing.

    This reminds me of another question I have about the above 2003 discouse, which may show my ignorance of evangelical beliefs. It shows that immortality is unconditional but union to God is conditional. I am supposing the point is that God’s grace in unconditional in the evangelical religion. However, is it not still conditional there on faith?

    Comment by Matt W. — March 27, 2007 @ 10:55 am

  18. Matt W.,

    It is worth mentioning that the First Presidency first officially rejected the Adam-God theory in the Joseph F. Smith era.

    Comment by Mark Butler — March 27, 2007 @ 10:59 am

  19. Thanks Mark, you are correct. I was going by what is in “Lengthen your Stride”, and wasn’t thinking of the proclamation on the Father and the Son.

    Comment by Matt W. — March 27, 2007 @ 11:10 am

  20. Matt W.,

    There is a pretty broad spectrum of belief that goes by the name of evangelicalism. In traditional Calvinism people are saved or damned according to God’s good will and pleasure, they cannot really resist his grace one way or the other, and good works are solely evidence of God’s grace working within them, not any merit on their part. Therefore, if you do not respond to a call to the Christian faith that is evidence that God never willed you to be saved in the first place.

    But in Arminian denominations there is at a minimum a personal responsibility to freely choose to accept God’s grace at least once in your life. And that has often (and controversially) been associated with the doctrine of eternal security, better known as once-saved-always-saved. My perception is the latter precept has been suffering a beating in the evangelical world lately – certainly enough to keep dozens of websites busy on each side of the dispute.

    Comment by Mark Butler — March 27, 2007 @ 11:37 am

  21. Mark:

    To me, the former (calvinist) is problematic as it makes the giving of commandments and religion by God as pointless, as they do not change who is damned and saved. Why evangelize if no one needs your evangelical message? And who is damned according to God’s good will and pleasure and why? If anyone is damned, then there must be a condition by which they were damned, or God would not be just.

    As for the latter, I am confused, If you confess Jesus when you are 6 at church, then grow up and are Hitler or Dawkins, you are a-ok? (No I am NOT equating Hitler with Dawkins. One is a murderer, the other just really doesn’t like or believe in God or religion.I was originally just going to say Dawkins, but it didn’t seem extreme enough, so I threw in Hitler. Reductio ad Hitlerum and all that.)

    Comment by Matt W. — March 27, 2007 @ 12:25 pm

  22. Matt (#16),

    9, I guess, could have some sound underpinnings. Even in Blake’s concept of the atonement, those who do not repent suffer for their sins.

    I fail to see any relation between the idea that the unrepentant suffer (doesn’t every Christian religion believe that?) and the idea that a murderer is not eligible for repentance and must shed their own blood to atone for their sins. I just don’t see the sound underpinnings yet.

    Personally, on the issue of murder, I see too many caveats.

    Put aside the caveats and take the most caveate-free example you can define. Something about a person of sound mind committing pre-meditated murder for personal gain (or however you want to cook it up). Is there any sound underpinning for the idea that such a person is no longer eligible for repentance? Personally, I don’t see any.

    I think 15 is there because it is not typical in non-LDS theology to have Christ bleeding in the Garden

    We are not remotely unique in taking Luke 22:44 to be refering to literal blood. A simple google search on “sweat great drops blood” will provide many examples (although many other ways of proving the point exist).

    Comment by Jacob J — March 27, 2007 @ 1:44 pm

  23. Jacob J, I guess caveat free is something difficult for me to imagine. It is like the Jospeh Smith statement of someone looking at the sun at noonday and saying it is night. It would have to be someone who had perfect knowledge that what they were doing was absolutely wrong and then they went ahead and did it anyway. I guess I’ve seen this as a person who is ineligible for repentance not by God’s choice but by their own choice. sorry that didn’t come accross in my prior comment.

    Good points otherwise. I was not aware that the Gethsemane event was not a uniquely mormon doctrine. I will need to look into that more. I guess most of my Christian experience outside of Mormonism has mainly been through a Catholic lense…

    Comment by Matt W. — March 27, 2007 @ 2:01 pm

  24. It would have to be someone who had perfect knowledge that what they were doing was absolutely wrong and then they went ahead and did it anyway.

    The problem with this is that it describes all sin. When a person doesn’t know that what they are doing is wrong, they are not morally culpable for it being a sin (or it is not a sin, depending on how you want to use the word sin) and there is no need for repentance. Much of the time there is some mix of knowingly-wrong-choice and circumstances-beyond-our-control that makes us partially cupable for what happens. (As an aside, C.S. Lewis as an excellent paper on this point called “On Forgiveness” which is published in The Weight of Glory.) I knowingly do wrong things every day, which is the reason I have cause to repent daily. The wrong choice makes me eligible for repentance, not ineligible.

    As to the unpardonable sin, which you seem to be alluding to, there is a popular spin on this doctrine which says that the unpardonable sin refers to a person being in a perpetually unrepentant state for all eternity. That is my favorite take on it as well, but it doesn’t seem to be what Joseph was teaching. I suspect that I disagree with what Joseph was trying to say on this matter. I see no reasonable argument for the idea that a murderer (no matter how knowing and intentional) is not eligible for repentance. On the flip side, I see many theological and practical problems with such a view.

    Comment by Jacob J — March 27, 2007 @ 2:27 pm

  25. Matt W.,

    The paradox with traditional Calvinism is that despite a cardinal belief in the Perseverance of the Saints (i.e. that the truly elect will persevere in faith to the end), no one can be sure that they are so elected, so adherents find themselves in the position of trying to establish that fact by their own faithfulness.

    The doctrine of eternal security (in its current form) is largely a twentieth century innovation that is controversial for exactly the reasons you state. Traditional Arminians would simply say that it is possible to fall from grace and thus lose the salvation that you previously accepted, at least until you sincerely repent. And of course traditional Calvinists would simply say that those who fall away were never elect in the first place.

    But believers in the doctrine of eternal security generally claim that no amount of future moral turpitude can undo a legitimate confession of belief in Christ. That makes for a pretty weak form of religion of the ‘eat, drink, and be merry variety’ in my opinion.

    Comment by Mark Butler — March 27, 2007 @ 4:23 pm

  26. A couple comments based on my evangelical background:

    1. The belief that Jesus bled at Gethsemane is in no way uniquely LDS. I was taught it as a child. It is a biblical teaching (although that passage isn’t in all ancient manuscripts, possibly because it made Jesus sound too human). But, as far as I know, only do LDS ascribe any theological significance to the event.

    2. The question was asked whether (in evangelical thought) if you become a Christian at age 6 and then become a mass murderer if you still go to heaven. There’s no short answer to that question, because some evangelicals are Calvinistic (once saved, always saved) while others are Arminian (free will gives you the option of forfeiting your salvation). These are gross oversimplications. A Calvinist would say that, yes, in theory at least, a Christian who is a mass murderer would still be saved. In praticality, however, that same Calvinist would also say that the person never truly accepted Christ as savior in the first place, or he wouldn’t have done such a thing.

    In some evangelical circles, there is a debate going on over whether it is possible to accept Jesus as savior (guaranteeing a trip to heaven) without also accepting him as Lord (meaning you have to at least endeavor to live a righteous life). So this issue is far from settled.

    I think Mark Butler covered this issue pretty well.

    Comment by Eric — March 29, 2007 @ 8:34 am

  27. Eric, thank you. It is good to here it from one who has a background in it.

    Comment by Matt W. — March 29, 2007 @ 8:37 am

  28. This is all interesting, Matt.

    I see some of this belief in the neighborhoods, especially with those who are not reading modern-day LDS articulation on the issues.

    Is there a similar survey out there on how we view the nature of God?

    Comment by Todd Wood — April 10, 2007 @ 11:00 am