A Rational Theology: Sin, Damnation, and those who do not accept the Gospel.

April 2, 2007    By: Matt W. @ 1:44 pm   Category: Widtsoe Reading

Ok, so I’ve given up on orderly systematic analysis of this book. Why? Because the more I read of Widtsoe, the more I see that he begins ideas in one chapter and ends them much later. (For example, his view of epistemology from chapter 2 is returned to in Chapter 33).

Defining Sin:

Disobedience may be active or passive. Passive disobedience is not doing what should be done; active disobedience is doing what should not be done. Both may be equally harmful. The main effect of disobedience is to weaken, and finally wreck, the man who disobeys law. Disobedience and sin are synonymous. (Chapter 21)

This Definition makes me think of Ostler’s second book, which I am also in the process of reading. In it, it defines “original sin” or the “act of adam” as not just bring death into the world, but also as the moral influence to sin we receive from either genetics or environment (nature or nurture, if you prefer.) Widtsoe agrees, saying “Every person affects every other person… Good or evil may be transmitted from personality to personality” (Chapter 24). Since we can not be obedient or disobedient to the law if we are simply influenced to be such, could it be rightly said that a key point of the atonement is one of moral influence also? I know Blake argues against the “moral influence theory” of the atonement but in his definition of original sin, is he not setting up moral influence as a strong component of the atonement?

Defining Damnation:

In the Great Plan there is no provision for the eternal damnation of man. At the best, men will be ranged according to their stage of progression-some higher, some lower. In a universe ruled by intelligent beings filled with love for one another, there can be no thought of an endless damnation only as men, by opposition to law, destroy themselves. Endless punishment and eternal punishment, terms often used, of little meaning to the human mind, mean simply God’s punishment, which is beyond our understanding. Those who refuse to accept truth, or to abide by law, will gradually take less and less part in the work of progression. They will be left behind, while their intelligent fellows, more obedient, will go on. In nature there is no standing still; those who do not advance will retrograde, become weaker and finally wither and be forgotten in their low estate. The intelligence called man cannot be destroyed. Eternal life is therefore the destiny of man. But, eternal life is life open-eyed, ready-minded, seeking, accepting and using all knowledge that will assist in man’s progress. To continue forever, upward, that is eternal life and the destiny of man. (Chapter 35)

This is a fairly “universalist” approach to Salvation, in the long view, but I can not help but think about atonement and whether it will always be available to give freedom from the entropy of past error to those who perpetually choose to sin. Perhaps this is what is meant by the italicized sentence above, but it seems malformed, and thus leaves me confused. Any ideas?

For those who may think, as I do, that if the Eternal Life is our “destiny” (I can’t think the word “destiny” without the image of Darth Vader entering my head, by the way.), here is a quote on why we share the Gospel.

On not accepting the Gospel:

It must also be remembered that men are not necessarily evil because they do not accept the Gospel. Some find it impossible to understand the truth … and others have been led by their free agency in one direction, whereas the Gospel would lead them in another. Nevertheless, though men are not evil because they refuse to accept the Gospel, of necessity they retard their progress…
(Chapter 11)

I wish every missionary had this quote, not just because it gives the purpose of the Church, but also to remember that those who reject the missionaries are not “evil”. I believe it was Elder Faust who said yesterday, “Hatred retards spiritual growth” to the members of the church. I add, hatred IS not accepting the gospel…

2 Comments »

  1. Matt,

    I don’t see Widtsoe as teaching universalism here. I think your guess about the italicized sentence is correct, and he is leaving open the possibility that people are perpetually disobedient.

    The other thing is that he seems to be equivocating on the meaning of “eternal” in the term “eternal life.”

    From above:

    The intelligence called man cannot be destroyed. Eternal life is therefore the destiny of man. But, eternal life is life open-eyed, ready-minded, seeking, accepting and using all knowledge that will assist in man’s progress. To continue forever, upward, that is eternal life and the destiny of man.

    The first two sentences seem to be using “eternal” to mean “going on forever” and the last sentence seems to use it to mean something along the lines of eternal progression. I must admit that it annoys me when people are sloppy about language in this way.

    Comment by Jacob J — April 3, 2007 @ 11:21 am

  2. Jacod, I caught the same vibe regarding eternal life there, but was trying to give Widtsoe the benefit of the doubt. When I referred to the universalist concept, I was think more of his first two sentences:

    In the Great Plan there is no provision for the eternal damnation of man. At the best, men will be ranged according to their stage of progression-some higher, some lower.

    To me it seems that Widtsoe is sticking to his theme of Self-Effort, but I am not yet comfortable that this can be extended all the way to mean that man punishes and exalts himself, and God only helps. I am hoping to dig through some more of Widtsoe’s writings to better capture his thoughts on grace and the atonement.

    Comment by Matt W. — April 3, 2007 @ 11:51 am

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