On the *actually* amazing grace described in Mormonism

July 22, 2007    By: Geoff J @ 3:37 pm   Category: Calvinism,Theology

My recent conversations with Aaron Shafovaloff, a devoted evangelical Christian and devoted critic of Mormonism (AKA devout member of The Fluffy Bunny Nice Nice Club(1) ) have reminded me of an important theological point: In Mormonism the grace and mercy of God are far more sweeping and robust and “amazing” than grace is on the evangelical view.

This is an important point because evangelical critics of the church consider the grace vs. works issue to be a major arrow in their anti-Mormonism quiver. The claim is that Mormons believe they will be “saved” by works and not by the grace of God. The problem is that this is a distortion of the real facts about the evangelical vs. Mormon views on grace.

Being Saved and Treasures in Heaven

First, it is important to remember that evangelicals believe when people die they get one of two things forever — eternal bliss in heaven or eternal torture and burning in hell. There is no middle ground for them. So getting saved literally means being saved from the fire for them; being saved from being burned and tortured in hell forever. As far as I can tell evangelicals generally do recognize that the scriptures consistently talk about the need for keeping the commandments of God and rewards for such good works. So it is a common belief that the good works we do have nothing to do with salvation per se — “getting saved” happens as a purely free gift to evangelicals from God when they accept Jesus — but rather good works lead to greater “treasures in heaven” for saved evangelical Christians. So on their view, getting in the door to heaven and out of the fires of hell is either a matter of being unconditionally elected by God (for the Calvinist evangelicals) or freely choosing God (for Arminian evangelicals) and this is the amazing grace they speak of. Once they are “saved” from eternal hell they then can get more treasures in heaven by keeping the commandments of God doing all the good works the scriptures teach (being merciful, forgiving others, feeding the hungry, etc.).

But here is the problem with the evangelical view on the grace of God: Pretty much only evangelical Christians get any of it! According to fairly standard evangelical theology Jesus will resurrect most every Mormon, Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox Christian, Jew, agnostic, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, atheist and even liberal non-evangelical Protestant in the world after this life to be sure they will live forever, then he will send them to be tortured in hell and freely choose to keep them there for all eternity while he and the acceptable Christians (including evangelicals of course) blissfully enjoy a glorious heaven together for all eternity.

They call that amazing grace? God sends the vast majority of people he ever created to burn in an eternal hell because they got their religion wrong here on earth? And in many cases they never even had the opportunity to get their religion “right” to begin with. Sorry, but it sounds more like shockingly anemic grace to me. Or even amazingly merciless cruelty. But every time I point these things out to Aaron and friends they just shrug their shoulders and quote one of a handful of prooftexts in Romans. Well alrightee then…

God’s actually amazing grace as described in Mormonism

Contrast that view of God’s grace or lack thereof with The Vision given to Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon in 1832 and as recorded in D&C 76. In that vision Christ revealed that his grace and mercy are so great that it won’t be somewhere between 1-5% of the inhabitants of the earth who he will be save from an eternal hell — rather, in one degree or another it will likely be 99%+ who he will save from that fate. The vision of the degrees of glory tracks very closely to this evangelical notion of “treasures in heaven” as well. The more we become like Christ, the better our treasures in heaven will be. Mormon theology sees God saving most everyone from eternal torture in hell (Outer Darkness in Mormon parlance) but also recognizes that not everyone will receive the same treasures in heaven based on their freely made choices and the character they develop.

It took these recent conversations to help me realize how amazing the grace described in the restored gospel really is. Yes, God must still be just and therefore those who reject Christ’s atonement must suffer themselves. And yes the wicked of the earth must go to hell for a long time before being resurrected and inheriting the telestial kingdom. But the view of God as described in the restored gospel is one of an incredibly merciful and and gracious and just God. Instead of capriciously sending the vast majority of his children to be tortured forever, he “saves” nearly everyone to one degree or another from an eternal hell in the end.

Of course the concept of proxy work for the dead is another example of the amazing grace that Mormonism attributes to God. In contrast to evangelical theology, in Mormon theology not only will those who have died likely escape eternally burning in hell, they also have the opportunity in the spirit world to accept the gospel and attain these so-called “treasures in heaven” the evangelicals teach of or higher kingdoms of glory that Mormonism speaks of. It really is a shockingly and scandalously merciful and gracious God that Mormon scriptures paint.

So my fellow saints, the next time a Fluffy Bunny Nice Nice Club member tries to harass you about grace, feel free to let them know that in Mormonism the grace of God actually is amazing.

End Notes

(1) If you missed it in my last post, I noted that members of anti-Mormonism ministries occasionally get grumpy when we call them anti-Mormons so I have taken to calling them the alternative name John C. suggested: The Fluffy Bunny Nice Nice Club.

[Associate Radio Thang Song: Fishbone - Question of Life]

94 Comments »

  1. It is amazing, ain’t it. Mormons believe that God’s grace reaches all men to the greatest measure man will allow, while Calvinists believe God’s grace is limited to a few chosen. We believe “This is [God's] work and [God's] glory, to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” Evangicals view this as a statement of idolatry, man is merely a creature only given worth by God (if He so chooses) and not all men are children of God. Many evangelicals view our works as dirty menstrual rags, not at all pleasing to God. Mormon’s believe our works in His service please God.

    Comment by P. Nielsen — July 22, 2007 @ 3:57 pm

  2. Geoff, while I don’t really doubt that many run-of-the-mill evangelicals believe in exactly the extreme version of the afterlife you’ve mentioned here, I question whether this is really the whole story on what evangelical-ISM believes about salvation and damnation.

    Comment by Seth R. — July 22, 2007 @ 4:31 pm

  3. It is pretty hard to believe isn’t it Seth? I have been pressing the evangelicals I have been talking with (especially Aaron) about this more and more hoping to give them an “out” on these claims but so far none of them seem interested in backing down on this stuff.

    Now these are generally well theologically well-informed evangelicals I have been talking with so contra what you said, my suspicion is that the run-of-the-mill lay evangelical would deny that her church teaches such things or at least would not defend these counter-intuitive doctrines as Aaron and friends have tenaciously done. (Of course when I suggest this to Aaron he insists that even the average lay evangelical Christian is well aware of these doctrines and would defend them… so who knows…)

    Comment by Geoff J — July 22, 2007 @ 4:40 pm

  4. If evangelicals were salesmen selling me Heaven I don’t think I’d buy it when I can get the same thing for free from the Mormons. Plus, if I do a little work (live the commandments) I not only get what evangelicals think of heaven but I get to actually become like God. Why pay $20 for a dinner at a restaurant when the restaurant is willing to give the same dinner to you for free and for $30 you can have the whole restaurant chain?

    Comment by Rusty — July 22, 2007 @ 5:47 pm

  5. Some evangelical leaders (Billy Graham among them) will, if pressed on the issue, acknowledge that there may be ways that even those who haven’t heard the gospel, or possibly even those of other religions, may come to a saving knowledge of Christ. They may say that it isn’t up to them to limit God in whom He can save, so they are open to the possibility (even if they don’t know the mechanism and even if they think it happens rarely) of salvation for those outside the small circle of evangelical Christendom.

    However, to answer Seth R.’s implicit question, the viewpoint stated in the original post is extremely common. It’s certainly what I was taught growing up and one reason I ended up converting to the LDS faith.

    Comment by Eric G. — July 22, 2007 @ 6:29 pm

  6. Rusty,

    I believe it is incorrect to conclude that one can inherit salvation in telestial glory “for free”. The D&C teaches:

    “And after they have paid the penalty of their transgressions, and are washed clean, shall receive a reward according to their works, for they are heirs of salvation.” (D&C 138:59)

    The clear implication here is that none shall receive a reward worthy of the name until after they have repented. And as resurrection is defined as the “redemption of the soul” (D&C 88:16), one might well conclude that their final resurrection will be postponed until such time, notwithstanding any prior being-brought-to-stand-forth for judgment purposes.

    Comment by Mark D. — July 22, 2007 @ 6:46 pm

  7. Why only 99%+? Why not the potential for 100% (1 Tim. 2:4)?

    After all, even brother Brigham suggested that after eons of time, even the perdited ones might come out of the pit to a kingdom of glory.

    Comment by cadams — July 22, 2007 @ 7:17 pm

  8. Well, partially. He felt they would be utterly annihilated and then the raw intelligence set back upon a new course that might result in exaltation. Whatever that means. But I think a fair reading is to argue that he felt the components out of which we were organized can then be reorganized as a new spirit that then goes through the plan of salvation.

    Comment by clark — July 22, 2007 @ 8:42 pm

  9. Geoff, I checked John Calvin’s holy and authoritative Institutes to see if there was forgiveness available for misspelling my last name.

    Consider yourself a lucky man.

    Comment by Aaron Shafovaloff — July 22, 2007 @ 9:56 pm

  10. Lol!

    Sorry about that Aaron. I even thought I double checked. Well I have repented and fixed it for you.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 22, 2007 @ 10:04 pm

  11. Biblical scriptures are explicitly and implicitly clear about “rewards in heaven.” Do the word search.

    The critics of the Church accuse us of having different meanings about things in the scriptures. An idea frequently found in LDS teachings is that a “damnation,” of sorts, occurs if one does not make it to the highest degree of the celestial kingdom – “that is the end of his kingdom; he cannot have an increase.” (D&C 131:4.) And, of course, when our other Christian friends hear the word “damnation,” they think “hell.” And, hell for them is eternal burnings and the buffetings of the devil, etc. Therefore, as you mentioned, salvation for them is anything other than that – since they have the binary view of the afterlife. (Seems I remember an old Gospel song about “just a shack in heaven.”) And, if that is their definition, then LDS doctrine describes a grace that is almost universal. In LDS parlance also then, the grace of Christ overcomes that hell spoken of by the Christian world at large.

    What really gets them whirling is agreeing to their doctrinal demands for salvation through the grace of Christ alone. Based on their definition, we _can_ agree. Then, ask them if there will be rewards in heaven; if those rewards will all be the same; what those rewards are based upon; and what those rewards will be.

    I try not to spend much time on “salvation.” I concentrate on “rewards.”

    Comment by Mondo Cool — July 22, 2007 @ 10:50 pm

  12. “And after they have paid the penalty of their transgressions, and are washed clean, shall receive a reward according to their works, for they are heirs of salvation.” (D&C 138:59)

    Will all the wicked want to repent and be willing to pay the penalty? Since they will have the same spirit they have here, it seems that many would rather ramain in their sins than to do what is necessary to be washed clean. What of them?

    Comment by Josh — July 22, 2007 @ 11:46 pm

  13. Geoff, a preliminary note for you (hopefully I can come back and discuss this more).

    Your post would apply to your specific kind of Mormon belief, not official Mormonism or popular Mormonism in general. At least it seems so.

    Mormonism doesn’t have an official position on whether those in outer darkness can progress into kingdoms of glory. Nor does it (using, for example, Robert Millet’s definition of what constitutes official doctrine) have an official position on whether there is progression between kingdoms of glory.

    Most Mormons I know don’t believe, as you do, that the sons of perdition in outer darkness will have a second chance to progress into a kingdom of glory. So at the very least for these Mormons, 33% of people are going to be eternally damned in outer darkness, not the less than 1% that you speak of. Furthermore, unlike you, a great many Mormons I talk to either don’t believe progression between kingdoms is possible, or don’t believe they can yet have any kind of definite position on that issue at all. This problem seems to be compounded by the fact that many Mormons (at least in discussions with me) don’t feel a practical assurance that they will end up in the Celestial kingdom.

    I don’t find it “amazing” or anything less than hellish to be stuck in a condition where I know a greater joy that I cannot ever-increasingly progress unto. I agree with LDS “Ralph” on the Mormon Coffee blog that the bottom “heavenly” kingdoms would be like a personal hell, and I agree with John Widtsoe that the pain and heavy regret would be a punishment that “may yield keener pain than physical torture.” (Understandable Religion, p. 89) This is particularly true when one is permanently in the Telestial or Terrestrial kingdom.

    So I can see why you, from your radical commitment to the principles of libertarian free will and eternal progression, feel like you must believe in progression between kingdoms (including the kingdom of Satan in outer darkness). But like I have noted, this is your kind of Mormonism, not Mormonism in general. I know a lot of what I’ve just said is based on my personal experience, but it seems compelling enough for now.

    Comment by Aaron Shafovaloff — July 22, 2007 @ 11:53 pm

  14. Eric G. – Thanks for your insights.

    cadams – I wrote “99%+” because I recognize your suggested solution is logically possible.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 22, 2007 @ 11:52 pm

  15. Your post would apply to your specific kind of Mormon belief, not official Mormonism or popular Mormonism in general. At least it seems so.

    And just to be clear, even considering Geoff’s specific brand of Mormonism, I still don’t think it is as “amazing” as the evangelical Christian view of grace. But I will of course have to come back to substantiate that.

    Comment by Aaron Shafovaloff — July 22, 2007 @ 11:57 pm

  16. After all, even brother Brigham suggested that after eons of time, even the perdited ones might come out of the pit to a kingdom of glory.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if Brigham said something like this, but I’ve never seen anything like it. Can I have a reference?

    Comment by Aaron Shafovaloff — July 23, 2007 @ 12:01 am

  17. I apologize for the fourth consecutive comment, but I’d like to note that I dropped a comment about the sons of perdition here. Okay, goodnight.

    Comment by Aaron Shafovaloff — July 23, 2007 @ 12:16 am

  18. Aaron S.,

    D&C 29:29-30 implies it might be possible.

    Comment by Mark D. — July 23, 2007 @ 12:23 am

  19. Aaron:

    I think Geoff has done a good job of leaving much of his personal ‘brand’ out of this specific post.

    Most every Mormon believes that the actual number of the sons of perdition will be very small. President Kimball (I believe) specifically said this.

    I think you are missin something on the 33% end. The folks you are referring to never even came to earth. But even if you throw them in our grace is still much more amazing.

    Even if we say there is no progress between kingdoms (which I agree most Mormons do not believe) still, they are all saved from hell. And from many of the descriptions I have heard, the Telestial Kingdom will surpass what the FBNNC says heaven will be like.

    Sorry, we are far more amazing than you.

    Comment by Eric Nielson — July 23, 2007 @ 5:52 am

  20. And oh, nice post Geoff.

    Comment by Eric Nielson — July 23, 2007 @ 5:53 am

  21. Even if the 33% never end up with any kind of happiness, at least they had the chance. Even the Sons of Perdition had a chance. God graciously offers mercy to all and if anyone doesn’t receive it, it’s due to his or her own freely made choices, not because God arbitrarily decided to deny it as a manifestation of his self love or something.

    Comment by Tom — July 23, 2007 @ 7:32 am

  22. The big problem I have with many (not necessarily all) Evangelical views of salvation and grace is reconciling what effect the brain/body has on our choices with judgment. That’s partially similar to the whole question of history. (i.e. is it really fair to consign a pacific islander from 1400 to hell simply because he didn’t know about God?)

    It seems Mormonism handles this very elegantly. The Book of Mormon in particular seems to allow for a reading of how the body is dealt with under free grace that resolves the issue nicely. I know Blake’s dealt with this in his books so I’ll not bore folks with it.

    Comment by clark — July 23, 2007 @ 9:17 am

  23. Sorry, we are far more amazing than you.

    Ha ha, it’s a grace off!

    Comment by Jacob J — July 23, 2007 @ 10:26 am

  24. Aaron (#14),

    For the record, I disagree with both Ralph and Widtsoe on the topic of telestial salvation, and I have the scriptures on my side. Those verses represent the official position of the church, despite speculations by Widtsoe or anyone else. Likewise, this represents the official position of the church, and doesn’t necessarily rely on any of the private beliefs of Geoff. So, the main thrust of the post seems quite well established in canonical LDS scripture.

    Comment by Jacob J — July 23, 2007 @ 10:33 am

  25. I would agree with you Geoff, except for this *one* issue. And yes, it is my favorite hobbyhorse. I feel if I did not get him (the hobbyhorse) out and ride him once in awhile, he might become lazy. :)

    What I have against the LDS view of grace is that it has to be earned, as in “after all you can do.” Take that view out of our position, and I think we really would have the most amazing theology of grace. But with it, well, we come across a little less than desired. And therefore IMO, rightfully criticized for our position of grace.

    And by all means Clark, bore us a little. I have read Blake’s books, but the older I get, the better I appreciate BY’s saying; “out greatest need is not to be taught, but to be reminded.” Or something like that.

    Comment by CEF — July 23, 2007 @ 11:05 am

  26. Jacob: it’s a grace off!

    Hehehe. I was thinking the same thing. Sort of like MC Hammer challenging Michael Jackson to a dance off!

    Anyway, I think Aaron’s comment #14 is a pretty valiant attempt to try to pull Mormonism into the theological mess evangelicals are in. I obviously think Mormonism need not be pulled in at all, but Aaron is right that in order for us to escape the mess entirely there may need to be persistent libertarian free will and thus the possibility of progression or retrogression between kingdoms forever.

    But as several people have noted, even if we granted the worst case scenario to Aaron on this, we would end up with a universe where a “third part” of the children of God consciously and freely chose to follow Satan over God and thus God did not compel them to choose otherwise.

    That is a FAR cry from a theology where God thrusts 95%+ of all his children (or “creatures” for Aaron’s sake) into an eternal hell without ever giving them the chance to consciously and freely choose him over Satan to begin with. (Even if one believes they never had free will to begin with it hugely morally problematic.)

    Comment by Geoff J — July 23, 2007 @ 11:12 am

  27. CEF: What I have against the LDS view of grace is that it has to be earned, as in “after all you can do.”

    I think this is incorrect and misses the main point of this post CEF. If grace is about being saved from an eternal hell then it is a free gift in Mormon theology. The “after all we can do” tracks to the “treasures in heaven” concept of the evangelicals. That is, we are already saved from eternal hell by the amazing grace of God and the things we do determine which treasure/mansion/kingdom we will inherit.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 23, 2007 @ 11:26 am

  28. Aaron,

    I’ve never understood how someone could characterize our position as “earning” grace. Christ freely and graciously offers us a contract or covenant whereby we can receive all that the Father hath. We are told that Christ will help us keep the covenant, and the only way to break it is to willfully do so. How is that not gracious? How did we earn the right to the covenant?

    We are saved by grace, even after all we can do. We are exalted as we abide in Christ’s love, by keeping the commandments.

    Comment by P. Nielsen — July 23, 2007 @ 11:44 am

  29. CEF, I take several passages in the Book of Mormon to imply that the main feature of grace is to give us the capability to act righteously. Part of doing this is Christ’s automatically taking up those aspects of our nature that are due to Adam. This is taken to imply that little children can’t sin and by extension the mentally ill. In other words all those aspects that aren’t “free” (leaving that undefined) are taken up by Christ so we aren’t held responsible. Further these are corrected by the atonement. Typically this is seen in terms of the resurrection where our eventual body won’t have the infirmities our current ones do. Which I take in modern terms as a reference to our cognitive processes and how they are part of “me.”

    All Mormons see the resurrection and this taking away of Adam’s affects as a key part of the atonement that is free to all. Everyone gets it.

    Add to this Christ’s mission to spirit prison during his death, which I think many see as integral to his atonement, and you have pretty much every aspect of life that cuts us off from God for which we aren’t reasonably responsible for taken away by Christ’s atonement.

    Contrast this with Evangelical view. Can you find a similar theology in the mainstream there?

    Comment by Clark — July 23, 2007 @ 11:54 am

  30. To add, this is why I think claims about our “earning grace” are so ludicrous. Our view of Grace is so much more expansive. Yes, we basically are semi-pelegian in most interpretations. But I think one way to see Christ’s grace is (1) to overcome what we aren’t responsible for and (2) to enable us to overcome what we were responsible for. (1) is automatic for all to satisfy justice. (2) is something we must take hold of and satisfies mercy.

    Where we differ is that after (1) we have to do something: repent. That some criticize us for seeing this rather common NT teaching as denying Grace always seemed enormously funny. (2) is an expansion of (1) but is something we have to ask for. But ultimately (1) is about giving us the capability to be righteous as well.

    Comment by Clark — July 23, 2007 @ 12:03 pm

  31. Hi Geoff,

    If I could find one in ten members of the church that could teach what you said in #27, heck, I would settle for one in fifty, I would be glad to shut-up about the way we teach grace. But my experience in the Church must be different than yours. Most members I know are not even comfortable with the word.

    I still maintain that 2Nephi has warped our view of grace to such an extant, that few members could explain what you said the way you said it. Obviously my gripe is not with you.

    Comment by CEF — July 23, 2007 @ 2:13 pm

  32. Good points in your post, Geoff.

    CEF, I agree with you that culturally, Mormons have done a poor job understanding our own scriptures on grace, and we are therefore justifiably criticized for our views on grace. Fortunately, I think we’re hearing more pro-grace statements over the pulpit these days. I’m definitely planning to use the upcoming Sunday school lessons on Paul as a chance to beat the grace drum (though I’m also anxious to get a more nuanced understanding of Pauline scholarship than, say, what Blake discusses in his book, which I think is a good start on this topic, but only a start…).

    Comment by Robert C. — July 23, 2007 @ 2:27 pm

  33. Well CEF, the problem really lies in the word “saved” rather than in the word grace. Evangelicals assume salvation means literally being saved from the flames of an eternal hell (and rightfully so in my opinion). But despite the clear statements in our scriptures that inheriting telestial glory is also salvation Mormons often assume salvation actually means “exaltation”, or what evangelicals might refer to as many treasures in heaven. That causes us massive problems when we talk about grace.

    (See my post on the definition of “salvation” in Mormon parlance here.)

    But this post uses an apples to apples comparison of the word saved and it is clear to me that on the Mormon view the grace and mercy of God are far greater than evangelicals view it.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 23, 2007 @ 2:28 pm

  34. Thank you Clark. The only thing I might take issue with, is the part about Evangelicals not believing in repentance. I realize there are those out there that see things the way you describe, but I have never had to deal with those, and am glad I haven’t. I find Calvinism less than desirable.

    Again, your understanding is not what the average member would explain. You allude to prevenient grace. Out side of Blake’s books, I have *never* heard the word prevenient used in the context of grace in the Church.

    Comment by CEF — July 23, 2007 @ 2:53 pm

  35. CEF,

    I agree with you; we need to get the word out about grace to many people in the church. Luckily, the scriptures of the restoration are strong on the concept of grace. It seems we are still suffering from a doctrinal reaction we had 150 years ago when we got it in our collective heads that “saved by grace” meant you could pillage and rape and still be saves so long as you confessed Jesus with your lips. There are still people in the church who don’t want to say we are saved by grace simply because they disagree with that view.

    By the way, I served in a Bible Beltish place and I did run into some folks who thought that way, but it was a small minority. Most Christians of all denomenations are big on repentance and showing forth good works.

    Comment by Jacob J — July 23, 2007 @ 3:26 pm

  36. BTW — Here are a couple of those Brigham Young quotes mentioned earlier about those in outer darkness:

    “The rebellious will be thrown back into their native element, there to remain myriads of years before their dust will again be revived, before they will be re-organized.” (Brigham Young, JD 1:118)

    “When the elements in an organized form do not fill the end of their creation, they are thrown back again, like brother Kimball’s old pottery ware, to be ground up, and made over again. All I have to say about it is what Jesus says—I will destroy Death, and him that hath the power of it, which is the devil. And if he ever makes “a full end of the wicked,” what else can he do than entirely disorganize them, and reduce them to their native element? Here are some of the mysteries of the kingdom” (Brigham Young, JD 1:275)

    I’m not certain these are the specific quotes cadams and Clark had in mind though.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 23, 2007 @ 4:45 pm

  37. Just type “Brigham Young” and “second death” in Google – read a few entries that pop up but take all the commentary with a grain of salt – and focus on direct quotations.

    I’m sure it’s just semantics, Clark, but Brigham said there’s no such thing as annihilation.

    Comment by cadams — July 23, 2007 @ 7:49 pm

  38. CEF,

    The reason why “prevenient” is never heard in the LDS Church is that it is a term of art in Arminian theology. Have you read any general conference talks lately? If someone used the term “prevenient” I would fall off my seat.

    If it were a scriptural term I am sure it would show up every once in a while, though. Mosiah 2:21 teaches much the same idea.

    Comment by Mark D. — July 23, 2007 @ 10:39 pm

  39. Jacob, I agree with you, there are some out there, but I am thankful there seems to be more that understand the importance of repentance. Sometime we need to have a discussion of the difference/similarities of once saved always saved and making your calling and election sure.

    Some Baptist minister pointed a scripture out to us in my first area in the mission field, I think it was in Romans, but not sure, about when one is born of God, he cannot sin. We did not know how to answer his point, still not sure what that scripture is referring to.

    Mark, that is too funny. I think I would have to ask someone if he said what I thought he said. It would be a turning point in our theology though, and I think a good one. Understanding that God loved/loves us knowing that we were going to be sinners, somehow makes it easier to believe he will/has forgiven us, all we have to do is ask.

    Comment by CEF — July 24, 2007 @ 7:22 am

  40. CEF, what I outline is what’s been taught in all the lesson manuals I’ve seen. Nothing particularly unique to the two aspects of the atonement that I can see. Mormons tend to not use the *term* Grace much. But we sure talk about the topic.

    Comment by Clark — July 24, 2007 @ 9:36 am

  41. I agree Clark. We teach about grace a lot in Mormonism and it is a central part of our theology, we just don’t use the word grace a lot.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 24, 2007 @ 9:59 am

  42. One thing: at some point we are brought face to face with the reality that everything we are: all our ideas, our striving after goodness, all of it, is insufficient. We are brought to see that as much as we have tried, even as much good as we have done, we have left a path of destruction and error behind us. And that, as much as we try, we can never make right what we have made wrong. Then we plead, as Alma, oh Son of God have mercy on me. Then we begin to be saved. We see that without Him we can do nothing, but that with Him we can do every needful thing. That we cannot make of ourselves Celestial creatures, and that only through Him are our hearts changed one degree in that direction. Our goodness, such as it is, will never ever be enough. God never comes to owe us one thing,- rather, we owe Him everything. He is vine, we the branches. Nourishmnet comes only through Him. Fruit comes only through Him. As Moroni says, if any man does good, he will act by the gifts and power of God.

    But this doesn’t happen magically. We put oursleves in the way of Grace by first, believing in Christ, by believing his words and teachings and exercising Faith in Him. This first thing underlies and motivates the entire gospel, it is the one needful thing. (Those who beleive in Jesus will be saved, and as long as they remain in Him they will, in time, become One with Him as He is One with the Father.) Then we strive to bring ourselves into conformity with Him through repentence (the fruits of which are a matter of Grace, not our own efforts). Then, we receive Baptism and the related saving promises. Then we receive the Baptism of Fire: we are changed, and become new and constantly renewed creatures, finding ourselves, through the Spirit and not of ourselves, more and more in agreement with the divine will, we more and more ‘have the mind of Christ,’ and our filled with His love, until, at the end, we find that we ‘have become like Him, for we see (understand) Him as he is.’ This is “Mormonism” as I have experienced it,- it is charged with Grace at every turn.

    ~

    Comment by Thomas Parkin — July 24, 2007 @ 10:33 am

  43. Clark – That is kind of my point. What good has it done us to use all kinds of words in the place of grace, when that is the word other Christians use? I was talking to a member a few years ago about grace, (when I was still talking to members about grace) and she said, “you sure use the word grace a lot.” My response was, “if I were talking about faith, I would be using the word faith a lot.” Again, we in the Church are not comfortable with the word. To me, that is a problem.

    Geoff – Can you show me how our reluctance to use the word grace has helped us with our missionary work?

    Thomas – Where in the world did you ever find a Mormon talk like that? You must be a convert, or some kind of hybrid Mormon. Just kidding. It is nice to see someone in the Church that can speak a language that other Christians can understand.

    Just curious Thomas, what Church books have you been reading to get your unique understanding? I would imagine Clark would say there is nothing unique about what you said. (Whats that expression? When you are a hammer, everything looks like a nail. :}) I must have been reading the wrong books.

    Comment by CEF — July 24, 2007 @ 4:09 pm

  44. CEF,

    I must admit that don’t know what you find unusual about Thomas’s comment. Sound like a pretty standard Mormon take on the subject to me.

    Again, grace is so ever present and enveloping in Mormon theology that it is like air to us. Maybe we don’t talk about it a lot because it is never not there on our view. I suspect Evangelicals talk about it a lot because they mistakenly believe that they are the only ones enjoying the benefits of God’s grace.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 24, 2007 @ 4:35 pm

  45. CEF, the reason Mormons tend to not use the word Grace is due to opposition with other Christians – especially up through the 1970′s. As for why use other terms, the other terms are also scriptural. Surely the fact Mormons use the term “atonement” rather than “grace” isn’t that significant.

    Comment by clark — July 24, 2007 @ 8:50 pm

  46. I’d add that one problem with using the term “grace” is that it tends to refer to all God’s help in a vague way. Surely if I pray and God helps me I am receiving God’s grace. But when we speak theologically we often want to be a bit more specific – especially in the context of the LDS conception of the plan of salvation. So I think the word difference makes a lot of sense as a practical matter.

    I find that the way Evangelicals often use the term grace is unhelpful myself. Although this may be more due to the influence on Calvinism in most I’ve talked to – even those who tend to reject Calvinism. (Although it does seem at times like the Calvinists are coming to dominate Evangelical theology of late)

    Comment by clark — July 24, 2007 @ 8:54 pm

  47. CEF,

    I’ve mostly been reading the BoM and the New Testament, with a smattering of D&C. *wink*

    ~

    Comment by Thomas Parkin — July 24, 2007 @ 11:17 pm

  48. Geoff – That did not answer my question. It must be a caustic air to us because we can’t hardly stand to say or hear the word. When I say we, I am not talking about people that hang out in places like this. They would all be more like you and Clark. You guys are so *not* the average Mormon, I sometimes think you have lost touch with those like me that really are average.

    By the way, I am leaving for good ol’ Arizona tomorrow, if I get time and it would work for you, it would be nice to meet you and anyone else out there.

    Clark, Clark, what I am going to do with you? :) Using the word atonement instead of grace really is *that* significant. The words are not synonyms. Christ could have completed the atonement and decided we would have to earn it. Oh! Come to think of it, that *is* what we believe. But the reality is, it is a gift. The atonement, by itself, does not have to be a gift. By not using the word grace, we have lost the idea of it being a gift. (And yes, even Eternal Life is a gift.) How is that a good thing?

    Thomas – Somehow I knew that would be your answer. It is also what Robinson says is where he came to his understanding of grace. I am a little thick headed and had to find it else where. But at least I found it.

    Comment by CEF — July 25, 2007 @ 8:11 am

  49. CEF, I think my point was that they weren’t synonymous and that the more narrow and precise terms Mormons use make sense. Put an other way, Mormons focus more on the details rather than just talking about God’s gifts in terms of vague generalities.

    Mormons of course do recognize that the atonement is a gift. To assert that we’ve lost sight of that seems wrong. At the very minimum it requires strong justification. I certainly have never seen anyone say that it’s not a gift.

    As for claiming we have to earn the atonement, I don’t know anyone who believes that and I don’t see any evidence of it being taught. Certainly we have to do stuff to take hold of it (repentance). But taking repentance as earning distorts fundamentally LDS theology.

    Comment by Clark — July 25, 2007 @ 8:26 am

  50. Hi Clark – I am fascinated that our experiences are so different. I see a movement in the Church to move away from the way you describe things, to one closer to what the other Christians believe. I watched a guy on the BYU channel awhile back, who said every gift of the spirit is a gift of grace. To me, saying atonement or tender mercies is much more vague than the word grace.

    A gentleman’s challenge here. I would dare say that I can find more talks form the GAs on down to the general membership, that would say the resurrection is a free gift, but exultation must be earned, than you can find that would say exultation is a free gift. Exultation here being the same as Eternal Life. What do you think?

    Everyone is missing my main point. Do you see the way we teach grace as moving the Church is a positive direction, or does it hurt the church? If it hurts the Church as I believe, is it something we can fix? I think it is, so why not fix it? You and Geoff seem to think everything is fine, no tweaking need be done. Help me to see why you are right and I am wrong.

    Comment by CEF — July 25, 2007 @ 9:36 am

  51. I’ve never understood how someone could characterize our position as “earning” grace.

    I would characterize popular Mormon theology like this:

    God has graciously, upon the basis of the merits and mercies of Christ, given us the opportunity and assistance to earn/merit blessings like forgiveness and eternal life and prove our worthiness unto Celestial exaltation. So our merits aren’t sufficient, but they are decisive and still part of what is a larger, thorough merit-system.

    When I meet a Mormon who says they don’t believe we earn or merit any blessing, then I usually say, “That’s great! So that means you would be willing to unequivocally denounce any statement made by a Mormon leader that explicitly says we have to earn or merit forgiveness and eternal life?” So far no one has been willing.

    Comment by Aaron Shafovaloff — July 25, 2007 @ 11:03 am

  52. I once asked Robert Millet, a main proponent of Mormon neo-orthodox soteriology, what he thought of this quote:

    “[E]very man and woman will receive all that they are worthy of, and something thrown in perhaps on the score of the boundless charity of God. But who can justly expect to obtain more than they merit?” – Joseph F. Smith, Journal of Discourses, v. 20, p. 30:

    The response was classic: He thought it was a little too focused on works, and he “wouldn’t say it like that”, but he could “see where he’s coming from” and wasn’t willing to renounce it.

    Comment by Aaron Shafovaloff — July 25, 2007 @ 11:08 am

  53. CEF and Aaron,

    I would substitue for the word ‘earn’ the word ‘qualify’. In that, the difference between our doctrine and other models is of degree rather than of kind. For instance, needing to ‘believe’ or ‘confess’ or any other thing, however small and whether or not the system ackowledges any freedom in the act, is a point on which one ‘qualifies’ for salvation. No one has yet to say that salvation is totally random.

    This may be a distinction without a difference. But it seems to me the word ‘earn’ carries the connotation that we’ve done it by our own efforts, or that we’ve made ourselves saved creatures. That God has come to owe us for our works, and that is quite plainly not Mormonism, whoever might have said what, whenever, or whatever this or that Mormon thnks. We can quote prolifically not only from the BoM, but also from every other Mormon scripture to refure the idea that God owes us our salvation.

    ~

    Comment by Thomas Parkin — July 25, 2007 @ 11:24 am

  54. CEF, I don’t think that exaltation is a free gift. I consider that false doctrine. I think what is free is the ability to obtain exaltation. That’s a crucial difference.

    Comment by Clark — July 25, 2007 @ 11:36 am

  55. Aaron, I certainly don’t have trouble with Pres. Smith’s comments. We only are rewarded according to our worthiness. What the atonement does is make us able to be be worth; make us able to repent; etc.

    But when we act on this it is hardly “earning” anything. It is merely taking hold of the gift God has given us.

    Comment by Clark — July 25, 2007 @ 11:40 am

  56. Aaron,

    I would characterize popular Mormon theology like this:

    God has graciously, upon the basis of the merits and mercies of Christ, given us the opportunity and assistance to earn/merit blessings like forgiveness and eternal life and prove our worthiness unto Celestial exaltation. So our merits aren’t sufficient, but they are decisive and still part of what is a larger, thorough merit-system.

    When I meet a Mormon who says they don’t believe we earn or merit any blessing, then I usually say, “That’s great! So that means you would be willing to unequivocally denounce any statement made by a Mormon leader that explicitly says we have to earn or merit forgiveness and eternal life?” So far no one has been willing.

    First, this didn’t address that which you quoted: namely, how one would falsely characterization Mormonism as teaching we must earn grace. Nothing you said suggests such a thing.

    Second, I cannot recall any General Authority ever saying that we must “merit forgiveness.” We must comply with God’s requirements for forgiveness, but that doesn’t mean we earned the forgiveness on our own merits.

    Third, I think you use the word “earn” in a sense differently than the General Authorities of our Church, and the average member. This is the fallacy of equivocation. You seem to be using ‘earn’ in a philosophical sense, something akin to ‘merit on one’s own’ while we use it in the sense of ‘do that which God has decreed necessary for us to do to obtain said objective.’ There is no hint of working without God at all; merely that of doing all one can do.

    So, I reiterate, I cannot comprehend how someone could characterize our belief as “earning grace.” Working *within* grace to remain in the covenant and become Christlike, yes. Earning it on our own merits, a definite and absolute no.

    Comment by P. Nielsen — July 25, 2007 @ 1:42 pm

  57. “This passage indicates an attitude which is basic to the sanctification we should all be seeking, and thus to the repentance which merits forgiveness. It is that the former transgressor must have reached a “point of no return” to sin wherein there is not merely a renunciation but also a deep abhorrence of the sin where the sin becomes most distasteful to him and where the desire or urge to sin is cleared out of his life.” – Spencer W. Kimball, Miracle of Forgiveness, pp. 354-355

    “The demands of justice for broken law can be satisfied through mercy, earned by your continual repentance and obedience to the laws of God… Through the Atonement you can live in a world where justice assures that you will retain what you earn by obedience.” – Richard G. Scott, “The Atonement Can Secure Your Peace and Happiness,” Ensign, Nov 2006, 40–42. From General Conference, October 2006.

    “Immortality is assured to all of us through the atonement of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. But eternal life is a personal responsibility we must earn and be worthy of.” – Delbert L. Stapley, “The Path to Eternal Glory”, Ensign, July 1973, p.99

    “Very gladly would the Lord give to everyone eternal life, but since that blessing can come only on merit-through the faithful performance of duty-only those who are worthy shall receive it.” – Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, 3 vols., edited by Bruce R. McConkie, 2:, p.5

    “What then is the law of justification? It is simply this: ‘All covenants, contracts, bonds, obligations, oaths, vows, performances, connections, associations, or expectations (D. & C. 132:7), in which men must abide to be saved and exalted, must be entered into and performed in righteousness so that the Holy Spirit can justify the candidate for salvation in what has been done. (1 Ne. 16:2; Jac. 2:13-14; Alma 41:15; D. & C. 98; 132:1, 62.) An act that is justified by the Spirit is one that is sealed by the Holy Spirit of Promise, or in other words, ratified and approved by the Holy Ghost. This law of justification is the provision the Lord has placed in the gospel to assure that no unrighteous performance will be binding on earth and in heaven, and that no person will add to his position or glory in the hereafter by gaining an unearned blessing.” – Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, p. 408. Quoted without last sentence in CES manual, Doctrines of the Gospel

    “The truth is that we are saved by grace only after all we ourselves can do. (See 2 Ne. 25:23.) There will be no government dole which can get us through the pearly gates. Nor will anybody go into the celestial kingdom who wants to go there on the works of someone else. Every man must go through on his own merits. We might just as well learn this here and now.” – Marion G. Romney, “In Mine Own Way,” Ensign, Nov. 1976, 123

    PS I’ve never caricatured Mormonism as a system where man gets no gracious, divine assistance in earning forgiveness and eternal life.

    Comment by Aaron Shafovaloff — July 25, 2007 @ 2:39 pm

  58. I think considerable care is required when reading things into statements about this topic. First of all, it is not remotely possible for eternal life to be acheived without God’s help.

    And, if you keep my commandments and endure to the end you shall have eternal life, which gift is the greatest of all the gifts of God. (D&C 14:7, italics added)

    Or in other words, without grace salvation is impossible. Eternal life is a gift. A conditional gift, but a gift nonetheless.

    If a wealthy benefactor bequeaths a billion dollars to a university on the condition that they use it to pursue a certain line of inquiry, do we say that the university has earned the bequest to the degree that the gift is no more gift?

    Or what if the university was chosen because it had made a name and a reputation for fruitful research in the relevant field? Would that make a difference?

    Comment by Mark D. — July 25, 2007 @ 5:09 pm

  59. Aaron,

    If I misunderstood your position I apologize. I thought you were trying to characterize our belief as ‘earning grace through our own efforts’.

    Just to be clear, there are levels of authoritative statements in Mormonism. The scriptures, of course, represent binding doctrine. Books such as The Miracle of Forgiveness and Mormon Doctrine represent the personal beliefs of the authors only, and are not binding nor authoritative.

    Also, just to be clear, and to repeat what I said in my last post, General Authorities speak to be understood by their audiences. Thus, trying to use the word ‘earn’ in one way, but quote our Church leaders who use it in another way, is commiting the fallacy of equivocation. If you are not meaning to use the word ‘earn’ in the sense of ‘merit on one’s own’ then I apologize. However, if you are not equivocating, I do not understand what issue you have with the quotations. Of course one must ‘earn’ eternal life in that context. Eternal life is becoming like Jesus Christ. Similarly, one must repent and remain in the covenant to retain a remission of sins.

    Cheers.

    Comment by P. Nielsen — July 25, 2007 @ 5:38 pm

  60. Aaron,

    Those were some great quotes you brought up! Better than most stuff brought up in this discussion so far.

    Comment by cadams — July 25, 2007 @ 8:13 pm

  61. Mark D., we agree at a very minimal but real level that grace is necessary, and without it salvation is impossible. But this isn’t the watershed issue, and never has been.

    How one attempts to receive the gift of eternal life shows how much we understand whether it is truly a gift. The condition, in other words, is the crux issue. If it is anything beyond faith, then we turn it into a wage or a “due”, even if we use the language of “grace” to articulate our doctrine:

    “Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.” (Romans 4:4-8)

    P. Nielson,

    If you are not meaning to use the word ‘earn’ in the sense of ‘merit on one’s own’ then I apologize.

    Perhaps you didn’t read the last quote I provided:

    “The truth is that we are saved by grace only after all we ourselves can do. (See 2 Ne. 25:23.) There will be no government dole which can get us through the pearly gates. Nor will anybody go into the celestial kingdom who wants to go there on the works of someone else. Every man must go through on his own merits. We might just as well learn this here and now.” – Marion G. Romney, “In Mine Own Way,” Ensign, Nov. 1976, 123

    Again, I acknowledge that Mormonism affirms that we cannot merit or earn eternal life without the gracious opportunity and gracious assistance provided by God. But I still affirm, along with Romney here, that Mormonism finds it acceptable to teach that “Every man must go through on his own merits.”

    Just to be clear, there are levels of authoritative statements in Mormonism. The scriptures, of course, represent binding doctrine. Books such as The Miracle of Forgiveness and Mormon Doctrine represent the personal beliefs of the authors only, and are not binding nor authoritative.

    I’ve heard that disclaimer a thousand times over, and I’m aware of the colossal mess of the issue of what constitutes official, binding doctrine. :-) So, now that that’s out of the way, would you be willing to unequivocally denounce as gospel-denying heresy the statements I quoted, at least the last one?

    Comment by Aaron Shafovaloff — July 25, 2007 @ 9:00 pm

  62. So, now that that’s out of the way, would you be willing to unequivocally denounce as gospel-denying heresy the statements I quoted, at least the last one?

    Sorry, but this is just silly.
    We Mormons don’t mind a bit if our restorationist theology is a little messy.

    Comment by C Jones — July 25, 2007 @ 9:34 pm

  63. Aaron S.,

    I think you are taking Elder Romney out of context and making him an offender for a word. The point he was trying to make is that one could not ride another’s coat tails into heaven.

    In any case the basic choice here is between a theology where salvation requires personal effort and a theology where salvation is totally arbitrary.

    If my religion revolved around the flip of a coin I would probably push the rhetorical advantages of that precept for all that its worth too.

    Comment by Mark D. — July 25, 2007 @ 10:14 pm

  64. All,

    I’ll be out of town for a few days and will only have limited access to the Web. Sorry for my absence or quiet in the meantime.

    But having said that, I get the feeling that many of you are missing the point of this post. Read it again if that is the case. And let me reiterate that point here: Salvation (read: being saved from an eternal hell) is a totally free gift of God in Mormonism. It is is entirely free to all people because of the grace of God.

    Now here is the important second part of the post. While said salvation is totally free in our theology, we indeed must merit exaltation through continual repentance. As I noted, this merit system for exaltation has its parallel in evangelical theology as “building up treasures in heaven”. Now I realize that salvation can be a squirrely word in Mormon theology but for this discussion I am defining it as exclusively meaning salvation from an eternal hell.

    So based on the parameters and definitions I set up here I don’t see why some of you Mormons have any beef with what Aaron said in #51. He was saying we believe that eternal life and exaltation must be merited and he is absolutely right — we do teach those things (as his quotes show). Likewise some evangelicals teach that treasures in heaven after they are saved are merited by good deeds. But salvation from an eternal hell is free in Mormon theology. In fact, the only ones who might get an eternal hell have to go to great lengths to merit that punishment in LDS thought.

    So please stay on track here people. I realize that in the scriptures the word “salvation” sometimes implies exaltation, but that is not what I posted on — that is a different discussion entirely.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 25, 2007 @ 10:32 pm

  65. CEF,

    I am baffled by much of your comment #50. Of course exaltation must be merited to some degree. That is what free will gives us and that is clearly what Mormon doctrine teaches. (The evangelicals would call that lots of treasures in heaven I guess.) Are you preaching something else? But salvation from an eternal hell is totally free in Mormonism.

    As to what we should be teaching — we should be teaching the truth as restored by God through modern prophets and that is what we do in the church. What else would you have us do?

    Comment by Geoff J — July 25, 2007 @ 10:36 pm

  66. Geoff,

    I don’t think that is quite right:

    The dead who repent will be redeemed, through obedience to the ordinances of the house of God, and after they have paid the penalty of their transgressions, and are washed clean, shall receive a reward according to their works, for they are heirs of salvation. (D&C 138:58-59, italics added)

    Comment by Mark D. — July 25, 2007 @ 11:07 pm

  67. Right Mark. The general idea taught by church leaders though is that after spending “a thousand years” in hell all of these people will have sufficiently repented already and will inherit the telestial glory. The scriptures indicate that all of those who must go to spirit prison (aka hell) will eventually bow the knee to Jesus and confess his name:

    109 But behold, and lo, we saw the glory and the inhabitants of the telestial world, that they were as innumerable as the stars in the firmament of heaven, or as the sand upon the seashore;
    110 And heard the voice of the Lord saying: These all shall bow the knee, and every tongue shall confess to him who sits upon the throne forever and ever;
    111 For they shall be judged according to their works, and every man shall receive according to his own works, his own dominion, in the mansions which are prepared; (D&C 76: 109-111)

    So they repent in the sense that they confess Jesus but it seems that paying for your own sins in a temporary hell would make that a bit of a given. So while the nuance you bring up is interesting it doesn’t detract from the main point I have made in this post in my opinion. Nearly everyone gets salvation from eternal hell for free in Mormon theology — people have to do a lot to merit Outer Darkness.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 25, 2007 @ 11:31 pm

  68. “But salvation from an eternal hell is totally free in Mormonism.”

    I’m not sure this is so, Geoff. It will happen to all but a few, but they still must accept Christ and the ordinances that key understanding of his doctrine before being released from hell. “Else why are they baptised for the dead … ” This may be little enough, but it isn’t nothing, it isn’t ‘totally free.’ The only way salvation, in any sense, can be seen as totally free, as nothing on our side of the ledger book, so to speak, is if we do _nothing_ to qualify for it: not believe, not confess, not be baptised, not strive to do good, nothing. Even ‘nothing but believe’ (is that all you want from me?) is still something.

    If we are saved fully without any good occuring, ie works being done, either by us or by God through us, then goodness ultimately has no meaning as far as this world goes. But, fortunately, as David reminds us:

    “20 The LORD rewarded me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands hath he recompensed me.
    21 For I have kept the ways of the LORD, and have not wickedly departed from my God.
    22 For all his judgments were before me, and I did not put away his statutes from me.
    23 I was also upright before him, and I kept myself from mine iniquity.
    24 Therefore hath the LORD recompensed me according to my righteousness, according to the cleanness of my hands in his eyesight.”

    ~

    Comment by Thomas Parkin — July 25, 2007 @ 11:39 pm

  69. Sorry if last post seemed like piling on, Geoff. I beganwriting it while still at the store, and before Mark’s 11:07 post. :)

    ~

    Comment by Thomas Parkin — July 26, 2007 @ 12:40 am

  70. Aaron,

    I’ve heard that disclaimer a thousand times over, and I’m aware of the colossal mess of the issue of what constitutes official, binding doctrine. :-) So, now that that’s out of the way, would you be willing to unequivocally denounce as gospel-denying heresy the statements I quoted, at least the last one?

    Elder Romney has no authority to pronounce new doctrine (and that is doctrinal, as contained in the D&C), and the idea that we can get into heaven on our own merits is not a doctrine of our church. So yes, I personally do not believe what he technically said. However I, like Mark, think you are taking him out of context. Elder Romney is speaking about riding on others (besides Christs’) coat-tails, not speaking about doing everything without Christ’s grace.

    But I still affirm, along with Romney here, that Mormonism finds it acceptable to teach that “Every man must go through on his own merits.”

    Again, there is an equivocation. If by “own merits” you mean “without Christ” then the answer is a booming, no. If by “own merits” you mean “not relying on the merits of other mortals, like your parents, or Sunday-school teachers, then the answer is yes.”

    It is this possible equivocation that is the troubling aspect of your characterizations.

    Comment by P. Nielsen — July 26, 2007 @ 6:37 am

  71. It’s not a problem Thomas. I was using “totally free” in the way evangelicals use the term — that is it still requires eventual acceptance of Christ and his grace. I am just trying to speak the same language as our evangelical brothers and sisters in this thread.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 26, 2007 @ 9:13 am

  72. Aaron, I don’t have time to reply, but I think fundamentally Mormons understand faith differently than most Evangelicals. So when you write that if there is anything but faith (i.e. if we do anything) then that tends to entail an understanding of faith that sets up an opposition most Mormons reject.

    Put an other way, faith may well be inseparable from acts or potential acts.

    Comment by Clark — July 26, 2007 @ 9:56 am

  73. To add, what I think is common in all your quotes is that God gives us the ability to be righteous but ultimately we are rewarded according to our works. (Hardly an unscriptural notion)

    Comment by Clark — July 26, 2007 @ 10:52 am

  74. So yes, I personally do not believe what he technically said. However I, like Mark, think you are taking him out of context. Elder Romney is speaking about riding on others (besides Christs’) coat-tails, not speaking about doing everything without Christ’s grace.

    No offense, but if this isn’t equivocation, I don’t know what is.

    Comment by Aaron — July 26, 2007 @ 2:07 pm

  75. Clark and others,

    As I keep saying, I affirm that Mormonism teaches that a certain kind of grace is necessary: God gives us the opportunity and gives us the assisting strength to personally merit eternal life and exaltation.

    It’s as though we were bums on the street, and God came up to us and gave us a free job, a house to live in, a car to drive to work, and hourly encouragement to keep doing the right thing. In a sense this man depends on grace, but he in a very real sense still earns the paycheck he receives every two weeks. Whether he earns and merits this paycheck is dependent on the foundational grace, but it is still decisively up to his personal worthiness, personal righteousness, and personal merit. That is how I understand popular and historic Mormonism, and I don’t think the Biblical view of receiving eternal life is like this at all.

    As Mormon apostle and popular church educator John Widtsoe wrote:

    We must pay the price for whatever we obtain. If we do something, we receive something; if we do nothing, we receive nothing. That is a universal principle, valid from economics to religion, on earth or in heaven. The price may not always be great, but it must be paid. Only as the price has been paid can we claim to own our possessions. Only as the price is paid, and to that degree, can we expect the joy which is the objective of existence. Paul says that Jesus bought us “with a price.”

    To pay the price means self-effort. But, by that price we gain increasing strength. There is no gain of inward power, if we live wholly on the bounty of others. They who do so become enfeebled, and ultimately valueless to themselves and to society. They are drones in the hive, who have no claim on the honey gathered by others. That could well be written on the souls of men.

    They who set out deliberately to avoid the payment of the price, are agents of the evil one. His plan has always been to move men as pawns towards unearned satisfactions; to loot and steal from the hard-earned store of others. That plan spells retrogression, and eventual dissipation of all possessions, and the cessation of life in our universe. There can be nothing worse.

    The principle of paying the price is, of course, merely a phase of the universal law of cause and effect, a law which is in full operation in the material and the spiritual domain. Every occurrence has a cause behind it. If the lightnings play in the heavens, or a hoop rolls down the hill, or a brick be lifted to the top of the wall-it is the effect of some cause. Take causes away from nature and life, and there would be no effects. A stagnant universe would be reduced to flat inactivity and ultimate death…

    In reality, this doctrine means that we earn and must earn what we get. Salvation must be earned. The plan of salvation is of value to us only as we conform, actively, to its requirements. It has been so throughout the eternities of existence. The spirit of man, seeking progress, has toiled and striven to rise towards his high destiny, the likeness of God. The privilege to come on earth was earned by him. Earth-life was not forced upon him, nor did he receive it as a gift. That doctrine lifts man into the position of kingship. He has labored and won. His battle has resulted in victory. He has the right to walk among kings. This is one of the great doctrines, often forgotten, laid down in the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.

    The doctrine of paying the price, or earning what we receive, does not imply hardship. On the contrary, the gospel teaches clearly that we are to have joy here on earth. “Men are, that they might have joy.” True, we are surrounded by forces which we must overcome; but man has been given power to overcome them, and to make them his servants. Increased power and courage come with every new subjection of opposing forces. The very act of conquest gives joy. Men, who set out fearlessly to pay the price, labor in the light of the sun, and find abiding joy in their tasks.

    The common teaching of Christian sects has been that man is born to sorrow and suffering; and that he must wait for joy until death has brought him into that other, spiritual, world. This has been an evil doctrine. When a person believes that he must walk through life in sorrow, his eyes are likely to be on the ground. Discontent and fear are in his heart. He is tempted to forget to pay the price. Labor and toil are looked upon more and more with distaste. They become punishments imposed for some previous, forgotten sin. Idleness and sensuous hours, played up brightly by the evil one, rise in desirability. He surrenders to the appetites of the flesh. Or, he falls into a state of hopeful faith, dreaming of some poorly described future, in another world. This doctrine, which destroys the normality of life, has caused untold human misery, of body and mind.

    On the other hand, the man who believes that he is born to find joy, but must win it by earning it, walks through life with head up, and a steady, fearless heart. To him labor brings joy; idleness begets sorrow. He feels that to overcome obstacles, to resist evil, will bring happiness on earth, and eternal joy hereafter. They who so believe cast off the cares of life. At the end of the day they take the deep breath of satisfaction. Their sleep is sound, and they awake refreshed.

    The difference between the two doctrines is that between truth and untruth, between light and darkness. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is in full opposition to any doctrine which does not require man, and provide him with the means, to earn his way daily, to earthly and heavenly joys.

    It’s not merely an accident that the Improvement Era allowed this to be published:

    It is true that baptism is the door to the Kingdom of God, but there are various degrees in that kingdom. Paul compares the degrees to the sun, moon and stars.

    Heaven will be strictly a merit system. We get what we earn. That is all we are entitled to. Should we send up no good works, by what right can we expect a good place? If we make the Celestial degree, it will depend upon our works. It will not be attained through indifference. Things worth while are won by effort.

    The Lord is a good pay-master. It is a great privilege to be in his service, and those who decline this opportunity will certainly have intense regrets. They may lay up for themselves treasures on earth, but these treasures all perish with death. President Young said, “I am for life everlasting.” He attained his aim.

    Will I get a mansion or a dug-out? That depends on what I earn.

    Comment by Aaron — July 26, 2007 @ 2:19 pm

  76. Aaron,

    You seem to be ignoring all of the people who are pointing out your equivocation on the meaning of the word “earn.” Is that a strategy, or are you genuinely not understanding the distiction being made, or do you understand the distinction but disagree that Elder Romney had such a distinction in mind?

    Comment by Jacob J — July 26, 2007 @ 2:56 pm

  77. I’d second what Jacob says. I’m not longer sure what is even in dispute. I think most of us understand the LDS position. It almost seems like a debate over terminology where you are tending to privilege the Calvinist perspective Aaron. There’s nothing wrong with that if you wish to do that as a personal matter. But surely you aren’t surprised if others reject that semantic stance.

    Comment by Clark — July 26, 2007 @ 5:32 pm

  78. Aaron,

    It is quite true that in Mormonism there is a sense of proportionality between effort and reward. For simplicities’ sake suppose the metric of one’s eternal reward (provided by God) is the metric of the unconditional blessings one receives plus K times the metric of the effort provided by the individual like this:

    R = U + K * E

    Now if U was zero and K For [our Father which is in heaven] maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.”

    And K is much greater than one, perhaps infinitely greater. For “as it is written, eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.”

    Now what is grace in this example. Is it not everything that God gives above and beyond the metric of one’s individual effort, as follows:

    G = U + (K – 1) * E

    Given that we believe that U and K and both large, that is hardly a denial of grace.

    Now the corresponding Calvinist equation would be something like:

    R = U + S (for the elect)
    R = U (for the non-elect)

    and of course G = R, because K = 0 due to total inability. However, I always wonder how this is reconciled with Rev 20:12-13:

    And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.
    And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works.

    Comment by Mark D. — July 26, 2007 @ 9:04 pm

  79. John Widtsoe, as an example, identifies his principle of earning and meriting with “paying the price”, a principle “valid from economics to religion.” Obviously, for Widtsoe, this principle isn’t one of an empty or coincidental correspondence between blessings and that which they are predicated upon. The correspondence is one of “We must pay the price for whatever we obtain”.

    Of course, in Mormonism, the earning of these blessings isn’t done without the assisting and necessary grace of Christ, but there is a very real meaningful correspondence between the heavenly kingdom earned and the moral “worth” or value of the obedience performed. That is why I believe Mormonism, in the end, is a very thorough merit-system. Geoff seems to agree (please correct me if I’m wrong, Geoff).

    As for the Romney quote, one must realize the context it comes from (oh, please do read it!). Romney is parallelling the principle of self-sufficiency, self-reliance, and independence in temporal salvation (that you can’t simply get things for free) with the principle of self-sufficiency, self-reliance, independence, and works as a meritorious requirement for entering the Celestial kingdom. To him the two are parallel, whereas I think the parallel (between an earthly economy of capitalism and spiritual economy of earned kingdom-bestowal) is horrific (cf. Romans 4:4-5). Of course, Romney would quickly admit that one cannot enter the Celestial kingdom without grace, but he nonetheless says:

    “Let us be self-reliant and independent. Salvation [which Romney apparently means here as entering the Celestial kingdom] can be obtained on no other principle. Salvation is an individual matter, and we must work out our own salvation, in temporal as well as in spiritual things… Every man must go through on his own merits.”

    Comment by Aaron Shafovaloff — July 26, 2007 @ 9:13 pm

  80. Aaron,

    I’m a little confused about what you are arguing for with those quotes too at this point. What is it you think they add? I have clearly pointed out that in Mormon thought salvation from eternal hell/torture is a free gift from God that we only need accept. I have also clearly noted that higher forms of salvation (in higher kingdoms including the Celestial Kingdom) are indeed based on merit — just like the evangelical “treasures in heaven” idea. So what are you hoping the additional quotes you gave will do at this point? They are only verfying the things I have already noted after all.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 26, 2007 @ 9:16 pm

  81. Mark D., I agree with this:

    There are books in heaven with the deeds of all human beings recorded. We are all judged according to those books. But only those whose names are in the Lamb’s book of life escape the lake of fire. What does that mean? I think it means, first, that no one will be saved because of their deeds. If a person does not belong to Christ—if a person has not trusted in the blood of the Lamb, the Son of God, so that he is in Christ, clothed with Christ’s righteousness—then the books are books of condemnation. Only condemnation. As Paul said, “None is righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10). No one is saved by the record of his deeds.

    But does that mean that the books are useless when it comes to the judgment of those whose names are in the book of life? I don’t think so. When Paul says in Romans 2:6, “[God] will render to each one according to his works,” he does not mean that works save us; but that works confirm that we are saved. Fruit does not make a tree good. Fruit shows that the tree is good. For the believer whose name is written in the book of life, the other books become books of confirmation, not book of condemnation.

    That does not mean that there will more good works than bad works in the books for the believers. That certainly was not true of the thief on the cross. It means that there will be recorded there the kind of change that shows the reality of faith—the reality of regeneration. There will be enough evidences of grace that God will be able to make a public display of what is in the books to verify the born-again reality of those written in the book of life. No one is saved on the basis of his works. But everyone who is saved does new works. Not perfectly, but with humble longing for more holiness. (>>)

    My gripe with Mormonism was never that works play an evidentiary or confirming role with respect to testifying to the reality of living, saving faith. My beef is that works play so much more than an evidentiary role, and play even a meritorious role in meriting/earning the Celestial kingdom. And no, I don’t here deconstruct “merit” to a meaning of works merely evidencing and confirming faith. I am speaking of a correspondence between blessings given (particularly eternal life) and moral value / personal moral worthiness.

    I believe Romans 4:4-5 indicates that not even the godliness or righteousness of faith itself is is a reason people are justified and freely forgiven. Rather, empty-handed, humble, desperate faith receives the substitute, imputed righteousness and godliness of Christ. Christ does not justify the ungodly sinner because of the godliness or righteousness of faith, but rather because empty-handed faith looks to the all-sufficient godliness and righteousness of Christ.

    Comment by Aaron Shafovaloff — July 26, 2007 @ 9:25 pm

  82. I’m a little confused about what you are arguing for with those quotes too at this point. What is it you think they add? I have clearly pointed out that in Mormon thought salvation from eternal hell/torture is a free gift from God that we only need accept. I have also clearly noted that higher forms of salvation (in higher kingdoms including the Celestial Kingdom) are indeed based on merit — just like the evangelical “treasures in heaven” idea. So what are you hoping the additional quotes you gave will do at this point? They are only verfying the things I have already noted after all.

    Geoff, our discussion has obviously veered from the topic of universal salvation from outer darkness. From what I gather some Mormons here and yourself are in disagreement on the role of merit/earning in receiving eternal life.

    Comment by Aaron Shafovaloff — July 26, 2007 @ 9:28 pm

  83. No I don’t think so Aaron. Eternal life or exaltation is clearly and unequivocally something we must merit. I have made that point repeatedly in this thread. I have been in agreement with the other Mormons here (with the possible exception of CEF?). So while salvation is free, exaltation must be merited.

    I contrast that with evangelical theology where salvation is only free to people who believe basically as evangelicals do (whether they are given the chance to believe that way or not in life) and everyone else is sent to the eternal torture chamber by God. The evangelical idea of salvation tracks more to the Mormon idea of the lower kingdoms anyway so the issue of meriting exaltation is entirely a different topic from “salvation” in the evangelical sense anyway.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 26, 2007 @ 9:33 pm

  84. Aaron,

    I just gave a pretty decent explanation of how grace and merit can be compatible. Paul’s idiosyncratic views or occasionally over-blown rhetoric or whatever, most of us would rather be graciously judged on our merits (per Rev 20:12-13) and lay up treasures in heaven (per Matt 6:20) than be arbitrarily consigned to heaven or hell for no reason whatever.

    And if it is actually the case the Paul was a budding proto-Calvinist, we would say that he was wrong on that point, and out of harmony with the thrust of the biblical record. As Ezekiel said:

    Cast away from you all your transgressions, whereby ye have transgressed; and make you a new heart and a new spirit: for why will ye die, O house of Israel?
    For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, saith the Lord GOD: wherefore turn yourselves, and live ye. (Ezekiel 18:31-32, italics added.)

    Needless to say, this doesn’t accord with the gospel according to John Calvin.

    Comment by Mark D. — July 26, 2007 @ 9:57 pm

  85. Mark, regarding Ezekiel 18:31-32, you might be interested in this.

    Comment by Aaron Shafovaloff — July 26, 2007 @ 10:40 pm

  86. Dear Aaron,

    From what I gather some Mormons here and yourself are in disagreement on the role of merit/earning in receiving eternal life.

    Not really. Once it is made clear that this “merit/earning” is taking place in a covenant relationship with Christ, whereby His merits are our merits, and we are one with God, most Mormons agree with Geoff (including myself).

    Comment by P. Nielsen — July 27, 2007 @ 1:09 pm

  87. Aaron, I don’t think there’s much debate about merit in Mormonism. I think there’s often confusion over language. But that’s a different matter. That’s not to say there aren’t the occasional Mormon who adopts a more Evangelistic theology. I’m not at all convinced they can support this. I tend to see Evangelicals taking a particular reading of Romans and then doing creative reading of the rest of stuff. (i.e. taking works as mere evidence – an epistemological rather than value/ethical view of works) I just don’t think that correct.

    Now on the one hand clearly this is probably the most basic divide between Mormons and Evangelicals. The only things that probably are a bigger disagreement are creation ex nihilo and the nature of the ousia of God.

    However the way the discussion has gone it really has seemed more about the meaning of merit.

    Surely as many have said there’s not a univocal way to talk about this.

    Comment by Clark — July 27, 2007 @ 9:07 pm

  88. I do disagree with the way Mormons use the word earn or earned in relation to Eternal Life. Those words are not even found in the D&C. Probably because Eternal Life is the greatest *gift* that our heavenly Father can give us. It cannot be earned. If it could, we would not need a savior. Moses would have been the next best thing.

    If the requirements to enter heaven are perfection, and they are, then it could work like this.

    Instead of perfection, lets say that God requires us to be able to jump as high as the moon to enter heaven. And lets say that some of you can jump three feet high flat footed, and I can only jump two feet high. Does your three foot high jump meet God’s requirements? Can you say that because you did so well, you have earned your way to heaven, and that I, with my little meager jump, was not enough to get me there? I think all of the answers are self-evident.

    Clark and others are correct, it is *mostly* about words and how we use them differently. I have come to believe it is only right that we as LDS at least try and get along with other Christians.

    I am a construction worker, and as such have a language that is not appropriate in all situations. I consciously choose to not use certain words around people I know will take offense by those words. I have found that most Christians take offense if I use the word earn in relation to salvation. I have made a decision not to use that word around them. In doing so, I find that I do not use that word at all any more when talking about salvation regardless to whom I am talking to. Is that a bad thing?

    I would hope Aaron would agree with this. If not, that is okay. There are times I am willing to drive stakes into solid rock with certain positions. The following will be one of them. If this is not good enough with him and others, so be it.

    What God wants, is not our puny works, but our hearts. One can work their self to death and never get to heaven. Or one can give a widows mite and be sufficient to gain Eternal Life. It is all about faith in Christ, a change of heart, and then spending the rest of your life trying to share the gospel with others. In other words, doing things for the right reasons.

    No one, not even evangelicals believe one can do nothing with their saved condition and expect that they will see God. A change of heart will cause one to work as never before, but for the right reasons. The best and most succinct way of explaining this was said by Nibly. “Work we must, but the lunch is free.” That is how I see this issue.

    Comment by CEF — July 28, 2007 @ 9:50 am

  89. CEF, while I can understand the linguistic thing, I think that an unfortunate consequence of adopting Evangelical language in discussions is that it tends to hide our disagreements and confuse matters. (i.e. it often makes it seem like we agree when we don’t)

    This issue of “earning” is a clear one. I think it unarguable that Calvinistic Evangelicals and Mormons disagree over the nature of works. There’s no getting around that. To say that eternal life is a gift requires unpacking how Mormons feel we obtain eternal life. Once one gets into the nitty gritty there are huge differences with our Evangelical friends.

    I should note, of course, that many (most?) Christians disagree with the Evangelicals here to. So let’s be careful about conflating Christian and Evangelical. And of course many Evangelicals aren’t that Calvinistic, although as I said Calvinism has, the past decade or two, come to dominate the movement from what I can see.

    Comment by Clark — July 28, 2007 @ 6:27 pm

  90. CEF,

    I appreciate the heartfelt expression of your feelings in your last comment. My problem with it is that you seem to be misunderstanding some fundamental doctrines that have been restored through modern prophets.

    First of all, your “jumping to the moon” analogy is really misunderstanding the nature of exaltation. You are treating exaltation like a thing we get if we do some specified things in the analogy. That is just wrong in my opinion. We become exalted by slowly changing who we fundamentally are over time with God’s help. We become celestial individuals with God’s help. We don’t just get exaltation or celestial status. See my parable of the pianist on that subject.

    Second, I totally agree with you that salvation is not earned or merited. The problem is that you are conflating salvation with exaltation and for the purposes of this thread we are treating them as very different things.

    You said: What God wants, is not our puny works, but our hearts.

    The problem here is that this sentence assumes that our hearts and our puny works can be separated. They can’t be. What we do and think and say is a reflection of our hearts. As Jesus said, “by their fruits ye shall know them”.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 30, 2007 @ 6:55 pm

  91. Clark and Geoff – I will save time and address this to both of you, as you seem to see this the same way. First, thank you for taking the time to try and help. And I mean that sincerely. I have been struggling with this for a long time now. If I really do have it wrong, I would like to find it out, so I can stop traveling down the wrong road.

    Clark, Robert C. has a new post over at “Feast upon the Word Blog” that would be a nice place for you to explain the “huge differences with our Evangelical friends” that you mention. I would like to see just what those differences are. And I do tend to over simply things, so you are probably right about some of those things. http://feastuponthewordblog.org/2007/07/31/intro-to-paul-grace-and-works-and-ephesians/

    Geoff – The jumping as high as the moon analogy was just to show that trying to perfect ourselves is as impossible as jumping as high as the moon. If we could perfect ourselves, we would not need a savior.

    When you say “We become exalted by slowly changing who we fundamentally are over time with God’s help”, how would you answer the following question? If Paul died the day after he had his vision on the way to Damascus, could he still go to the CK? I would think you would say yes, but it sounds like you think he would have to spend a lifetime of doing good works to get there. If not, then I do not understand your point.

    You are correct, I have conflated salvation and exaltation. If one believes that there will be progress from a lower kingdom to a higher one, as I do, then there really is no problem. But that could be where we are disagreeing, sorry if that is the problem.

    “The problem here is that this sentence assumes that our hearts and our puny works can be separated. They can’t be. What we do and think and say is a reflection of our hearts. As Jesus said, “by their fruits ye shall know them”. ” That is true, but my point was, that without a change of heart, doing things for the right reason, then our works seem to be no more than filthy rags to the Lord. A puny jump of three feet high, when what the Lord wants is perfection, not on our own, but in and through Christ.

    Comment by CEF — July 31, 2007 @ 1:45 pm

  92. CEF: If Paul died the day after he had his vision on the way to Damascus, could he still go to the CK? I would think you would say yes, but it sounds like you think he would have to spend a lifetime of doing good works to get there.

    Yes he could, and yes it would probably still take lifetime(s) of God-assisted character change and good works for him to become like Christ. But I think it is safe to assume that Paul has been doing good and has been becoming more Christlike for the last 2000 years in the spirit world.

    If one believes that there will be progress from a lower kingdom to a higher one, as I do, then there really is no problem.

    Will be or can be? I too am a believer in the possibility of progression between kingdoms but I also believe that free will is eternal so there are no guarantees of progression. There, as here, spiritual progress is the result of freely made choices.

    I agree that a mighty change of heart through the Holy Ghost is crucial. I disagree that human kindness and mercy and graciousness one to another are ever seen as “filthy rags” by Christ though. That is one of those ridiculous things evangelicals are always spouting and I think it is poppycock. Pure kindness and mercy are always smiled upon by heaven no matter who they come from.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 31, 2007 @ 3:05 pm

  93. Geoff – Don’t we believe that certain prophets/people have already been exalted? My point is, it seems that your view that it will take a very long time to get there is/may not be true. Of course for me, it could very well take a long time. :)

    I am a strong proponent of the idea, if it can happen, given enough time, it will happen. Lets see, forever, yea, that is enough time. :)

    I have always taken the “filthy rags” thing as an exaggeration to make a point. And as long as the works are done with your view in mind, “Pure kindness and mercy” then I would agree. But I think the BOM makes it clear that we can do things for the wrong reason and it not be counted as anything good.

    After reading “Bonds That Make Us Free” I would maintain that we really do need a change of heart before we can do anything good.

    Geoff, I am not trying to argue just for the sake of arguing. If I really do have all of this wrong, then I do need to change/see things differently. But I have never been able to see how I have things wrong. I know, I am very thick headed.

    Comment by CEF — August 2, 2007 @ 10:22 am

  94. CEF: I am a strong proponent of the idea, if it can happen, given enough time, it will happen. Lets see, forever, yea, that is enough time. :)

    Well the question is what is “it”? It could be outer darkness or exaltation after all right? If we can spiritually progress we can spiritually retrogress too. That is why I say there are no guarantees on our final destination even with progression/retrogression between kingdoms being true.

    As for some people being exalted as a result of this probation — I have no doubt that is true. Most people will probably take a lot more time though I think.

    Comment by Geoff J — August 2, 2007 @ 11:42 am

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