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.
(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]