There are currently, so far as I can tell, five distinctive models in LDS thought for our pre-existent state.
1.- Eternal Spirits in an eternal relationship with God and eternally of the same essence as God. – Sometimes attributed to Joseph Smith and championed by Blake Ostler, this notion is that we have always existed and have always been in the relationship we are now in with the Godhead. This concept faces the challenge of eternity and progression, ie- why did it take us so long to get to this life on earth? It also is commonly challenged by the spiritual creation narrative from the Book of Moses, though this is often dismissed by claims of doctrinal supersession. Some, like Geoff J, have used concepts like Multiple Mortal Probations to alleviate this challenge. In terms of Spirit Birth, there is no beginning, so no birth.
2. Eternal Spirits in a Non-eternal relationship with God but eternally of the same essence as God.- Also attributed to Joseph Smith, this concept was once speculated by Truman Madsen (When he wasn’t championing BH Roberts). It speculates that the Godhead was formed at a specific point in time via covenant for the purpose of bringing about God’s plan. By extension, just as the relationships of the Godhead had a beginning, so also do our relationships with God. While this sidesteps the challenge of eternity and progression, it does not completely eliminate it, and it also brings up the question of Joseph’s Ring Analogy (If there was a beginning, there must be an end). Another major challenge is that it has never been popularized by a prominent LDS leader or teacher. In terms of Spirit Birth, Spirit Birth is limited to merely being the adoptive change of state we go through via accepting our relationship with God the Father.
3. Eternal Spirits called Intelligences in a Non-eternal relationship with God and not eternally of the same essence as God (lacking a spirit body)- Here we have the concept championed by BH Roberts, and popularized by Truman Madsen. The main difference between this and #2 above is that it attempts to harmonize #2 with concepts and statements put forth by Brigham Young or the Pratts which called for Spirit Birth, as well as ideas like those found in the Book of Moses (spirit creation) with statements from Joseph Smith in the King Follet Discourse and in the Book of Abraham revelation. (spirits without beginning or end). This plan merely divides the pre-mortal state into segments, moving from amorphous intelligence to spirit body. Challenges to this concept include it being initially derided by higher general authorities, it’s having been intellectually thoughr out, rather than arrived upon via official revelation, and its common (though unnecessary) connection with spiritual vivaporous birth. This is one of the primary areas of spirit birth, though there is a range of belief as to how literal this birth is, going from a literal sexual act where spirit seed fertilizes spirit eggs, through less literal views up to something closely resembling #2 above.
4.Non-Eternal Spirits formed from unintelligent matter called intelligence and not eternally of the same essence as God (lacking a spirit body)- Championed by Brigham Young, this notion, it is argued, comes from the early apostles missing out (due to missionary work) on the later sermons of Joseph Smith, which were not verified nor widely available until BH Roberts published History of the Church. (or possibly until JFSII abridged it to TOPJS). Here we have something fundamentally similar to creation ex-nihilo, where God as creator takes the chaos of eternal matter, forming it so that our spirits may emerge naturally or supernaturally from within. Good spirits go on to greatness, while the bad ones face eventual obliteration, decomposing back to the raw material from which they came. Being like ex nihilo, it faces the challenges therein. Whether it escapes the problem of determinism depends on whether you feel life is naturally emergent from formed intelligence or if you believe God supernaturally made it so. However, naturally emergent life comes with its own set of challenges, primarily the lack of need for a creator. Sprit Birth here is typically of the sexual variety, though again, not really out of necessity. It could just as well be a chemistry set.
5. Non-Eternal Spirits formed from intelligent Matter called intelligence and not eternally of the same essence as God (lacking a spirit body)- Here we have Pratt and Pratt’s concept of spiritual atomism, with intelligent subparts coming together and forming, via synergy with God, a being greater than the sum of their parts. I always fail at describing this one correctly, having not been interested enough to dig through the seer and gaining most of what I know about it from the letter in which it is repudiated. So I’ll leave this one to more capable hands
So which Model do you prefer? Why?