The modern mind struggles to make sense of the atonement. At least mine does. The Book of Mormon insists that because of the atonement, mercy can potentially be extended to us sinners without compromising the demands of justice. In my experience, most attempts at clarifying what this means amount to little more than free-wheeling metaphors… not that I have done any better. In this post I would like to summarize Michel Foucault’s three different models of criminal justice described in his classic work: Discipline and Punish. It is my hope that his historical method might shed some light on the subject. (more…)
What are the elements within our Faith’s conception of the atonement which are unique to it? Here I will attempt to name a few. (more…)
This week was ward conference in our ward, so no teacher improvement this week. In lieu of that, I wanted to point out an old book on the atonement and some points it raises that I found interesting. The book is “The Broken Heart: Applying the Atonement to Life’s Experiences” by Bruce C. Hafen. (more…)
Is it too much of a stretch to say that any Mormon discussion of the atonement must answer the big three questions: Where are we going? Why are we here? Where did we come from?
“We believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam’s transgression.”
-2nd Article of Faith
“All mankind, by the fall of Adam being cut off from the presence of the Lord, are considered as dead, both as to things temporal and to things spiritual”
It is a common claim (see for example Bhodge’s latest excellent post at BCC) the LDS church rejects “original sin”, and rightly so, due to our second article of faith, the belief that Adam and Eve took the fall as a progressive step, and due to our belief that small children are considered not accountable, and thus innocent.
However, one claim I am uncomfortable with, from Blair’s latest post (and I should add the claim is not his, but that of Peter J. Thuesen, is that this somehow allows our faith to escape the situation of an “inherently damnable humanity”, as Hodges quotes. It is, after all, our inherent damnability which is central to the Gospel.
The Atonement of Jesus Christ occurs to reconcile our sinful nature. We sin because we have free will and are weak creatures. The very plan of salvation (come to earth via birth, get a body, be apart from God, have faith, learn to repent, progress towards being heavenly creatures) is set up so that we can progress, and we would not be able to progress without God, we were selected by him to be his children, and he made it his “work and glory” to bring us up to a higher level of existence.
So if Mormonism does not teach the fall causing inherent damnability, it is only because we have removed it as our starting point, and thus moved our personal damnation back to our eternal selves. Our “original sin” truly becomes original to us, with the sin being our inability to achieve the loving nature required of us to live with God.
This does create for us a unique solution, in that our damnation is defined as our inability to attain a certain nature through our own ability, and God’s salvation is his giving us characteristics which we can use to attain to that nature. (A body, the light of Christ, the gift of the Holy Ghost, the power of faith, covenants, the atoning help of Christ).
It also raises questions. If we are eternal, and unable to change, how does it become possible for God to make this change? I don’t really know, but I do believe.
Some time back, Kevin Barney ventured forth the opinion that the Church’s approach to atonement is a mix of many theories, especially pointing to how the hymns of the Church can be mapped to what Barney refers to as the four key theories of atonement. 
I believe Barney is correct in his assertion that the Church adopts a variety of explanations for how the atonement operates, but I’d like to further note that this is really the only option that a church attempting to holistically follow the Bible can make. The Bible itself does not have a central argument for explicitly how the atonement occurs, but rather has several contradictory metaphors.
In order to illustrate this point, I would first like to openly suggest that everything we know from the Bible regarding the atonement is primarily derived from the writings of Paul. Paul is the one who connects the dots between Old Testament forms of ritual and law and Christ. New Testament teachings regarding the atonement outside of Paul are typically seen either as derived from Paul (Hebrews, Letters of John) or as later additions to early texts (as in the last supper references). For those who say these points are arguable, that’s totally fair, but I think focusing on Paul can still get my point across.
Paul uses a variety of metaphors, drawn from his Jewish culture and background to explain the atonement. He uses sacrificial sprinkling , the sin-bearing scapegoat, a paschal lamb , heroic martyrdom , royal adoption , slave redemption  and conquering victor  just to name a few examples, and he often mixes and conflates metaphors.  As one author put it, he uses these concepts not to create a singular doctrine, but instead to create a “multiplicity of ideas” that “influence one another…but also contradict one another”.  (more…)
Blake has a relatively new paper up on his site called “Atonement in Mormon Thought (a Response to Deidre Green Regarding the Compassion Theory of Atonement)”. As the title indicates, it is largely a response to a paper critiquing his compassion theory of atonement.†
Before making his response to Deidre Green, Blake does a quick survey of uniquely Mormon theories of atonement and offers some critiques of his own. He did me the honor of offering a short critique of my Dialogue paper The Divine-Infusion Theory: Rethinking the Atonement (which is now available online, thanks Kristine and Dialogue!). When I read what Blake had to say it got me thinking about how it came about and I wanted to make a short response here. (more…)
This post grew out of a need to explain my discomfort with the “Parable of the Bicycle”, as well as a complaint from a friend that too often the bloggernacle refers to other older posts and does not leave room for new conversations. Because I do not wish to be critical directly of the faith of others, I have decided not to directly critique the “Parable of the Bicycle” but instead to focus on the Gospel as I understand it, as simply as I am able. In that, Mormon Culture sometimes calls for us to define salvation and exaltation as two different things, I am here asking you not to.
The words saint and sanctity both come from the same Greek root hagioi, meaning to set apart, or make holy, and entails a change of being through choices, experiences, and works. It is a process which requires the free use of agency and defines who we are in relation to God, others, and ourselves. In relation to the atonement, we typically refer to this as sanctification.
This process of sanctification is typically coupled with justification. This is often defined as an instantaneous legalistic act which declares the sinner free of sin due to the goodness of Jesus Christ. It requires no use of agency on our part, as it is Christ freely declaring us free from sin. In fact, justification comes from the Greek dikaioo meaning “to declare righteous”.
Some people say the most universal language is math. With that in mind, I was goofing around this morning, trying to explain the atonement with math. Hereâ€™s my first attempt:
M = Me
J = Jesus
S = Achieving my exaltation
N = the time Iâ€™ve existed (infinity)
M^N < S
J <> S
M^N + J = S
“Sorry” doesn’t put the Triscuit crackers in my stomach now, does it Carl? (Eric, Billy Madison)
If restitution is required for true repentance to take place, then we are all screwed. Sure, there are some sins for which restitution can be made. Stolen stuff can be returned. A relationship can be restored. But, for the vast majority of sins, it seems to me that robust restitution is really an impossibility. (more…)
Click here for previous posts in this series and why I’m writing this children’s book.
Every living person is given the Light of Christ when they are born, which is also sometimes called our conscience. This light helps us know basic right from wrong. When we feel we should do something kind for someone else, and choose not to do it, we sin against this Light, which diminishes our light and defeats some of our purposes of being here. When we hurt someone else, it hurts us too and creates guilt. The largest consequence of sin is that it hurts our relationships with others to where we can’t be trusted by others and we can’t trust ourselves. In such a state, we wouldn’t be able to stand being with holy and clean beings like our Heavenly Father. Heaven is not just a place, but it is rather a society in which trust abounds; trust that my tender heart will be valued as highly as I value it. My character is defined by my trustworthiness with the needs and feelings of others.
This post was an experiment in whether concentrating on the issues in my previous post would enable me to better put forth a discussion of the atonement. Your input and thoughts are greatly appreciated.
First to give context, I recently read a blog post about a “Reductio ad Hitlerum” film put on by BBC regarding the problem of Evil . At the same time, I was listening to the Book of Job on my commute to work, slowly working my way through the Old Testament for the first time. As I dealt with these two items simultaneously, it renewed my interest in the way the church has dealt with the problem of suffering and evil. It is my opinion that the Church uses its particular theological tenants regarding the Atonement and the way things are as our own theodicy, and that this theodicy is strong.
Now perhaps theodicy is the wrong word, some may argue, but here I am taking theodicy to simply mean a defense of God’s goodness and justice in the face of the existence of evil . And again, perhaps atonement is the wrong word, as this can sometimes be construed to mean everything between the act in Gethsemane and the entirety of the Plan of Salvation.  For my purposes here I am going to initially begin by framing the problem in the whole of the plan and hopefully drill down to examine the event in Gethsemane in context of that plan.
Today I went back and read a few old posts, and a few things became apparent.
As it is the current tradition of the Church to publish the majority of itâ€™s texts online, The Church has now done so with Preach My Gospel, the current Guide to Missionary Work in the Church. As this Manual will shape the thoughts and feelings of missionaries and converts for years to come, and thus, arguably, the majority of the future leadership of the church, Iâ€™d like to take the opportunity to examine the definition of the atonement as given in this important text.
In his Principles of Psychology, William James has a chapter exploring the nature of habits.
Point One: Habits are physical. If a substance can be shaped or manipulated and then hold its new configuration, it is capable of developing a habit. For example, “everyone knows how a garment, after having been worn a certain time, clings to the shape of the body better than when it was new; there has been a change in the tissue, and this change is a new habit.” Similarly, “when a bar of iron becomes magnetic or crystalline through the action of certain outward causes” it has developed a habit. The structure of these materials resists change, which is why the developement of a habit takes time. However, “when the structure has yielded, the same inertia becomes a condition of its comparative permanence in the new form.” (more…)