Monday Morning Theological Poll – Mormon Atonement Extravaganza Edition [poll updated (again)]

Because I’m interested in the different schools of thought on this issue and because I wonder how compatible (and accurate) it all is, I provide the following poll. Just choose the one that best suits your approach. I realize that you would like to choose more than one (I sure would), but don’t. Choose the one that best encapsulates your understanding of the most important aspects of the process of the atonement.

If I’ve missed an important theory entirely, mention it in the comments and it will likely get added. If you chose one, but still feel a need to mention the others that appeal (or don’t) in the comments, please do.


  1. My choice: Discipleship.

    My mix: Discipleship 50%, Painkiller 20%, Sanctification 20%, Justification 5%, Substitution 5%, Repentance 5%, and Empathy 5%.

    Although I’m a self-declared Universalist, this is still probably how I think it all works.

  2. I choose empathy. It is difficult to say whether your options already encompass this but I would suggest the view that: God’s pre-emptive love overpowers the alienation we feel as a result of sin and brings us into relationship with Him.

  3. Aaron,
    Would you also consider yourself a universalist, then?

  4. I voted empathy, although the word most is unnecessary and may scare some off from choosing it.

  5. I would consider myself a Universalist, but with a number of obvious proviso’s; such as those who, for whatever reason, reject that relationship. I did not, for example, find anything that I disagreed with really in your posts on this theme from awhile back.

  6. You clearly tainted the vote with your 50% for Discipleship, John. (Also, I chose discipleship).

  7. Eric,
    The answer has been altered so that those squeamish about a less-exclusive CK need not fear.

  8. I’m torn between discipleship and sanctification.

  9. I didn’t know Dietrich Bonhoeffer was blogging, nor that he used “Ben Park” as his handle.

  10. :)

    If the BCC was solely comprised of theology nerds, I’d nominate #9 for best comment. Sadly, I think there are only a handful of dorks who got the joke.

  11. You forgot an option for Kinship.

  12. I voted “election,” but that’s only because I strongly suspect no one else will make that choice. My own views would be, I suppose, some combination of Election, Justification, Substitution, Empathy, Universalism, and Discipleship. Breaking it down: 1) God’s love is total, all-encompassing, and inscrutable (Election, Empathy, and Universalism); 2) God’s love leads Him, after we have had all those experiences which He, for His own unknowable reasons, either allowed us or determined us to have, to make us all worthy of returning to His presence (Election, Justification, Empathy); 3) the instrument of this Love was and is Christ, who, though sinless (because He was also God), became as a sinner and died in our place (Substitution); and 4) Christ only real command was for all people, in all their manifold communities and congregations, to love one another through submitting ourselves to Him and His dictates and His example (Universalism, Discipleship). I doubt all of that really fits together, but that’s kind of where my thinking about the atonement is today.

  13. Russell,
    That’s a great response. I mean, you’re probably wrong, but I think you’re probably wrong in the right way.

  14. J.,
    I’m not certain what kinship refers to. Email me a brief explanation and it will get added to the poll.

  15. Where is ‘Liberation’?

  16. narrator,
    send me an email (or facebook message) with a brief definition and it’ll get added.

  17. Also missing adoption.

  18. John, it is the typically early-Mormon idea that once you are sealed/adopted into the family of God, then only the most grievous sin will prevent our ultimate reunion.

    In a way it is describing a particular aspect of the atonement. That is to say that empathy deals mostly with mechanics, justificaiton and sanctification deal with process. Kinship is an overarching system.

  19. Steve,
    I’m thinking that adoption and J’s kinship are the same, no?

  20. “there are only a handful of dorks who got the joke.”

    We may be few, but we are mighty–we few, we happy few…

  21. Two new options have been added at the bottom of the poll (but not liberation, as Loyd hasn’t gotten back to me yet). If you’ve already voted and can’t get to another computer to re-vote, just state your general disgust with the rigged process in the comments.

  22. John, kinship and adoption are likely the same, only mine is biblical.

  23. In that case, Steve, we’ll go OT biblical and say discipleship and adoption are the same thing.

  24. Chris Gordon says:

    I chose “simplicity,” but only because it most closely approximates my preferred choice, which is “yes.”

    I struggle terribly to define the atonement in my own life and to feel like one is a daily part of the other. My faith is when I need it to be any one of those things for me that it will be so that I can participate and enjoy the blessings in reality that I’ve come to understand and appreciate in theory.

    I recognize truth in all of those statements, but for me the mystery and majesty of the atonement is that it can be all things to all people in a way that defies concrete description.

  25. Perhaps you should have a poll about the reason why a suffering atonement is necessary, or if divine suffering is irrelevant. That tends to be the main area of disagreement.

  26. This Poll should be a pick all that apply, not a pick one poll…

    I think your definition of justification is wrong.

    My one word would be Uniting or Unity. Christ, representing the Godhead, provides himself as a violence ending master, to bring humanity together in peace and indwelling love with one another and with God.

  27. The Narrator got back to me, so you third-world commies now have an option.

    I didn’t want to give people that option. Choose what you find most relevant, please.

    I had a hard time defining justification. How would you define it?

    Also, would you like me to add Unification as an option (and to rename it Zion)?

  28. Many shots but all miss wide.

  29. *headdesk* Venn Diagram, please?

  30. Come now, Moriah. You’ve got the necessary two and a half hours to read all the options and carefully consider each, don’t you?

  31. Poll too long–needed rest 2/3 of the way through it. End of semester. Brain starting to jingle jangle jingle. Cannot answer Monday Theological Poll until after Tuesday Humanistic Nap.

  32. Another question: The bloggernacle is notoriously “liberal,” would the results here differ if we gave the poll to rank and file members and, if so, how?

  33. You’ve got the necessary two and a half hours to read all the options and carefully consider each, don’t you?

    I blame the ADD.

  34. Justification is forgiveness of sins by the grace of God on condition of faith unto repentance.

  35. Zion is perfect.

    I would define Justification as God tolerating our sinful nature out of his own loving goodness, and not out of any covenant on our part.

  36. Mark D.- Is Justification really conditioned on our faith unto repentence? This guy seems to disagree…

    Just wanna make sure I was not previously misunderstanding your position…

  37. What Chris said in #24.

    If I have to choose only one, I choose the one that in most inclusive – which, to me, is “simplicity”. Obviously, it means different things to different people, and I have a hard time saying any of the options is wrong. I think “atonement” encompasses almost all of the definitions offered, and I think we do limit “the atonement” when we try to create a different one-word definition. We already have a one-word definition, but, having said that, I might use “community” (with a definite “universalism” slant) if I really was pressed.

  38. Equal parts of empathy, discipleship and sanctification underlined by universalism; all highlighted with payment and tied up pretty with a kinship bow.

  39. Since I had to choose one, I voted for sanctification. I do think in my bias that if this wasn’t the Bloggernacle demographic, that we would have heavy doses of payment and substitution, probably mostly substitution.

  40. Matt W, I don’t mean you have to be perfect again by any means, but you do have to abandon your sins, at least any serious ones, otherwise you cannot be justified. D&C 20:37, for example:

    All those who humble themselves before God, and desire to be baptized, and come forth with broken hearts and contrite spirits, and witness before the church that they have truly repented of all their sins, and are willing to take upon them the name of Jesus Christ, having a determination to serve him to the end, and truly manifest by their works that they have received of the Spirit of Christ unto the remission of their sins, shall be received by baptism into his church.

    Baptism is a symbol of justification, which is remission of sins, and communion with those who do the same. There are oodles of scriptures on this topic.

  41. Mark D. makes me feel better about my ad-hoc definition.

  42. Matt’s option has been added. Again, just let us know in the comments if the late addition frustrates you.

    I actually tend to think the poll would look about the same. I think there would be more emphasis on payment (as you note), but I think that sanctification would still be the chief vote getter. I also think that substitution is too esoteric to make a push, but I might be wrong. It’s sort of the transubstantiation version of Mormonism.

  43. Mark D. #40- I guess I would have put those items in 20:37 in the Sanctification Bucket, as to me they fall under serving God as discussed in vs 31 preceeding it.

  44. Matt W, my claim is that justification is synonymous with receiving a remission of your sins. Whatever you have to do to gain a remission of your sins is what you have to do to be justified.

    It doesn’t mean that you are never going to sin again, it certainly does mean that you abandon your current sins, want to never sin again. The ones that are significant here are serious sins, the type you might confess to your bishop, or prevent you from being baptized, or place you at enmity with others, for example. Cardinal sins, as opposed to venial sins, typically.

    It is the renewed commission of significant sins in particular that would place your remission of sins in question. If you are not worthy to partake of the sacrament, it is because you have sins that have not been remitted. And if your sins (serious sins) are not remitted, you are not justified.

    Sanctification, on the other hand, is the process of purifying your self from venial sins and desires (pride, arrogance, gluttony, lust, …), and being made holy through a lifetime of service and sacrifice. That is what requires serving God with all your might, mind, and strength. That is the way I understand it.

  45. I’m sanctification and discipleship.

  46. That should be “mortal sin”, rather than “cardinal sin”, by the way.

  47. StillConfused says:

    I chose painkiller because the atonement saves you from having to carry around the pain that others have caused or that you have caused

  48. Ron Madson says:

    When I was a kid I used to pray every night for a new bicycle.
    Then I realized God doesn’t work that way, so I stole one and prayed for forgiveness. ‘–Emo Phillips

    Thank God for penal substitution. Not really.

    Actually Rene Girard, imo, gets it right. Penal substitution is pure lunacy. We scapegoat our gods–kill them and call it God’s will. A real God shows us how to make a perfect offering in a fallen world and the sign and token that His way is the way approved of God (ie love enemies unto death/do not mimic evil lest you become evil) is resurrection. We are simply invited to come follow Him and make the same offering—or as best as we can. So my vote is a combination of mimetic discipleship and liberation theology. The Holy Spirit confirms/endorses our effort in so doing, imo.

  49. I agree penal substitution is incoherent – penalties are useless for anything except deterrence. However, restitution substitution makes perfect sense.

    For example, suppose you are careless with matches and burn your neighbor’s house down. Justice requires that you restore your neighbor’s home to its original state. If a judge (or the injured party) waives part of that judgment and makes up the difference out of his own pocket, that is restitution substitution.

  50. I have to confess that I don’t understand the Payment option. I understand what it’s saying, but I don’t really grok the idea that there’s a higher force (Justice?) that requires the divine sacrifice on our behalf. When did that law get established? (and by whom?)

    (went with Empathy)

  51. I like these polls because they give a feel for the prevailing LDS mindset. I can see sanctification, especially if you don’t make a distinction between this life and the next. The unification with God (through the atonement) is available here and now – “The kingdom of heaven is at hand”.

  52. A substitutionary theory of the atonement if you argue that there is some cosmic kind of justice that God can’t waive or if you posit that choices have to have consequences to somebody in order to be meaningful.