A General Theory of Grace #ldsconf

Adam S. Miller is a professor of philosophy at Collin College in McKinney, Texas and the author of several books. He earned a BA in Comparative Literature from Brigham Young University and a MA and PhD in Philosophy from Villanova University. His most recent book, Grace Is Not God’s Backup Plan, is just awesome.

I am, by profession, a theoretician of grace. I’ve proposed both a general phenomenology of grace and a metaphysical pluralism that reads grace as a fundamental feature of the real.

In short, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about grace and, for my part, President Uchtdorf’s Sunday morning talk, “The Gift of Grace,” couldn’t have been more welcome.

The talk offers a long needed corrective to our Mormon tendency to read the gospel as a kind of secular manual for can-do humanism and self-improvement.

The talk brings our popular thinking more closely in line with what the scriptures—especially Paul, but even more than Paul, the Book of Mormon—teach about grace.

But what President Uchtdorf outlines in this talk is what I would call a “special theory” of grace. It addresses a special subset of grace: grace as it’s operative in our redemption.

Speaking of grace, President Uchtdorf begins where we often do, with the problem of sin. As sinners, we are all lost. We are all gone astray and we cannot save ourselves. We cannot put right what went wrong and we cannot empower ourselves to become what God intends us to be.

As a response to the problem of sin, grace must not be understood, President Uchtdorf argues, as a backup plan for our own works. “Salvation cannot be bought with the currency of obedience; it is purchased by the blood of the Son of God.”

Rather, righteous works only become righteous when they are motivated by the pure love of Christ, when they are the product of God’s grace as that grace works its way out into the world through our hearts, minds, and hands.

The problem, though, is that this way of talking still implicitly frames grace as a response to sin.

It corrects (hallelujah!) our tendency to see grace as a secondary element that comes into play only after we’ve done what we can to save ourselves and it demands, instead, that we see our works as derivative of God’s grace manifest in our lives. But it leaves sin in the driver’s seat.

It’s true, of course, that grace is God’s response to sin. And it’s crucial to understand this. But this “special theory “ of grace is incomplete. It doesn’t go far enough.

For instance, it leaves intact the impression that God’s original plan really was for us to bootstrap ourselves into righteousness by way of obedience and that then, when this fails, God steps in with his grace as the key to our salvation.

It leaves intact the impression that our works were originally primary with respect to our salvation and that, only because of our failure, grace must then step in, become primary, and save us.

On its own, a “special theory” of grace that understands grace only in terms of redemption doesn’t correct the problem of a works-first gospel so much as it just pushes the priority of those works back a level. Grace gets understood as God’s “plan A” when it comes to fixing sin, but grace risks remaining “plan B” with respect to an original expectation of perfect obedience.

Framing grace as “plan A” in response to sin is a welcome first step, but what we really need is a “general theory” of grace that situates this “special theory” in a broader context and articulates grace as “plan A,” period.

This is to say: we need a richer sense of grace that is grounded not just in God’s redemption of the world but that is grounded principally and primordially in his creation of the world.

Grace isn’t just a name for how God saves us. It’s a name for God’s global modus operandi, a modus that is manifest originally and fundamentally in the act of creation.

To understand grace as it’s operative in our redemption, we need to understand redemption as just one of the “three pillars” of eternity: creation, fall, atonement. To understand atonement, we need to understand the fall.

But to understand the fall, we need to understand creation.

To understand God’s redeeming act of grace, we need to understand our own fall in relationship to God’s general and original act of grace: creation.

A “general theory” of grace will account for grace as a fundamental and constitutive feature of reality itself. And, more, it will understand grace not only as constitutive of the real at some point in the past, but as an essential and ongoing feature of everything real.

Creation, as a general grace, is not a one-time, past-tense event. Rather, creation is a present-tense, ongoing event that is just as surely and palpably operative right now as it was six thousand years ago or five billion years ago.

Grace is this massive, ongoing act of divinely organized creation that involves an uncountable host of agents (human and nonhuman) embedded in irreducible webs of stewardship, consecration, sacrifice, and interdependence.

“Glory” is Paul’s name for God’s freely given and unearnable grace as it continually brews out of these massive, creative networks of divinely enabled agents.

Now, understanding creation as a grace that is freely and continuously given, we’re in a position to understand sin.

Sin is our rejection of this original grace.

Sin is our refusal of some part of creation. Or, even better, it is a refusal of our having to be part of creation. It’s our proud and fearful refusal of our dependence on a world that we didn’t ask for, can’t control, and can’t be rid of.

Sin is a suppression, on our part, of God’s already given and already operative grace.

Redemption, then, doesn’t involve injecting grace into a sinful situation that previously lacked it. Rather, because sin is our suppression of creation as a grace, redemption proceeds fundamentally as a recovery of that grace that’s already given.

Redemption, in a general theory of grace, must be understood as a subset of God’s original and ongoing act of grace manifest in creation.

In short, redemption is creation. Redemption is re/creation. It’s about being re/born into this world—in all its vast, messy, interdependent complexity—as the very world that God was trying to give us from the start.

Grace is “plan A.”

Grace is creation itself. Sin is our vain attempt to scrap that plan and, instead, declare our independence from that grace.

Redemption, unlocked by Jesus, returns us to creation. It returns us to the grace we refused.

Redemption returns us to the ongoing and difficult work of being continually re/created by that grace.

And re/creation is, of course, the only thing that “creation” ever means.

Comments

  1. Fascinating. I was hoping for this.

    I also thought Bednar’s “Godly fear” frame, specifically as it relates to the final judgment, seemed Adam Miller-esque in its “see things as they really are” overtones.

    “The fear of the Lord is not a reluctant apprehension about coming into His presence to be judged. I do not believe we will be afraid of Him at all. Rather, it is the prospect in His presence of facing things as they really are about ourselves and having “a perfect knowledge” (2 Nephi 9:14; see also Alma 11:43) of all our rationalizations, pretenses, and self-deceptions. Ultimately, we will be left without excuse.”

  2. Adam, what are the institutional obstacles to a full ‘Plan A’ view of grace within Mormonism? It seems to me that your remarks clash against a long-standing anti-grace movement of sorts, driven by partial Book of Mormon references and emphasis on works. How would you harmonize your views with that prevailing movement?

  3. I really like the distinction of “special” versus “general” theories of grace. And the specific idea of sin as a refusal to take part in the ongoing process of creation helps pull some things into focus for me. It is somewhat unclear to me what role Jesus plays in this conceptualization of grace, however. How would our capacity or propensity to find redemption through accepting grace change if there had been no Jesus and no atonement?

  4. Mormons like me react against the Calvanist grace alone crowd. But we certainly do not react against grace altogether. To me the tension is all between the idea of grace alone, and a grace with some conditions (like repentance). As such, I really don’t think that Uchtdorf’s talk, Adam’s book, or this post is particularly revolutionary. They are fine and all, but to me they sound more profound at first than they really are. It surprises me how many folks think this is some sort of change. Mormonism speaks of a Plan of Salvation, with Christ’s atonement front and center, as being in place from far before the foundations of the world – and always has.

  5. I appreciate the way this article framed grace and while perhaps not so new, it allowed me to see some things I was personally missing. Thanks for writing it.

  6. Shawn H says:

    Like Steve, my question is how Pres. Uctdorf’s, and by extension, your general theory, can be reconciled with the Mormon insistence on the necessity of specific actions and ordinances for salvation.

    Pres. Uctdorf’s talk shocked me as it was such a departure from the Mormon norm. I’ve read elsewhere cynical responses that claim he was using sophistry to try and make it seem that we’re just like other christians, that say he spoke of salvation but failed to mention that works are still required for exaltation , but that argument fails to persuade me. This was really a radical departure for a general authority to make in conference. So I’ve been stuck since Sunday trying to understand how this fits in, and haven’t been able to. I’d love your thoughts on the matter.

  7. “Glory” is Paul’s name for God’s freely given and unearnable grace as it continually brews out of these massive, creative networks of divinely enabled agents.
    Now, understanding creation as a grace that is freely and continuously given, we’re in a position to understand sin.
    Sin is our rejection of this original grace.

    This created one of those pinprick moments where the air is suddenly still and warm, and the light bends in just-so, and your breath catches in realization.

  8. Further thought, less ephemeral, on the discussion:

    It seems like DFU’s focus on these seemingly slight but definitive perspective shifts could have some very long-reaching effects on future Mormonism. I’m trying to imagine what a Mormonism would look like with followers who grow up watered with grace rather than with industry and works…

  9. Carey Foushee says:

    “To me the tension is all between the idea of grace alone, and a grace with some conditions (like repentance)”

    For me what Miller is saying isn’t that nothing is required but what is required is simply that we accept what was originally given as a grace, and while that sounds so easy in reality its not. He helps me understand that the grace that God extends to me that I have refused or abused or whatever was given first not just in response to my refusal of it. In other words grace doesn’t come in response to sin, sin comes in response to grace, and repentance is simply the name of the corrective method for having originally rejected what was given — which is why it involves going into the past and choosing once again what should have been chosen originally.

  10. Angela C says:

    Definitely feeling a bit over my head with this one, but perhaps such is the nature of grace. Here are the things that always fail to grab me in our Mormon discourse on this topic:
    – the focus on obedience. To me, obedience always begs the question “to what” or “to whom”? Because commands are always interpreted, it seems wrong to assume that they are correctly interpreted (I realize personal revelation steps in here, but our own understanding is as imperfect as that of others). I’m also not sure obedience without understanding is valuable in achieving our potential. As you point out, I think most of the obedience focus is based on a belief that we are partly earning our way to redemption.
    – the role of sin. Your reframing of sin is interesting. There are so many theories about what sin is really. I’m just not sure. Because we can’t foresee the consequences of all our actions, and because some actions have conflicting consequences, we are imperfect in our actions. I guess I never really know what I believe is a sin in my own life.
    – the role of guilt. You didn’t address guilt, but a lot of religion sure seems to be about its perpetuation, and yet, I’m not a person who feels guilt very deeply. I have regretted my actions sometimes, but not to the point of being wracked with guilt. Like everyone, I mostly try to do what I think is right in the moment, and sometimes I’m wrong. What people describe as guilt usually sounds to me like approval-seeking insecurity, something that doesn’t seem very productive. What do you see as the role of guilt in grace? Unnecessary? Counter-productive? A natural consequence of sin (per your definition of sin)?
    – the need for atonement. I really don’t have an issue with this the way you’ve framed it here. I usually don’t relate to the talks about the atonement being related to the fall or the inevitability of sin (which is usually an omission or commission on someone’s part), and that’s mostly how I hear it talked about at church: we all sin collectively (the fall), we sin individually, we feel guilt, we can’t save ourselves, Jesus saves us with his sinless sacrifice. That formulaic explanation doesn’t resonate for me. I don’t feel the loss and the guilt and the terror implied. I think of life as a progression toward the divine – we learn from mistakes, we become better, we achieve our potential.

    In short, I really related to Pres. Uchtdorf’s explanation, which is how I mostly see it, but I also think that he’s dead on in saying that most of the talks we hear at church foster the pride in which someone buys a plane ticket and thinks they own the airline. I like your explanation, too, in that you are framing God beyond time. I suppose it’s the linear progression of how the atonement is laid out that I don’t find very divine. I have to think God doesn’t work that way.

  11. Great thoughts on grace! President Uchtdorf’s talk was also one of my favorites. Another excellent talk on grace is “His Grace is Sufficient” by Brad Wilcox given at BYU.
    https://speeches.byu.edu/talks/brad-wilcox_his-grace-is-sufficient/

  12. I wanted to cheer when Uchtdorf said “salvation cannot be bought with the currency of obedience.” The idea that God’s dealings with us are transactional (and I hear some version of this every single week in my ward), more than anything else, brings me the kind of grief that makes me want to leave the Church. More than gender issues, frankly, and that is saying something coming from me. Also, this Conference it felt like the gospel of “defending” heterosexual couples and their children was upstaging the gospel of Christ, and that breaks my heart. So Uchdtorf’s Sunday talk and the Priesthood session talk on discipleship saved me.

    But about Adam’s post. I’m not a theologian (though I wish I were), and I don’t think I’m up to engaging with this post in a substantial way. But I just want to say amen to the idea of creation being an ongoing phenomenon. It’s really a verb, not a noun (creation = the act of creating). That’s clearly true in the living world, as life continues to evolve, and true of human civilization and individual development. The idea of creation being an act of grace feels absolutely true to me. I loved this:

    “Creation, as a general grace, is not a one-time, past-tense event. Rather, creation is a present-tense, ongoing event that is just as surely and palpably operative right now as it was six thousand years ago or five billion years ago.

    Grace is this massive, ongoing act of divinely organized creation that involves an uncountable host of agents (human and nonhuman) embedded in irreducible webs of stewardship, consecration, sacrifice, and interdependence.”

    I find the distinction between original grace and special grace really illuminating. Also the idea that sin is the rejection of original grace, that “Grace is creation itself. Sin is our vain attempt to scrap that plan and, instead, declare our independence from that grace.” As I said, I don’t have the theological chops to generalize this, but in my experience grace has more to do with changing me (creating me) into a different, better person, than with wiping out my sins. It has more to do with developing my goodness and healing my wounds than with making me not bad, if that make sense. The scriptures have a fair amount of laundry soap imagery about special grace (scarlet v wool, etc), but I don’t feel grace restoring me to my previous unstained baby-smooth state. It’s more like making an iteration of me that was better than the last one.

  13. Angela C says:

    EmilyU: “in my experience grace has more to do with changing me (creating me) into a different, better person, than with wiping out my sins. It has more to do with developing my goodness and healing my wounds than with making me not bad, if that make sense. . . It’s more like making an iteration of me that was better than the last one.” This is exactly how I feel and what I was trying to get at. I just tune out when we talk about guilt and restoring from sin at church. It just doesn’t resonate for me. Even E. Holland’s talk about being grabbed from the ledge in that fall, I just thought “meh.”

  14. Adam, thank you for such a thoughtful engagement with what I think is surely one of the most important theological addresses we’ve heard at General Conference in a generation. Some are asking what is left to such features of Mormonism as baptism and other ordinances that seem to suggest the need for us to comply—via works—with a law, not out of love and gratitude for grace, per se, but out of obedience. I think the answer for me lies in acknowledging a developmental process in the gospel whereby we are taught line upon line. The law is our schoolmaster. At first it is about all we can see. But, as Jesus says, love is manifest in the keeping of his commandments, and it is in love that we gain the eyes to see grace—grace that was present from the beginning, as you say, but not obvious to us until we submitted in an act of faith and obedience.

    Then a wonderful transformation can happen, if we allow it. I think there is a trans-substantiation of sacramental symbols that happens when we realize, on days like today, after talks like that, that our baptism can mean something more than what we thought when we first undertook it as an act of obedient compliance with a law. When we become alive to grace, we feel to reconsecrate our baptism as a thank offering for grace already received, and Christ’s Church becomes a means, a vehicle, by which we may aggregate our gifts so as to magnify their impact. We are then happy to be led and called to various kinds of work not of our choosing in the first instance, but adopting it wholeheartedly as our own en suite. We can be alive in Christ and see the gift of life for what it is.

  15. Adam – thank you. I am not a scholar, so this feels beyond my reach mentally, though I want to respond to parts of it.

    Have you read or heard of C. Terry Warner’s (LDS philosopher) work on self-deception? Your work and words are remarkably similar to his (if I’m understanding you and him correctly). He speaks about the spirit and light of Christ as literal *living things* – alive and new in every moment – something we are compelled to respond to – either to receive or resist (and he submits that receiving is a very active endeavor.)

    Re: “It’s our proud and fearful refusal of our dependence on a world that we didn’t ask for, can’t control, and can’t be rid of.” Yes. There’s a lack of freedom built in – it seems we are free to accept and receive on the one hand, or to reject & resist on the other, but we’re *not* free from the continual beckoning, from being required to respond. I think T.S. Eliot said it best in “Little Gidding” – I’m especially struck by the line “The intolerable shirt of flame, which human power cannot remove.”
    The dove descending breaks the air
    With flame of incandescent terror
    Of which the tongues declare
    The one discharge from sin and error.
    The only hope, or else despair
    Lies in the choice of pyre of pyre-
    To be redeemed from fire by fire.

    Who then devised the torment? Love.
    Love is the unfamiliar Name
    Behind the hands that wove
    The intolerable shirt of flame
    Which human power cannot remove.
    We only live, only suspire
    Consumed by either fire or fire.
    (T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets)

    When I’m resisting, it feels like a choice between dying and dying – but that’s the lie. In truth it’s a choice between living and dying. When I choose life, that’s when I am free.

    Thanks again, Adam.

  16. And now, hopefully The Brethren will commission someone like Brother Miller to rewrite the Official LDS Bible Dictionary, which has this under the entry of “Grace”

    This grace is an enabling power that allows men and women to lay hold on eternal life and exaltation after they have expended their own best efforts.

    Divine grace is needed by every soul in consequence of the Fall of Adam and also because of man’s weaknesses and shortcomings. However, grace cannot suffice without total effort on the part of the recipient. Hence the explanation, “It is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do” (2 Ne. 25:23). It is truly the grace of Jesus Christ that makes salvation possible. This principle is expressed in Jesus’ parable of the vine and the branches (John 15:1–11). See also John 1:12–17; Eph. 2:8–9; Philip. 4:13; D&C 93:11–14.

  17. Sighhhhhhhh

  18. Jacob Brazell says:

    I want to believe that ordinances and covenants like baptism and the endowment act as formal and beautiful ways of re-accepting the grace that i had previously ignored, suppressed , or even rejected. The sacrament with its symbolic partaking of the Creator’s freely given flesh and blood seems more like an acceptance ritual than a pledge of allegiance. So works and obedience are about expressing gratitude and fidelity to the Creator instead of a quid pro quo exchange for exaltation. I was very grateful to hear so many references to the sacrament during conference.

  19. Grace isn’t really the issue. The issue is the nature of God. The issue is “Who is Jesus?”. Mormons could embrace the Biblical understanding of “grace”, but it’s none-the-less applied to a tragically flawed idea of who God is. I know that Mormons find it intellectually stimulating to discuss grace, but such discussions are merely spiritual entertainment. If someone thinks that the outcome of God’s grace is that they too will become gods, what’s the point, really?

  20. Sad to see the LDS Bible Dictionary employ that interpretation of 2 Nephi 25:23. Other interpretations more in line with the New Testament teachings about Grace are possible, as exemplified by President Uchtdorf and many other Mormons who take the New Testament view (expressed very capably by Adam in this post — thank you!).

    Take a look at Bob Millett’s BYU Studies article on “Cheap Grace” in which he investigates problems that Evangelical Christians are facing with the problem of Cheap Grace (https://byustudies.byu.edu/showtitle.aspx?title=9358). Of course, Millett cites Bonhoeffer’s “costly grace” in response (as do many Evangelical pastors who are trying to combat the opposite of what we face in Mormon culture’s new complete de-emphasis of Grace — the Evangelical culture’s false emphasis on grace as a get out of jail free card). Millett also cites 2 Nephi 25:23 (applying an interpretation of that verse that is similar to President Uchtdorf’s, and virtually opposite of the interpretation contained in the LDS Bible Dictionary, presumably Elder McConkie’s interpretation).

    Again, thank you Adam, for this post, for your Letters to a Young Mormon and your work on Alma 32, and for your book on grace, Grace Is Not God’s Backup Plan.

  21. I don’t know if I’ve run into many Christians over the years that think that grace means that they can sin with impunity and that it’s OK. In fact, I don’t personally know any who believe this, quite frankly. The Gospel of Jesus Christ, as presented in the Bible is that mankind is separated from God because of sin. We can’t bridge the divide between the expectations of a Holy God through our behavior. The reason, as Scripture explains, is because we all fall short of the glory of God. So salvation is a gift that God extends to us, free, on the basis of our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and His finished work on the cross. As the apostle Paul asks the rhetorical question, “are we to continue in sin so that grace might abound?” He responds by saying, “May it never be.” He explains that we who are saved and have died to sin, are not to continue in it (sin). The point is that if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one and other and the blood of Christ continually cleanses us from all unrighteousness. That’s the gospel. God has reconciled us to Himself. He extends to us this Gift of Eternal Life. We receive it through faith. We are then born again by the Spirit of God. It is no longer I who live, but it’s Christ who lives in me.

  22. I’ve fallen into the camp that Paul was wrong on too many things especially grace. I took a bible and tore out all his writings and read it. Jesus made sense. You read Paul and your bending over backward trying to justify what he said to what Christ and the other apostles said. Scholars are mainly in agreement that the verse that mentions Paul by peter was put in after. None of the twelve actually mention Paul in any of their writings. Only does Pauls disciples mention him. Was Paul an apostle I don’t think so. Was Paul probably a zealot christian who took on evangelism like he took on persecuting Christians as a pharisee. Most likely.

    We’ve seen how the LDS church sanitized its history. This was a more common thing by people in Pauls day to exaggerate events. Most likely Paul’s disciples rewrote and exaggerated what Paul had already exaggerated and gotten wrong.

    It saddens me that christians can’t say were sorry but paul was wrong. Oh they’ll ignore his no makeup and women keep silent in church. Oh thats just cultural context. But won’t throw out just stupid and false teachings that are contradicting to what Christ said.

    Paul reminds me of BY. He liked to run his mouth. Adam God (Doctrine with a capital D according to BY)

  23. Well now that’s interesting. Paul was wrong? I guess you’re going to have to discount most of the NT then. And is Paul an apostle? I really wonder if you’ve read the NT. 2 Timothy 1:1 “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, according to the promise of life in Christ Jesus,” 1 Corinthians 9:1, “Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not my work in the Lord?” I could spend a lot more time on this but I don’t see the point.

  24. Clark Goble says:

    I don’t know if I’ve run into many Christians over the years that think that grace means that they can sin with impunity and that it’s OK. In fact, I don’t personally know any who believe this, quite frankly.

    While cheap grace is a heresy, it is a common one. I encountered it a lot among lay Evangelicals in the south. Even among Evangelical preachers there’s a lot of railing against cheap grace. Yet the idea that faith is just believing in Christ is rather common. When I lived in the south there were rather common booklets that would actually teach it in such a way that belief in cheap grace was nearly inevitable. When one preaches just intellectual assent to Jesus being Christ is faith, then you have cheap grace.

  25. Salvation is trusting in Jesus totally for our salvation. That’s saving faith. However the LDS system is a two tier program. The second tier is where working to become a god is serious business. “Works” in the context of the LDS two tier system makes perfect sense. So I really don’t see the point of trying to apply an orthodox Christian doctrine of grace to the LDS system makes much sense. When Joseph Smith started his religion, he had a fairly orthodox view of the nature of God. He went off the rails eventually. There’s something like seventy to a hundred different sects of Mormonism. The Community of Christ and the Temple Lot sects won’t go any where near Smith’s doctrines of the nature of God, salvation and particularly polygamy.

  26. Clark Goble says:

    Aaron, I’m open to fallibilism in scripture. There definitely are teachings of Paul almost no one follows – especially his views of women. That said though I think a little charity of interpretation towards Paul means that we ought entertain the possibility that we just read Paul wrong. I think a big problem is that how we view Paul is larger developed through the trajectory of Martin Luther. The position Adam is coming from is highly influenced by N. T. Wright and the New Paul perspectives that basically says Luther got Paul wrong. When people say Paul was wrong 95% of the time what they’re really saying is that Luther is wrong.

    You didn’t list objections, so I’m not sure if this fits you. I personally find Paul fully compatible with Mormonism even if the language tradition Mormonism developed simply isn’t the language of Paul. While there are definitely influences of the phraseology of the KJV Paul on the translation of the Book of Mormon, by and large it takes a different approach. For instance to me grace in the Book of Mormon by Mormons is far better seen in terms of say Mosiah 16:12 rather than the particular Romans language.

    “Having gone according to their own carnal wills and desires; having never called upon the Lord while the arms of mercy were extended towards them; for the arms of mercy were extended towards them, and they would not; they being warned of their iniquities and yet they would not depart from them; and they were commanded to repent and yet they would not repent.”

    The emphasis of grace is that even those who went according to their carnal will still did so while God’s arms were already outstretched towards them. The fundamental truth of grace in Mormonism is the embrace of God as we return to him. No matter what we do, his arms of mercy are extended. We just need to turn to him. This imagery repeats in the text (say Alma 5:33) The idea of the embrace as the image of grace goes back to Lehi’s vision.

    “…the Lord hath redeemed my soul from hell; I have beheld his glory, and I am encircled about eternally in the arms of his love.” (2 Ne 4:33) This is the ritual embrace and Nibley’s spoken a lot on it.. The imagery isn’t Pauls, but it is the same theology. The idea is the return to the atonement (literally to be one) we had prior to our fall. The point is that all of this is given to us as grace and to see it as grace from God requires the eyes of grace – to see from the perspective we had when we accepted all this in the council before the world was.

  27. Clark Goble says:

    Jim K, the Mormon view is that grace is extended to all but not all will accept it. God will not force grace on people against their will. The idea of becoming like God is a common Christian one. While Mormons give it a stronger ontological thrust than mainstream Christianity the basic concept is fully found within traditional Christianity – especially the eastern forms.

    I’m not sure what you mean by “two tier system.” I assume you mean the idea that not all will be left in hell. Again though the Mormon view is that through grace all can be like the father. This is the message of John 17 – that we are to be one with God the way Jesus is. Mormons take that aspect of grace and atonement as the central message of Christ. Yet we don’t think God will force this on anyone. He’ll give them as much as they are willing to accept. As we accept more we are transformed by God’s grace into greater works. We thus progress grace by grace. How far you progress is determined by your free choice to let grace into your heart.

    There is no tier system. There is simply the already provided grace which we can choose to accept. Where we differ with some is that we don’t see it as an all or nothing proposition. Rather it is a process where we open ourselves up to God “that we may be brought to complete unity.” (John 17:23)

  28. What I find fascinating is that there is, as far as I can ascertain, a lot of different “types” of Mormonism within even the LDS sect. In reading your posts it reminds me of the difference between what’s been called “internet Mormonism” and “chapel Mormonism”. You would be the former while Molly and Mike Mormon would be the latter. Without getting into specifics within your post, I can definitely see where you’ve developed a form of Mormonism that better fits your personal religious sensibilities. Just remember the LDS caution, “In Mormonism you can believe whatever you want; you just can’t teach it”.

  29. Miller is correct in stating that it is not Obedience = Plan A and Grace = Plan B, but he is incorrect in implying Grace = Plan A and Obedience = Plan B. Both obedience and grace are plan A. The only error one can make is to believe either is more important than the other. It is a symbiotic process, each with their vital function.

    In Mormonism, you cannot talk about grace or obedience without the other. Just as you cannot talk about training wheels without mentioning the bicycle. Yes, grace is a vital part of this life, but at some point (final judgment?) the apron strings of grace will be cut, and we must stand on our own two feet. Apotheosis demands it.

    I don’t think E Uchtdorf’s talk is revolutionary. I think it is a refreshing reminder to those of us who have our grace/obedience complex out of balance.

  30. Clark Goble says:

    I always thought the supposed distinction between chapel Mormons and internet Mormons to be rather silly myself. A lot of supposed differences are primarily about term choice. I personally rarely use the language of grace. But I certainly can if someone wants to talk in that fashion. I think the way most Mormons talk about it is in terms of being in tune with the spirit and being given gifts of the spirit. Likewise we talk in terms of the plan of salvation and the benefits of this world as a test to help us develop. But translating all that into grace talk is fairly easy. And very mainstream.

  31. Gorman
    I’d say that’s probably a good explanation of LDS sect Mormonism. The Gospel of Jesus Christ, however, as taught by the apostles and contained in the Word of God, is that when the judgement comes we are standing on the cross, depending on Jesus for eternal life. There are no training wheels in Christianity. Jesus steadies the bike. He holds it. Directs us.

    Goble
    I get where you’re going but its really a moot point. LDS sect Mormonism has a different god, a different Jesus a different Spirit and in the end, a different gospel. The basic premise of Mormonism, that the gospel was lost, is a false premise.

  32. Jim K., perhaps you’re forgetting you’re at a Mormon website? It ill becomes you, as a guest, to insult the religion of the hosts with inaccurate descriptions.

  33. Hello, Adam Miller. Have you ever read “What’s So Amazing About Grace? by Philip Yancey? If not, someone like you that has been captivated by grace, really should. It is the one book that I have read, that has the ability/power to create the mighty change of heart, we talk about in the Church.

    I just finished your new book. I thought you did an excellent job. Thank you.

  34. Clark Goble says:

    Jim K, I think the whole point of the New Perspectives on Paul is that the way Paul was read (primarily by Calvin and Luther but as well by earlier figures of late antiquity and medieval eras) was just plain wrong. While people like N. T. Wright doesn’t fully back away from traditional protestantism, the misreadings of Paul fit very well into the conception of apostasy that Mormons have. Admittedly the key aspect of the apostasy from a Mormon perspective is authority. Since most protestants accept a priesthood of all believers rather than any traditional notion of priesthood there definitely is a big gap. From the Mormon perspectives the protestant claim that there is no priesthood except that of belief fully entails the apostasy.

    As for the question of difference and God I think that gets into the question of reference and description. If I see someone on the street but describe them as wearing a brown coat when they actually wore a blue one, am I describing a different person or am I simply making a mistake about who I described? It always seems odd to me that some Evangelicals will call it a different God when the majority we and they say about God is the same. It’s just some key ontological issues which aren’t clearly established in scripture that we differ on. Mormons reject creation ex nihilo and a lot follows from that. I don’t think it makes any reasonable sense to say that entails a different God let alone a different Jesus.

    At a minimum I think for you to believe what you are saying entails that when I pray God doesn’t hear my prayer. Which seems a very odd thing to say. Even most theologians who reject most differences Mormons raise as heresy tend to say we have faith in God but are just have some false beliefs in him. After all it’s not as if the typical beliefs of laity among protestants don’t have a slew of false beliefs including pretty false beliefs regarding the ontology of the trinity. If it’s OK for them why not us?

  35. Jim K.,

    At risk of derailing things here, how would you explain this statement by early Christian Church Father, Clement of Alexandria (c. 150-215 AD): “[T]he Word of God became man, that thou mayest learn from man how man may become God.”

    Or similar statements by any of the other pupils trained by the apostles.

    Or this statement any current Eastern Orthodox Christian would agree with: “He was incarnate that we might be made god.”

    Or this Catholic Catechism: “For the Son of God became man so that we might become God.”

    One must go all the way to Protestants (c 1500 AD) (who are a minority of Christianity) before the early doctrine of theosis or divinization became watered down enough that it was mostly unrecognizable.

    The bible, as we know it today, didn’t exist until after the early Christian period was over (c. 325 AD). If one would like to study the early Christian period, it is not advisable to limit oneself to the bible. At a bare minimum, one must study the Antilegomena and other Church Fathers.

  36. Clark Goble says:

    Gorman, regarding plan A and plan B I think what Adam has to address is the exegesis of Abraham 3. That’s where the idea of two covenants by Chauncey Riddle come from. Going from the classes I attended of his I wouldn’t say in the least he doesn’t buy into a thoroughgoing sense of grace. He talked grace when talking grace wasn’t cool yet. (grin) But I do think there is an important point he’s getting at that Adam probably should address.

    I should add that Riddle’s conception of justification is not N. T. Wright’s. (See for instance Riddle on justification)

    Regarding divinization, I think it is part and parcel of protestantism albeit never emphasized as much as in say eastern orthodoxy. So C. S. Lewis for instance frequently discusses it. Now I think nearly every Mormon would acknowledge that we give a stronger ontological thrust to divinization due to our rejection of creation ex nihilo than most of western Christianity would be comfortable with. I think protestants are perfectly fine having the image of God on our countenance just not obtaining the same ontological status as God. (I should add that there is dispute even within Mormonism whether we ever reach the same status as the Father – I tend to think we do but there are some who disagree)

  37. Clark,

    Thanks for the links to Riddle. For some reason I had not come across him yet. So much to read, and so little time.

  38. Clark Goble says:

    Yes, he’s well worth reading. Probably more of an influence on me than anyone else in terms of my thinking. (Although Jim Faulconer is a close second)

    While he tends to not frequently use the language of grace, if you look at how he conceives of faith it’s very similar. See for instance his talk “Principles I

    The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the good news of salvation sent to the natural man. The central principle of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. All other principle are facets or appendages of this faith. That is to say, anything else you can mention is somehow an aspect of faith in Jesus Christ. That is to say, every other good thing. This principle is sometimes called the law of the gospel, singular.

    We talk about laws sometimes, but when we speak of laws usually we’re speaking on a terrestrial level. When we’re talking about the pure celestial law it is singular, there’s only one law. That law is to put our faith and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. Without living by this principle, it is impossible to please God. Whatsoever is not of this principle, that is to say, whatever act, whatever we do that is not an act of faith in Christ is sin.

    This faith is the unique access to righteousness in this world. Jesus Christ is the fountain of all righteousness. We must go to that fountain and drink of the waters of life to have any access to righteousness. So, to have faith in Christ, is first to hear him. Faith comes by hearing of the word. Until we receive a message from him and this means a personal revelation. Now the message may be occasioned by the words of a human being or by the print in a book or by some other occasion but the message itself always comes by spiritual means as revealed through the power of the Holy Ghost.

    While his discussion of justification differs somewhat from Wright’s, you’ll note that he addresses several elements of Wright’s reading. And of course belonging to the covenant people is very much entailed by his overall views of justification. He’s just trying to simultaneously address the individual and community senses of grace.

    I’d add that while he uses very different language from Adam there are very similar views. Since Riddle was a major part of what many call the neb-orthodoxy of the 60’s through 80’s it’s worth considering this. I don’t think there’s as big a divide as some portray.

    So we must hear him to know what he wants us to do. We must believe that his instruction is life and righteousness in order to support him fully. We must love him in order to have the motivation, the willpower to overcome selfishness and to make the sacrifices necessary to be faithful. We must obey to bring to pass his will on earth, even as the Father’s will is done in heaven. The opposite of this faith is selfishness which is a synonym for sin.

    So while Riddle tends to talk about obedience and spirit, it really is the same idea Adam is getting at. Sin is to be selfish and turn away from our faith. Sin isn’t just breaking rules. That’s at best a terrestrial sense of sins. What we have to battle is sin singular which at a celestial level is simple turning from faith in Christ. That is rejecting his grace.

  39. Clark Goble says:

    (Whoops the block quote tag didn’t work. The stuff after the link to Principles I through to “power of the Holy Ghost” should all be quoted as they are Riddle’s words)

  40. Clark……….I really do appreciate your attempts here to justify Mormonism but your comments on an apostasy just aren’t going to make it. I’m sorry. What Paul writes isn’t that difficult to comprehend. It takes a lot of creativity to get to where you want to go in an attempt to justify LDS sect Mormon doctrine.
    First of all, and I think you’d agree with this, Paul learned of the Gospel of Jesus Christ via revelation. A Mormon should really groove on this. He took what he was teaching and presented it to those in authority in Jerusalem and they found no fault in it.
    I know Mormons would rather make some attempt to justify their religion based on a creative manipulation of the Scripture, the Bible, but I could do that also and start my own religion. Many have done this in fact and Joseph Smith was one of many in 19th century America.
    It’s not a lot of fun to have to consider the things that someone has to accept in order to buy into LDS sect Mormonism. It’s much easier to ignore the elephant(s) in the room and develop some way of looking at grace that can be shoe horned into Mormonism so it sounds somewhat Biblical and even Christian.
    One thing I admire about the FLDS sects is that they embrace old time Mormonism full on and don’t attempt to intellectualize it. They’re fine with doctrines like Adam-God, blood atonement, polygamy and the ban on blacks in the priesthood. They don’t treat the old time Mormon prophets with disrespect suggesting that what they were espousing was merely their own opinions. They don’t label things “folk doctrine”. And if Joseph Smith put his magic rock in a hat, shoved his face in the hat and there by received sacred scripture found on gold tablets, so be it.
    Bottom line is that we receive eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ extended to us by a gift/grace God offers us. The apostles didn’t teach that salvation was that men can become gods, their wives goddesses and that they would rule their own planetary system peopled by spirit offspring they would produce.
    And you know something I can’t figure out? Why do Mormons get so upset when someone repeats what Mormonism is based on fact; from Mormon sources. I’d say own it, embrace it, and don’t try to make it into something that it isn’t.

  41. Yawn, Jim K.

  42. Steve
    Ah yes, the point at which the Mormon is out of arguments and goes for a low ball insult. Generally at this point, we get the testimony and then a fast exit.

  43. Jim, is the Christian approach one of starting off with the low ball insults and never deviating from that? Good to learn from you how a real Christian behaves. Goodbye.

  44. Gerald Smith says:

    Sadly, a great discussion on grace is side tracked by a troll. I am thankful for the grace of God, who loves His children soooo much, that he offers salvation to both Jim K and me, and we will both probably receive some level of heaven in God’s “many mansions.”. Sadly, the belief Jim K has denotes an angry and overly jealous God, who requires perfect belief, else all are sent to hell. Perhaps he believes in a limited atonement, where very few will be saved? If so, I am thankful to worship a “different” God, even Jesus Christ. For God so loved the world that He sent His Son, not to condemn the world, but to save it. Sadly, too many Christians, and this often includes Mormons, are very quick to condemn those around them who are different, just like the Pharisees of old.

    For me, I am grateful to a God who offers near universal salvation, and the opportunity to embrace a fulness of His Grace and receive “all that the Father hath.”

  45. Clark Goble says:

    “What Paul writes isn’t that difficult to comprehend. ”

    Whew. Good thing there are no disputes over it among major protestant theologians and scholars. That whole New Paul thing never happened.

  46. Jim K is a resident commenter from Mormon Research Ministry (MRM) specifically Mormon Coffee. MRM sites do not give any LDS any respectable dialogue. If a person does not make comments that ridicule LDS beliefs then they are banned from the blog. MRM does not want true dialogue. MRM is for shocking people by presenting a caricature of all LDS beliefs.

    The response to Jim K is kinder than how he responds to LDS on the anti Mormon MRM.

  47. rameumptom says:

    Today I spoke at our Spanish branch (high councilor over it), on our upcoming Indianapolis temple. I wanted to discuss things in a different way,as they are getting lots of template talks on preparing for our temple.

    So, I pondered how Pres Uchtdorf’s talk and Adam’s OP could be used in conjunction with the temple. As Adam noted in his General Theory that Grace has to do with Creation, or even “Grace equals Creation”, I used the concepts of Creation, Fall, Atonement, Rebirth that we learn about in the temple to discuss the temple as a gift of Grace from God.

    Thinking about it in such terms will give me a new direction to ponder when I’m in the temple.