Cain & Abel

East of Eden“I think this is the best-known story in the world because it’s everybody’s story. I think it is the symbol story of the human soul. I’m feeling my way now—don’t jump on me if I’m not clear. The greatest terror a child can have is that he is not loved, and rejection is the hell he fears.

“I think everyone in the world to a large or small extent has felt rejection. And with rejection comes anger, and with anger some kind of crime in revenge for rejection, and with the crime guilt—and there is the story of mankind.

“I think that if rejection could be amputated, the human would not be what he is. Maybe there would be fewer crazy people. I am sure in myself there would not be many jails.

“It is all there—the start, the beginning. One child, refused the love he craves, kicks the cat and hides his secret guilt; and another steals so that money will make him loved; and a third conquers the world—and always the guilt and revenge and more guilt. The human is the only guilty animal.

“Now wait! Therefore I think this old and terrible story is important because it is a chart of the soul—the secret, rejected, guilty soul.”

—John Steinbeck, East of Eden

Romans 8 from “Grace Is Not God’s Backup Plan”

Romans Front Cover (1)Gospel Doctrine lesson #36, “Beloved of God, Called to be Saints” is just around the corner. It’s the only lesson in the Sunday School manual dedicated to reading Paul’s letter to the Romans.

Today is the final day that my paraphrase of the letter, Grace Is Not God’s Backup Plan, will be on sale for just $.99. To round things out for this celebratory week, I’ve included below the whole of my rendition of Romans 8.


Romans 8

Through Jesus, God has done what the law, on its own, could never do. Because the law was given for the sake of grace, only God’s grace can fulfill the law. It’s delusional to think that keeping the law—even keeping the law perfectly—could ever fulfill the law. The whole law points to Jesus.

So, God gave his own Son. He offered him up as a sacrifice. Jesus walked among us as flesh and blood and, as flesh, exposed the truth about sin and its abuse of the law. Extending God’s grace, Jesus made it possible for the law to be fulfilled. He made it possible for Spirit to manifest in our own weak flesh. Grace isn’t God’s backup plan in case we can’t keep the law. Grace was, from the beginning, the whole point of the law and the only way to fulfill it. [Read more…]

Excerpt from “Grace Is Not God’s Backup Plan”

Romans Front Cover (1)Gospel Doctrine lesson #36, “Beloved of God, Called to be Saints” is coming up. It’s the only lesson in the Sunday School manual dedicated to reading Paul’s letter to the Romans.

To celebrate, my paraphrase of the letter, Grace Is Not God’s Backup Plan, will be on sale for just $.99 for the next week (September 4-11) and I’m including the whole of my rendition of Romans 7 below. Enjoy!


Romans 7

Say you were born an insider and lived under the law. Still, the law only binds the living. Once you’re dead, you’ve left its jurisdiction.

A married woman is bound to her husband only as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, that law no longer applies. She’s free to remarry. If she cheats on him while the law’s in force, that’s adultery. But if death intervenes, she’s free to love again. It’s the same for you. You died to the law when you died with Jesus. But now, raised with Jesus, you belong to another. You’re rooted in the love that caused you to bear fruit for God.

In your old life, your passions and flesh were hijacked by sin and enflamed by the law. Abetted by the law, sin sowed death in your flesh. It blunted your mind, it dulled your senses, it hardened your heart. But now, rescued, you’re beyond the reach of the law. Before, you were a slave to sin; now, you’re bound to God. No longer enslaved to death by the law, you’re sealed to life by the Spirit. [Read more…]

Wandering Celebrity

infinite_jestIn Farther Away, Jonathan Franzen warns against the temptation to treat David Foster Wallace as some brand of postmodern saint, wrecked and hallowed by his mental illness. He argues that “the people who knew David least well are most likely to speak of him in saintly terms” (39). Perhaps inevitably a compensatory impulse to hagiography followed Wallace’s suicide. This effect, Franzen thinks, may even have been part of what Wallace blackly intended.

“But if you happened to know that his actual character was more complex and dubious than he was getting credit for, and if you also knew that he was more lovable—funnier, sillier, needier, more poignantly at war with his demons, more lost, more childishly transparent in his lies and inconsistencies—than the benignant and morally clairvoyant artist/saint that had been made of him, it was still hard not to feel wounded by the part of him that had chosen the adulation of strangers over the love of the people closest to him.” (38-39)

This may be true and Franzen’s pain is surely genuine. But it’s also hard not to hear something self-serving in his pitch. Wallace wasn’t just a friend, he was Franzen’s literary competition. Franzen will always bear the burden of being compared to Wallace and Wallace’s suicide, he indicates, has not only wounded him personally but rigged their game professionally. How can he compete with Saint David? Pushing back against Wallace’s posthumous image, Franzen aims to reclaim some control of his own celebrity. [Read more…]

Open-ended, Ongoing

(Find below a handful of loose notes from a friend of mine, David Gore, on testimony. Put them to work as you’re interested and able.)

It makes more sense to me to think about a testimony as an open-ended set of possibilities and relationships rather than a closed system of agreed-to propositions.

Another thing  we need to emphasize in testimony discourse is the way it can be alive to different degrees at different stages of our life, the fact that a testimony is more a project of development over the human lifespan than a single event or experience at any given moment. Sometimes we are bereft of God, other times things move along smoothly and we’re lighthearted and grateful for the ride.

No one of us is more than a couple of decisions here or there from losing our faith and falling away. The opposite seems to have proven to be the case in my life, too. A small decision here or there, to take up and read or to kneel down and pray, yields dividends which I never anticipate and which I don’t always have the good sense to appreciate. [Read more…]

Who Can Say Something New?

Who can say something new?

Is Mormon theology, as an academic project, possible for Mormons committed to the primacy of revelation and prophetic leadership?

It depends on what you mean by new.

Who can say something new for Mormonism?

Only those called by God and sustained by the common consent of the church. No Mormon theologian, as a scholar, should ever attempt to speak for Mormonism.

But this is not the question at stake in scholarship. The question at stake in scholarship is this:

Who can say something new about Mormonism?

The answer to this question is very different. Anyone willing to pay enough attention to make an observation can say something new about Mormonism. [Read more…]

“Christ & Antichrist” Conference Program, NYC, 6/20

Seminar-Sunstone“Christ & Antichrist: Reading Jacob 7″
The Second Annual Summer Seminar on Mormon Theology

9:00–9:15, Adam Miller, Opening Remarks

9:15–10:00, Sharon Harris, “Priest of the Temple and Guardian of the Plates: Jacob and Two Covenants”

10:00–10:45, Kim Berkey, “I Had Requested It: A Theology of Prayer in Jacob 7”

10:45–11:00, Break

11:00–11:45, Jacob Rennaker, “Divine Dream Time: The Hope and Hazard of Revelation”

11:45–12:30, Adam Miller, “Reading Signs or Repeating Symptoms”

12:30–2:00, Lunch

2:00–2:45, Jana Riess, “There Came a Man: Sherem and the Inversion of the Prophetic Tradition”

2:45–3:30, Joseph Spencer, “Weeping for Zion”

3:30–3:45, Break

3:45–4:30, Jenny Webb, “The Flesh and the Family: Jacob 7 as a Site for Sealing”

4:30–5:15, Jeremy Walker, “To Destroy Us Continually: Time and the Katechon in Jacob 7”

[Read more…]

“Christ & Antichrist,” June 20, New York City


“Christ & Antichrist: Reading Jacob 7”

The Second Annual Summer Seminar on Mormon Theology

Conference is free and open to the public Saturday, June 20, 9am-5pm

The Refectory
Union Theological Seminary
3041 Broadway
New York, NY 10027

Writ & Vision: Roundtable on Grace

Writ and VisionAt 7pm on Thursday, May 21, Writ & Vision will host a roundtable discussion on grace. Participants include Adam Miller, Joseph Spencer, and Jenny Webb.

The discussion will focus on President Uchtdorf’s April 2015 General Conference address, “The Gift of Grace,” Adam Miller’s Grace Is Not God’s Backup Plan: An Urgent Paraphrase of Paul’s Letter to the Romans, and a close reading of 2 Nephi 25:23 (“for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do”).

The event is open to the public. Writ & Vision is located at 274 West Center Street in Provo, Utah.

Adam Miller will also be signing books at Benchmark Books from 12-1pm on Friday, May 22. Benchmark Books is located at 3269 South Main Street, Suite 250 in Salt Lake City.

The Future of Mormon Thinking – Part 3, “The Subjective”

Photo: Petr Kratochvil

Photo: Petr Kratochvil

Say we grant that Mormonism is profoundly threatened by the claim that our religion is just in our heads.

Say we grant that Mormonism is threatened by the claim that, at best, Mormonism is a subjective pastiche of wishful thinking, soggy reasoning, willful self-deception, DIY clichés, middle management kitsch, and rose-tinted history that, as a whole, not only lacks objective reality but actively suppresses it.

What follows? What follows is that fearless Mormon thinking ought to occupy this position. It ought to adopt this critique as God’s own truth and find out how much water it can actually hold.

This enemy is too big a threat for fearless Mormon thinking to do anything other than love it with a whole heart. [Read more…]

The Future of Mormon Thinking – Part 2, “The Secular”

Photo: Petr Kratochvil

Photo: Petr Kratochvil

Say we grant the claim that secularism is, today, the enemy of Mormonism. What follows?

What follows is that secularism ought to be first in line for Mormon love and Mormon thinking. Secularism ought to be greeted fearlessly. No one should be thinking harder or better about secularism than Mormonism. And no one should be doing more to rethink truths from the secular position than Mormonism.

Now, again, a fearless extension of the truth to the secular position doesn’t amount to either an adoption or a rejection of that position. Rather, the work of thinking must transfigure that position.

It must proceed as an occupation that simultaneously transfigures all three elements involved: the enemy, Mormonism, and the truth. If our fearless thinking doesn’t transfigure all three, then, whatever else was managed, truth will fail. [Read more…]

The Future of Mormon Thinking – Part 1, “Thinking”

Photo: Petr Kratochvil

Photo: Petr Kratochvil

What follows is not a description or a prediction, but an invitation.

In the future, Mormon thinking will be fearless. It will be fearless in the truth. And the only way to hold a truth fearlessly is, as John says, to hold it with perfect love. “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear” (1 John 4:18). Only love is fearless. And only the fearless see the truth. If we fail to love, fear will cloud our eyes and skew our judgment.

In order for thinking itself to be fearless, that thinking must be conducted as an act of love. And in order to be conducted as an act of love, we must do as Jesus says: we must love our enemies. [Read more…]

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. [Read more…]