Feast upon the Word Blog

A blog focused on LDS scriptures and teaching

Intro to Paul: Grace and works (and Ephesians)

Posted by Robert C. on July 31, 2007

The topic of grace came up in my 12-14 year old Sunday school class last week, and I asked the kids if they knew what grace was. Not really, it turns out. It’s little things like this that make me rather sympathetic toward Christians who don’t consider us Christian.

The particular scripture I want to take up comes from Ephesians. The problem is that the scholarly view seems to lean toward rejecting Paul as the author of the letter to Ephesians (here is a link to the New Testament Footnotes online book, edited by Kevin Barney, which has a nice little, concise intro to Ephesians which includes a discussion about authorship). So first, I’ll make a brief case for considering Ephesians “Pauline.” Then I’ll look at a particular verse in Ephesians which states emphatically that we are saved by grace, not works.

Ephesians: a forgery?

An influential body of theological and philosophical writings were written by someone who is now known as Pseudo-Dionysius. The work attributes itself to Dionysius the Areopagite mentioned in Acts 17:34, but almost everyone now believes that the writings were actually written by an anonymous 5th century writer. So, from a modern perspective, we might consider this work a forgery. However, from a pre-modern perspective, this is not really how it would be viewed. Kevin Corrigan writes in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philospopphy the following:

It must also be recognized that “forgery” is a modern notion. Like Plotinus and the Cappadocians before him, Dionysius does not claim to be an innovator, but rather a communicator of a tradition. Adopting the persona of an ancient figure was a long established rhetorical device (known as declamatio), and others in Dionysius’ circle also adopted pseudonymous names from the New Testament. Dionysius’ works, therefore, are much less a forgery in the modern sense than an acknowledgment of reception and transmission, namely, a kind of coded recognition that the resonances of any sacred undertaking are intertextual, bringing the diachronic structures of time and space together in a synchronic way, and that this theological teaching, at least, is dialectically received from another.

It is in this sense of “an acknowledgment of reception and transmission,” i.e. a Pauline tradition, that I think Ephesians should be considered “Pauline” (scare quotes because when scholars say Pauline, they mean specifically “written by Paul”), even if the majority scholarly view that Ephesians wasn’t written by Paul is accepted. And so, although I think it is interesting to consider Pauline theology as it compares and contrasts with the unquestioned Pauline epistles and the more dubious Pauline epistles (like Ephesians), I think it is also worthwhile and interesting to look at what kind of theology we see developing when we look at all the epistles traditionally attributed to Paul together (although, as always, I think it’s dangerous to read with an eye toward a grand theology; the epistles in particular seem to be addressing different situations and needs, so there’s no reason to expect even Paul’s epistles to be theologically unifiable, at least in some systematic way; the idea, however, is that there should be some sort of coherence to the theological ideas in the various epistles…).

Salvation by grace

Here’s the Ephesians passage I want to use as my proof-text for grace:

For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. (Eph 2:8-9)

I don’t think there are really any Pauline scholars that would argue this notion of salvation by grace is not consonant with a Pauline theology. James Dunn, viewed as an opponent of the traditional faith-works view of Paul (and therefore perhaps more apt to have a more limited view of Paul’s view of grace), writes in his The Theology of Paul the Apostle (pp. 319-323):

It is important to grasp that for Paul, behind the whole salvation process always lay the initiative of God. No other word expresses his theology so clearly on this point as “grace” (charis). . . . In short, charis joins agape (“love”) at the very centre of Pual’s gospel. More than any other, these two words, “grace” and “love,” together sum up and most clearly characterize his whole theology. . . .

. . . [S]everal features of Paul’s grace theology call for comment. (1) First, a common feature in the usages . . . is the idea of spontaneous kindness and generous giving. . . . Paul rooted his understanding of divine-human relations in the conviction that God’s purpose for humankind was one of generous initiative and sustained faithfulness from start to finish. . . . God’s grace is always a gift. . . .

. . . (2) A second common feature is the sense of “grace” as action. It denoted not simply an attitude or a disposition but also the act which expressed the attitude; the actual favour(s) bestowed by the benefactor were what the laudatory inscriptions commemorated. . . .

. . .[skipping (3)] (4) . . .The idea of mutuality which was attached to human chesed in the OT, and the importance of reciprocity which was such a central feature of the benefaction ideology of the Greco-roman world, are both left behind in Paul. . . . No room is left for any thought that the human recipient of divine grace can somehow repay it. The one to whom charis has been given should return charis indeed, but always in the sense of “thanks,” never in the sense of a “favour” returned. “Grace” remains God’s wholly generous and undeserved action from beginning to end.

(5) At the same time we can say that for Paul grace begets grace. As we shall see later, charis bestowed comes to expression in charisma. The reception of God’s grace in Christ results in gracious acts. . . . Paul saw the action of grace not merely in the reciprocal giving and returning of grace; even the return of charis in the sense of “thanks” did not complete the Pauline circle of grace. Charis came to fuller expression in charisma as a gift to the community, a benefit for the common good (1 Cor 12.7) The character of divine grace in Christ was fully recognized and responded to when the recipient became a vehicle of that same grace to others (2 Corinthians 8-9). The grace of God came to characteristic expression not only in the salvation of the individual but also in the building of the community.

Well, I wasn’t planning to quote that much, but I think these comments on grace are all very good, and give an important springboard to the discussion of works I want to raise below.

So what of works?

What about works, then? As I tried to explain in my previous Intro to Paul post, scholars seem to disagree about what exactly “works of the law” is referring to in various places (the Law of Moses or moral law more generally), but I don’t think there’s really any disagreement that Paul is saying that works do not merit salvation (the “curse of the law,” then, is either that it makes Israelites think they can earn salvation, as Paul is traditionally interpreted, or that it makes Israelites feel exclusively favored of God, as the NPP advocates tend to claim). That is, works are clearly not a sufficient condition for salvation. The controversy seems to be more about whether good works are a necessary condition for salvation.

James 2 seems to be saying that if we have “real” faith (which comes by choosing to receive God’s grace, at least Dunn seems to be saying), then works will follow. In this sense, we might think of works as “transitively necessary”—that is, faith is necessary (no one disputes this), and works follow from faith, so it follows that works are effectively (though perhaps not technically) a necessary condition for salvation. Many Protestants (Evangelicals in particular) don’t really consider James canonical, and seem to believe that works are not a necessary condition for salvation, even in this loose, transitive sense.

But this issue of works can be raised in the Pauline epistles themselves:

For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified. (Rom 2:13)

I don’t want to get sidetracked, however, with a discussion of the context and different interpretations of this passage. Rather, I want to finish by thinking about grace in Mormon theology.

Mormon views on works

Do Mormons believe in grace as Dunn described it in the previous section? I think the answer is an enthusiastic “yes.” I think there have been various Church leaders who emphasize works without discussing grace much, but I think this is a matter of emphasis, not theology. Nevertheless, I think there’s a somewhat subtle implication that can be pointed to, which might in fact be taken as a theological difference: by advocating the importance of works, the part that grace plays in the origination of good works is often ignored, perhaps even denied.

On the one hand, works advocates seem to be saying that you just need to buckle down and get to work, exercising your free agency in a righteous way. God isn’t going to make you do anything, you have to be the one to decide to be obedient and serviceable.

On the other hand, grace advocates seem to be saying that if you try to choose exercise your own free agency, then you’ll always come up short. Rather, you have to allow God’s grace to enter your life and change you, then you will have a mighty change of heart, therefore righteous desires, and the good works will flow out of you without really putting forth any extra (i.e. self-originating) effort on your part.

These aren’t particularly good or accurate descriptions, but they are roughly how I see differing Mormon views. Again, I think that if there is a genuine theological difference between these two views, it is a somewhat subtle difference: both views would agree that works are transitively-necessary for salvation in the sense that I described above.

In my own life, I think I vacillate between these two views: sometimes I have to tell myself to get off the couch (or off the computer!) and go do something else that I really should be doing. Other times, it seems to work better to focus on turning toward God, and in so doing my heart and desires are changed and righteousness then seems to flow out of me quite naturally. Although I think I tend to lean more toward the latter view than most Mormons do (and I think there’s also been a shift toward this latter view over the pulpit), I still think there are some times that I have to effectively give myself a quick kick-in-the-rear, more in line with the former view, in order to overcome couch-inertia (sorry, another bad pun attempt, on my last name Couch…).


For reference, here are some other good Pauline passages on grace to consider and study:

Rom. 3: 24
24 Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:

Rom 6: 14
14 For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace.

Rom. 11: 5-6
5 Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the aelection of grace.
6 And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work.

Gal. 2: 9, 21
9 And when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; that we should go unto the heathen, and they unto the circumcision.
• • •
21 I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.

Gal. 5: 4
4 Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace.

Eph. 2: 5, 7-8
5 Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;)
• • •
7 That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.
8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God.

173 Responses to “Intro to Paul: Grace and works (and Ephesians)”

  1. Todd Wood said

    Robert C, my consolation is that you don’t always follow contemporary scholarship.

    As I have been reading this series of articles where you have interacted with Dunn, perhaps the “feastuponthewordblog” readership might consider reading Simon Gathercole’s recent article, “What Did Paul Really Mean?” (Christianity Today, August 2007, pp. 22-28).

    And count me in as believing Paul being the author of the rich, meaty book of Ephesians.

    And thanks for the tremendous list of closing biblical truth.

  2. Robert C. said

    Todd, thanks for the reference, I’ll try to hunt down the article and read it in the next few days. I’ll post my thoughts here on the article after I’ve read it.

  3. Robert C. said

    Todd, it looks like I’ll have to order a photo copy of the article or swing by the library (or just subscribe, which I should do!), so I may not get to this article for a few days. However, I did find two interesting things trying to access the article online:

    (1) There’s a Wikipedia article that says that Gathercole was Dunn’s PhD student, and that they’re coming out with a joint book. Gathercole apparently disagrees with Dunn on most of the core issues where Dunn departs from traditional interpretation, so this is sure to be a very interesting book. I’ve been trying to quote Westerholm because he’s been the main scholarly defender of the traditional view that I know—I’ll add Gathercole to this list.

    (2) Here is a very interesting article that I found on the Christianity Today blog which discusses faith and works from a Protestant perspective. It’s written as a response to Beckwith’s conversion to Catholocism (he’s former president of the Evangelical Theological society), and is very good in my opinion. I may’ve given the wrong impression in my post regarding James that most Protestants or Evangelicals question the canonical status of James. I only meant some—this blog post explicitly mentions the “faith without works” doctrine, and concludes:

    The Bible says this type of faith—faith without good works—is as good as no faith at all. It’s as dead and meaningless as the selling of indulgences.

    . . . [V]irtue does count for Protestants—it signals our understanding that Christ’s virtue counts for everything, and that any good the Holy Spirit enables us to do is but a grateful response to God’s gift of justification.

    Again, you’ll get no disagreement from me—this is how I think grace works. And although some Mormons might disagree, I think the view described in that blog post is consistent with Mormon scripture and theology.

  4. Kurt said


    The Pauline ideas of Grace espoused in Ephesians, which you seem to be trying to undermine by questioning it’s authorship, are unequivocally advocated in the LDS canon, cf. D&C 20:30. Paul’s teachings concerning Grace and Justification are very clear throughout all his letters, the expiation of sins is not something we can earn through works (i.e., repenting doesnt expiate the punishment accrued for sins committed, it only prevents further punishment, this is part of Sanctification, not Justification), it is a free gift from Christ given to us even though we do not deserve it. It is through his mercy and grace that he gives it to us, we do not earn it, we do not deserve it. We deserve punishment, instead we are forgiven, that is what Paul is talking about. When Paul is talking about the deadness of the Law, he is referring to the Law of Moses, just as in Nephi in 2 Ne. 25:23.

    Paul’s soteriology is completely standard, and the LDS canon agrees with it 100%. The misunderstandings between LDS and other denominations are owing to problems in syntax and ignorance of standard classical soteriology (on both sides), which is unequivocally endorsed in D&C 20:29-31, and numerous places elsewhere in the LDS canon.

  5. TT said

    I think that “deutero-Pauline” might be a better term for characterizing Ephesians.

    FWIW, I think that Dunn is way too conservative. He has sort of cast himself as a NPP person and in conservative circles is a big name, but he is pretty tame in my view. He only barely departs from the OPP. The real interesting NPP stuff starts just to the left of Dunn. I think that the more radical people like Gaston and Gager have interesting points, but ultimately go too far. I am more of a Stowers and Boyarin person myself.

  6. Robert C. said

    Kurt, I very much agree with what you’ve said—I think these Pauline ideas are all very much consistent with LDS scripture. Sorry if I came across otherwise in my rather circuitous attempt to preempt and/or address possible arguments against these ideas.

    TT, thanks for these additional names to check out, and situating Dunn in the larger scheme of things for me—I’m very new to Pauline studies and, I have to say, it’s quite overwhelming how much has been written on Paul and how un-unified the literature is (in many ways at least—actually, I think there is a quite a bit of agreement in the literature, but since that’s boring to write about, it’s sort of hard to find; for example, “grace” is not in the index of most of the books I’ve checked out on Paul and Pauline epistles!).

    I gathered Dunn’s somewhat conservative since he wrote the Word Biblical Commentary volume, but in the introductory book on Pauline theology that I picked up, he is frequently listed as a prominent NPP scholar. But my sense is that frequently there are “pockets” of scholars in Biblical studies that are somewhat narrow and do not interact or cite scholars outside of that pocket much—so again, thanks.

    Also, Deutero-Pauline indeed seems to be the appropriate term for Colossians, Ephesians, and 2 Thessalonians. Though I’d still be tempted to use an invented term like “Paulistic” to connote both Pauline and Deutero-Pauline in the sense of this unified tradition/theology I’m trying to point to….

  7. TT said

    Well, Dunn coined the term “New Perspective” when discussing Sanders in a 1982 lecture, so he will always be considered an important person in the movement. I don’t mean to minimize him, but I don’t see as as that central to the current conversation about Paul’s relationship to Judaism. For a good overview of the various strands of the NPP, see Boyarin’s Radical Jew. There is about a 12 page summary in the first chapter of the different approaches. Boyarin’s book is one of the most exciting books on Paul out there.

  8. Robert C. said

    TT, cool, I just ordered Boyarin’s book from the library, I’ll have a look.

  9. CEF said

    Kurt – If things are as black and white as you suggest, how do you explain the first paragraph in this post. I do not think claiming that people are ignorant works in light of the very intelligent people we have in the Church.

    I seriously doubt the same problem would take place in some other church. At least not in their eyes.

  10. TT said

    Just one more note on this since I just came across it this morning. In the undisputed Pauline epistles, salvation is always a future event. He would not understand the question, “Have you been saved?” since this he only speaks of salvation as something that is coming, not something that can occur now. In Ephesians, however, salvation is a present event. There are two different eschatologies at work here.

  11. Robert C. said

    TT, thanks, hopefully I’ll find time to write an introductory post on Pauline eschatology, it’s not something I’ve studied very closely. However, it seems this is a rather controversial point since I don’t think saying “salvation is always a future event” captures the already-not yet nuance in Paul, and I think there are aspects of this tension in Ephesians as well (e.g. 1:21; 2:2; 6:12 seem to have an important future aspect to them).

  12. Adam said

    I agree with Robert about Paul’s eschatology. In fact, I take the essential aspect of his eschatology to be the “already” of the “already/not yet” nuance.

  13. Clark said

    CEF, as I said over at New Cool Thang, I think most LDS are unfamiliar with the terminology of Grace simply because of what we focus in on. (And perhaps because not enough read their scriptures) But I think in terms of theology most have a reasonable grasp of things.

  14. CEF said

    Clark – Please take anything I say here as sincere, not trying to be argumentative, or just plain being a jerk. I have been struggling with this issue for years now, and have not found a sufficient answer to my questions/position. My wife does not go to church anymore, and my youngest daughter that just moved to Montana has no desire to go to church, although she still does go. I feel personally responsible for the mess, yet I do not know how to fix it.

    Because of your belief that we in the Church do understand grace, I will ask you the same question I asked Kurt. How do you explain the first thing Robert said in this post? I seriously doubt that anyone in his class could quote Eph. 2:8-9. Yet, in most other churches, I would guess that most if not all of the kids that age could quote that verse.

    So either we have the correct understanding and there really is not a need to know what that scripture says, or we miss the boat by not knowing that scripture. I say we miss the boat, but it seems that most members say the former.

    I think it mostly is about what we focus on. For instance, to focus on the horse in the barn, but you never shut the barn door, is going to lead to a big disappointment when It comes time to use the horse.

    I have never said that works are not important, but that it is more important to focus on grace, knowing that the works will follow. Why is my position not the standard in the Church as it seems to be in other churches? And if I have it wrong, how would you fix it? Or as you would say, is there just too much to unpack here? :)

  15. Robert C. said

    CEF #14, I’d guess that thinking through Church history might help shed light on your question. For example, I think the restoration was largely a corrective of many ideas of traditional Christianity, including the idea that Christianity amounts to being baptized, saying you accept Christ and that’s all (though that’s a strong misrepresentation saying it in an over-simplistic manner like that…). So, for example, Isaiah 29 played an important role in the restoration where “they draw near me with their lips but their hearts are far from me.” With that being the situation, I don’t think it’s surprising that Mormons became leery of the term “grace,” because Christians had sort of abused the term to only draw near God with their lips, not their hearts.

    Also, the pioneers survived only by “putting their shoulder to the wheel” and doing a lot of hard work. But implicit is always the idea that we do these things as an expression of our love toward God, to build Zion and the kingdom where love and grace can flow more freely. This couldn’t happen without a lot of hard work, and I think Mormons came to pride themselves (in good and bad ways…) as being a hard-working people—as sort of a sign of our love and gratitude for what God has given us (gifts, which corresponds to the Greek charisma, is a term I think we use instead of grace, basically the manifestation of grace in our community, as the Dunn quote in my post discusses…).

    So, I think it’s not surprising that the children of the pioneers had a more James-sounding than Paul-sounding view on works. However, as Church members became more prosperous, I think this view of works began to create problems related to materialism and an association of righteousness and hard work and prosperity (though I think this was common in other Christian churches in early America, stemming largely from Max Weber…), and I think the kind of grace that originally motivated the pioneers was forgotten or underemphasized.

    And so I think we’ve seen a shift over the pulpit toward more of a grace orientation (even if the word is still avoided for the reasons I explained above). And I think there is a strong shift in this direction culturally, as the popularity of books like Stephen Robinson’s Believing Christ attest (which I think is a very grace-focused book). Paralleling, I think, a renewed focus on Christ and the atonement (who is full of grace and truth).

    Well, there’s a lot of holes in this little sketch, and there are many other issues that I’ve not brought up (in particular, I think there is an important sense in which the call to righteous works forces us to come to the Savior in a way that a mere call to grace does not, since that call to grace can result only in a lip-service conversion rather than a true conversion…), but I hope that gives you an idea of how I think the phenomenon I described in my first paragraph relates to our rather complex restoration history in a Christian environment….

  16. Adam said

    Robert, I think that you’re right about the potential importance of Robinson’s Believing Christ, at least as a marker of a general, cultural shift. The only problem, in my view, is that “the parable of the bicycle,” while emphasizing the importance of grace, is a perfect example of what I take to be the less productive way of approaching grace: it treats grace as a stop-gap/bandaid for our failure to be self-sufficiently righteous (it takes grace as a response to sin) rather than recognizing that the sin is itself a reaction to an anterior grace. This approach, I think, ends up missing grace as such and, as a result, will ultimately be unable to untangle the knot of faith/works/law.

  17. Robert C. said

    Adam, I think you’re right in your critique of the parable of the bicycle (see here for a summary of the parable by Geoff J. at NCT, and a critique sort of opposite what Adam is suggesting—that is, that the parable doesn’t appropriately capture the way in which we must learn for ourselves to be like God). Frankly, I don’t see how it’s much different than Packer’s famous parable of the debtor—both parables seem very much based on traditional readings of Paul with a penal-substitution theory of atonement in mind.

    So, maybe someone needs to write a book on grace that will effect a new cultural shift for how Mormons understand grace (hint-hint, wink-wink). However, I worry that saying “sin is itself a reaction to an anterior grace” might not be quite as catchy or memorable as the popular parable of the bicycle….

  18. CEF said

    Thank you for trying to help Robert. I agree with your assessment of what could be the reasons we see grace and works the way we do. My problem, is more along the lines of recognizing the problem and then fixing it. I do not see much in the way of fixing it from the leaders themselves. Robinson, Millet and even Ostler have written enough about grace that should be sufficient to move the church in a better direction. Why the leaders do not pick up on it, I don’t know. Of course what could be construed from such lack of action, is that they have it wrong.

    So do they have it wrong, which would make me wrong also? How can they have it right and the leaders not teach the same thing?

    Robinson said in “How Wide The Divided” that his bicycle story was written so Mormons could understand it, but it did not really reflect the true concept of grace.

    As far as a book written that explains grace correctly, Blake has already done so in his second book. I find it most interesting that *no one* has engaged what he said in that second book about grace. Even Geoff at NCT has bypassed that part of the book. Perhaps someone here would want to take up such a discussion. What do you think Robert? :) Or maybe Clark on his blog?

  19. Robert C. said

    CEF #18, if someone else doesn’t beat me to it, I’ll try to write something up on Blake’s chapters on grace in a couple weeks (this week and next are pretty hectic for me). I’ve skimmed most of Blake’s book, and I’ll probably focus on chapter 11, unless you or someone specifically requests otherwise (I actually like Blake’s discussion of self-deception best, so I’ll probably try to take that up as well, how self-deception is a denial of grace similar to what Adam’s #16; also, I think this bit about self-deception is a good way to think about possible reasons why “preaching works” can be helpful—I think this is illustrated in the first few chapters of Jacob, where he preaches against their works because they are trying to rationalize their sins…).

    Also: I’ve definitely met many members and leaders who have much more work-oriented views of grace and works. However, I guess I’ve grown accustomed to viewing such differences more in terms of spiritual maturity (or “theological maturity” since I think anyone who reads scripture carefully can’t fail to have at least a basic understanding of grace…) rather than incommensurable. Similarly, I think differences in General Authority talks tend to be addressed to different audiences and different needs (although clearly not independent of the speaker’s personality…). So, at least in this sense, it’s hard for me to understand the intensity of the frustrations you’re talking about. Maybe a good exercise would be to find some recent Conference talks that address grace and/or works and see if there’s anything that rubs you wrong (in the meantime, I’ll take it as a challenge to find talks that teach grace…).

  20. CEF said

    Hi Robert – Again, thank you for trying to help. It is not that the leaders do not teach grace once in awhile, it is that they *always* couch it in terms of “after all you can do.” To me, it is that one scripture that has caused us to focus our attention on works instead of grace. And yet, it seems to me, that almost all of the church scholars say that the standard interpretation of that scripture is wrong.

    The way we interpret that scripture, (IMO) if not entirely, then certainly in practical useful terms, destroys the concept of grace. Something we get for free that we do not deserve. If we have to earn it, how is it grace.

    I really like the way Blake talks about prevenient grace and something about how the *light* that is talked about in the D&C is referring to grace. That was the first and only time I heard of the concept of light as grace.

    I will eagerly await yours or someone else’s thoughts on Blake’s ideas.

  21. Robert C. said

    CEF #20, thanks for this additional clarification. Thinking about this in terms of grace “after all we can do” vs. prevenient grace really helps me understand your frustration. Yes, I think that verse is commonly misinterpreted in a way that undermines the prevenient notion of grace.

    I’d forgotten, but here are some notes I took when thinking about Blake Ostler’s discussion of prevenient grace. Feel free to discuss anything I wrote there here (I haven’t read what I wrote there in quite a while, so I reserve the right to retract anything I said there).

    I still think I can find some Conference articles that put forth a notion of prevenient grace, though I confess it might take a bit of work to find a very explicit statement of this. But I do think that most members and GA’s would likely agree that we experience grace in various degrees “preveniently” (i.e. before any work on our part), but that we won’t experience a full degree of grace until we are exalted (if we are exalted). This, I think, further complicates the comparison of grace for Mormons vis-a-vis Christians. That is, I think one could make the case that anyone saved from Outer Darkness (or, say, the Telestial Kingdom) will experience the kind of grace that most Christians have in mind, but that exaltation is sort of a “fuller” grace that most Christians don’t even believe in….

    Also, I think the timing of this is important to think about. I think many members would interpret the “after” in “after all we can do” as pertaining to the time of Final Judgment. That is, I don’t think the way “after” is typically read directly undermines a prevenient notion of grace; rather, I think most members would say we experience grace throughout our lives (but, again, not fully until Final Judgment). The critical question, however, seems to be the extent to which we can experience God’s grace before turning to God and repenting. I think most members would at least agree that we see traces of God’s grace and love all around us, in the beauty of the world created for us and God’s arms that are always opened toward us. In fact, maybe BOM passages describing the “scriptural hug” are a good place for me to look for Conference talks describing a notion of prevenient grace. Isn’t there some really popular painting with the Saviour’s arms reaching out to an embrace a sinner? Isn’t that evidence of a notion of prevenient grace commonly that is widely believed among Mormons?

  22. CEF said

    Hi Robert – Thank you for the link to your notes on Blake’s grace. You must be the first to tackle such.

    I do not have the time today to properly respond (it is my birthday and I am going to take the rest of the day off) but I will get back to you, hopefully tomorrow.

    But I would be impressed if you found a talk from a GA about prevenient grace in any form. I do not think I have ever heard such a talk. Perhaps it was said in such as way I just missed it. But if that is the case, what was the point of making it hidden? Of course I am always the first to recognize my obtuseness. Could have gone over my head. :)

  23. Clark said

    CEF, first my apologies in the delay answering. I just don’t have time for much blogging any more.

    Robert makes one of the points I’d raise. Mormons are constantly talking about the gifts of the spirit, the influence of the spirit and so forth and how they’ve prevented them from falling into error or danger. I mean talks about such experiences are almost the essence of oral Mormon theology. All of those are primarily about grace. As Robert points out the words are even the same. Mormons just tend to focus on the English word “gift” and then tend to talk about the spirit. I’d say that John 3:8 tends to be the best expression of how Mormons, as a practical matter, see religion. It’s all about gifts of the spirit that sometimes we don’t even notice but we have to be grateful for.

    So I’d say if you find someone who isn’t really able to talk much about the word “grace” ask them about gifts from God and gifts of the spirit. I suspect you’ll get an earful.

    As for salvation proper, rather than grace in its broader sense. Just ask the average member about salvation and how we are saved. Everyone will talk about Christ; talk about being given the gospel; talk about being given people with the priesthood. But all those come from God, not man. Ask a Mormon if, for the main blessings God gives us we can repay him. No one will say we can. Most might say that we ought try and that part of being grateful and accepting the gifts is to do all we can. Indeed part of accepting grace is recognizing it and then letting that humility act within us. That leads to a change of heart in the more practical sense. (i.e. we want to be a different person because we recognize what God has done for us)

    I’ve heard these things constantly in every ward I’ve been in. Even the wards I wasn’t too impressed with. I think we need to look beyond the language someone may (limitedly) express things in and look to what they are attempting to say.

  24. Clark said

    Adam, I agree the parable of the bicycle is inapt. Although it works at a very basic level – which is where many are. Likewise there’s a popular analogy for the resurrection using a pen and pulling out the ink cartridge inside. You try to write with the ink part which bends and can’t work right. Great little analogy for kids but horribly wrong in many ways when you think that much of who we are is our brain.

    I think we demand too much of our analogies. As Robert points out, it’s not like scriptural analogies are necessarily much better.

    For the record I don’t care for a lot of Robinson’s theology. I think Millet is a bit better and had a widely influential talk on Grace from the early 90’s. (I think it was put on tape/CD by Deseret Books as I recall)

    The danger I see in many discussions of Grace is that with many (not necessarily anyone here) it tends to fall prey to the theology of “cheap grace” that I think we see among many lay Evangelicals.

  25. Clark said

    One must be careful about talking about prevenient grace in terms of salvation. Otherwise one seems to be led, if one isn’t careful, into a theology of the Calvinists where God through Grace picks before our choices whether we are saved. Certainly God has given us everything we need to be saved prior to us thinking about it. (Or, as a practical matter, before any of us were born) However that’s standard LDS theology. Indeed the LDS theology of the plan of salvation makes this much more intelligible, in my opinion. Grace is an essential part of the plan – indeed it wouldn’t be much of a plan if God hadn’t already made it possible for us to return to him.

    The danger I see in prevenient grace of the Arminian kind is summed up perhaps in this well known quote of Wesley:

    The condition of man after the fall of Adam is such that he cannot turn and prepare himself, by his own natural strength and works, to faith, and calling upon God; wherefore we have no power to do good works, pleasant and acceptable to God, without the grace of God by Christ preventing [preceding] us, that we may have a good will, and working with us, when we have that good will.

    In what sense are we free if we have no power to do good works without God?

    Now of course in one sense we need a body, a world, a sun, and so forth. And all those are gifts of God. (And this is a constant theme in lessons to young children in primary – I know I just escaped from nursery where this is taught a lot) But in other senses clearly people can choose to be good.

  26. CEF said

    Robert – In a way I would agree with you about members *could* see the “after all you can do” as something that pertains to the final judgment. But my experience is that they tend to use it in such a way as in saying, “we are saved by grace, *but only after* we have done all we can do.” In other words, the emphasis is all on our works and not on any kind of prevenient grace. That is my frustration in the Church. And I think it is that kind of thinking that has cause other Christians to claim that we believe we have to work our way to heaven. I also believe this is fixable and should be fixed.

    In your other site, after reading it again, (Blake’s ideas of grace) I think Blake makes his case very well. Perhaps you can (time permitting) read again those pages that talk about this, and if you still agree with your stated opinion –
    “Blake next quotes 2 Ne 2:8 saying that only “through the merits, mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah” can persons dwell in the presence of God. Personally, I think this part of the argument is a bit weak because the scriptures above say we will appear before God, not that we will dwell before God as 2 Ne 2:8 reads.” then I am not sure I understand your point. The scriptures “above” that you mention, are talking about the judgment, not about *dwelling* will God.

    The main point of my argument is summed up in the following quote from page 222. “-This scripture (2Nephi 25:23) is frequently interpreted in LDS discourses to mean that we can be saved only after we have done everything in our power that we can do on our own. Thus, after I have done all that I can, and only then, God will do the rest. However, such an interpretation is precisely the opposite of its meaning. Such a view in fact enshrines human effort as the condition of earning grace – a contradiction in terms — and makes salvation impossible for the simple but decisive reason that no mere mortal has ever done all that he or she can do. If we have to do all that we can do before we receive saving grace, then we will never receive such grace…” I could not agree more!

    So either what Blake says is true and therefore we need to fix the problem, or Blake has it wrong, and we should continue doing things the same way we have always done them.

    In my opinion, Blake is correct, however, he never does say that we need to fix things. Perhaps he has enough respect for the GAs not to suggest such things, and me, well, if something is wrong it needs to be fixed, and if it offends someone, I am sorry. It still needs to be fixed.

    On page 223, is where he says – “In June 1832, Joseph Smith received a revelation which inauspiciously heralded the development of a new expression of divine grace. The revelation adopted the concept of “light” from the gospel of John to elucidate this new way of speaking of God’s grace. “That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day” (D&C 50:24).

    So what do you think of the concept of light as grace?

  27. Clark said

    The notion of light as grace is definitely a very semi-peligian approach.

  28. Clark said

    BTW – relative to light you might find this talk interesting. It’s by one of my favorite GAs, Elder Tanner. On the other hand you might find this paragraph distracting:

    Every individual has the right to and can have the Light of Christ in his life as an abiding influence. But he must earn that privilege and blessing. Each of us must so live as to be worthy for the blessings of the Lord to attend us. This means we must know and understand and keep his commandments. Through the saving principles of the gospel, we can use the light in our lives to dispel the darkness in the world and to thwart the plans of that Prince of Darkness, even Satan, who has vowed to destroy mankind and the glorious plan of life and salvation authored by God and his Son Jesus Christ.

    Makes sense when you think about it. To have something as an abiding influence is different from being given the gift. Thus not only can we be added grace to grace but diminish grace from grace. (Indeed this is one of the themes of D&C 93 and it’s discourse on light)

  29. Robert C. said

    Clark and CEF, thanks for your continued discussion and interesting thoughts. I’m a bit time-pressed, so apologies for not taking up each of your questions/comments more directly or carefully.

    CEF #26, regarding 2 Ne 2:8, I think I just felt that Blake was a bit sloppy in claiming a scripture said something it didn’t. I think I mostly agree with Blake’s views on grace, though I’m hesitant to say that he has it completely right, more because I think grace is a very rich and complex topic which can’t be captured in just one view—that is, I think Blake’s view is incomplete, not wrong. But I think this is actually a crucial point. Although sometimes (even oftentimes) the way Church leaders talk about works in a way that rubs me wrong, I can usually chalk this up to a different need rather than a different theology. As I mentioned above, I’m a pretty strong believer in self-deception, and I think sometimes we need to be told very directly to just “do it” as SWK frequently said. That is, we try to use theology to justify our own laziness. So, I think Church leaders oftentimes emphasize works simply as a practical matter. Oftentimes, I think they do this in explaining a certain scriptural passage. But I don’t think these explanations of scripture are intended to be definitive; rather, the scripture is being appropriated to make a particular point in a particular sermon—that is, a practical explanation more than a theological explanation.

    But, I know this doesn’t really get to the heart of you concerns, so rather than ramble on more and repeat myself more, let me get to work on finding specific examples of some notion of prevenient grace being presented in Conference…..

  30. Robert C. said

    Ack, I think I didn’t come back to the point I started above (in #29), so let me try to be a tad less cryptic:

    Grace and works is a HUGE topic, with many different aspects to it. This richness and complexity is what allows Church leaders to take it up in ways that I don’t think are wrong, though very definitely incomplete. Although sometimes(/oftentimes) I personally wish Church leaders took up this topic in a different way (i.e. more obviously presenting a notion of previent grace), I don’t think the works lens through which they frequently(/usually) take it up represents a different theological stance on grace; rather, they are just taking up one aspect of the relationship between grace and works (i.e. that they’re related, without getting into details about what precedes what, etc.).

    So, whenever I get the chance to talk about grace in Church, I do so by taking up the scriptures directly and showing how explicitly they teach that grace is something God offers us “freely” (another good term in LDS scripture—and I always get a laugh when reading 2 Ne 2:4 and ask whether the Cranberries pay royalties to the Church for their popular “salvation is free” song…). In short, I try to channel my frustration about misunderstandings of grace (which I think are common among members, and perhaps present among GAs, but not obviously so on my view, though I still owe you, CEF, some “evidence” of this!) into a positive effort to change people’s views at every chance. If I encountered a lot of resistance, I would worry more—but my experience is there isn’t much resistance to this idea (though I’m a bit careful not to attack works directly as being “unnecessary;” rather, I say that works are a result of grace, not a precondition for feeling God’s love and experiencing his grace…).

  31. Clark said

    Robert I think Blake of all people would agree wholeheartedly that what he says is incomplete.

    Getting back to the Wesley quote I gave, I wonder if perhaps the real bone of contention relative to the theology of Grace that separates us from our Protestant friends (whether Calvinists or Arminians) are two deeper issues. The issue of Adam’s sin and the issue of creation ex nihilo. I know we’ve discussed that considerably elsewhere (more the latter) but I think that they end up being rather key. I’d note that Blake’s discussion of original sin is very pertinent to the discussion here.

    Put an other way, to what degree is Protestant discussion about grace hinging on a conception of natural sin that Mormons reject?

  32. Robert C. said

    Clark #31, I think you’re right that these are key differences. I think these differences (that is, basically the same differences you are pointing to) can also be cast in terms of free agency. That is, I think it is ultimately the rather unique and distinctive Mormon view of free agency that forms a very important framework for all of this discussion and makes differing views on grace rather complicated to articulate in a way that is mutually understood.

  33. Clark said

    I’m not sure casting it terms of agency works since arguably one can view free will in different ways as a Mormon but an Arminian almost by necessity adopts a very strong view of free will. So I don’t think we can say it is our conception of agency that separates us from say Wesley.

  34. Robert C. said

    Hmmm, good point, Clark. I guess I was thinking rather idiosyncratically about things like the notion of our divine potential and the radical sense in which God seems to grant us agency that limits what He can do, and how this came about in the premortal council and how God tells the Brother of Jared to decide what to do, and how we as intelligences are eternal (like God!), etc. I don’t think any of this is really very clear in Mormon thought (at least it’s not to me), so surely any link between these things and agency is complicated to say the least. Nevertheless, I do think all of this has significant implications for how we think about works and grace that are importantly, even if subtly, different from Arminian views. That is, even if we are like Arminians in having “a strong view of free will,” this is sweeping a lot of important differences under the carpet (I’m esp. thinking of the notion of life as a chance to prove ourselves and to grow and learn to exercise our agency, as sort of a training ground for becoming like God, something that requires more than a relatively passive acceptance of God’s grace, as I is more of the view in Arminianism…).

  35. Clark said

    However I think the idea that God gives agency that limits what God can do by God’s own free will is a common Protestant theology. It’s key, for instance, to Plantinga’s free will defense to the problem of evil.

    Now the more LDS notion that God will allow humans authority where he’ll abide (to a point) the decisions regardless of how good they are might be a bigger difference. The BoJ is one example (although that was hardly unrighteous) with the best example being the lost 116 pages. There is, to a limited extent, a similar notion in Kabbalistic theology. The idea that what happens on earth affects the heavenly order and vice versa, although I’m not sure they ever tie it to authority to quite the degree we do. (And Kabbalism being Kabbalism one is always hesitant to draw the reading in more “normal” and “less mystic” terms)

    This suggests to my eyes that perhaps, in addition to the big things of creation ex nihilo, original sin, and divinization perhaps we ought keep authority as one of the major divides between us and other forms of Christianity? (Definitely Protestantism which tends to cast a dim eye towards more formal views of authority)

  36. Jim F. said

    I echo Clark’s point: we are far distant from the Protestants and Jews when it comes to our understanding of authority; we are less distant, but still distant, from the Catholics. Catholics have a notion of authority that is in many respects something like ours, but they see authority more as the authority/authorization of the Church than as the power of God to act. That is a significant difference.

  37. Clark said

    Jim, out of curiosity – do you see the connection between Grace and Authority I do?

  38. CEF said

    I have been short on time, but I do have a few more things to say, ask about. Will be Monday before I can get back to this.

    Clark – Not knowing what semi-Peligian is, I do not know if you think it is a good thing or a not so good thing.

    Also Clark, I have a question about time, where would be the best place to ask it? Like, what is time?

  39. Clark said

    Semi-pelagianism. It’s probably the closest “heresy” to what I see as the LDS view.

  40. Clark said

    Oh, as to time, I’ll see if I can’t write something up.

  41. BrianJ said

    All: Here is an article by Bruce C Hafen about grace. I think he captures many of the ideas that have been discussed here. I wish I could offer a summary, but you are all a bit beyond me here. If it’s not too much to ask, I’d love for someone to help me see where Hafen and Ostler disagree (substantially). I have never read Ostler, so I cannot. Also, where Hafen and “average Mormon” disagree.

    I will say that Hafen seems to accept prevenient grace as well as an “after our efforts” grace—they are compatible.

    Also, regarding Clark’s #31, “…grace hinging on a conception of natural sin…,” Hafen discusses how prevenient grace covers original sin.

    Lastly, Clark, #39: I don’t see how LDS come close to semi-pelagianism. Perhaps you mean “closer to semi-p than to X” (where X is some unstated alternate view). My problem is with this sentence: “man can (unaided by grace) make the first move toward God, and God then completes the salvation process.” I don’t see how Mormons believe that we can make a move toward God that God didn’t already initiate. In other words, don’t we believe that God has already made the first move?

  42. BrianJ said

    CEF: Just to be clear—I think the article I linked to in #41 might partially address your desire to find a GA talk on grace….

  43. CEF said

    Brian J – Thank you for the link to the article. It is a very good one. My only complaint would be his use of 2Nephi 25:23. My SP can give a better talk than I can about grace, but he destroys anything good he said about grace when he *always* ends his talk with 2Nephi 25:23.

    Members of the Church have been conditioned like Pavlov’s dog, to react to that scripture with a negative view of grace. *If* I can do all I can and endure to the end, then *maybe* the grace of God will help me receive eternal life.

    There are too many *ifs* and *maybes* in the Church. When a person understands grace, he receives a witness of being saved. I am an alcoholic and have done many wicked things in my life. I have not had a drink in many years and have no desire to drink. I attribute that to grace. It is not something I could do on my own. Will I ever drink again? I do not think any alcoholic would ever say they would never drink again, but if anything will keep me from it, it will be the grace of God I have received that has changed my life.

    I no longer worry if I will make it to the CK or not. My attitude now is, why would I not? Why would I not endure to the end? How could I turn my back on what I have been given? Do I still do things I need to repent of? Sure, but I do repent, daily.

    I have been busy and not sure how to respond to what Clark and Robert said, but I do not see that anything has changed. This is where I am coming from.

    If I have an idea and put it out for others to view, if it is a good idea, then it should stand on its own. Criticism will not tear it apart. On the other hand, if it is a bad idea, it will not take long for criticism to show all of its faults.

    I have been sharing my ideas of grace for a long time and have yet to see it be torn apart by any ones critical comments, it withstands criticism. And yet, no one says, well, it looks like your view of grace is just fine. Seams to be true to me.

    All I have asked for is someone to show me how I have it wrong so I can correct my understanding and realign myself back with the Church. No one has done that. So I am left in limbo. My view has gotten me in to trouble with the Church and yet no one has told me just how I have it wrong. Has it been frustrating? You bet, it could drive a man to drink. :)

    Here is the problem. If I have it right, then the way the Church teaches grace is wrong. It is easily fixed, just drop the use of 2Nephi 25:23. No one would have to say we had it wrong, just start teaching grace without couching it in “after all you can do.” Sounds easy to me. Other wise, the Church should take Blake and others to task over teaching false doctrine.

    So poke all the holes you can in what I just said so I can correct my misunderstanding.

    Here is an example of a view that one can poke holes in.

    Clark – I have been thinking that time is nothing more than a unit of measurement. As such, it would be impossible to for anyone, even God to time travel. Or does time have some kind of metaphysical properties that make time travel possible?

  44. Robert C. said

    BrianJ #41, thanks for linking to that article (and doing my homework for me, though I would still like to find an actual conference address…), I think it’s a very good one. I don’t think there are any big differences between what Hafen is saying and what Ostler argues for in his book (though CEF seems to disagree…). However, I think the differences might be highlighted by juxtaposing D&C 88 with D&C 58.

    D&C 88 seems to talk in terms of the light of Christ filling us and flowing through us. Thus, any good we do is not really we by ourselves. That is, if we are doing good, we are not acting as a “law unto itself” (88:35); rather, we become one with God and allow God’s goodness to work in us.

    D&C 58, however, talks in terms of “our own free will” and being “agents unto ourselves.” How can this rather strong notion of our own free will be reconciled with the light of Christ being in us and our being one with God?

    On my reading, Hafen and “the average Mormon” (as though I were an authority on what the average Mormon thinks!) tends to talk more in terms of D&C 58, somewhat at the expense of a more D&C 88 take, whereas Blake, CEF, myself and many others prefer to think more in terms of D&C 88, somewhat at the expense of D&C 58. And, in talking more in terms of D&C 88, I think often comes across as too Luther-like, contradicting D&C 58—at least, this is where I sense that CEF’s frustration is coming from.

  45. Robert C. said

    CEF #43, regarding “if’s and maybe’s” I think the scriptures teach there is only an “if”, no maybe’s: if we accept Christ then we will be saved. The controvery, of course, is what it means and entails to accept Christ. As I understand it, some will accept Christ only after suffering for their sins (D&C 76 talks about this in terms of telestial glory). Also, many scriptures seem to warn us that we might deceive ourselves that we are accepting Christ when in fact we haven’t, and one way to recognize this kind of self-deception is in terms of not doing good works or not “enduring to the end.” So, the scriptures seem to point us again and again toward Christ. If we fully accept Christ, we will be filled with light and abound in good works. However, it seems there are many and diverse ways that we can block out Christ and his light/love/grace, so the scriptures and GA’s continually remind us that we need to repent daily and reset our focus lest we become distracted from this engrossing love, that “fill[s] the immensity of space” (D&C 88:12).

    I guess my overall sense is, frankly, that you are trying to be too reductionistic about all of this. I think many, many scriptures and doctrines appear on the surface to contradict each other, but with further thought, reflection, prayer and consideration we can learn to understand that these apparent contradiction are just that, only apparent, not real (“by proving contraries, truth is made manifest” Joseph Smith is often quoted as saying…). So I don’t find it all that surprising that members disagree about various doctrines—the trick, I think, is to understand and reconcile these apparent disagreements and tensions. I sort of enjoy finding these kinds of tensions (like the D&C 58/88 issue I tried to describe above) because I think they are what allow us to really see the Gospel 3-dimensionally rather than 2-dimensionally, so-to-speak….

  46. CEF said

    Hi Robert – I agree with you, there should be no maybes. I used it in this context. Because one can never do “all you can” then one can never be sure if one has done enough to inherit the CK. Therefore, one can only talk about the CK in terms of maybe. I have yet to hear a member say they knew they were gong to the CK. Only hoped to do so. I am just simple minded enough to say I am going to the CK, no maybe. Hubris, perhaps, but I am just sure what my savior can do/has done.

    More later –

  47. BrianJ said

    CEF—quick reply here: I don’t say that I am sure I am going to the CK because I am not sure that I know what that means. It’s not a lack of faith in God in in his grace; it is an expression of doubt in my own understanding of the terms. If someone else feels that they understand the terms well enough to be certain (as you are), then I am okay with that (even a bit envious…).

  48. CEF said

    Brian J – Even a quicker reply. Have you read “Believing Christ” by Robinson? I believe what he teaches. Why call the savior, savior if He has not saved you? I realize there is some ambiguity here in the terms.

  49. Robert C. said

    Hmm, thinking a bit more about this and in light of these new comments, I’d actually soften my critique of maybe’s in #45. Perhaps the best way to explain my new hesitancy is in terms of the notion of making one’s calling and election sure. For this to have robust meaning, I think there must be a certain(!) degree of unsurety before one’s calling and election is made sure. Thinking about it in these terms is interesting to me because it highlights the sense in which God’s word is sure and steadfast and faithful etc., but we are not. So our hope is in Christ, not in ourselves. And our hope is rooted in Christ’s pure love which is expansive and gracious enough to include even us, who are imperfect and undeserving (without God, but we are made perfect through Christ…). On this view, then, I think an acknowledgment of our sins is effectively an acknowledgment of maybe-ness. Our hope can be sure and steadfast, but it seems to me that there is a very important space or distance between “mere” hope and/or faith and knowledge (of our salvation). I put “mere” in scare quotes here because I think it is wrong to think that knowledge is “better” than hope and/or faith, but that’s a whole other can of worms (in short, I think a careful reading of Alma 32 suggests that we do not ever reach a perfect knowledge of all things; rather, the perfect knowledge talked about is always related to something rather specific; so I’m inclined to think that we eternally progress according to faith and gain a perfect knowledge of more and more things, or some such thing…).

  50. BrianJ said

    CEF—longer reply now.

    I haven’t read Robinson. Just to be clear—while I am uncertain about many of the terms, the term with which I am least certain is “celestial kingdom.” Hence, I can say that I am saved from something (from sin—or better yet, I am saved from myself), but I can’t what I am saved to. So yes, I can call Jesus my Savior because I know that he has saved me and is saving me (even as I type).

    Now, as for the General Conference talks…. Since the major sticking point seems to be 2 Nephi 25:23, I thought I’d go to General Conference Scripture Citation Index and see how that verse was used. Many times it was used in a fleeting way—just mentioning grace without getting into it, so it’s unclear what the speaker thinks about grace. Many other times it was used as a defense of Mormons as Christians or a defense of the BofM. I tried to ignore those instances because they aren’t really about grace.

    Before I give my list, I’d like to make one point about the talk by Hafen that I linked to in #41, because you said you had a problem with his use of 2 Ne 25:23 and I don’t see why you had a problem with it. Here is what he says,

    All of LDS theology also reflects the major premise of the Book of Mormon that without grace there is no salvation: “For we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do” (2 Ne. 25:23). The source of this grace is the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ: “Mercy cometh because of the Atonement” (Alma 42:23).

    Now I cannot see how that conflicts in any way with what you have been saying (as I understand you). But Hafen cites 2 Nephi again at the end of his piece, and I suspect it is that usage that bothers you:

    God bestows these additional, perfecting expressions of grace conditionally, as he does the grace that allows forgiveness of sin. They are given “after all we can do” (2 Ne. 25:23)—that is, in addition to our best efforts.

    I can see how that can be taken as a works-oriented way of viewing faith—or, as you say in #26, “the emphasis is all on our works and not on any kind of prevenient grace. That is my frustration in the Church.” But I would defend Hafen (meaning, point out where I think you and he agree): First, that he describes three different applications of grace upon us, and his recognition of a grace that comes after works is not a denial of grace that comes before works; Second, that he follows up his 2 Nephi quote with this:

    In general, this condition is related less to obeying particular commandments than it is to one´s fundamental spiritual character, such as “meekness and lowliness of heart” (Moro. 8:26) and possessing “a broken heart and a contrite spirit” (Ps. 51:17; 3 Ne. 9:20; Hafen, chap. 9). Or, as Moroni wrote at the end of the Book of Mormon, “If ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind, and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; …then are ye sanctified in Christ by the grace of God, through the shedding of the blood of Christ” (Moro. 10:32–33). (emphasis added)

    Clearly Hafen is not advocating a merit-based, earn-my-way system of salvation. More to the point: I think Hafen makes it clear that there is a grace that God is waiting to bestow upon us, but we resist it. When we finally tear down the barriers we have erected, then his grace—which was there from the beginning—can work on us. (While Hafen mentions prevenient grace in his article, I’m not sure whether he endorses or rejects it; nevertheless, I think what he describes sounds prevenient to me.)

    Now, for that list of Conference Talks that support a grace-centered view (i.e. a “correct” usage of 2 Nephi 25:23):

    Initials of Speaker; Year-Month, Page
    MGR; 55-O, 124
    MDH; 56-O, 13
    ASB; 57-A, 117 – this is an example of a contrary view, which I add for balance
    HBL; 70-O, 116 – another contrary, and uses Philip 2:12 completely out of context
    MGR; 76-O, 124 – another contrary, but he’s really speaking out against living on gov’t welfare (not really a talk about grace, but this could definitely be the source of a lot of the misuse of this scripture)
    DHO; 88-O, 67 – **** This is a MUST read; note his use of Philip 2:12 in contrast to HBL above
    RLB; 91-O, 8
    GRC; 93-A, 80 – This is a strange one…. It’s not really about grace at all, so I’m not sure how to characterize it. He does focus on repentance as being the “work” that we must do before we can receive grace, so that’s a bit on “your” side….
    REP; 93-O, 85 – grace is conditional, but the conditions are faith/repentance (i.e. grace is there waiting, but you have to receive it)
    RGS; 97-A, 59 – **** I marked this as a MUST read, but now I don’t remember why….
    DHO; 98-A, 56 – **** Another MUST read, but his focus is more on grace that comes after this life, whereas I think your concern is on how we talk about grace for today.
    KBM; 99-A, 80 – only a fleeting mention of grace
    JEF; 01-O, 20 – contrary, sort of. I think he uses the word “grace” when he really means something else; he seems concerned that some believe that God will work his “grace” on us contrary to our will. I think he’s right to say that that is false, but I don’t think that’s what other Christians believe. But I think Faust is open to the idea that God works grace on us contrary to our natures. At any rate, he uses the verse 3 times, and the 3rd use is cast in terms of repentance as being “all that we can do.”
    BCH; 04-A, 99 – ***** MUST read. Basically the conference version of the talk I already linked to. Well, not really…
    DES; 04-A, 75 – one last “contrary” vote. He uses the phrase, “God does the rest.” I’m sure you don’t like that.
    RGS; 06-O, 42

    Well, that’s my list. I don’t think that every one of them talks about grace in a prevenient sense, mind you. But I do think that these are good examples of GA’s discussing 2 Ne 25:23 in a way that belittles our efforts while glorifying grace.

  51. BrianJ said

    CEF: Some of these terms are new to me, so I may be totally missing something, but since you seem to believe in prevenient grace and also to agree with Robinson, I thought this quote would be of interest:

    Human intelligence is uncreated by God, and therefore independent of his control. Thus Mormons insist that human beings are free agents in the fullest sense, and deny both the doctrines of prevenient and irresistible grace, which make God’s choice determinative for salvation or damnation.

    That’s from a review of “How Wide the Divide” that I am reading on FARMS site.

    I’m just trying to figure this out, which includes trying to figure out what you believe.

  52. CEF said

    Robert – I liked what you said. In the mission field we had a talk by Matthew Cowley called “Miracles.” In the talk he mentioned how the Maori people had a different kind of faith than the rest of us. Instead of wondering if or why the Lord would bless them, their attitude was one of, why wouldn’t the Lord bless them?

    I have adopted that attitude for my own, as in, why would I not make it the the CK? My faith is in the savior, I am willing to do anything He would ask me to do, and I can not imagine why I would ever turn my back on Him – enduring to the end. I no longer have to say in testimony meeting that I hope I am doing enough or I sure hope I make it to the CK. I honestly feel sorry for the people that still do not know where they are going and spend their whole life wondering if they are going to make it or not.

    Brian J – You are an interesting person. I have already grown to like you. I tend to see myself as anything but a complicated person. So I am not sure why someone would not understand where I am coming from. But my wife says that I am very different from any man she has ever met. I do not think like other men she knows. So perhaps I am somewhere in the middle. Oh yea, I am also the best dancer she has ever seen. :)

    As far as prevenient grace goes, the first time I ever heard that word in any LDS context was in Blake’s book. I would like to think if all of us got together (Robinson, Blake etc.) we could come to a meeting of the minds and agree that prevenient grace is important to understand and accept. As you said, (I think it was you) we love Christ because He loved us first.

    Where am I coming from? If the Church is growing in your area, then leave everything alone. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” The Church as not grown in this area for the thirty-seven years I have known about it. One of the biggest problems I see is that they (other Christians) do not see us as Christians. One of the biggest reasons, it that they think we believe we have to work (earn) our way to heaven.

    In trying to see what the root of the problem is, I have come up with 2Nephi 25:23 as the problem. Take a poll in your ward. Ask as many people as you wish if we are saved by grace or by grace only “after all you can do?” I think you already know the answer.

    So here is where anyone can poke holes in my view. Either the traditional way of interpreting that scripture is correct, in which case I am wrong along with Blake, Millet, Robinson and others and we all should be in front of a Church court explaining why we are publicly disagreeing with the Church. Or, we are correct and therefore the only true church on the face of the earth is teaching false doctrine. Hopefully you can see my frustration.

  53. BrianJ said

    CEF – It’s nice to be liked. Thanks! I don’t think that I said that about loving Christ, but I agree with it. As for me not understanding you, I think it is because I am playing catch-up with this discussion, so there was a lot to read all at once and not enough time to grasp it all before I jumped in.

    I can see your frustration. I am trying to understand whether you, Robert C, Robinson, Ostler, Millet, I, Hafen, and Oaks really see grace (and 2 Nephi 25:23) all that differently; my shortcoming is that I haven’t read anything from Robinson, Ostler, or Millet on grace—only read people talking about them. So when I find a quote from Robinson saying, “prevenient grace is false,” and one from you saying, “prevenient grace is true,” and another from you saying, “I agree with Robinson”—well, you can understand my confusion. Then Robert C comes in and says, “I think Hafen and Ostler agree,” but you don’t seem to agree with that!

    The bottom line is that I don’t think I’m equipped to have this particular discussion, regardless of how much I want to.

    But I think I can discuss 2 Ne 25:23 with you. Here are questions that should help me understand your position:

    What doctrine is gained by having 2 Ne 25:23 in our canon? What does it teach (about grace or works or anything else) that we otherwise wouldn’t have? If we deleted it, what would we lose?

  54. Robert C. said

    BrianJ #51, I think the review is using “prevenient grace” in a pretty narrow sense that is tied to views on the Fall of Adam. Owen and Mosser (who are not LDS by the way, but are very knowledgeable about LDS doctrine; I only mention this b/c there are parts of the review that seem to be worded a bit differently than a long-time Mormon would, and are perhaps a bit hard to understand without knowing that their first language is Christian theology not Mormonese…):

    Arminianism affirms that prevenient grace is rooted in the atonement, and is available to everyone who does not quench the Spirit, but it does not teach that Christ’s atonement actually nullifies the effects of Adam’s fall. The effects of the fall remain, which is why grace is necessary to account for man’s conscience and his responsibility to respond to the call of the gospel.

    It is, I think, this view of prevenient grace that is being discussed as different than Mormon theology. Owen, Mosser, and Robinson all seem to acknowledge that Mormons believe that agency is only possible because of Christ’s atonement (which I think some would consider within the scope of a loose notion of prevenient grace…), so the distinction being drawn seems to be either emphasizing a difference between:

    (1) God’s grace and Christ’s atonement—e.g. Mormons might be taken to believe that the atonement nullifies the effects of the fall so man is truly free to choose, whereas Arminians believe that some sort of additional grace is necessary for us to overcome the effects of the fall—but there’s a good chance I’m getting the Arminian view wrong here…, or

    (2) A difference in timing—e.g. Mormons might be taken to believe that the atonement makes us free to choose throughout our life, whereas Arminians might be taken to believe that grace makes it possible for us to choose righteousness only in the moment of our decision. But here you see the entire issue becoming fuzzy again: is it God’s grace in us that makes us choose the right or is it our own free will?

    Actually, because of all of this, I think the phrase “prevenient grace” is probably more confusing than helpful because I don’t think there is a set definition which clearly takes a stand on these nuances. Since the phrase has been used by Christians before Mormons were around, there’s a sense which the phrase has historically been used in a way that simply doesn’t take a stand one way or another—that is, it hasn’t been used in a way that would obviously accommodate or exclude a Mormon view, so the position one takes depends on how you extend this historical definition. Anyway, I think this helps explain a lot of the “waffling” that Owen and Mosser attribute to Robinson, and implicitly to Ostler since one of the quotes has Ostler stating in a 1991 Dialogue article stating that Mormons do not believe in prevenient grace, whereas Blake’s new book states that Mormons do….

  55. BrianJ said

    Robert C: I don’t want to sound dismissive of the whole issue, but it seems to me then that this debate about prevenient grace is sort of splitting hairs. Well, that’s probably not the right way to put it, since as Owen and Mosser (who, by the way, I knew to be Evangelical because they introduce themselves that way in the review) make the point in their review that this “little” distinctions make all the difference. So maybe I should put it this way: Take the average “active” Mormon, Evangelical, or Catholic; would they be able to articulate or even recognize the difference being described?

    Which begs the question: what should LDS call that aspect of grace which reaches out to them from before they are born, before they sin, and before they even consider repentance?

    I think I understand now why “prevenient” doesn’t work: it is a term developed long ago to distinguish between and favor X over Y, but now along comes Z (Mormonism) and the term isn’t designed to address Z (because Z either includes essential elements of both X and Y, and/or Z contains elements that neither allow it to be included with nor altogether excluded from Y.) (Yikes! Special bonus if you can make that make sense.)

  56. BrianJ said

    “Arminianism…does not teach that Christ’s atonement actually nullifies the effects of Adam’s fall.”

    Help me see the difference here. Arminianism says that we are all born under the Fall, therefore even before we take our first breath we are in need of God’s grace. The Atonement doesn’t change any of that—atonement or no atonement, we are all born in a fallen state.

    Contrast that with what Mormons “might be taken to believe”: that because of the Atonement, we are not born in a fallen state; the atonement nullifies the Fall and so you and I do not have to worry at all about the Fall (at least the spiritual aspects) because that’s Adam’s business; we are born with a clean slate and punished only for our own sins.

    BUT I don’t see how Mormonism teaches that.

    For they are carnal and devilish, and the devil has power over them; yea, even that old serpent that did beguile our first parents, which was the cause of their fall; which was the cause of all mankind becoming carnal, sensual, devilish, knowing evil from good, subjecting themselves to the devil. Thus all mankind were lost; and behold, they would have been endlessly lost were it not that God redeemed his people from their lost and fallen state.

    (okay, that makes it sound like the Fall is old news, but…)

    But remember that he that persists in his own carnal nature, and goes on in the ways of sin and rebellion against God, remaineth in his fallen state and the devil hath all power over him. Therefore he is as though there was no redemption made, being an enemy to God; and also is the devil an enemy to God. — Mosiah 16:3-5

    I can’t see how one could “persist in a carnal state” unless one were in that state at some point (i.e. at birth). Thus, I don’t see the difference between “available to everyone who does not quench the Spirit” and “he that does not persist in his own carnal nature.”

    (Maybe the distinction is more about the effects of the Fall; i.e. original sin versus carnal state….?)

  57. BrianJ said

    I should quickly add that I’m having a hard time thinking about the atonement and grace as separate things, which should clarify why I didn’t really understand your #54.

  58. CEF said

    Brian J – Just a quick follow-up and maybe I will have more time tomorrow to address more of your questions.

    First – Christ could have accomplished the atonement and then decided it was more than He thought it was going to be and therefore He would not offer it to us freely. In other words, we would have to earn it on our own merits. I do not know about others, but I am glad He offers it by his grace.

    Here is a quote from Blake. He says something like this in his book, so I do not think he would mind if I use it here. I give it here so you and any others reading this can think about it, so tomorrow when I have more time we can talk about it.

    “You interpret the Book of Mormon’s statement “after all we can do” to mean “in spite of all that we can do.” I would suggest that it relates to the larger picture in the Book of Mormon that prevenient grace, or that grace that we are given prior to any act of willing or doing, is the necessary condition for the exercise of free will at all. In other words, without grace we are not free to act for ourselves but are merely acted upon and we remain unable to choose to accept what is given to us. Thus, “after all that we can do” means that even considering all that we can do, it is by grace that we are saved because all that we can do is enable by grace in the first place. Thus, grace is the foundation of salvation, but we must be free to accept or reject the gospel when it is present, free to accept or reject Christ when we learn of him.”

    Robert – I think you are correct in what you said in # 54.

  59. BrianJ said

    CEF—well, you made the distinction between atonement and grace so obvious that I feel like a numbskull. Oh well. I think you just uncovered my assumption that of course Christ would offer the atonement freely. Is grace possible because of the atonement, or was the atonement made because of grace?

    Looking forward to continuing conversation….

  60. Robert C. said

    BrianJ #55-57: Regarding splitting hairs, on the one hand I agree, and I think this rather systematic approach toward theology can be somewhat dangerous and often fruitless. On the other hand, I think grace is a very powerful concept that has powerful effects when understood correctly (and “understood” in much more than merely an intellectual sense, which I think makes discussion of really what is important rather difficult to articulate…). In other words, I think having the wrong intellectual understanding of grace can be an impediment to experiencing God’s grace. In this sense, I’m very supportive of CEF’s apparent mission to preach grace.

    Regarding original sin vs. a carnal state, I was just trying to make sense of the one section of that FARMS review article that I read. I think you make a good point that I think serves as a rebuttal to Owen and Mosser, though as you also note, I think there is still a difference to be noted. That is, I think a Mormon notion of the “natural man” or “carnal state” is a weaker notion of fallennes or depravity than a more traditional Christian understanding of original sin. And this affects how we think about free agency, as I was hinting at above (in response to Clark). So, in addition to the D&C 58 passages I cited above, consider 2 Ne 10:23, “remember that ye are free to act for yourselves—to choose the way of everlasting death or the way of eternal life.” I think this “for yourselves” phrasing would strike many if not most Christians as odd and even offensive to their understanding of grace.

    Regarding atonement and grace as separate things, I don’t think we should think of them as separate but, like I said, I was just trying to understand the point Mosser and Owen were trying to make. Also, I think many Mormons do have tendency to think in a way that sort of makes the atonement less gracious then it really is. I think this was the main point of Robinson’s Believing Christ, it’s not just that God makes it possible for us to repent of our sins and return to God, but he is also there to help us repent and actually make it to the Celestial Kingdom. I don’t think I ever read all of Robinson’s Believing Christ, but I did read the first couple chapters or so and there’s one section in particular that I think gives a very good sense of what the whole book is about (I’m guessing at least!), and which I think also illustrates at least the practical implications of different views of grace nicely. Since I can copy and past it easily, I think I’ll quote it at length below.

  61. Robert C. said

    (The excerpt below is from Believing Christ by Stephen Robinson, pp. 8-12, copied from GospeLink.)


    Unfortunately, there are many members of the Church who simply do not believe this. Though they claim to have testimonies of Christ and of his gospel, they reject the witness of the scriptures and of the prophets about the good news of Christ’s atonement. Often these people naively hold on to mutually contradictory propositions without even realizing the nature of the contradiction. For example, they may believe that the Church is true, that Jesus is the Christ, and that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God, while at the same time refusing to accept the possibility of their own complete forgiveness and eventual exaltation in the kingdom of God. They believe in Christ, but they do not believe Christ. He says, “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow. I can make you pure and worthy and celestial,” and they answer back, “No, you can’t. The gospel only works for other people; it won’t work for me.”

    Yet the “good news” of the gospel is good news to me not because it promises that other people who are better than I am can be saved, but because it promises that I can be saved—wretched, inadequate, and imperfect me. And until I accept that possibility, until I believe Christ when he says he can bring me into his kingdom and set me on a throne, I have not really accepted the good news of the gospel—I have only accepted the messenger while rejecting his wonderful message.

    Faith is the first principle of the gospel, but this does not mean just believing the historical claims of the gospel. Do you believe that the Church is true, that Joseph Smith was a prophet, and that the gospel has been restored in the latter days? Good, but that’s not enough. The first Article of Faith specifies that we must have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. We often think that having faith in Christ means believing in his identity as the Son of God and the Savior of the world. But believing in Jesus’ identity as the Christ is only the first half of it. The other half is believing in his ability, in his power to cleanse and to save—to make unworthy sons and daughters worthy.

    Not only must we believe that he is who he says he is, we must also believe that he can do what he says he can do. We must not only believe in Christ, we must also believe Christ when he says he can clean us up and make us celestial. He says that through his atoning blood, all mankind may be saved (see A of F 3)—and “all mankind” must logically include you and me. So until we accept the real possibility of our own exaltation in the kingdom of God, we do not yet have faith in Christ; we do not yet believe.

    As a former bishop and as a counselor and teacher in the Church, I have heard many variations on the same theme of doubt. One individual might say, “Oh, bishop, I can’t expect the same blessings as the faithful Saints. I can’t expect to be exalted in the kingdom of God because I sinned horribly. You see, I did this, or I did that. Of course I’ll come to Church and hope for the best, but I can’t possibly be exalted after what I did.”

    Another might say, “You don’t understand. I punched my ticket wrong. When I was young, I made choices that took me down a different path, and now, after all those years, I just can’t get there from here.” Someone else once said, “Oh no, I don’t expect to be exalted. I’m nobody. I’m just an average member, just an attender. I’ve always had little jobs in the Church. I’ve never been a leader, and I don’t have any talents. I’ll certainly never be the bishop [or the Relief Society president]. I just don’t have very much to contribute, so I don’t expect to receive very much in the resurrection. I just hope I make the bottom level of the celestial kingdom, but I know I won’t be exalted.”

    My favorite example of this kind of thinking was a man who once said to me, “Look, bishop, I’m just not celestial material.” I guess I finally lost my patience and responded by saying, “So what’s your point? Of course you’re not celestial material. Neither am I, neither is any of us. That’s why we need the atonement of Christ, which can make us celestial. John why don’t you just admit your real problem—that you don’t have any faith in Christ?” Well, he got a little angry at that, for he had been a Protestant before he became a Latter-day Saint, and both as a Protestant and as a Latter-day Saint, he had believed in Jesus Christ. He shot back with, “How dare you say that to me? I know that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.” “Yes,” I replied, “you believe in Christ; you just don’t believe Christ. He says he can make you celestial material, and you have the audacity to sit there and say, ‘No, he can’t.’ You believe all right—you believe Christ makes promises he can’t keep.”

    Each of these four cases represents a variation on the same dismal theme. All of them boil down to this: “I do not believe Christ can do what he claims. I have no faith in his ability to exalt me.” If you were to ask these people what their spiritual problems were, they would insist on X, Y, or Z—some unique or special problem encountered down the road some distance on their spiritual journey. But their actual problem is not X, Y, or Z, nor is it unique, nor is it down the road any distance at all. Their real problem is with A number 1—the very first step. For all four of these objections and many other versions that could have been cited are simply ways of camouflaging the same basic problem—lack of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

    These people simply won’t believe that the gospel can work for them. And without obeying the first principle of the gospel, without having genuine faith in Christ, these individuals cannot enjoy the power and the blessings either of faith in Christ or of the principles that follow faith—repentance, baptism, and the gift of the Holy Ghost. Even though they may consider themselves experienced and mature members of the Church, they have not yet been spiritually born.

    If we believe only in Christ without believing Christ, then we are like people sitting in cold, dark houses surrounded by unused lamps and heaters, people who believe in electricity but who never throw the switch to turn on the power. People like this often pretend to themselves and to others that merely believing in electricity makes them warm and gives them light, but they still shiver in the dark unless they turn on the power. Though the appliances may all work and the wiring may be in good order, until we accept the power itself, beyond merely believing in the theory of power, we cannot enjoy the warmth and the light. This is why genuine faith in Christ—active acceptance of his power and not just passive belief in his identity—is and must be the very first principle of the gospel. No matter how much of the gospel one learns or even believes as a theory, until we accept the reality of our own salvation, we have not yet turned on the power.


  62. brianj said

    Robert C, #60: I agree with about everything you wrote, but I hesitate on a few little points:

    “having the wrong intellectual understanding of grace can be an impediment to experiencing God’s grace.”

    I just see a limitation to this view. Yes, if I have the wrong intellectual understanding of grace then that will get in my way. But that does not mean that lacking the right intellectual understanding of grace is an impediment (I’m not saying that you said this, just that your point could be taken that way). Otherwise, only the scholar could hope to be saved. In some sense, I see this struggle to understand the “philosophy of faith” as being the scholar’s burden (with the danger of “looking beyond the mark”).

    “In this sense, I’m very supportive of CEF’s apparent mission to preach grace.”

    I think I am also supportive, but I’m still trying to understand CEF’s position, and whether it is really different from what Oaks, Hafen, et al preach, and also whether the distinctions being made are essential or “hair-splitting” (keeping in mind that I didn’t like calling it hair-splitting from the beginning). For example, I think that for many people the question of “free will” is such a foreign and difficult concept that a definition of grace that relies on an understanding of free will is simply not useful. “Did God reach for you or did you reach for God?” “I don’t know and I don’t care; I just know that I’m with God now.”

    “Regarding atonement and grace as separate things, … think in a way that sort of makes the atonement less gracious then it really is.

    I think you and I and CEF agree on this point. The atonement and grace are inseparable in the way that God and truth are inseparable—it wouldn’t be the atonement if we could earn it or if God could sell it.

  63. Matthew said

    Wow. It takes a while to get through all these comments !

    CEF, I hope you don’t mind me engaging with you on this topic again. I find it helpful for me. Hopefully it is for you too.

    In comment #46 you say “one can never do ‘all you can.'” I think this is the heart of the matter. If someone believes (1) 2 Ne 25:23 means– if (and only if) we do all we can do then God will save us at the last day through his grace and (2) we can never do all we can do, then you are lead to (3) none of us will be saved. For sure (3) is not a commonly held view in the church. I think (1) is commonly believed (which isn’t to deny that we receive gifts from God along the way). But, (2) which you affirm, is not commonly held at all. In other words, I think most in our church interpret “all you can do” as meaning making an honest effort. Or, to put it yet another way, most see 2 Ne 25:23 as a rejection of the idea of cheap grace–that we can receive grace and be saved without making any real effort to be a disciple of Jesus. This is consistent with comments above by Clark and others. And I believe this reading is consistent with the way I have generally heard this verse discussed over the pulpit.

    Though I’m not familiar with Blake’s work, from what is written about it above, his view seems helpful. But given that I don’t think there need be only one good way to read this verse, I don’t think the fact that one thinks Blake’s interpretation is a very good one, means that we must reject the common interpretation.

    Now for a more general point on what to make of cases where an interpretation of the scripture which is very important to us seems to be not so important to those around us. I’ve had this happen to me. I think this may be happening to you. Here’s how I think about it.

    Consider two reasons people differ on the ways they interpret scripture. The first is that sometimes people overlook things they don’t want to hear but need to or they emphasize things that reinforces their pride. The second is that people are lead by the Holy Ghost to interpret scripture in the way that they most need to understand the scripture. Following this second reason–consider the following example. Suppose right now the Holy Ghost leads me to read into the scripture the importance of grace. So then those scriptures that emphasize grace just really hit me. And those that don’t, seem less important to me because the Holy Ghost is helping me hear what I need to hear. And I do need it. And it brings comfort to me and joy. And I, rightly, want to share it with others. But when I talk with them, they may seem just not to get it. They understand the word “grace.” They seem to be able to explain it, but something is missing from how they talk about it. They fail to grasp the real significance of what I’m saying. Why?

    It could be that they are really ignorant and need me to help them. Or it could be that they are wanting to re-inforce their own pride and are therefore self-deceived. But maybe it is that what the Holy Ghost wants them to concentrate on right now is discipleship–making a better effort to follow Christ.

    The way I see it we are all sick and all in need of medicine. For many (if not all?) part of this medicine comes in reading the scriptures and honestly trying to understand and apply them. But since we are all sick in different ways we need different medicine. God knows our infirmities and needs and the Holy Ghost addresses them through the scriptures in different ways.

    Part of being a community of saints is understanding the different needs that exist among us. A great way to do this is to discuss the scriptures and understand our different interpretations. From your comments above and from our previous discussion on this topic, I have learned better to understand how grace can work in our lives. I want to thank you for that.

  64. Matthew said

    BrianJ 62, just saw your comment after I posted. I really like what you say about the scholar’s burden (though I’m not sure that I exactly like that name as I think there are those who have the burden but aren’t scholars). This is similar to the point I was trying to make in my comment about the medicine. Clearly you are are more succinct:)

  65. Robert C. said

    BrianJ, first, I failed to thank you for the annotated bibliography of Conference talks that you gave in #50, this is a great! (I posted a link at the wiki for future reference.)

    #62: good point about an intellectual understanding not being a precondition, I agree. I’ve struggled with how to deal with my own intellectual proclivities in approaching scripture, since they often prove more of a stumbling block then help in terms of . . . well, attuning to the spirit let’s say. Anyway, this blog (and the wiki and Jim F.’s lesson notes, which both inspired the blog) has helped me think in terms of consecrating my mind toward the building of the kingdom—at least, that’s how I think about the blog at its best. Also, thinking in terms of consecration and offering has helped me get around a kind of . . . well, intellectual snobbery, I guess (as well as dealing with intellectual doubts and other ways the intellect can inhibit spirituality, which is closely related to my interest in Continental and postmodern philosophy and how it helps us think about scripture, but I digress…).

    Regarding hair-splitting, I really like how 2 Tim 3:7 put this, “ever learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.” Frankly, in many ways I think the issues as discussed in the How Wide the Divide book (which I’ve only skimmed, so again you should mostly just discount what I’m saying!) and FARMS review are sort of doing this. But I have a hard time understanding exactly why I feel this way. I think a good scripture to juxtapose with 2 Tim 3:7 is 2 Ne 9:29, “But to be learned is good if they hearken unto the counsels of God.” I think “counsels” is such an interesting word here. Many passages seem to warn about walking in our own counsels. I’m not really sure how to think about this difference, but here’s a strand of my thoughts for now:

    The most obvious ways to hear (an important first step to hearkening, I’d say) God’s counsel (or God’s side of the counseling process—I like the dialogic connotations of the word counsel and don’t want to ignore them…) is from the Spirit, from messengers (angels, Church leaders, etc.), or in scripture. Regarding scripture, I think a common pitfall is to read scriptures in a secular way, taking up scriptural passages in carving them up that tries to “make them our own” in a way that essentially sends up back to “walking in our own counsels.” Again to be quite frank, I feel like historical-critical approaches to scripture as well as systematic theologizing often does this. I’ll often feel no closer to God after carefully studying particular commentaries on scripture. On the other hand, some forms of commentary and theology have left me feeling spiritually overwhelmed, excited, renewed etc. The difference, I think, has a lot to do with trying to understand scripture on their own terms, reading for “spiritual content” rather than historical or (systematic) theological content. (Pinning down this difference is, I think, quite difficult, but if you haven’t read Jim F.’s article “Rethinking Theology” in the most recent FARMS Review, I highly recommend it for anyone interested in these issues.)

  66. Robert C. said

    Matthew #63, well put.

  67. BrianJ said

    Matthew, #64: I used the word “scholar” very loosely in “scholar’s burden.” Still, as a pharmacologist, I like your analogy in #63 much better!

    Robert, #65: You linked to my careless treatment of a dozen different GAs?! Perhaps I should edit it…. Seriously, I think such an annotated bib is useful, but what I posted needs a lot of work (i.e. you still have homework to do!). I like what you say about hair-splitting, and I think you describe my thoughts well. I was actually thinking of 2 Tim 3 when I wrote it, but I hadn’t considered 2 Ne 9, which is quite relevant.

  68. CEF said

    Brian J – Don’t feel bad, it is a cultural thing in the Church to equate grace and the atonement as the same thing. However, they are not synonyms.

    I believe the atonement was made possible because it is Gods nature to be full of grace and truth. I believe it was understood from the beginning, that mans fallen nature would make it impossible for us to ever return back home on our own. We would have been captive to the devil. No choice we could have made would have made a difference/good enough, to get us back to God. That is why grace is prevenient. God had a plan that makes it possible, through His grace and the atonement, that when understood, wins the hearts and minds of His children. If God can win your heart, He knows that the works that help to sanctify us will follow.

    That is why to me, this discussion is never about works, works are always a given when God has your heart. But teaching works instead of grace, as we seem to do in the Church, is not heart changing. Even a correct intellectual understanding of grace is not/may not be heart changing.

    It was not until I read Yancey’s book, “What’s So Amazing About Grace?” a book of stories of grace and reading “Believing Christ” that I allowed God’s grace to wash through me as in being washed by the blood of the Lamb kind of thing, that my heart was changed. So I think Robert is right, I seem to be on a mission to share grace. Not something I would have picked to do on my own.

    Brian – I think God always has His hand out reaching after us and is continually doing things to get our attention. But sometimes we are too busy or hard hearted to hear or be touched. But I believe anyone that has eyes to see and ears to hear will eventually be touched by the ineffable grace of God.

    And yes I do think Elder Hafen and Elder Oaks understand grace. Elder Oaks gave a talk that he describes “Believing Christ” and the “Broken Heart” and a book by Millet as inspired. It was in the “Broken Heart” that I found the answer to a question that stumped me for a good year that my SP asked me. “If your understanding of grace is correct, why don’t the GAs teach it that way?”

    Robert – Thank you for sharing that part of Robinson’s book. I think it was the stories in Yancey’s book that softened my heart enough for grace to touch it, and then reading “Believing Christ” (BC) made it okay as LDS to actually embrace it. I find that too many members read BC, but never really embrace grace. Again, I think it is a cultural thing, if not all due to 2Nephi 25:23, then certainly mostly due to that scripture that keeps us a little uncomfortable with grace. One of the main themes of BC is one can know now, not after doing a life time of good works, that you can go to the CK. I like that idea a whole lot better than what most members go through, always wondering if and maybe.

    Matthew – I am always glad to hear from and to talk to you. If what you say about the way most members see 2Nephi 25: 23 is true, then why do Ostler, Millet and Robinson make such a point to say that it is the most misinterpreted scripture in the BOM? I think it is because their experiences must be the same as mine. The normal way we interpret that scripture is a stumbling block to the way we in the Church understand grace.

    I agree with you, we are not all, at all times, on the same level of needs. But one needs a strong foundation to build on no matter what your other needs are. Blake is correct, “Thus, grace is the foundation of salvation…” I just do not see grace as the foundation for salvation for most members.

  69. Matthew said

    CEF 68
    >I just do not see grace as the foundation for salvation for most members.
    I think this is a serious criticism. FWIW, I do. I think Clark’s comments on the gifts of the spirit are particularly relevant here.

    >If what you say about the way most members see 2Nephi 25: 23 is true, then why do Ostler, Millet and Robinson make such a point to say that it is the most misinterpreted scripture in the BOM?

    Hmmm…how disappointing. I thought what I said would be convincing. … If I felt like we were close to a resolution I would want to know what part of what I suggest is the common interpretation you disagree with. But I wonder if this isn’t maybe the time to simply agree to disagree.

    To answer you question explicitly: I won’t try to speak for them since I don’t know enough about any of them to a) accept them as authorities, b) know that they do believe this is the most misinterpreted scripture in the BOM, c) know what they mean by that if they believe it, or d) know whether they would disagree with what I say in 63.

  70. Clark said

    If what you say about the way most members see 2Nephi 25: 23 is true, then why do Ostler, Millet and Robinson make such a point to say that it is the most misinterpreted scripture in the BOM?

    I think it’s a bit of hyperbole, although I clearly do think many members interpret in terms of a kind of denial of Grace. I just don’t think it’s as common as some make out. We have to take hold of the atonement. But there’s not some level of righteousness we have to reach in order to be able to repent and take hold of the atonement. That’s simply a misreading and it’s unfortunate when some do read it that way. But as I’ve said, I think turning it into being an advocate for cheap grace is also a misreading. I think contextually Blake clearly isn’t arguing for that.

    The interesting thing to do, for Mormons, to avoid the foibles of cheap grace is to consider the notion of an Abrahamic Sacrifice and Joseph’s frequent comments that salvation entails being willing to give up everything for Christ. And of course that’s a common theme even in Jesus’ words in the gospels. So I suppose even if one takes what might be called the more traditional reading of Lehi, one must ask, what is it that is all we can do?

    Put an other way, even if one reads 2 Ne as teaching not that there’s a lot we must do but that nothing we do matters (and I think both these readings wrong) then we’re still left with this constant theme in all scripture, NT or LDS, along with frequent prophetic teaching, that sacrifice is key to the gospel. So, put an other way, theologically we have to bring grace and sacrifice into an engagement that I think cheap grace advocates intrinsically avoid. Those who do focus on sacrifice as a principle of heaven often are accused of embracing a kind of works or merit mentality when I think what they advocate is importantly different. (Even if sometimes similar rhetoric is used)

  71. Clark said

    To add, those quoting 2 Ne 25:23-26 all too often neglect verse 29 where Lehi says, “wherefore ye must bow down before him, and worship him with all your might, mind, and strength, and your whole soul; and if ye do this ye shall in nowise be cast out.”

  72. brianj said

    Clark, #70: Thanks. You have the gift of clarity.

    “one must ask, what is it that is all we can do?”

    Several of the talks I noted in #50 suggest that the answer (or, an answer) is “repent.”

    That seems to be a good way of viewing the contrast Nephi makes in the verse: there is what God does (grace) and there is what we do (“all we can”). We cannot assume God’s role and provide grace, and God cannot…what? What can’t God do? He can’t repent for us—can’t force us to “bow down…and worship him.” And the first part of the verse sets up the conflict: “we labor…to persuade our children…to believe in Christ….”

    (Sorry, this isn’t very clear, especially in comparison to your comment, but I’m trying to get my thoughts out.)

  73. brianj said

    (P.S. Clark, I assume you meant “Nephi,” not “Lehi,” in #70-71, or am I missing something?)

  74. Jim F. said

    Clark, Matthew just pointed out that in 33 you asked me a question that i didn’t answer. I’m not sure why I didn’t see it. However, at this point I don’t recall what you said about grace and authority. Is it something you can precis? If so, I’d like to talk about it because I’m interested in the LDS take on authority.

  75. Clark said

    whoops. Yeah, I meant Nephi. I was thinking 2 Ne 2 for some reason. C’est la vie.

    Jim, I was thinking of grace as the totality of giving God gives. That is our relationship to God in his givenness. In terms of that grace always proceeds us since to do anything requires authority and authority is a gift from God. That is authority is the conditions of acting in a recognized fashion and therefore must precede all righteous (recognized) activity.

  76. Clark said

    Just to add to that comment, what originally got me thinking along those lines was Bruce R. McConkie’s view of grace that is very much wrapped up in justification and being sealed by the Holy Spirit of Promise which in turn is very much wrapped up in his view of authority. The “merits” as usually used in Mormon rhetoric likewise makes sense in terms of LDS concepts of authority.

  77. Clark said

    Regarding repentance being all we can do. I think this is a common view in the Church.

    While I don’t necessarily embrace his view, Nibley had a view pretty much along these lines. (I know Geoff has embraced a position fairly similarly in his approach to free will) That is all we are really free in terms of is turning to God or turning away from him. Turning to God is repentance and turning away is its opposite (being caught up in chains) Now the works follow simply because of the nature of this turning.

    Jim probably is familiar with it but Schilling had a very, very similar view in German Idealism which in turn was primarily arrived at via Swedenborg. Heidegger then comes up with something quasi-similar in his authentic/inauthentic distinction in terms of modes of Dasein’s comportment with things. Heidegger was himself adopting both the Pauline model and the German idealist model as a way of reacting to Aristotle and Kant.

    Anyway, this is certainly a very interesting way of reading these scriptures. I’d planned last year to do a reading of D&C 93 for the SMPT conference that focused a lot on this – primarily in terms of Heidegger and neoPlatonism. But its the same general ideal. You can open yourself up to reality or turn aside from reality.

    So I think this whole discussion of grace is very much the discussion of light and truth in D&C 93. The key verse of contention that mirrors the contention in this thread is verse 27. “And no man receiveth a fulness unless he keepeth his commandments.” The semi-pelagian view of grace that lines up with this is that God gives us light, but we are free to reject the light. When we receive the light then we are capable of receiving more light. But God can’t give us more light unless we receive what he has already given us.

    Several people have talked about this earlier in this thread. That is do we view grace or salvation as a process or an event? Cheap grace arises as a concept when we view it as an event rather than a process. The Mormon view demands that it be a process. Indeed D&C 93:12 suggests that even Christ learned grace for grace.

    The debate about merit makes no sense in terms of an event (or static presence) model. If we view Paul in terms of process thinking then of course we can talk about merit the way GAs have done for more than a century.

  78. CEF said

    Matthew – I am sorry for what must have been an argumentative/combative tone to my last post. It was not said in that way at all. I apologize if that is the way it came across.

    You said –
    In comment #46 you say “one can never do ‘all you can.’” I think this is the heart of the matter. If someone believes (1) 2 Ne 25:23 means– if (and only if) we do all we can do then God will save us at the last day through his grace and (2) we can never do all we can do, then you are lead to (3) none of us will be saved. For sure (3) is not a commonly held view in the church. I think (1) is commonly believed (which isn’t to deny that we receive gifts from God along the way). But, (2) which you affirm, is not commonly held at all. In other words, I think most in our church interpret “all you can do” as meaning making an honest effort. Or, to put it yet another way, most see 2 Ne 25:23 as a rejection of the idea of cheap grace–that we can receive grace and be saved without making any real effort to be a disciple of Jesus. This is consistent with comments above by Clark and others. And I believe this reading is consistent with the way I have generally heard this verse discussed over the pulpit.

    In general, I would like to agree with you. Let me break this down – I believe Blake’s experience must be the same as mine. He says “This scripture (2Nephi 25:23) is frequently interpreted in LDS discourses to mean that we can be saved only after we have done everything in our power that we can do on our own. Thus, after I have done all that I can, and only then, God will do the rest. However, such an interpretation is precisely the opposite of its meaning. Such a view in fact enshrines human effort as the condition of earning grace – a contradiction in terms — and makes salvation impossible for the simple but decisive reason that no mere mortal has ever done all that he or she can do. If we have to do all that we can do before we receive saving grace, then we will never receive such grace…”

    The above has been my experience. In other words, it does not seem to be, (although it should be) a commonly held belief in the Church that most members will be saved. Other wise, we would not hear so many ifs and maybes in F&T meetings.

    What I see as the foundation of grace in the Church, is only sufficient to assure one resurrection, not eternal life. Eternal life must be earned in the Church. Again, I am not saying we do not have to work, but we do not earn it.

    Your dad wrote a neat book on Romans 1 in which he talks about the term slave. A slave had to work, but he did not earn anything. That is how Paul saw himself, and how I see the rest of us. Work? Sure, like your life depended on it, but only because your are saved, not trying to become so.

    I should not speak for Millet and Ostler, I only did so because they make it an important point in their books that 2Nephi is badly misinterpreted. But Robinson told me the next time someone quoted 2Nephi 25:23 to have them quote Alma 24:10-11. According to that scripture, the “all we can do” is repent. The following is a true story.

    A few years ago, my SP gave a talk in Stake conference in which he gave his understanding of “all you can do.” He gave a big long list of things that we had to do that fall under the all you can do. In short, perfect yourself. I do not go to many Stake conferences anymore.

    I hope the above helps to explain where I am coming from.

  79. CEF said

    Clark – There is nothing in what you said (#70) that I have a problem with. But let me clarify something.

    I never address cheap grace because I do not think there is such a thing. Are there people out there that do believe in/abuse such grace? Sure. But keep in mind that most of the books that are written about grace are written by nonmembers for nonmembers and as such, they address such problems and try to fix them. At least that is my opinion/experience.

  80. CEF said

    Clark #77 – Okay, this is probable the heart of where and why I disagree with the Mormon view. You say “The Mormon view demands that it be a process.” I would say the *cultural* view of the Mormons demand that it (salvation) be a process and not an event. I am not sure the scriptures demand it.

    I will ask you and others here the same question I asked Geoff at NCT. If Paul had died the day after his vision on the road to Damascus, would he have gone to spirit prison to pay for his sins, (which under our law, he would probably be seen as a murder) or would he have gone to Paradise to await the resurrection and go to the CK?

    If salvation is a process as you say, then I think Paul, in no way, could go to the CK. What good works would get him there? If salvation is an event, as I say, then all that needed to be done/accomplished was a mighty change of heart, which Paul had. The same thing goes for Alma in the BOM.

    I think salvation is an event and sanctification is a process, learning grace for grace and growing from grace to grace, whether in this life or the next.

    If I have this all messed up, please poke all the holes in it you can, I am willing to change. Or at least show me why I can not say these things in Church without getting into trouble. Either what I said is true or it is not, in which case I can understand why I get into trouble with it.

  81. BrianJ said

    CEF – I think I’m understanding you now. Thanks for the Alma 24 reference. I wonder if you’ve had a chance to look at some of the GA talks I listed; several could be quoted along with Alma 24.

    In fact, DH Oaks, April 1998, uses Alma 24 as a follow-up to 2 Nephi 25.

    Some say works are a reflection of the grace we’ve been given. I think works could be seen as that which we do to tear down the barriers we’ve erected to receiving grace (and to keep from building them up again). These interpretations are not mutually exclusive. What do you think?

  82. BrianJ said

    Robert C: I don’t mean to nag, but I’d like to know if you have an answer to my question in #55: [Since “prevenient” has too much ‘history’,] what should LDS call that aspect of grace which reaches out to them from before they are born, before they sin, and before they even consider repentance?

  83. Clark said

    CEF – events in prison/paradise are part of the process. If that were all there was. (i.e. there was no progression within the spirit world and there was no resurrection as Mormons understand it) then you’d be right. But those things do happen. Therefore it is a process. Further D&C 93, certainly a scripture, talks of moving grace for grace which logically and rhetorically demands it be a process not an event.

    I think that when one considers all scripture it’s impossible to say it is an event and considering it as an event leads to doctrinal problems.

    As for Paul, had he died, he’d still need work for the dead done, he’d still need to accept those ordinances in the spirit world, and he’d still need through Christ to change his nature. So no, his salvation wasn’t finished had he died the day after his vision. He was on the right road but had not reached the end of the road.

  84. Clark said

    Brian, I think we just call it grace. I think the issue is less the literal meaning of the term “prevenient grace” than some of the connotations the term carries.

  85. Clark said

    CEF – I don’t think as a practical matter very many Mormons interpret “after all we can do” as “do everything in our power” simply because everyone recognizes we all fall short of “everything in our power.” Now when you say, “making an honest effort” I agree with you. I think that is wrapped up in receiving grace. Thus God gives us the gift (the way) and we must sincerely make use of it. (Not necessarily as best we can, but certainly be honest and sincere in the attempt)

    As soon as we do this though God gives more gifts. Not because we deserve such gifts on our merits. Indeed almost by definition they go beyond what we can deserve. But we do then have to make use of such gifts.

    While I don’t have Blake’s book handy I believe he attacks the idea of “all we can do” but not the idea of “honest effort.” (At least your quotes suggest that – I’ll check tonight)

    So I think you are conflating two separate notions of grace.

  86. CEF said

    Clark – I knew the moment I hit submit, I had muddied the waters by mentioning the spirit world. Now I have to flesh that out as well. :) I just meant to ask if Paul would/could have gone to the CK, but as they say, once the tooth paste is out of the tube, it is hard to put it back in.

    Okay – You are of course correct that Paul would have to do all the things you mentioned. But my point is, that it is an event that started Paul and Alma down a road of *process* that will qualify them for the CK. But it was that one event that changed their heart that started them on a process of sanctification. I really do not see why this is a problem.

    I do not care how much good works one does in this life, if there has not been an event, which for Mormons, and only Mormons, seems to be more of a process where one has accepted Christ and places their faith in Him, changing ones heart, that makes all of those good works efficacious in getting to the CK. What good is baptism if one has no faith in Christ?

    “I think that when one considers all scripture it’s impossible to say it is an event and considering it as an event leads to doctrinal problems.” I think I can see why you say you do not agree with Robinson. This would go against what he teaches and Robert made a part of this thread.

    How have I conflated two aspects of grace. I have always said that one has to work in the gospel. It is just that I had rather couch works in grace instead of couching grace in works. The latter destroys the concept of grace while the former places works in its proper place. I just do not understand why this is so complicated.

    Clark, if we taught that all we really needed is an honest effort, we would not be having this conversation. I do not see how that could corrupt our understanding of grace. But our understanding of grace has been corrupted. Which is best illustrated by the fact that too many members are not comfortable with the word.

  87. CEF said

    Brian J #81- You are getting it Brian. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I have not had time to read those talks yet and as I said, I think Elder Oaks most certainly understands grace.

    Here is the problem as I see it. The leaders are stuck with a doctrine of grace that is just not supported by the scriptures, yet how do they change it? To do so would cast a shadow on past leaders. Not something I would want to do.

    You asked what would happen if we stopped using 2Nephi. My opinion is that it would be the very best thing we could do. It would be the slowest method of change, but would cause the least amount of trouble.

    The other method of change is attrition. As older leaders die off, newer ones will fell less pressured to use or teach the same old ways. Again, a very slow process.

  88. Clark said

    The problem with considering just an event rather than a process is that it leads to a “once saved” attitude whereas in practice grace is something we are constantly building up and receiving. In that it is like a testimony. Many see a testimony as an event, which I also see as wrong. The problem is that if we treat it as an event we miss that it must be nutured and constantly built up or we will lose it.

  89. Clark said

    CEF, you keep saying, “not supported by the scriptures” despite scriptures like D&C 93 being marshaled.

    Regarding honest effort, no one is saying that’s all that is needed. No one. I’ve never even heard that in Church.

    The reason we’re having this discussion is because of what I see as largely a rhetorical issue: how we talk about something. The issue about talking about grace with the word grace is largely a hold over due to Evangelical persecution of Mormons. Nothing else. I see no evidence that it is due to the issues you assert. (i.e. a doctrinal error on the part of Mormons) You’ve simply not demonstrated that in the least.

    It seems that in terms of doctrine (rather than rhetoric) the issue is whether grace is a process or an event. You say event which I consider doctrinally wrong. So here are my scriptures for why I feel it wrong (beyond the obvious problem that clearly there is more we have to do after any purported event)

    1. The notion of “grace for grace.” This makes no sense if grace is a single event at some moment. Yet the scriptures (and prophets) stress this grace for grace and that we progress. (That is why I brought up D&C 93, and I would be interested in at least hearing how you interpret it – as well as John 1:16)

    2. James 4:6 talks about more grace which makes little since if grace is a one time deal. (This is not to say we can’t have a profound religious experience that can change us – just that this is a part of grace and not the totality of grace) As James continues to say, “draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you.”

    3. Moroni talks of our actions to receive grace. While not explicitly making it a process in terms of the passages around I think it leads to that interpretation. “Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God.”

    4. The typical LDS “event” passage is Alma 7:14 which talks about being born again. Yet read contextually it’s simply not a single event. We have to, “lay aside every sin, which easily doth beset you.”

    5. To me the classic example of grace, beyond Alma’s conversion, is Helaman 10. But what do we find here? “Blessed art thou, Nephi, for those things which thou hast done; for I have beheld how thou hast with unwearyingness declared the word, which I have given unto thee, unto this people. And thou hast not feared them, and hast not sought thine own life, but hast sought my will, and to keep my commandments. And now, because thou hast done this with such unwearyingness, behold, I will bless thee forever; and I will make thee mighty in word and in deed, in faith and in works; yea, even that all things shall be done unto thee according to thy word, for thou shalt not ask that which is contrary to my will.” This is the classic description of receiving grace for grace until one is justified.

    I could go on, but I think that’s sufficient.

    The metaphor I like (and it is a very scriptural one, see Alma 7:19 is the notion of a path. Now we can change the direction we are walking on the path. And in once sense that can be seen as an event. Yet the walking is a process and the continuation of the path is a process of continual grace. Certainly we can talk about religious events and even talk, as Alma does, of being born again. Yet that keeping on the path must be repeated every day of our lives. (And if, as we often do, we fall off the path and change directions, we must get back on the path, once again taking hold of grace) The path is our grace and we can walk away from it or hold on. But following the path is an ongoing process.

    To me Elder Hafen gave a pretty good outline of the orthodox view of grace within Mormonism. I just don’t see anything wrong with it. (Not he explicitly makes the process/event distinction I’ve raised)

    It’s not enough to simply interpret grace as an event. You have to show why interpreting it as a process is in error.

  90. Clark said

    An other way to look at it is that if we receive grace by faith then the degree of faith is tied to the degree of grace we are able to take hold of.

  91. Matthew said

    CEF 78, hmmm…my reaction seemed harsh. Sorry. I wasn’t offended and certainly didn’t mean to suggest that. I WAS frustrated because I would so like us to see more eye-to-eye. You wrote in 78 that we mostly agree. So, sounds like we are making good progress.

    My goal is that we have a way, a charitable way, of understanding what our fellow church members mean when they talk about 2 Ne 25:23. That goal is different maybe than yours? (and Blake’s and Robinsons?) Maybe your goal (and theirs?) is to improve the way we talk about grace? I certainly think that is a noble goal. And if that is your goal I see why it makes sense to make the reduction ad absurdum argument you quote from blake in comment #78.

    Now back to the question of whether people in the Church in their heart (for God will judge us by our heart) understand grace. I say in general yes. And here’s an example which I can totally see happening which I hope illustrates that though people may not always use the best words for talking about grace, they do understand it.

    Suppose I feel terrible because try as I might I just can’t keep all of the commandments. Day to day I screw up in one way or another and reflecting on my inability to do all that I should is really dragging me down. So I go to see my Bishop and I explain to him how I’m being dragged down by my mistakes. And the Bishop says to me “look, Matthew, all you can do is your best. To be frank, God knows you’re no Jesus Christ. You do your best and God’s grace will make up for the difference.” As part of this he reads me 2 Ne 25:23. To me his little speech is totally consistent with the way people use this verse. Would there be another better way of talking about grace, maybe. But does he show in the way he uses the verse that he lacks understanding what grace is? No. What he means by “do your best” is really the same thing you mean by “repent.”

    So, if you hear someone read 2 Ne 25:23 and then explain all of the things we have to do to do our best, do not be offended. In taking offence you risk being offended too at Christ’s own words; Christ taught that if we follow him (i.e. repent in your words) we cannot call our brother a fool (Matt 5:22), we cannot lust after a woman (Matt 5:28), we must love our enemies (Matt 5:44) and turn the other cheek (Matt 5:39). My point here is that if someone says “this is what it means to repent, do this and more” and then listed these things would you be okay with that? Then be okay also with someone saying these things are what it means to do all we can do.

  92. Matthew said

    Clark, I think I mentioned this before but wanted to note again that I think your comments here are helpful.

  93. Robert C. said

    Regarding the event vs. process discussion (and BrianJ #82, I’ll try to address you in the process—thanks for calling my attention to that unanswered question, I tend to get carried away with certain questions and use up all my blogging time without answering all questions, so if there’s ever a question I don’t answer, please don’t hesitate to repeat it!):

    I like the path analogy Clark’s mentioned, esp. since that’s what we find in 2 Ne 31. I think we might meaningfully talk about a grace event that is essentially getting onto the path, and I think this is roughly what a mighty change of heart is referring to. We might say this is “prevenient” because it is something that is freely offered to us, without our “deserving” it. I think we have to accept this free gift by turning to God, which is tantamount to repentance. Once we turn toward God and allow our hearts to change, then we must continue in this converted, changed state, as I take it Nephi is telling us to do.

    BrianJ asks in #55, ”what should LDS call that aspect of grace which reaches out to them from before they are born, before they sin, and before they even consider repentance?”

    I think it’s ultimately misleading to talk about different aspects or kinds of grace. It would be better to talk about our differing states in which we might experience grace. Grace, by definition I think, is absolutely unconditional, so to break it up into different aspects seems to be doing violence to the very essence of what grace is. However, we change and respond to grace in different ways, and I think we can talk about grace that we experience primordially or before the fall, after the fall and before we are born, after we are born but before we are accountable, after we are accountable and inevitably sin, and, perhaps most relevant to this discussion, after we sin and after we have experienced a mighty change of heart. In all cases, I take God and God’s grace as unchanging, always being offered to us unconditionally—the question is only whether we will accept that grace and become changed creatures, or reject it….

  94. CEF said

    Clark – I assume you know the scriptures as well or better than I do. But I do need to establish the bases of my beliefs.

    First, this thing about an event or process. I contend that it does not *have* to be a process. For most Mormons, it is going to be just because they think it has to be. All of the scriptures you give are good examples of a process of sanctification, not an act/event of becoming saved.

    We are told we are given the scriptures so we can liken them unto ourselves. Lets take
    Alma 27:32 “And now it came to pass that Alma began *from this time forward* to teach the people, and those who were with Alma at the time the angel appeared unto them, traveling round about through all the land, publishing to all the people the things which they had heard and seen, and preaching the word of God in much tribulation…”

    To me, this sounds like an event that changed Alma and his friends. There was an event in Joseph Smith’s life that changed his life. Paul, Moses, Peter etc. all had events that changed their lives.

    As I liken these scriptures unto myself, I see a pattern of events that are life changing. Did any of these people stop with that event in their life? No, of course not. It started them on a path or process that continued for the rest of their lives.

    D&C 14:7 and Romans 6:23 tells us that Eternal Life is a gift, therefore, it cannot be earned by a life time of doing good works.

    Do you think justification has to be a process, or can it be an event? That is really what we are talking about here. I believe it can/should be an event not a process. I do not see grace as any kind of event but a life time process of growing. But I do see accepting Christ and his grace, being justified, as an event that should be life changing. A new creature to walk in a newness of life. That brings me to this question.

    Which part/parts of “Believing Christ” do you see as not inspired vis-a-vis Elder Oaks saying in the March 1994 Ensign. “Individual LDS scholars, principally in religious education at BYU, have published brilliant and inspired books that have made important additions to our literature on the Savior and his atonement (see, for example, Stephen E. Robinson, Believing Christ, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1992; Robert L. Millet, Life in Christ, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1990; Bruce C. Hafen, The Broken Heart, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1989). I hope such books are read and pondered, not just purchased and possessed.” Also, in the 1992 April Ensign, the heart of “Believing Christ” appeared as a lead article.

    I realize none of the above makes Robinson”s book doctrine, but it does give it some creditability worthy of serious consideration.

    I have no problem with your # 90. And I would not even have a problem if we said that a person has to do all you can in this life to inherit Eternal Life, as long as it is done in a way that does not eviscerate grace. I can see that we disagree on the rhetoric of such things, but I can only go on my own experiences, like the one I gave about my SP.

    My SP has a PhD and is a professor at a major university here in OK. I have heard many people say they expect him to become a GA someday. If I am to believe you, then he would be an anomaly, an exception to the rule. My question would be, where did he get his understanding of the doctrine he teaches? I am sure he did not just make it up, but is quoting from something he read by some GA.

    It would be nice to come to some kind of agreement here, but maybe that is not going to happen. I will still think you are Okay Clark. :)

  95. CEF said

    Robert # 93 – Thank you, I wish I could have said it like you did. You seem to be on the same page I am on.

  96. Clark said

    I contend that it does not *have* to be a process.

    The problem is that when you do this you limit what grace is. Grace then becomes purely the change in heart. Second you neglect the process of retaining this change in heart. That is it can be an event if and only if one can not fall from grace.

    For the former I think it false and demonstrable that there is more to grace than a change of heart.

    For the latter I think that even if someone doesn’t fall from Grace, as Alma did, that he is still having to maintain his connection to grace.

    So that’s the simple answer.

    What you have to do is not just establish that there can be a life changing event. I agree that there can be such a thing. What you have to establish is that this is the totality of grace. Without establishing that you’re not saying anything out of the mainstream of LDS theology. Yet you’ve been fairly consistently arguing that common presentation of LDS theology on Grace is wrong. You’ve just not established that in the least.

    If you allow for Grace to be a process (something I take as a big backtrack) then it’s not clear to me in the least where you are criticizing the common view. After all the common view of merit and grace is wrapped up with it being a process. Once you allow for it to be a process then don’t your criticisms evaporate?

  97. Clark said

    I think it’s ultimately misleading to talk about different aspects or kinds of grace.

    I wholeheartedly disagree. Indeed the scriptures consistently do this.

    Grace is the givingness of God. God gives many gifts. Each gift can be considered and analyzed separately. If I’m given the gift of prophecy that is as much grace as is the gift of salvation. But clearly talking about them will be different.

    This is where I see much of the error in this thread. The attempt to limit down what Grace is.

  98. Clark said

    To add, the second problem with considering Grace the change in heart is, of course, that while God can provide experiences only we can change our heart. Thus God could provide to Alma the curse for several days but only Alma could cry out to God.

    The two main metaphors for Grace in the beginning of the Book of Mormon are apt. We have the liahona and the rod of iron. Both end up being the word of God (which, you’ll note, is ultimately what Alma uses to change). Both are there before anyone can do anything. (Nephi is lost until the liahona shows up and he can’t by his own power get unlost without the liahona; ditto for the rod in the vision) Yet both demand that one work. The Liahona only works when Nephi and his family are acting appropriately. The iron rod only works to guide one through the mists if one holds on and walks forward.

  99. CEF said

    Matthew – I am glad I did not offend you! I am starting to believe that there is some kind of talking past each other here. I think those that hang out in places like this, are different that the average member of the Church, and as such, have a broader understanding of things. And if most people are like me, they tend to see in others what they see in themselves. In other words, because you can see grace as being more and having a prominent place in LDS theology, you believe that other members must do the same. That has just not been my experience.

    I appreciate your example of the Bishop trying to explain all you can do, and if the Bishop really had a correct understanding of grace, that would probable work just fine. My Bishop does not have a correct understanding of grace any better than my SP.

    The talk he gave in conference was something you would have to have heard for yourself. It came a short time after I quit the HC, and I took it as some kind of damage control to correct any harm I might have done teaching a different idea of grace than his own.

    None of this would really matter if I did not care if the Church grows any or not. I have had a different understanding of grace since I was nineteen, but it never did make a difference. But after trying to establish a branch here and seeing all of the contention that we faced with the other churches, I realized if we were ever going to have a chance of growing here, we needed to try and correct their idea that we believe we have to work our way to heaven.

    That is why I am where I am with this, but I am about ready to call it quits, nothing I seem to do makes a difference. At least in a positive way.

  100. Robert C. said

    Clark, I agree that a change of heart is only one manifestation of grace, and I agree it’s something we must choose, and that choosing that we do is intimately related to works, and that is a process in the sense that it is on-going. I also agree that much of the discussion on this thread has different notions of grace in mind.

    However, I still think (1) it makes sense to talk about grace-induced events, such as a change of heart, that mark the initial acceptance/recognition of grace by the recepient, and (2) there is good reason to try to think about the manifestations of grace separately from grace itself (or God’s givingness) itself. Jean-Luc Marion’s work, from the little I know of it, intrigues me largely for this second reason.

    But, again, I grant that most of the time people talk about grace it is sort of synonymous with manifestations of grace (like gifts or love/charity, etc.). I think it’s helpful to think about works in terms of both a manifestation of God’s grace and “our own” response to God’s grace. What makes this difficult to talk about, I think, is that it’s impossible (or practically impossible) to disentangle these two intertwined aspects of works. That is, I think it’s accurate to attribute good works to both God and to the agent, but to neither without the other (that is, we can’t strictly act “of ourselves” because it is always in response to something previously given, and God can’t accomplish good works through us without some sort of action or decision on our part…).

  101. CEF said

    Clark – It must be my lack of education and inability to express myself in print that is causing us to disagree. I cannot believe we are really that far off from believing the same thing. You see, I believe this life is all about learning not only the importance of accepting grace, but also learning how to give grace back. Accepting the fact that God can forgive you even though you do not deserve it, and the fact that you also must forgive others whether or not you think they deserve it. That is the only way one can live in a celestial community. Nothing else really matters.

    Why? Because grace is what the two great commandants are made of. The love of God and the love of others. If one can do those two things, one can and will do anything else that is required of God. That is how I have come to see the world.

    So when you say “The problem is that when you do this you limit what grace is.” I can only say that somehow I just lack the ability to express what it is I am trying to say.

    My criticism has more to do with how we explain how we get to heaven, we must earn it, than anything else. If we do nothing else to change, we should at least drop the use of earn in relation to salvation. That one thing could go along way to help with our PR problem with other churches.

  102. Clark said

    But CEF, as I think I’ve said, the “earn” part of salvation is key. It can perhaps be overemphasized, just as grace can. But it can’t be eliminated. Further, I think the biggest failing we, as a people, have is not doing enought. And I count myself in that.

    To repeat Moroni, “If ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind, and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; …then are ye sanctified in Christ by the grace of God, through the shedding of the blood of Christ” (Moro. 10:32–33)

    As I said where-ever this discussion started (at Geoff’s?) I think the main issue is primarily a rhetorical one: that is how we talk. But I just don’t see the way we talk as problematic.

  103. Clark said

    Robert, I agree that we ought consider particular gifts. I think that rhetorically this is how Mormons tend to do it even though they don’t tend to use the word grace for this. We talk about gifts and then the spirit helping us. All of which is grace.

    Regarding works, I think it best to see grace as enabling, although are cases like speaking in tongues where things get more complex.

  104. brianj said

    Robert: thanks for the reply (#93). I don’t see a difference between what you said and what Clark is saying, and if I’m not mistaken then you two came to the same resolution.

    Clark, #13: “most LDS are unfamiliar with the terminology of Grace….” and #102: “I think the main issue is primarily a rhetorical one: that is how we talk. But I just don’t see the way we talk as problematic.”

    I partially disagree. In my own life, I can remember as a teenager—and even post-mission—thinking how hard it will be to get into heaven. “If I don’t do X, Y, and Z then I will not be clean enough. But it’s just so hard and I can’t do it—only people like ‘Becky’ and ‘Ryan’ will ever make it.” I can’t blame my teachers entirely for that; if I had really studied my scriptures then maybe I would have understood better (as you suggest in #13). Still, I can’t help but think that my teachers may have been overemphasizing personal effort. In fact, I can remember thinking, “Grace is a Protestant thing.” Thus, my focus was all on how I had to better myself—get myself to some level of righteousness—before I could take part in the Atonement. In short, I was too much Alma 5 and not enough Alma 36.

    The fact that I had these concerns as a missionary is particularly troublesome to me, although I can understand why I focused so much on actions: I spent much of my time teaching people what they needed to do to receive God’s blessings. Grace, forgiveness, etc were not a big part of my message, and it bothers me now that they weren’t (again, I am not putting the blame on anyone but myself for failing to see this problem).

    Now (years later), I sometimes hear sentiments that remind me of how I thought as a teenager. {Okay, I was going to list examples but it got too long.)

    Bottom Line: I think the problem with using different terminology when talking about grace (e.g. saying “gifts” instead of “grace”) is that when we read a verse that uses the word “grace,” we don’t immediately know what it’s talking about. So while grace is very much a part of our doctrine, the word is not part of our vocabulary. This is a hurdle, I think, for the poor in spirit who is looking for the comfort of grace but can’t seem to find it even though it’s right in front of his nose.

  105. brianj said

    CEF and Clark: Just to be clear (and frank), I do not want my comment #104 to sound like an endorsement of CEF’s position. While I feel that I am understanding CEF’s beliefs—and finding much to agree upon—I am uncertain of his position/actions. I have a very limited view of CEF, so I refrain from judgment.

  106. brianj said

    Follow-up on my #104: This is a hurdle, I think, for the poor in spirit who is looking for the comfort of grace but can’t seem to find it even though it’s right in front of his nose.

    My experience as a Gospel Doctrine teacher is that this is a problem for some (adults) in my class. They try to articulate their feelings toward God, but they lack the words to do so. Their inability to describe the “free gift” they have received from God (and continue to receive) leads to frustration that—I worry—will lead to not asking for that gift or doubting whether that “gift” really exists. My goal with the next several lessons is to use Paul’s writings (on grace, justification, sanctification, etc) to fill in that vocabulary: “The thing you are trying to describe is grace. Let’s see what Paul/Nephi/Alma say about it….” (It’s sort of an Ammon approach: “What you call ‘Great Spirit’ is ‘God’….”)

  107. Clark said

    Brian J, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying don’t talk about grace. I even think there have been some excellent conference talks on the subject. (Like Elder Hafen) Of course it’s debatable how much people are listening. But that’s a whole other subject. Ultimately one is responsible for learning on ones own. If you just count on what you get out of Sunday School (when you’re paying attention) then we’re all in trouble. Primarily because most teachers aren’t that great and almost no one even does the reading assignment. I mean ideally if one is reading the Book of Mormon it’s almost impossible not to get a fairly thorough treatment on the subject that arguably goes even further than Paul due to the historical examples.

    I’m certainly not saying we shouldn’t do close readings of scripture. And frankly you can’t do that to Paul or many important BoM passages without focusing on the notion of grace.

    I think most people have trouble putting into words what they experience. Pres. Benson had this fantastic talk before he died about reading the scriptures and adopting their language. But once again that ends up depending upon personal reading and study. And there’s not a lot the Church can do there beyond telling people to do it. (IMO)

    I do think that the best talks and lessons though are less about formal theology or history but simply telling personal stories that illustrate important gospel topics. I think narrative is ultimately more useful than formal theology or using the right words.

  108. Clark said

    Just to add, I’m not talking about your lessons. But I think you’d agree that one of the big problems in the Church is the nature of lessons.

  109. brianj said

    Clark, #107: Don’t worry, I wasn’t taking you as saying that. I was just resisting the idea that there is nothing at all wrong with how we talk about grace. Our doctrine is solid—I agree with you there. Most members understand the essentials of that doctrine, even if they lack the ability to describe it (myself included)—again, I agree with you. My tiny little disagreement was on whether the “different vocabulary” is a problem—I think it can be for some members (and investigators), especially when it causes confusion because the scriptures use the “wrong” words.

    “one of the big problems in the Church is the nature of lessons.” I absolutely agree. That is, as you probably know, what much of this blog is about. (Care to expand your comment into a post?)

  110. Matthew said

    CEF 99,

    It seems we both agree that a) the common way we talk about grace in the Church is consistent with the Bishop example I give in #91, b) the Bishop in #91 seems to understand what grace is, c) we often cannot tell whether someone understands grace or not just by listening to how they explain 2 Ne 25:23 (since, first, people can mean very different things by “after all we can do” and, second, people may have good reason to focus more on the works side–so though they may not mention grace, that doesn’t mean they don’t believe it), and d) when we aren’t sure what people mean, we should give them the benefit of the doubt.

    For me, these four points of agreement are enough. There may be other points we disagree on, regardless, I’ll bow out at this point where we mostly agree.

    I know you aren’t necessarily looking for advice, but know that I give it only because it honestly hurts to think that over this question you are distanced from your own congregation, your bishop, and your stake president. These things ought not to be (3 Ne 11:30).

    >That is why I am where I am with this, but I am about ready to call it quits, nothing I seem to do makes a difference. At least in a positive way.

    It isn’t a question of retreating. It is a question of moving forward. Reconcile yourself with your leaders. You have looked for common ground with other denominations in the way we think about grace. Now look for common ground with your own denomination. The fact that you may disagree strongly on some points, doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of related points you agree on. Make the first step toward reconciliation. My guess is that whatever GA you like best and Robinson and Blake would all agree with this advice.


  111. CEF said

    Clark – Please do not take this wrong. It is just a rhetorical device to make a point.

    When you get to the CK, assuming you believe you will get there, will this be your conversation?

    “It is nice to meet you Jesus, thank you for making sure I was resurrected. Now if you would please get out of my way, having *earned* my way here, I have worlds to build and a universe to explore.”

    If not, why not? After all, you did *earn* it. Or maybe you really do not believe we earn the *gift* of Eternal Life. Which is it?

  112. CEF said

    Brian J – It is nice to meet a person that can relate to what I am saying. I do not take it as an endorsement, but it is so nice to find someone that can at least understand what I am saying and why I am saying it.

    A few years ago, a friend in SLC told me he attended a church meeting where a Brother Porter (or something like that) gave a talk in which he said third and fourth generation Mormons are leaving the Church because they came to the conclusion that they could never do enough to make it to the CK. How sad is that?

  113. Clark said

    CEF, I wouldn’t do that anymore than I’d ignore contributions from others for any task I engage in. When they engage in the key aspect then of course that would express ingratitude.

  114. CEF said

    Clark – Thank you for your response, but it did not quite answer the question. Needless to say it was an exaggeration, but I find such exaggerations helpful in making a point more clear.

    The question is not one of ingratitude, but one of do we *earn* our way to heaven. I am going to help you with this one and answer it for you. If you think I give an answer different than you would give, please jump right in and correct me.

    Over at Geoff’s place (NCT) I gave an exaggerated example of what it takes to make it to heaven. God’s requirements to enter the CK (heaven) is perfection. To me, that is like saying all we have to do to *earn* heaven, is jump as high as the moon.

    I am going to be generous here and say that you can jump from a flat footed position six feet high. I can only jump six inches high. Does your six foot high jump meet the requirements of God, and my meager effort disqualify me, or do we both go down the road kicking rocks?

    I really do not understand anyone saying that we can earn our way to heaven. To me, living a perfect life would be just as impossible as jumping as high as the moon. So I would say no, we do not earn our way to heaven, it is a gift of grace form God.

    Does God require our best effort in the process, sure, there is never a question about that. Actually what God requires is our heart mind and soul. To you that would be six feet high and to me that would be six inches. Does your six feet give you a right to brag, not according to Paul. Why? Because you did not earn it nor deserve it, it was given as a gift.

    So help me understand why you think we can earn our way to heaven.

  115. Robert C. said

    CEF #114, I think “perfection” is a very interesting word to take up in this discussion, which perhaps might be a good way to think about all of this. That is, I take perfection as being complete, and that we can’t be complete without accepting Christ, the consummate gift of God’s grace. Now, as a result of God’s grace, we’ve already been given the gift of life, and to take up your analogy, therefore, the ability to jump 6 inches or six feet, whether or not we refuse to acknowledge God’s love/grace/gifts/etc. However, if we quit refusing to acknowledge God’s grace, love, etc., then we will be given a new ability to jump much, much higher (even an hundred-fold). We can jump higher than those who refuse Christ, regardless of how much training we and they do, though I think the analogy starts to break down a bit on this point…) and this difference is a result of our free choice of accepting Christ. So one might argue that we “earned” this right or ability to jump high because of the training and work we’ve done, but that’s quite misleading if not downright silly—the very ability to jump is, in the first place, a gift of grace, and the ability to jump really high is an additional gift of grace.

    Moreover, in the long run, I think we will only be able to continue jumping, whether 6 inches high or 600 feet high, only if we acknowledge that our ability is a gift. That is, if we continue to deny Christ, we will be chained to outer darkness, whereas the degree to which, or timing in which, we acknowledge that our ability is a gift will be somehow correlated to how high we can jump when we are resurrected (or at least that’s how I’d try to apply D&C 76 to this little analogy, which I’m not sure I’m very fond of from the beginning!).

    What strikes me as esp. silly in this example would be thinking about someone comparing 6 inches to 6 feet, while those who have given up such prideful comparisons are soaring hundreds of feet off the air, as if by the wings of angels….

  116. CEF said

    Robert – I would love to hang out with you and Cetti someday. The two of you seem to have not only a great ability to express yourselves, but also a great understanding of how grace works. I think you are absolutely correct about receiving grace makes one able to give more grace (do more) and therefore receive more grace until that perfect day.

    Pride is the one thing I do worry about. I hope it is not pride that is keeping me from full fellowship with the saints. Sometimes we can be the last ones to see our own faults. But hey, my wife keeps me apprised of all of my faults so, I guess I shouldn’t worry. :)

    Oh yea, I would love to hang out with Clark also, maybe he would answer my question about time for me. :) Oh what the heck, I would just like to hang out with any and all who like to discuss the gospel in a friendly way. Even my SP. :)

  117. Clark said

    CEF, I’m not sure I can say anything more than I’ve already said. If grace is a process and we proceed grace for grace then I’m always ultimately unworthy of the grace given yet my merits are involved in receiving grace as I move on. You’re asking for an odd way of talking about it which simply isn’t the way those using terms like “merit” or “earn” talk. In effect you’re creating a strawman and asking me to defend it. But why should it since it’s not what I believe?

    Put an other way you’re presenting a false dichotomy, either we talk the way of your exaggeration or we talk the way you want us to speak of with respect to grace. Surely those aren’t our only choices…

  118. Clark said

    Robert, the more interesting question about perfection is how to understand it in terms of process rather than a totality of “stuff” or events. As you know this too has been a big debate in LDS theology. Say with respect to God’s knowledge.

  119. CEF said

    Clark – What I am asking you to defend/explain is how you see your six foot high jump/good works, whatever you wish to use, is going to be good enough to earn you the right to enter heaven. I do not see a strawman here. If we really can earn our way into heaven, then what did Christ have to die for? We could sacrifice a few animals and been done with it.

    But you are right about my wanting us to use a different language in regards to our theology pertaining to salvation. I have seen first hand the damage it does to the Church.

    I think if anyone could defend the use of *earn*, you would already have done so. So no, you do not have to use my language, use you own words and explain how one earns his way into heaven. Work, you bet, I don’t know how many times I have to say that, but not earn.

  120. Clark said

    As I said, when you put it in those terms of course no one will agree simply because you’ve created a strawman. No one is saying we earn salvation and the modern Church writings are clear on that. (See this nice short discussion by Elder Oaks or this longer one by him as well)

    However if God gives us a promise in a covenant and we fulfill the covenant then in that sense we’ve earned the blessings. See the distinction?

    Now in this second case it is still a matter of grace. However the grace is God’s offering the covenant and helping us live it. But the duty, merit and “earning” is still an essential part.

  121. Clark said

    CEF – it might be easier if, rather than constructing rhetoric, you point to talks by a member of the 12 who you feel is misusing language in this regard.

  122. NathanG said

    I feel like I’m jumping in too late on the discussion (it took a long time to read it all).

    First off I appreciate this post as it has challenged me to rethink my view of grace. It is at the same time a simple concept and a very complex concept. Simple enough for anyone to understand sufficiently that we rely on Christ for our salvation, but complicated enough to cause people to really have to dig and search to understand (as this lengthy post demonstrates).

    I had a couple thoughts that I wanted to throw out there, and since this is my first post, it might seem scattered.

    At one point someone (I’m not going to try to attribute all comments to their rightful owners, sorry) talked about experiences shaping understanding. I think comparing Paul’s and Nephi’s experience is intersting as they are at the heart of this discussion. Paul was a zealous Jew and followed the Law of Moses and went about persecuting the Saints and was essentially snatched from his sinful state and put on the right path and subsequently abounded in good works. I doubt he would ever forget that his life of zealous obedience and works got him nowhere and Christ completely saved him. I imagine he then took his zeal for following God and preached the thing he knew best, salvation by grace where his personal works had done nothing for him. Nephi on the other hand was raised by goodly parents and has a life of good works reinforced by more gifts from God. His was more of a gradual progression and perhaps it made sense for him to say we are saved by grace after all that we can do. Did one understand that it was God’s grace that saved them better than the other? I cannot judge.

    I like the notion of grace starting us in good works. For instance, Nephi describes going out to pray about what his father was teaching and the Lord softening his heart. Perhaps that was his “life changing event”, not as dramatic as Paul’s. Before this change both Nephi and Saul were living the Law of Moses (whether requirements had evolved in 635 or so years time is beyond my knowledge.) Both of them had some sort of spiritual experience, but Saul’s was a complete turn around and Nephi’s I imagine did not have such a contrasting change in his life, but still a significant change.

    I personally connect more with a lifetime of growing and changing and continued growing. I have had several times where I have felt to have had a change of heart. These events helped me to improve and grow at an accelerated rate. Each time I grew in my capacity for doing good or perhaps more appropriately my capacity to love. Has it always been sustained? Unfortunately no, for I have allowed life to get in the way and I have had to repent. Is the concept of grace saving us meant to suggest that it is only a sustainable change until the end of life? I hope not, because I am then still waiting for God’s grace, but yet I feel I have received of his grace. I have felt forgiven and I have felt enlightened which I can attribute to God’s grace. Why did I feel it was not sustained? I feel the gift of grace is kind of like a stewardship. I’m not convinced that I do good things just because I have received his grace, but God has an expectation of me to do good with his gift to me, and if I can’t use that gift for good, it can be taken away from me.

    New thought. In the middle part of this discussion talk was made about knowing whether one would make it to the Celestial Kingdom. I think it’s simpler to know than people think. If you are worthy of the companionship (not just promptings) of the Holy Ghost and you die, you will make it (regardless of what ordinances you have received, which will all be made up for you). If we can be in God’s constant presence on earth (through companionship of the Holy Ghost) then we will be given the same privelege of being with God after this life, except with the Father. If not then I think he is playing a cruel joke giving us the gift of the Holy Ghost. A similar thought would be that if you feel you are truly worthy of going to the temple then there should be no difference between the two.

    Last comment on works. They do nothing for us, unless it’s like Jacob 4:5. If our works point us towards Christ because of our faith in Christ then they are counted to us for righteousness. Perhaps this sidesteps the question of which comes first grace or works. Perhaps this affirms CES’s view that it’s the grace enabling us to do works (at least works that matter), but they are still counted to us for righteousness. I think if the works made no difference for my salvation (which is my initial thought when someone argues that they only do good works because they are already saved by grace) then why is it counted for righteousness? Why did God give us commandments if our works are only done because we have already received his grace and are saved? Perhaps another consideration is that the grace of Christ enables us to fulfill the commandments for they are beyond our own ability. This would still allow us to make a choice whether to do good or evil, but by the grace of God we are able to do good.

    I feel I am starting to ramble so I think I’ll leave this thought.

  123. Robert C. said

    NathanG #122, great thoughts, thanks, esp. the psychological comparison (for lack of a better phrase) between Paul and Nephi, and how that might change how we read each of their writings. Also, I think this bit about accounting and righteousness in Jacob 4:5 is very interesting, esp. since Paul uses similar language (harking back to Gen 15:6, I think; see esp. Rom 4:4-6), which I think is very interesting since Paul, as sort of the flagship writer on Christian grace, takes ups this term “count” which strikes me as such an un-gracious/economic term….

  124. CEF said

    Good morning everyone – Clark, I realized this morning that we had arrive at the exact same point that my SP and I reached years ago. When I pushed him to show me how I had things wrong, and not just because he said so, he did a quick parry and block and fired back with a straight jab that landed on my chin. He asked me the same question you did.

    Basically he said, “ if you are so stinking (my word not his) smart, why don’t the GA’s explain grace the way you do?” That is a great question, and I did not have a great answer. As I have said before, I spent the next year or so looking for the answer.

    In a perfect world, it would not matter what word or words we used in the place of grace. We could even use the word earn or earned pertaining to heaven. And other Christians would just say, “oh, that is just the Mormons, they use different words for salvation, but they mean the same thing as we do, so they are good Christians.” But this is not a perfect world.

    Our vocabulary that developed in an insular world in the 19th century where we could say anything we wanted and basically thumb our noses at the rest of Christendom, has changed, but we have not changed with it.

    I said elsewhere, that I am a construction worker and have a vocabulary or four letter words that I do not use around certain people. I suppose in a society that values free speech, I could use those words anywhere, but I do not wish to be seen as a jerk. We can continue to use words that offend other Christians, but why?

    If you have never experienced first hand the animosity that exists with other churches towards us, then maybe I can understand that others just do not see a need to change our ways. I said earlier in this thread that I never had any inclination to worry about the way other Christians see us, if they do not like the way we see blacks, well that is just too bad. We are the true Church, period, end of story. That is no longer my world view.

    The reason I said that I am ready to drop this thing, is because in the past, we had kids here that I really wanted to have the opportunity to go to church in the same town they go to school in. So my wife, that used to be one of the best missionaries the Church has ever seen, cornered the mission president (grace makes people do crazy things) and talked him into putting missionaries here in this town of 2000 people. There had not been missionaries here since I left well over thirty years ago. The Baptist came out of the wood work to fight our efforts. The minister that I considered a friend, started giving sermons about how bad the Mormons are.

    My youngest daughter left for college last Saturday. I no longer have a reason to make waves. I can retreat back into my comfort zone and let the world pass me by. *Except* for this one particular thorn in my side. Grace. What am I suppose to do with it? Sometimes I would like to bury in under a rock, turn my back on it, give it back to the owner, anything to get back to the way things were in the good old days.

    Grace does not seem to work that way. It is compelling, nagging, driving one to do things you would never do on your own. I wonder how many construction workers hang out in places like this. I am *way* out of my league here? How many uneducated people like me would go toe to toe with their SP, a PhD in an intellectual discussion of grace? I am not sure if one would call that stupidity or brain damage. In either case, I am driven to share the grace I have been given and realize I do not deserve.

    So what would you have me do Clark? Any suggestions would be very much appreciated. You are perhaps the most intellectually gifted person I have ever had the pleasure (and I mean that sincerely) of interacting with. What would you do?

  125. NathanG said

    One aspect of the grace/works discussion that I have struggled trying to understand is that of keeping the commandments. I grew up in one of those near 100% Mormon population towns, so my first true exposure to the debate was on my mission. The debate often centered on baptism and people would argue that baptism was not required because Christ’s grace had saved them. I struggled with that because of the many places where Christ himself commanded that people must be baptized. Perhaps Christ’s visit to the Nephites can be an illustration of how grace and works can go together. First off Christ appears to the people. He tells them who he is and then invites them to come to him. They all have the opportunity to go forward one by one and feel the marks of his hands and his feet and his side. He then gives the power to baptize and states his doctrine in 3 Nephi 11:32-34. “I bear record that the Father commandeth all men, everywhere, to repent and believe in me. And whoso believeth in me, and is baptized, the same shall be saved; and they are they who shall inherit the kingdom of God.”

    Here Christ has shed his grace upon them in allowing them to come to him and feel his hands and his feet. Were they worthy of such an experience? Not on account of any works they had done, it was a gift and I can’t imagine a person in that position stating that they deserved the experience because they were so good. They then shout “Hosanna” a great word that I have always thought of as a praise word, but probably is better described as a plea (save us now). He then goes on to teach them to believe in him, repent, and be baptized. Suppose somebody then refused to be baptized, but continued to believe in him, would they inherit the kingdom of God? The answer is kind of in verse 24: he would be damned (although technically he has commented on not believing AND not being baptized, which is not really my example). What does being damned mean anyway? If put in the context of the degrees of glory, that person above would probably obtain terrestrial glory. Is he saved, yes and no, at least not to the extent I hope to be. You might say he is saved because he enters the kingdom of God, in a terrestrial glory, and as best I can tell will not have to suffer for his sins and will dwell with Christ, but he does not inherit the kingdom of God, as in receiving all that the Father hath. He will not progress. He is damned.

    Anyway, Christ granted his grace upon the people and gave a commandment. Now jump forward to 3 Nephi 19:25 (although the whole chapter is worthwhile). These people (specifically the 12 chosen) have now been baptized and have received the Holy Ghost and after the series of prayers “his countenance did smile upon them, and the light of his countenance did shine upon them, and behold they were as white as the countenance and also the garments of Jesus.” I think this is an awesome manifestation of his grace. What did they do to deserve that? Not much really; they were obedient to the commandment. They were baptized. Is there something magical about somebody submersing you beneath water. No, not at all. However, I come back to Jacob 4:5. It (the baptism) pointed their souls towards Christ and they were subsequently blessed with a much greater manifestation of his grace. I feel the Christian I spoke with on my mission was limiting himself by not believing that the commandments were important. On the other hand, I’m sure there are many people in the church who are missing out on blessings because they are so caught up in keeping the commadments that they have forgotten Christ (I say many because I personally know how easy it is to slip into a works focused life at the expense of a focus on Christ). If we are not centered on Christ, our works are meaningless.

    Well, that wasn’t really the point I intended to make, it just kind of happened that way. The challenge then is how to properly teach grace and works, because I believe both are important. Grace because that is the only way we can be saved. Works, because the person who has granted his grace has commanded us to do works.

  126. Clark said

    CEF – the issue I’ve tried to make clear is that Grace isn’t purely about salvation. Therefore we can talk about Grace independent of talking purely about salvation.

    The issue of the GA isn’t “if you’re so smart” but simply a request that perhaps discussion could be clearer if we addressed particular texts rather than these vague assertions. In discussions discussing explicit texts is always better. The reason I say that is because the portrayals of rhetoric you give bear no resemblance to what I read. So my inclination is just that you’re not addressing what is there but are creating strawmen. Sincerely I’m sure. But I’m just not at all convinced that the Church is what you portray it as. (Individual members I’m sure are – but I can find no end of poor communication or doctrinal deficiencies among lay members – that’s to be expected)

  127. Clark said

    Nathan, with regards to works and grace. The issue is whether someone has actually received grace and is saved if they then go out and say murder. If we say no, then clearly works are essential for receiving grace and aren’t simply something we do because we’ve received grace. If we say that grace always results in works then we are denying free will. (Indeed this is largely why the Calvinists arrive at the doctrine they do)

    So while I understand why people will say we do good works because God commands us – and that’s true as it goes – logically it can’t really explain things.

  128. Robert C. said

    CEF #124, letters of the alphabet after someone’s name doesn’t make them right, so I think you’re right to ask these kind of questions. I sometimes, oftentimes even, wish that Church leaders used the term grace more frequently. But I can imagine possible reasons they don’t, and I don’t feel it’s my job to figure out what they should or shouldn’t be teaching. Besides, I’ve heard enough talks that do portray a view that is similar to my own to feel like my view is basically in line with the scope of views held by “the Brethren”—and, more importantly, I think my view is scripturally sound, and ultimately my testimony of LDS scripture is stronger than my testimony of Church leaders and members. So, when I come across leaders or members that seem to disagree, I chalk it up to imperfections “of men,” not imperfections in the doctrine or the Church itself (that is, I try to trust that if doctrines taught over the pulpit get too far out of line, God will somehow correct things, without my having to try to “correct” Church leaders when I disagree—which is rather rare, I might add…).

    NathanG #125: You asked, “Suppose somebody then refused to be baptized, but continued to believe in him, would they inherit the kingdom of God?” I think this raises the important question of what it means to believe in Christ. That is, why wouldn’t a believer refuse to be baptized? I don’t think the only good answer is that your supposed believer is not really a believer (else, why should s/he refuse to be baptized?!).

    Also, I think you raise many other difficult questions in asking about those in the Telestial Kingdom. First of all, although we are told that some will be resurrected to a Telestial glory, I don’t think we know whether that is the glory they will always enjoy. Also, I wonder if we might think about those who will be resurrected to a Telestial glory in terms of the purity of their belief. That is, it seems there is some sort of double-mindedness going on, perhaps like those described in Alma 32 as being compelled to believe. That is, it seems that one must eventually confess that Jesus is the Christ even to ineherit a Telestial glory, so it seems we might think about the difference between Telestial and Celestial in terms of the distance between being “forced” to confess that Jesus is the Christ (“forced” in scare quotes b/c it seems those in Outer Darkness can deny that Jesus is the Christ even after having some sort of complete knowledge that Jesus really is the Christ…) and voluntarily choosing to confess that Jesus is the Christ (somehow it seems the less “evidence” we are given to believe, the more blessed we are for our belief—at least that’s how I tend to read the discussion of faith, sign-seeking, etc. in Alma 32…).

  129. CEF said

    Clark – In a narrow more secular view of the world, I would agree with you. Grace is not all about salvation. But that is not the milieu I try and live in and hopefully not the one we are talking about here.

    I would so much like to come to some kind of a meeting of the minds here, I guess I will keep on trying.

    I learned in the mission field that it is always better to be on the offensive and not the defensive. (I liked a good bible bash once in awhile) In other words, it is easier to attack another position than it is to defend your own. So here is my proposition to you. I am the underdog here so it would be nice if you would take the high ground and explain to me how it is possible to earn a gift. When you do that, I will then worry about how to explain why it is not possible to earn a gift. And while you are at it, please explain why brother Millet did not explain why *his* works were sufficient to be allowed to enter heaven. Note it is the works (merits) and grace of Christ that brother Millet is relying on, *nothing* he did.

    The following is a quote from Millet in his book “Are We There Yet?” This is a response to a question by one of his nonmember friends that he has had an ongoing conversation about each others faith. Question: “You are standing before the judgment bar of the Almighty, and God turns to you and asks: Robert Millet, what right do you have to enter heaven? Why should I let you in?” Answer: Some personal pondering before he answers his friend. “Would I say to the Lord something like, ‘Well, I should go to heaven because I was baptized into the Church, I served a full-time mission, I married in the temple…” “I would say to God, I claim the right to enter heaven because of my complete trust in the Lord Jesus Christ and my reliance upon his merits and mercy and grace.”

    I still do not see the straw man in this, but that does not mean it is not there.

    I am going to take the rest of the day to go for a drive, and see a movie. Clark has me all stressed out. :)

    Hopefully I can pick it up tomorrow.

    Robert, Thank you, you are very kind. I agree with you, and I hope I come across as being big enough to accept the fact that I could have all of this wrong and make the necessary changes.

  130. Clark said

    CEF, in the scriptures grace is not all about salvation either otherwise D&C 93 makes zero sense.

    Grace is about the givingness of God.

    The issue about earning a gift the way you put it is, as I said, a strawman. People just don’t talk that way. But when earning is used with grace that’s not the way we typically talk. So once again, I’d simply ask you to point to a text from a GA you feel is a problem.

    As to Millet’s example, I’d say both answers are wrong. If God asked me that I’d hope I could say, “you are my savior and I have become your son.”

  131. Clark said

    BTW CEF, I’m hoping I’m not irritating you. If you I apologize profusely. Such isn’t my intent. It’s just that it seems that we’ve agree the issue is rhetoric and not theology but if so I think we just need examples of real world people using misleading rhetoric. If grace isn’t only about an event of salvation then surely the language is more open.

  132. brianj said

    NathanG – Welcome! Just a quick thought on works: I think there are different ways to view works, and all of them are correct:

    1) Works that come through grace—the good acts we are almost (no, Clark, I’m not denying free will) compelled to do because of our changed hearts. (Cf. Galatians 2:20)

    2) Works we do as a plea for grace—repentance would be the key example here, but there are others as well (prayer, fasting, etc.) (Cf. Alma 36 as well as several GA talks I linked to in comment #50)

    3) Works we do to maintain grace—actions that serve as reminders to us of the grace we have received; as reminders, they keep our hearts focused on God and not on ourselves. I think many of the ordinances we perform should be viewed this way (though that is not their exclusive purpose). (The sacrament is a good example.)

    4) Works we do to prepare us for grace—God knows that we are selfish (i.e. ungodly), so he gives us some commandments that teach us—effectively—how to act more like him (i.e. charitably). Obedience prepares our hearts to receive grace which we otherwise would have rejected or not valued (Cf. Moses 5).

  133. Matthew said

    brianj, #132. Nice way of thinking about it. I assume you don’t think these categories are mutually exclusive.

  134. brianj said

    CEF and Clark – I think Robert offered a word you could discuss in the scriptures that might get at the “earn” issue: count, as in “counted unto him for righteousness.”

    The Greek word (used in Romans 4, among other places) has a sense of “count, compute, calculate, to make an account of, etc”

    I also wonder if the phrase “glory upon their heads” is relevant. Why would God praise (i.e. glorify) someone if that person had done nothing worthy of praise?

    The parable of the talents is related: all servants were given something to work with from the beginning, but how they worked was up to each individually. They were not praised for the gifts they were given, but for their faithfulness towards those gifts. (And yes, I am sort of abusing the parable, because I think the talents really represent responsibility rather than gifts, but the point is still valid).

  135. brianj said

    Matthew asks, #133: “. I assume you don’t think these categories are mutually exclusive.”

    Note at the beginning of #132: “…and all of them are correct:”

    (I’ve bolded it now so it’s harder to miss)

  136. brianj said

    Re: 134: I realize now that discussing the scriptures does not really get at the problem that Clark sees; namely, that CEF agrees with the scriptures but disagrees with how we talk about them. Oh well.

  137. Clark said

    That’s true Brian, but the scriptures you brought forth, especially the parable of the talents, are excellent for the topic of rhetoric. Especially the talents given how Mormons use it. I also think that grace and responsibility are very intertwined. Since to me a big part of grace is being given responsibility and then being given more if we live up to that responsibility. So casting it in terms of responsibility is tremendously helpful.

    Brian, your number (1) with caveat is important, although it raises other philosophical issues. (No I’ll not go off on a tangent on them given this already long thread) Let’s say part of grace is being given an environment that makes some choices more likely than others. For instance I suspect being raised in a religious but not overbearing middle class American home makes it easier to “be good” than being raised in an abusive home where all your peers are criminals. Is that an example of grace? I think so.

    Yet (and this takes us to the philosophical point as well as your point about responsibility) don’t we also lose some responsibility in this case? After all it’s much harder and therefore praiseworthy for someone in the abusive difficult environment to choose God than the other. (Elder Ashton had a fantastic talk on this I can’t find at the moment – it’s one of my all time favorite GA talks) There’s also the issue of why God does this. But that takes us into the problem of evil and I don’t want to get side tracked.

    The problem of free will in this situation is intrinsically wrapped up with the problem of free will. As Blake argues well, one is free to the degree one is responsible. So if grace makes a choice “we are almost compelled to do” then it seems we are “nearly free.” There is an inherent tension there.

    God wants responsible children though. Which is why I’m convinced that grace is a process. Grace for grace, as D&C 93 puts it. But it also leads to lots of questions. Why did Alma get a religious experience so strong that it was very probable he would be righteous and convert? (Yes, not absolute as we see with Laman and Lemuel) But why him and not all the other people who parents have prayed for? Is that fair? Would God be just to judge both Alma and say Pres. Kimball’s son who left the Church the same?

    So no matter what one does, if one views grace as an event the problem of justice, responsibility, and free will raise their head. It’s not an easy matter.

    Because of this I think the LDS notion of a plan of salvation as well as an idea of God developing our characters but being incapable of determining them is pretty important. But I think that it ends up having huge implications in terms of how we think of grace as opposed to our other Christian friends who adopt the theology of creation ex nihlo.

  138. Clark said

    Oh, BTW Brian, the “counted” is a great point. Very much wrapped up in the notion of justification. Which is ultimately what I think CEF wants to discuss – however justification and the religious experience that turns us in our path are quite different. Justification is being pronounced just even if we screw up (as even the most righteous of us do) Yet if we are sealed by the Holy Spirit of Promise then we have the promise God will justify us. Once again typically a process. And Hel 10, as I mentioned, is the key example text for this.

    It’s quite interesting that our Protestant brethren will sometimes say we don’t adopt a theology of grace while simultaneously attacking our history and the human element in say Brigham Young or Joseph Smith. That always struck me as deeply hypocritical. Certainly both were very flawed men but I feel strongly that God justified them. The sanctification (saving us from – not in – our sins) ultimately requires the resurrection. But justification is something else entirely.

    By definition the just are undeserving since being justified is that gap between their flawed human nature and the divine nature. But it is, in a way, a promise still of what is to come (sanctification).

    But the nature of these definitely shows the limits of merits, works, and “earning” in terms of grace.

  139. Robert C. said

    BrianJ and Clark, great discussion about the link between grace and responsibility. I think many Christian critics of the Mormon view (or viewS, as the length of this thread attests!) want to “have their cake and eat it too” in terms of responsibility (or “accountability,” which seems the more common Mormon term…) and justice. Interesting to think how closely related all of this is to the problems of evil, free will, divine foreknowledge, universalism, creation ex nihilo, Isrealite-Gentile salvation history, predestination/foreordination etc. etc. etc….

  140. brianj said

    Clark: I wish I had a “Clark-filter” that I could run all of my thoughts through so they would come out clear, concise, and coherent. How do you do it?

    “Let’s say part of grace is being given an environment that makes some choices more likely than others.” Yeah, I like that. But I didn’t mean to focus on physical environment, per se; rather, on the notion that when we are touched by the Spirit we (often, hopefully) feel a desire to “go out and do some good”—like after attending the temple I feel all “fired up.” Also, think of the hymn “…How can I (possibly) see another’s lack and I not share?” I don’t mean to discount your point about physical environment—that’s certainly grace in my life—but my point was more about spiritual experience. Perhaps I need a fifth point?

    Why did Alma get a religious experience [but not] all the other people…?” I sometimes worry that all the other people did, but they rejected it. But something about this “answer” seems too harsh, so I reject it.

    “Oh, BTW Brian, the “counted” is a great point.” Yes, all of my good ideas come from Robert C.

    “…[Others] sometimes say we don’t adopt a theology of grace while simultaneously attacking our history…. That always struck me as deeply hypocritical.” Thanks. That is very interesting.

    “But the nature of these definitely shows the limits of merits, works, and “earning” in terms of grace.” One of the most important points made in this discussion, I think.

  141. Clark said

    Brian, I’m including spiritual experiences as part of my physical environment. The person who is able to have them, like Alma the Younger, simply has an environment radically different from others.

  142. CEF said

    Clark #121 – I finally get why you see a straw man and I do not. I just assumed the things I have been claiming are just so axiomatic, that I did not need to defend what I was saying. So below are just three talks I picked at random that show what I claim is true. I am sure I could find a lot more, but this should be sufficient to make my point. Granted, these are not so new and I truly believe there is a movement in the Church to change the way we talk, but there are members that still use this kind of language.

    So to be clear, there are leaders of the Church that have made claims that I believe are not supported by scripture. My SP continues to say that immortality is a free gift, but Eternal must be earned. If you would like to defend the idea that the gift of Eternal Life must be earned, then I will be glad to try and show the illogic of earning a gift. I will say this again, work we must, judged by our works, certainly, must be a people of doing not hearing only goes without saying, but we never do earn our way to heaven. It is a gift. I do not want to make this to long so I will save more for another post.

    The Worth of Souls
    Marion G. Romney
    Man’s Potentiality It is in the attainment of eternal life, which man must earn in mortality, that he reaches his full potentiality. As God’s work and glory is to bring to pass the eternal life of man, so the desire, hope, and work of every man should be to obtain eternal life for himself.
    Gospel Library > Magazines > Ensign > November 1978

    The Path to Eternal Glory
    Delbert L. Stapley
    Unfortunately, for the most part, the thoughts of mortal men are centered in this temporal life and not on the eternal life. But eternal life is a personal responsibility we must earn and be worthy of.
    Gospel Library > Magazines > Ensign > July 1973

    Our Sisters from the Beginning
    Bruce R. McConkie
    The man and the woman are together in worship; they are together in teaching their children; they are together in establishing the family unit that hopefully will endure in the eternities ahead, thus giving eternal life to all those who earn it. In effect she is saying, “If Jacob marries out of the Church as Esau has done, what good is there left for me in life?
    Gospel Library > Magazines > Ensign > January 1979

  143. Clark said

    CEF, thanks for doing that. That makes things much easier. Give me a little time to respond.

  144. CEF said

    Clark #130 – I think you must be speaking over my head here. If the givingness of God does not invoke in one a love of God and love of others, what good is it? What is salvation if it is not loving God and others? That we can grow (a process) in loving God and others from grace to grace, to me does not change anything. So I must not understand just what it is that you mean.

    And no, you are not irritating me. You have been very kind in our conversation and I appreciate it. It is just frustrating for me not to be able to make a point that you can follow. Going to see a movie is better than going for a drink. People with addictive personalities do not always deal well with stress. None of which is your fault. But I put the simile face there so you would know I was not being too serious.

  145. Clark said

    CEF (briefly, as I have almost no time), I think God can give the gift regardless of whether we accept it. What you want to say is that God’s grace immobilizes our free will. (At least that’s how I take your comments) Was God’s sending the angel to Laman and Lemuel grace? Of course. Did it lead to a love of God and others in them? No. What about Alma’s experience? It did for him. So free will is always operative.

    But that’s a helpful comment since it will lead into my response to the quotes your provided. (Which really does make life easier)

  146. CEF said

    Brian J – It is nice to watch someone coming into an understanding of grace. If you are not afraid of it, there will come a time that it will wash through you, becoming a thorn in *your* side. The same thing will happen to Robert. I do not know about Clark, he is a tough nut to crack. Just kidding Clark.

    I would like to take up Clark’s response to you., # 137. I do not understand how grace works, but I know it when I see it. It must work on the spiritual side of us, something innate that we recognize from our time with God. Is grace irresistible? Does accepting grace make us less free in our will to chose? Here is how I see it.

    I really like chocolate. I understand that Clark sells some of the best chocolate in the world. Clark comes by my place with chocolate bars hanging out of every pocket and chewing on one. Not one to ask for favors, I keep it to myself that I love chocolate. Out of a gracious nature, Clark leaves a couple of bars on the desk when he leaves that I did not notice until he is gone.

    Being a little suspicious, I am slow to pick up the bars, I might even leave them there thinking he will come back for them as soon as he misses them. (This is too good to be true) A few days go by, no Clark, the bars are still where he left them. I love chocolate!!! I slowly pick one up thinking it just might go bang or something. (not sure if I trust Clark) Nothing happens. This is just too good to be true, I put it back down thinking if it was really good stuff, he would not have been so careless and left them here. (some will wait a thousand years before they ever pick one up) Finally, my nature (a child of God) gets the best of me and I pick one up and eat it. Good grief, it is indeed the best Chocolate I have ever tasted. Why did I wait so long to eat it? It becomes my mission in life to share with the world the most marvelously wonderful chocolate that Clark makes.

    Where in the above did I not have a choice to choose to partake of the chocolate? Did choosing to accept this gift limit my free will? Do I *have* to share with others what I have learned about Clark’s stuff?

    Everyone will eventually choose to accept the grace of God, otherwise, God will have to use coercion so that every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is the Christ. Of course Mormons know that God does not use coercion. How else could it work? Any other theories?

  147. Clark said

    No time to say much, but I’d say God regularly uses coercion. Ask the inhabitants of Sodom and Ghammorah. Or the 1/3 cast out of heaven.

  148. CEF said

    We all have choices to make with consequences that will follow. All of the people you mention made a choice not to follow God. They could have repented at any time and choose not to. I see where you are coming from and it is a good point, so I would assume this is one of those gray areas that just is. Other wise, how would you reconcile it with our view that God will force on one to heaven?

  149. Clark said

    The issue of whether grace is irresistible must be answered negatively for Mormons I feel. While TPJS aren’t scripture, they certainly hold a high place in LDS theology (with the usual caveats) Joseph Smith was pretty emphatic one can fall from grace which entails that grace is resistible. (This is a theological point, not a rhetorical one)

    Regarding your bit about everyone acknowledging God. That’s really not dependent upon Grace in the sense you are using it. (i.e. relative to salvation) Everyone might well have a knowledge that God is God simply because the evidence is overwhelming. But confessing Jesus is Christ isn’t salvation otherwise Lucifer would be sitting pretty.

    As to coercion, God does occasionally use it. (Although I’m not convinced that often) Yet he doesn’t force someone to be saved. Even where a level of evidence is used that we’re not used to there’s still free will. (i.e. Laman and Lemuel)

    What this entails then is that our works are essential for grace to operate. If there are two essential and necessary components – one of us one of God then I feel that rhetorically pointing this out is fine. (Although I’ll get to the GA quotes in a little bit)

  150. NathanG said

    CEF, Marion G. Romney’s talk on the Worth of Souls you cited is quite interesting. While he indeed does use the phrase “in the attainment of eternal life, which man must earn in mortality” he does two other things that I think are interesting in this discussion.

    First, a few paragraphs before the statement he states “By his atonement Jesus brought men within the reach of eternal life. However, he did not guarantee eternal life to all men as he did guarantee immortality.” Earlier in this thread the example of jumping was given and then God would make up the difference. His phrase gives a different approach in I’ll lift you as high as you need to be lifted so you can attain Eternal Life. I think of a father lifting his child to make a basket in basketball. The child’s own ability may be sufficient to simply roll the ball over the rim (really young and undeveloped child) or they may be able to shoot the ball from a lower point and make it (someone who has grown and developed). This analogy needs to end, though before the child is able to make a basket from the ground lest we think we can earn our way independent of Christ (which I don’t think was MGR’s point in the talk).

    Second, after his statement that we must earn eternal life in mortality he lets the scriptures speak. I particularly like the first verse of D&C 93 which sounds like a list of things (all of which revolve around Christ) we must do to behold his face and know him, which cold represent a visitation while in this life of mortality or could also refer to eternal life (using John 17:3).

    So, I think as far as the first article is concerned (haven’t made it to the others) the word used in that one phrase didn’t seem to me to represent his complete view on how eternal life is obtained.

  151. NathanG said

    I thought a little bit more about the idea of being lifted up to make a basket as started in #150, although now the scoring of a goal may do more with simply good works. Suppose someone more mature and knowing is watching the child make a basket (being lifted up to the rim by the adult). When the child makes a basket, a big fuss is made over the child and his accomplishment, even though everyone knows that without the person lifting, the child would have come nowhere near the goal. However, this encouragement makes the child excited and desirous to do more. And so with many repetitions the child becomes more skilled and more developed and can perhaps do more of his own accord because the previous successes (once again obtained because he is lifted up) kept him excited to do more.

    So back up to the first attempt at shooting. Perhaps there is a child who has never seen a basketball, or a basket and is lifted up in front of the basket. He may not realize what to do with it. He needs to see someone making a basket and being excited about making a basket before he knows what to do (although there are always some who figure it out without seeing it done by others). We definitely need examples (BrianJ, perhaps you could add another works category, those done for the blessing of other people). It would seem that in this instance the grace of God being extended is the Light of Christ which is granted to all people, but they may not know what to do with it until they see it put to good use by someone already living the gospel.

    Now fast forward to a time when I have been resurrected and obtained Eternal Life. Do you think I am now shooting on my own and making baskets? Or, even as an exalted being am I still heavily reliant on God’s grace?

  152. CEF said

    Nathan G – It is nice of you to take an interest here and help out. Let me say that I do believe the General Authorities do understand grace, even if they sometimes do not do a good job of expressing it. I would like to believe if someone pointed out to them the inconsistency of saying one must earn what is scripturally called a gift, that they would see their error and correct it. As in this case.

    My brother teaches the GD class in a ward in Scottsdale AZ. And yes, I finally converted him to grace. Anyway, an area authority or whatever we call them now, gave a talk in his Sacrament meeting and used that terminology of earning Eternal Life. My brother being a little like me, went up to the GA after the meeting and told him that he was the GD teacher and wanted to make sure he was not teaching false doctrine to his class and asked the GA if one really had to *earn* Eternal Life or is it a gift as the scriptures say? My brother said the GA thought for a moment and said, “you are right, I am sure I will not teach it that way again.”

    My question and frustration is why do the others not hear what Robinson, Millet and many others are teaching and correct what is nothing but fodder for our critics to use against us? I am at a loss to explain it. However, Clark taking so long to fire back an answer to the question is making me very nervous. I am not sure if I should have a few movies scoped out to go see or have a couple of six packs here just in case he somehow shows me how I have everything dead wrong and one must really earn a gift, otherwise it is not a gift. :) Whatever happens, I am sure I will come out of it a better person.

    Nathan, you have a good understanding of how grace works. I like your analogy of the basketball and I think it works nicely with Robert’s idea of how grace makes out efforts more efficacious, able to accomplish more. That is what Robinson talks about in his book. Once we have a relationship with Christ, our little six foot/six inch high jump, now is only limited by our faith in Christ. If you believe Christ, then your effort is now enhanced by the savior. His perfection becomes your perfection. So whatever your limits were, they are now absorbed in Christ making all things possible in Christ. In other words, you can now jump as high as the moon. How cool is that?

    But our dear friend Clark, does not buy into what Robinson teaches. I concede that a GA saying Robinson’s book is inspired does not make it doctrine any more than GAs saying Eternal Life must be earned is doctrine. We seem to be at an impasse. But I am not one to doubt Clark’s prowess to see things I miss. I like teasing him, but I do have the utmost respect for him as a person and what he knows.

  153. NathanG said

    CEF, thanks. I think my understanding of grace has really improved since reading this post (and thinking a lot about it). I think there are much better terms to use than earn when describing our part of covenants. I hope that with your statement that you believe the general authorities understand grace, perhaps your frustration can go away as you are not really at odds in doctrine, just in word choice (the remainder of the church will all be at varying levels of understanding and you should try to share as you can.)

    I thought some more on the basketball analogy. It brings a sense of God’s foreknowledge and vast knowledge of his children, because Christ knows what we need (how high we need to be lifted) before we make any attempt to do anything. Also, rather than an analogy where God reaches down from heaven to pull us up, Christ has descended beneath us to lift us up. I can’t figure out accountability in the analogy, but nothing is perfect and I just thought of it last night.

  154. Clark said

    [OK. Sorry for the delay. My wife understandably doesn’t care for me blogging on Friday nights or Saturdays.

    A couple of thoughts on the GA quotes. I’d note most of these were from the 70’s. I was more thinking of recent GAs. I’ll agree that some of the rhetoric in the 60’s and 70’s was unfortunate. Having made that caveat let me raise an additional point.

    There is a difference between salvation and eternal life.

    Salvation (roughly in LDS theology making it to the Celestial Kingdom) is different primarily because one can make it to the Celestial Kingdom but not be exhaltated and be like God. Thehe typical basis for this view (beyond GA commentary over the last century and a half) is D&C 131. Although I must note that some see this tripartite division as a restating of the three degrees of glory and not as three degrees within the highest glory. However the traditional reading is degrees within Celestial glory.

    An additional point I think we need to add contextually is one I agree with Blake Ostler on. Grace is ultimately about God’s love. Grace is ultimately God offering to enter into a relationship with us. Just as I can’t merit my wife’s love in an absolute sense of the term I can’t merit grace. Further God always offers grace before I do anything.

    Yet having said that we can talk about not meriting someone’s love. (Say a wife who loves her abusive husband – we think something is wrong in this relationship) So I do not think terms like “earn” or “merit” are out of bounds even though I agree with Blake in that viewing grace (our relationship with God) in terms of economics misses the point. Yet Blake’s prime view of grace is love and, despite what is sometimes asserted, it’s not inappropriate to talk like this at times. A husband who is not doing what he is supposed to with his family is sometimes spoken of as not earning them or meriting them. On one level this talk is wrong yet on an other it is quite right.

    The bigger point I wish to raise about love though is to note the audience of the talks you quoted. They are primarily written to Mormons. Thus they are people who have through baptism and the endowment already entered into the relationship with god. As I mentioned the focus now is not merely salvation but eternal life. Further what they focus in on are what God in his relationship has asked of us.

    Primarily then the main issue is eternal life vs. salvation and what is asked of us in a relationship vs. the offering of the relationship.

    Hope that helps.

  155. Clark said

    Let me add a second thought. I think love and relationships defy in a certain way all metaphors. They are foundational in that sense. Yet, when attempting to describe something about them that people are missing we can only use metaphor. Yet we should always recognize the metaphors ultimately fail. I think this is doubly true of scriptural metaphors for the atonement. And often economic metaphors are used. The fact they are, in a sense, wrong doesn’t mean they are always inappropriate.

    So I understand what the GA you spoke of thought when your brother cornered him. Yet I also think that in many ways the earlier talk was quite appropriate. Allow me a few scriptural metaphors.

    …they might reap their rewards according to their works, whether they were good or whether they were bad, to reap eternal happiness or eternal misery, according to the spirit which they listed to obey, whether it be a good spirit or a bad one. For every man receiveth wages of him whom he listeth to obey, and this according to the words of the spirit of prophecy; therefore let it be according to the truth. And thus endeth the fifth year of the reign of the judges. (Alma 3:26-7)

    Note the strong economic metaphor.

    God shows us the way, gives us the plan, and gives us the capabilities but beyond that it is us to us. And that “up to us” can be seen in one sense as earning the opportunities that God gave us. That is grace (and our unmeritness) are presupposed)

    Now the problem with this approach is that to those who don’t take grace as a starting point it seems like people working their way to heaven. Thus misunderstandings by outsiders who think we deny Grace (when clearly we don’t) and even the occasional misunderstanding by those in the Church who attempt to be perfect via a checklist of “to dos” which I think misunderstands the limitations of human nature and the nature of how sanctification takes place. (The need for a resurrection, if nothing else)

    So I think one needs to see ones audience.

  156. Clark said

    One final point I really ought make. Just as we distinguish between salvation and eternal life I think we ought distinguish between what Chauncey Riddle has called the first and second covenants.

    The first covenant (as often interpreted) was given in the council in heaven where the commandment was to, “do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them” (Abr 3:25) Now we all fail in this first covenant. As Paul himself notes. So we have a second covenant which is the idea of a savior. In him we are then able to fulfill the first covenant. Grace deals with this second covenant: salvation in terms of overcoming our sins. Yet, the first covenant remains. Will we be like God? Salvation is giving us the opportunity to thereby earn the merits of this first covenant.

    Now do all Mormons agree with this way of thinking? No. Clearly not. For the record I do. Thus my constant comment about Mormons being semi-Pelegian. That is salvation is the enabling of us to act and earn eternal life.

  157. Clark said

    Note: there was a third comment. I think your spam filter caught it. [Rescued–now comment #156]

  158. CEF said

    NathanG, BrianJ, Robert, Matthew, Clark and anyone else following this, thank you all for taking part in what to me has been a very interesting discussion. I will try and tie up a few loose ends. If this gets too long, I might break it into two posts.

    First, grace is not irresistible in a Calvin sense as I understand it. In the chocolate analogy, my loving chocolate relates to what I would call a universal longing to be loved and forgiven. Even if someone has never personally felt either of those things, I think they are something everyone would like to experience. So when grace (love, forgiveness) is offered it will eventually be accepted and embraced. To me, it is the embracement that makes it heart changing. Just accepting it, I have not seen making the watershed event in ones life. A difference yes, but not the *mighty* change of heart. Some will take a life time to embrace it, for others it will be the moment they really believe Christ has saved them already, not after a life time of doing good works.

    Clark asked a good question about Laman and Lemuel and even Satan in regards to my claim. I believe the offer is available to everyone at all times, but our free will means that we do not have to accept it. It will be something that certain people will knowingly understand and acknowledge, and looking Christ in the eye saying “ I would rather spend the rest of eternity in darkness than spend another minuet in your presence.” Pure evil exists just as surely as the pure love of Christ, the two opposites that seem to govern the universe.

    When I talk about being afraid to accept grace, it is a relatively new idea for me. It came about in a conversation I had with the guy that converted my wife when she was fourteen years old. (I happened to be here when she turned 18 and got to baptize her) A few years ago, we were in SLC to see my oldest daughter and husband. We went by to see the guy and his wife. My wife brought up grace, she always does, and so we talked about our problem in the Church. This guy rubs shoulders with GA s, lives across the street from one.

    Before I knew it, I was in a one on one conversation with his wife. An extremely bright and gifted woman. She made a statement that blew me away. She said, “I have been afraid to embrace grace.” We had already been there longer than we had planed, so we had to excuse ourselves and leave. I have not talked to her again. Here is my conclusion of what she meant. Although I am not sure what she meant.

    For one of us in the Church, knowing the importance of works, we would know the implications of the embracement of grace. We would know it would be life changing, and perhaps we are just not ready for that kind of commitment/life changing event in our lives. Outside of something like that, I do not know why one would be afraid to embrace grace. But rest assured, it is life changing.

    I will address Clark’s latest post a little latter.

  159. Clark said

    That third comment hasn’t made it up. I suspect it’s buried deep in the gullet of some spam filter. [Rescued–now comment #156] My point was Chauncey Riddle’s argument about the two covenants. Let me briefly summarize. The first covenant is the covenant of Abr 3:25 given in the council in heaven which we all agreed to. Roughly the idea that we’re tested to see if we’ll do all God asks. We all fail at this. The second covenant is the covenant with Christ who overcomes our sin. Salvation deals with the second covenant. Eternal life (or lives as it was sometimes put in Nauvoo) is the first covenant. The second covenant lets us fulfill the first. Grace in the sense CEF is focusing in on deals with the second covenant. Merit with the first.

  160. CEF said

    I am glad Clark did not stress me out today, it would not have been a good day to take off and go see a movie. Thank you Clark for your response, I am glad I am not the only one whose wife is not always pleased with the time I spend here.

    Our making a distinction between salvation and Eternal Life only muddies the water when it comes time for us to talk to our Christian friends and we expect them to understand us. But I do understand the point. It seems like this just boils down to language. I see the same problem in the New Testament between Paul and James. I really like the way Philip Yancey explains this problem. Here is a quote form his book “What’s So Amazing About Grace.” It is kind of long, and I even edited it some.

    “One summer I had to learn basic German in order to
    finish a graduate degree. What a wretched summer!
    … Five nights a week, three hours a night I spent
    memorizing vocabulary and word endings that I would
    never again use. I endured such torture for one
    purpose only: to pass the test and get my degree.

    What if the school registrar had promised me, “Philip,
    we want you to study hard, learn German, and take the
    test, but we promise you in advance that you’ll get a
    passing grade. Your diploma has already been filled
    out.” Do you think I would have spent every
    delectable summer evening inside a hot, stuffy
    apartment? Not a chance. In a nutshell, that was the
    theological dilemma Paul confronts in Romans.

    Why learn German? There are noble reasons, to be sure
    – languages broaden the mind and expand the range of
    communication – but these had never motivated me to
    study German before. I studied for selfish reasons,
    to finish a degree, and only the threat of
    consequences hanging over me caused me to reorder my
    summer priorities. Today, I remember very little of
    the German I crammed into my brain. “The old way of
    the written code” (Paul’s description of the Old
    testament law) produces short-term results at best.

    What would inspire me to learn German? I can think of
    one powerful incentive. If my wife, the woman I fell
    in love with, spoke only German, I would have learned
    the language in record time. Why? I would have a
    desperate desire to communicate mit einer schonen
    Frau. … I would have learned German unbegrudgingly,
    with the relationship itself as my reward.

    That reality helps me understand Paul’s gruff “God
    forbid!” response to the question “Shall we go on
    sinning that grace may increase?” Would a groom on
    his wedding night hold the following conversation with
    hid bride? “Honey, I love you so much, and I’m eager
    to spend my life with you. But I need to work out a
    few details. Now that we’re married, how far can I go
    with other women? Can I sleep with them? Kiss them?
    You don’t mind a few affairs now and then, do you? I
    know it might hurt you, but just think of all the
    opportunities you’ll have to forgive me after I betray
    you!” To such a Don Juan the only reasonable response
    is a slap in the face and a “God forbid!” Obviously,
    he does not understand the first thing about love.

    Similarly, if we approach God with a “What can I get
    away with?” attitude, it proves we do not grasp what
    God has in mind for us. God wants something far
    beyond the relationship I might have with a slave
    master, who will enforce my obedience with a whip.

    Indeed, God wants something more intimate than the
    closest relationship on earth, the lifetime bond
    between a man and a woman. What God Wants is not a
    good performance, but my heart. I do “good works” for
    my wife not in order to earn credit but to express my
    love for her. Likewise, God wants me to serve “in the
    new way of the Spirit” : not out of compulsion but out
    of desire. “Discipleship,” says Clifford Williams,
    “simply means the life which springs from grace.”

    …If we comprehend what Christ has done for us, then
    surely out of gratitude we will strive to live
    “worthy” of such great love. We will strive for
    holiness not to make God love us but because he
    already does. As Paul told Titus, it is the grace of
    God that “teaches us to say No to ungodliness and
    worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright
    and godly lives.”

    I really like the way Yancey thinks and writes. So what is wrong with the above? It seems to me he has a very good understanding of the importance of being dowers of the word not hears only, without saying we have to earn heaven.

    This it way long so I will make other comments in another post.

  161. Clark said

    Our making a distinction between salvation and Eternal Life only muddies the water when it comes time for us to talk to our Christian friends and we expect them to understand us.

    That’s just an inherent problem in discussing. Our theology is both maddening similar yet different from our Evangelical friends. When we both use scriptural language yet mean quite different things by it the opportunity for misunderstanding is high. Thus the utility of philosophy as a means of understanding.

    As to your Yancy quote. What is wrong with it? Nothing, as far as it goes. Yet if love is foundational but we have to explain it we’re stuck using metaphors and analogies that violate our understanding in a certain way. This, taken to its logical position, leads to a rhetoric much like medieval negative theology. We say something and then immediately deny it. However for regular discussions, especially in Church, that’s not helpful and actually leads to much more confusion than enlightenment.

  162. CEF said

    Clark – When you say #155 “That is grace (and our unmeritness) are presupposed)”, I would agree, but that causes a problem. Our critics use it against us, and too many members quote such things not understating the grace and unmeritness that are presupposed. To make my point more clear/without a straw man, here are a few quotes from “The Broken Heart” by Elder Hafen. He talks about a reporter for Newsweek that comes to SL to do a story on the Church. Page 2&3.

    Newsweek summarized our understanding to the Atonement in these words: “According to Mormon tradition, not only did Adam’s fall make procreation possible, it also established the conditions for human freedom and moral choice. Unlike orthodox Christians, Mormons believe that men are born free of sin and earn their way to godhood by the proper exercise of free will, rather than through the grace of Jesus Christ. Thus Jesus’ suffering and death in the Mormon view were brotherly acts of compassion, but they do not atone for the sins of others. For this reason, Mormons do not include the cross in their iconography nor do they place much emphasis on Easter.”
    There was a person that responded to the article in hopes of showing the author how wrong he was. This is the response of the author that wrote the article.
    “It seems that [the letter’s author] doesn’t’t understand the distinction between a book review and a magazine article. I did read several books of Mormon scripture and theology before I wrote the article. My intent, however, was not to review books but rather to report how representative members of the LDS Church describe and interpret their own traditions… The point is to determine what doctrines of a church are genuinely infused into the lifeblood of its adherents.”
    Elder Hafen, then says … At the same time, the magazine writer’s observation about Church members’ actual understanding of the Atonement rings just true enough to leave me equally troubled about the level of our own doctrinal literacy. It is disturbing that some Latter-day Saints might convey incorrect ideas to members of other faiths; but in some ways it concerns me even more that this limited understanding might deny those same Latter-day Saints the reassurance and guidance they may desperately need at pivotal moments in their personal lives.

    I think the problem of speaking unclearly is self evident in this story.

  163. CEF said

    Clark #159 – “The second covenant lets us fulfill the first.” If I understand you, then I think we agree. I believe it is the grace of the second covenant that allows us to gain Eternal Life. We just cannot get there on our own.

  164. Clark said

    CEF, with regards to Newsweek, I think it simply bad reporting. I don’t think every GA talk has to presuppose naive and uneducated members. (Although to be frank that is how conference has gone the last 20 years – much to its detriment in my opinion)

  165. CEF said

    Clark – I would agree that the article from Newsweek does not represent our views. I mean, I would never have thought someone would think we do not place much emphasis on Easter. But I believe it does deserve more thought than a simple dismissal.

    Assuming he is honest, as I would, then where does that kind of understanding come from? I would maintain he reported just what he thought we believe from what we say about our doctrine. Such as, we can earn our way to heaven, could lead one to believe that we do not place much emphasis on Easter. Why would we if we can get there on our own without the savior?

    Here is another quote from Elder Hafen.
    On page three and page four, Elder Hafen say this; “Despite this remarkable truth about the Book of Mormon, we Latter-day Saints are, for the most part, only superficially acquainted with our own doctrines of grace, mercy, justice, and the Atonement. As an indication of our reluctance to consider the principle of grace, one researcher found only one serious article on grace in the periodicals published by the Church in the twenty-three years from 1961-1983.”

    If our language does not make a big difference, how does something like the above happen? I believe the reason Paul tried to make such a big deal out of being saved by grace, not works is because he knew that people have a natural inclination to try and do things on their own, and of course taking credit for it.

    I know we are doing better now, but at the pace we are going it will take years to correct it.

    So, I have made my best effort to explain how I see things in the Church. I would greatly appreciate it if someone/anyone/everyone would show me how what I believe is bad enough to be called a heretic and asked to not talk about grace so much. What do I believe that is all messed up?

    Here is the quote from Elder Hafen that answered the question my SP asked me that took over a year of looking to find. “Why don’t the GAs teach grace the same way you do?”

    Page 4&5. “I was surprised on one occasion to hear a senior General Authority tell me something in a private conversation that allowed for greater flexibility on a particular issue than I had expected to hear. I told him how valuable I thought it would be if more members of the Church could hear his counsel, because what is said across the desk can so nicely clarify what is said over the pulpit. He replied that private counsel can be adapted to the attitudes and understanding of the person being counseled. If that same counsel were given publicly to an audience that included individuals of insufficient background of commitment, it might appear to give license to those whose needs require mot more flexibility, but less.”

    It does not specifically mention grace, but from the context of what he is talking about, I would not know what else it could be. I wish the leaders had more confidence in it’s members.

  166. Clark said

    CEF, I’d agree with Elder Hafen regarding the general ignorance of members. Of course I’d say that about the general ignorance of members on anything. Most people just don’t even read their scripture, let alone study them topically. Perhaps that’s why General Conference in many ways has been “dumbed down” the last decades. (Although to be fair the fact that half our members are probably new members of the last 10 years probably has something to do with it as well)

    My point is we can’t criticize simply because someone speaks assuming an at least semi-informed audience. If that is your demand – that we always assume ignorance – then I just have to strongly disagree.

  167. Clark said

    Actually I suppose your last paragraph undermines what I attributed to you.

    I guess we’re agreeing to a point. I’m not sure what the solution is. Of course the last 10 – 15 years there have been a lot of talks on grace. There has been a change of emphasis, although I sometimes think that like a pendulum the other side has been neglected at times. But I have faith that in terms of picking content the brethren are inspired. So I really can’t criticize what they say in Conference as I’m sure it’s what the church needs. I’m just a bit cranky I suppose since I think sometimes other stuff is neglected. Although to be fair that kind of stuff one can find if one studies. Ultimately we should be focusing on scripture study rather than waiting passively for information to be given to us.

    Part of me just wishes the membership would get the basics down, read their scriptures, come prepared to Sunday School and Priesthood, etc. I suspect that if we as a people did that Conference talks would change accordingly.

  168. brianj said

    CEF, #165: “I would greatly appreciate it if someone/anyone/everyone would show me how what I believe is bad enough to be called a heretic and asked to not talk about grace so much. What do I believe that is all messed up?”

    My concern is that you feel that what you believe about grace is sufficiently opposed to what other LDS believe that it sanctions becoming estranged from them (on several different levels). You might consider Elder Hafen as a model of one who (likely) feels as you do, yet he has (apparently) been able to “patiently endure” the slow process of change in the Church as a whole. He remains a part of the change process, whereas you (at least in regard to your SP, and possibly others?) have a diminished connection. You can’t help paddle if you’re not in the boat.

    (Here’s a thought—write a letter to Elder Hafen and ask his advice.)

    Rhetorically: When Justice is slandered, how does she respond? How does Mercy respond to the same offense? What about Grace?

  169. I would like to comment on two things. First the verses themselves in Eph. 2:8-9, and second, the relationship between grace and works. I’m going to use separate posts for the two comments.

    For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:

    Not of works, lest any man should boast.

    The key to understanding that scripture is, I believe, the word “gift”. The traditional interpretation of the word “gift” is that God gives salvation to us as a gift, implying a free gift. However, I believe the writer of Ephesians was referring to a different gift. The word “gift” is from the Greek word doron and refers to a present in the form of a sacrifice or offering. I believe the “gift” was Jesus Christ. God gave Jesus Christ as his gift to us, i.e. Christ gave us the atonement. For me, Ephesians 2:8-9 is clear if I refer to the Greek meaning and substitute the word sacrifice for the word gift.

    For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is [comes through] the sacrifice of God:

    Not of works, lest any man should boast.

  170. Jim F. said

    Allen Leigh: This is a helpful reminder for reading Ephesians 2:8-9 carefully. thanks.

    However, one minor correction. The word doron just means “gift.” Though it is sometimes used to refer to sacrifices (as in Matthew 5:23 and Hebrews 5:1), indeed more often than not, that is not its only use. The same word is used in Matthew 2:11 and Revelation 11:10 to refer to things that one person gives another without cost, a gift in the usual sense. It is also used to gifts of money to the temple (which were not sacrifices under Jewish law), as in Luke 21:1, as well as to the gifts that God gives to human beings, as in Ephesians 2:8. The last of these one underscores the point you are making: Christ is the gift to us, God’s sacrifice.

    Thanks again.

  171. I was a missionary in 1956 when I first heard about grace, and I didn’t understand very well what the writer (a BYU prof) was saying. Later on, as I studied the scriptures, I began to understand the grace of God and how our works fit into the scheme of things. The verses that have helped me the most in understanding grace are from D&C 19:16-19, especially verses 16 and 17.

    For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent;

    But if they would not repent they must suffer even as I;

    God through his grace gave us life as his spirit children.

    God through his grace gave us this mortal world to help us in our progression to become like him.

    God through his grace gave us a Savior who provided the way back to God.

    Jesus Christ through his grace gave us the resurrection.

    Jesus Christ through his grace gave us remission of sins.

    Jesus Christ through his grace will give us a place in the three kingdoms of glory via his redemption. If we become a son (or daughter) of Perdition, we will not partake of the redemption.

    But, what do we have to do to receive these gifts?

    In our pre-earth life, we had to choose to follow Christ rather than follow Lucifer. We helped defeat Lucifer in the war in Heaven. Revelation 12:11 tells us that it was our testimonies coupled with Jesus’ atonement that defeated Lucifer.

    Now that we are here in mortality, we don’t have to do anything to receive the resurrection. That gift was given to all as an unconditional gift.

    But, we learn from D&C 19:16-17 that the give of remission of sins (i.e. salvation) was given as a conditional gift. Christ suffered for our sins that if we repent we might not suffer for those sins (v. 16). But, if we don’t repent then we must suffer for our sins (v. 17).

    My interpretation of this is that our repentance, and by implication acts of service, (i.e. works) are a doorway by which the atonement removes our sins. We repent for one reason and one reason only — to change our behavior. Our repentance does not cause our sins to be forgiven. Our acts of service do not cause our sins to be forgiven. Our repentance and service change our behavior such that we become more like Christ. We are not working our way to Heaven. We are changing our behavior so we are more like Christ. And, in so doing, we open the door to the Atonement, and Christ’s Atonement, his blood so to speak, removes our sins and we have salvation. So, salvation is an act of grace, but that gift is given only to those who do “all that we can do” to change their behavior and live more as Christ would live.

    Of course, none of us can ever in mortality become like Jesus. All we can do is try to as much as we can. We all have different personalities. We all come from different backgrounds. We all have our own weaknesses and vices. We just have to keep on trying to improve. When we fall down due to our human weaknesses, we just have to try to pick ourselves up and go forward. God will, I believe, judge us according to the conditions we lived in during our mortal stay on earth. He will judge us according to the sincere and honest desires of our hearts and our wanting to become like him and in changing our behavior to become more like him. Even though we love God and Jesus Christ, even though we seek to be with God again, even though try to change our behavior and become more like Christ, we will fail, because we are human. We will always have imperfections, weaknesses, sins in our lives, and Christ’s atonement will remove the blemishes from our lives that we can’t overcome because of our humanism. I am thankful for the grace of God. I am thankful for Jesus’ suffering for my sins that I might not suffer for them if I repent and try to become more like him.

    This is how I see it.

  172. Thanks, JimF, for your comments about the word doron. I’m not a student of the Greek, so I relied on Strong’s concordance. It’s been quite a few years since I studied Ephesians 2:8-9, and I don’t remember if Strong gave several meanings to that word. I do remember that he included sacrifice in his meaning of the word. I’ve moved a couple of times since then, and my copy of Strong is misplaced somewhere :)

  173. Robert C. said

    Allen, thanks for these thoughts. I think there’s a danger that we face in thinking about the pre-mortal life in a way that undermines notions of grace. That is, I think it’s dangerous to start thinking that our lot in this life is a result of pre-mortal decisions because it quickly leads to an attitude that we earn what we receive. I know you weren’t saying this, it’s just your comments made me think about this….

    Here is the link to the Blue Letter Bible’s entry on doron—I’ve found the resources at this site very helpful, so I recommend checking it out, even if you do find your Lexicon. (If you click on any verse and then click the “C” next to it, there is a handy Interlinear page that opens with links to every word used.)

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