Romans 8

This review of Romans 8 is provided by Seth, an active Mormon

People sometimes gripe that a chapter-by-chapter treatment of a book like Romans cannot possibly do justice to the full message of the work taken-together. On this I completely agree. You simply cannot read a single chapter of Romans in isolation and get a real sense of what Paul is talking about. I think many casual students of the Bible – both in Mormon and Protestant contexts – do themselves a real disservice in their studies in their tendency toward the “chapter-a-day” method of scripture study. However, we need these artificial divisions to keep life and discussion manageable, so an approach like this is probably unavoidable. But I’d still like to provide a quick overview of where we are, and where we’ve come from when we arrive at Romans chapter 8. I think focusing mainly on chapters 6 and 7 (with reference to other scripture passages), will be sufficient for this purpose in a bare-bones sort of way.

The first eight chapters of Romans might be broken down in this fashion:

  1. Man’s sin and need for justification – Chapters 1-3
  2. The nature of justification: its basis and its benefits – Chapters 3-5
  3. Justification and the goal of righteousness – Chapters 6-8

I am only focusing in this intro on #3 – Justification and the goal of righteousness. This run of three chapters in 6-8 has often been popularly referred to by Protestant scholars and speakers as “The Agony and the Ecstasy.” We go through the impossible dilemma and “agony” of the problem facing Paul in chapters 6 and 7, and then in chapter 8 are treated to the “ecstasy” of the glorious vision and promise of chapter 8.

Paul first argues the necessity of personal righteousness in Romans 6:1 to 7:6. He makes it absolutely clear that righteousness is required and expected of us. There is a strain of “libertine” sort of thinking in some corners of Protestantism that tries to argue that all righteousness is corrupt or that we don’t need to be bothered with it. This is to completely misread Paul. He always speaks approvingly of righteousness, and considers it to be necessary in Christian life. But what Paul is seeking for is not just isolated good behavior, but rather an “obedience of faith” (Romans 1:5) – an obedience that inevitably accompanies saving faith. His argument is that justification must always result in good works.

Specifically in Romans 6:1-2, Paul rhetorically asks “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace might increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?” Paul has no sympathy for the self-esteem-obsessed libertine who wishes to simply use his words to feel comfortable with “the way I am.” Similarly, in Romans 3:31 Paul makes it clear that his intent has never been to nullify the Law through exercise of faith. Many misread Paul in this respect and craft a distorted narrative where it is the Law of Moses that was corrupt (and not just its followers), and Jesus’ ministry was somehow supposed to nullify the Law of Moses and allow us all to be saved – regardless of whether we are really any good or not. Paul condemns this line of thought, and makes it clear that the Law of God is not evil, but “holy and righteous and good” (Romans 7:12). Paul’s argument is not that righteousness is worthless, but rather that we of humanity are utterly inadequate to the task of obtaining it. Thus Paul’s lament in Romans 6:24 “Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?” Paul is not trivializing righteous works, but pointing out how impossible it is for us to actually do them. The spirit may be willing, but the flesh is weak. In the last 7 chapters of Romans, Paul has set up the impossibility of the situation we find ourselves in, and consequently the dilemma facing God our Father.

We desire to become righteous, but we cannot. God desires to glorify us, but the task seems impossible. How can either we or God live with this state of affairs? This is the “agony” of the Epistle to the Romans.

In chapters 3-5, Paul outlines justification and how we may be forgiven of our sins. He has spoken of a justification through faith, rather than the old performances of the Law of Moses (Romans 3:28). He has spoken of the saving faith of Abraham that allowed God to gift Abraham with that which Abraham could not obtain on his own in chapter 4. And he has spoken of the crucifying of our old and sinful selves with Christ in the first portion of Chapter 6. As such, we followers of Christ can be forgiven for our sins.

A wonderful message, but it doesn’t go far enough. Justification is merely the forgiveness of sin, not the eradication of it. It deals with the penalties associated with sin, but does not deal with the power sin holds over our world. If we end Romans here, we merely forgive the world, but do not save it.

God’s promise was not to merely forgive his people – but to make them holy. If the only point of the Gospel of Jesus were to forgive people, it would have been a wasted effort. Where is the holy nation of Israel? Where is the realization of Zion? Where is the end of iniquity? Are we not merely back to square one? What is the use of producing a world full of useless degenerates who have been forgiven, but essentially unchanged? This is where we come to chapter 8 of Romans – where the other shoe drops. This is where we learn of the work not of Jesus Christ, but of the Holy Spirit. Not of Justification, but of Sanctification.

We can divide Romans 8 into three sections: verses 1-27 describe the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer; verse 28-30 emphasize the sovereignty of God in obtaining a holy people; and verses 31-39 contain a joyous outburst of praise from Paul at the realization that God most certainly will ensure the fulfillment of all his glorious promises to Israel – and by extension, to all of us.

The Ministry of the Holy Spirit and Sanctification of the Saints
In Romans 8 verses 1-3, Paul reiterates that the penalty of sin has been met and we have been set free. Christ was sent to accomplish what the Law alone could not. But in verse 4, Paul takes us to the conclusion – how we are to become holy “according to the Spirit.” Verses 6-8 outline the problem that STILL faces us – even after the work of Christ’s forgiveness. For we may have been forgiven, but we are still no better than we were. Not only is the sinful mind of man hostile to God, but it is not capable of being otherwise (Romans 8:7, 2 Nephi 26:11). There is no way in this situation to please God (Romans 8:8).

But in verse 9, Paul presents us an out. Through Christ’s work in justifying us – we have been given access to the Holy Spirit. We are no longer controlled by the restrictions of the flesh which we stood helpless before, but we are now controlled by the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:9). It is this being who now works upon us and means to make saints of us all.

Romans chapter 8, incidentally, is the most concentrated teaching on the Holy Spirit (for Evangelicals) or “Holy Ghost” (for Mormons) in the Book of Romans. The term “spirit” has only occurred four times in Romans in the chapters leading up to 8, and more than half of those meant instead the spirit of man. The term spirit however occurs no less than 18 or 19 times in Romans 8 – depending which translation you are using. It is definitely the star character of the entire chapter, and rarely do you see this member of the Godhead in such prominent place in the Bible. Just as the Holy Ghost raised Christ from the dead, that same Holy Spirit means to raise us from the grave of sin in glory (Romans 8:10-11).

But now Paul speaks of an obligation put upon us to live in that new Spirit (Romans 8:12). But let us be clear, he is not calling us to merit God’s approval – of ourselves. Paul has made it clear that we are powerless slaves before the circumstances we find ourselves in. We have no freedom to forge our own course in the world. We have one freedom, and one freedom only – to choose which power we will be controlled by. Shall we be controlled by the sinful nature? Or by the Spirit? This is the question of Romans 8:9. It is also the choice presented by uniquely LDS scripture such as Mosiah 3:19 (see also Mosiah 27:25).

So where do we go from here? How is the Spirit going to bring this about? In verse 13 – after Paul speaks of our new “obligation” – it is mentioned that we must put to death the sins of the flesh. But it is through the intervention of the Holy Spirit that we do this. Through the work of the Holy Spirit, we are sanctified and made truly righteous before God (see also D&C 84:33 for additional LDS context on the work of sanctification). The crowning achievement of this work of sanctification is that we are adopted as God’s own children. We become the sons and daughters of God (Romans 8:14-17). This obviously has a lot of additional meaning for LDS notions if theosis, but this is not a topic I want to detour into here (for more on this see D&C 76:51-62).

In any case, it is a glorious vision. The impossible situation we found ourselves in has been unlocked, and the way to freedom lies open before us. Not only have we been forgiven in Christ (Justification), but we have also been given the means to actually become good through the Spirit (Sanctification). God promised a holy people in times of old, and he means to have it. God was not a mere boasting liar promising the impossible. When he made the covenant, he prepared a way for it to actually happen.

And let us not forget that the dilemma was not just our dilemma – it was God’s dilemma as well. In fact, I would suggest that Romans is actually more about God’s dilemma than ours. He promised big with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. And for a long time, it looked like he wasn’t going to be able to make good on those boasts. The very integrity of God was at stake. But here we see that he is certainly going to pull through for us if we will have him as our Father.

Neither was it only God’s dilemma and ours. Paul notes that all creation itself was in bondage waiting for this moment (Romans 8:19-21) – the moment when God would redeem his children, and end the suffering both of humanity, and the creation that surrounds them. The planet itself and all that fills it will be liberated as well (see also D&C 63:20-21). As a woman in labor (Romans 8:22), the suffering of the earth has been great, but the end is in sight when we ourselves are revealed reborn as the children of God (Romans 8:23). This is a work in progress and not yet completed however – as Romans 8:24-25 make quite clear (for additional context on the idea of hope in Christ, see also Moroni 7:40-44 and Ether 12:3-9). Patience is called for here before our final revelation as the children of God. LDS scripture terms this “enduring to the end’ (1 Nephi 13:37; 2 Nephi 31:15; Omni 1:26; Alma 5:13; Alma 32:13; 3 Nephi 27:6; Moroni 3:3; D&C 14:7; D&C 63:20), but the meaning is the same. After the moment of forgiveness, come the fruits of conversion that must continue.

At this point, we can hardly blame Paul for getting a bit carried away in the moment and bursting into praise. First we have praise for the foresight and knowledge of God in bringing this about (Romans 8:28-30). [Note: I also don’t want to get sidetracked here on a debate about predestination (for an example of how LDS deal with this notion, see D&C 121:34-36).] Then comes a declaration of confidence in God’s triumph in which we share (Romans 8:31), and then astonishment that God would go so far for us – even sending his own son to death on our behalf (Romans 8:32), and finally the love of the Son himself for us – a love which triumphs over all adversity and has made all God’s promises possible (Romans 8:33-39; D&C 34:3). As I have often maintained – LOVE is the key defining attribute of divinity and of God. This love was thwarted by our estrangement from God in the Fall of Adam and Eve (see also 3 Nephi 19:20-23). But it finds its solution in the Atonement – not just in the event of Justification from God the Son – but in the process of Sanctification in God the Spirit. Indeed the love of God finds its clearest expression in these two aspects of the Atonement of Jesus Christ.

Deeply moved at the realization, Paul exclaims in verses 38-39:

“For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor heavenly rulers, nor things that are present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

God found a way to bring us back, and to make us into something we ourselves will scarcely recognize.

Thoughts for LDS-Evangelical Dialogue

The nature of the Atonement is one of the most hotly contested doctrines in scripture between Mormons and Evangelicals. And frankly, I think we both share the blame in that. Neither of us accurately express the full depth and scope of Christ’s Atonement when speaking to each other. We BOTH fall short of doing the doctrine justice, and Romans 8 provides part of the key.

The problem is that we both wade into these debates expecting a fight with people who “just don’t get it.” Both of us are already convinced from the first that the other is deeply misguided and ready to try and undermine our own precious faith and deny our own treasured promises. As a result, we craft our arguments and our testimonials not from a desire to convey the truth of Paul’s message, but from a desire to defend turf, score points, and trounce opponents.

We Mormons are as guilty of this as anyone. We are so convinced that Evangelicals are just a bunch of lazy layabouts more interested in shallow self-esteem seminars than in serving God, that we overcompensate and craft ALL our discussion of the Atonement toward the need for righteous works. Many of us even go so far as distort our OWN doctrine of the Atonement and twist it into a doctrine of “salvation by works.” I’ll admit it – many Mormons do preach salvation by works. We have cut off our own nose to spite our own face so to speak. We’ve presented a false representation of our own Gospel to the world in order to appear more fierce in debate with our opponents. But this is not in line with the LDS canon of scripture.

Other factors are at work here. Much of the focus of the Restored Gospel deals with the work of Sanctification mentioned here in Romans 8. The program of the LDS Church is geared toward that life in the Spirit – which aims to perfect us. But we’ve lost our way here. In our focus on the work of Sanctification, we have either forgotten, or trivialized the work of Justification. We take for granted the work of Christ, and hurry on to the work of the Holy Ghost without really appreciating what got us here in the first place (or indeed – if we have even arrived at all yet). I saw this in full evidence during a class on the Fall of Adam taught in an LDS Elders Quorum meeting. Many in attendance seemed to be cavalier if not outright dismissive of the full weight and evil that the Fall brought about. They shifted uncomfortably when I mentioned some of the evils that we have the Fall to thank for – rape, murder, genocide, holocaust, warfare, theft of entire nations livelihoods. These evils were dismissively waved away in favor of blithe explanations of how “God solved all that.”

Let me be blunt – we Mormons often fail to appreciate the full weight and gravity of the terrible situation we are in. And since we do not appreciate the problem, we will not really appreciate the solution. You can’t skip steps. You can’t ignore the problem and skip straight to the solution just because it’s more cheerful. But I think many of us have inadvertently done exactly this.

Now the other hand….

Evangelicals have screwed this debate up just as badly as the Mormons have. And like the Mormons, it arises from the same combative stances, and the same distortion of your own Gospel heritage. If Mormons have skipped the problem outlined in Paul’s doctrine of Justification and run straight ahead to Sanctification, many Evangelicals have done the opposite and parked their Gospel buses in the Justification parking lot and are refusing to move ahead to Sanctification. So much of Evangelical argument with Mormons consists of telling Mormons how filthy human beings are, and how great being forgiven is, that Mormons might well be forgiven for thinking that this is really all Evangelicalism has to offer:

“You’re ugly! You’re filthy! You’re going to hell! But God will forgive you – The End.”

I don’t think it takes too much reflection to see that this is not exactly an attractive message. It offers very little – and it’s only motivation is one of fear of punishment (always one of the weakest forms of motivation). Besides which, it is not true to Paul’s message at all. It ignores the crucial message of Romans 8 that God intends to do much, much more with us than merely forgive us. He has a plan and a purpose for us. Evangelical outreach to Mormons often never reaches this glorious conclusion, nor does it often attempt to understand how Mormons themselves may already be pursuing it.

In short, I think both of our sides could stand to offer a little more to the other side. Mormons need to do a better job of demonstrating that they appreciate the real depth of the problems Christ’s ministry meant to solve. Mormons could perhaps do with a bit more of the feelings that drove Paul (and Nephi) to cry out “oh, wretched man that I am!” On the other side, Evangelical really need to do a better job of selling their product. A lot more work needs to be done to correct the perception that Evangelicalism is a Gospel of “forgive and forget about it” – that once you hit the point of forgiveness, your religious observance is more or less over. More needs to be done to bring it out of the clouds and down to earth where the Gospel really impacts the saints. Mormons need to know that the Gospel offers more than just mere forgiveness, but a way to become holy before God as well. As long as Evangelicals focus only on the forgiveness and nothing else, they will always fail to reach this desperate need within those they teach. And they will fail to realize the full scope of Paul’s teachings.

The crucial message that Mormons and Evangelicals alike need to be discussing and unitedly proclaiming to the world is that not only did God forgive the world, but he prepared a way to actually redeem it too. Romans chapter 8 is, I think, the key passage in making this connection.

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250 thoughts on “Romans 8

  1. Seth, when are you going to write your own populist book on LDS – Evangelical dialogue in America?

    I tend to interpret chapters 6 & 7 as Paul’s parantheticals to keep us from swinging the gospel pendulum to extremes.

    After reading Romans 5:21, one could jump right into the conclusion of the matter – Romans 8:1 (and no fear, no doubt, no discouragement, and no separation).

  2. Well Todd, it was a real learning experience to write about it. The interplay between justification and sanctification has been bothering me for a while, and it was good to seriously dive into it.

    Incidentally, for anyone who has not discovered NET Bible, it is a fantastic resource for Bible study. It linked me to a couple very good articles by Protestant authors dealing with Romans chapter 8. Here are the links:

    http://bible.org/seriespage/responsibilities-justification-agony-and-ecstasy-romans-618211839

    http://bible.org/seriespage/siding-spirit-romans-81-17

    Didn’t have time to check out the other articles linked to that chapter. But wonderful resource, and it got me to appreciate all the groundwork in biblical exegesis non-Mormon Christian scholars and writers have done (which Mormons unfortunately don’t take advantage of often enough).

  3. Seth,
    I have nothing of substance to add right now, but I want to tell you that this is a fantastic write-up.

  4. Todd, I think some of the authors I read take a somewhat similar view to yours with respect to chapters 6 and 7. They framed the chapters as warning against the opposed, yet related evils of libertinism (which rejects all God’s standards as worthless and wrongly uses grace more as a feel-good mechanism for avoiding responsibility or morality), and the evils of legalism (which denies our fallen state and tries to substitute a strict complex code of behaviors for a genuine relationship with God through Christ).

    So there may be something to that – although I still think that 6 and 7 act as good summary introductions to the capstone message in chapter 8.

  5. Seth, when one truly hears a sermon on amazing grace preached with passion and power to sinners, Romans 6:1 is the natural reaction.

    So here is my question. How many sermons have we heard, where after the sermon, this natural question pops up – “Does that mean he or she can just live like the devil this week?”

    Preaching pure grace will fire up that question all the time among moral people.

    But secondly, when one hears a sermon on being a disciple of Jesus Christ and a servant of God, how many people desire to go back and renew a fervent practice of religious rule/covenant keeping?

    These chapters are masterful in exploring the heart issues.

  6. Really nice write-up, Seth. I couldn’t agree with you more on the idea that Mormons have often swung the pendulum too far into Sanctification (and I would add, rewards in heaven) to the neglect of Justification, and evangelicals have often neglected Sanctification in their efforts to focus on Justification.

    I think all of the questions I want to ask are along the lines of things you said you didn’t want to sidetrack into in the post.

    So, I guess I’ll just leave it at, well done.

  7. Todd, that’s kind of the sense that I get just from listening to Christian radio and eavesdropping on Evangelical websites and articles meant for Evangelical consumption. When you have Evangelicals talking to Evangelicals, there seems to be a lot of care taken to avoid the problem of libertinism.

    It’s just when said Evangelicals learn that a Mormon is in the room that they start swinging toward the rhetorical excesses that I mentioned.

    Jack, I really did think that the technical doctrine of predestination was a side-issue to what Paul’s main thrust in this chapter was. More of a tangent of technical theology from the words of a man who I don’t think was really thinking in a precise technical fashion (like later students of Paul – such as Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, and Calvin).

    Theosis is more tempting, of course. But to adequately cover it, I’d have to pull from a much wider range of scripture beyond Romans. And the write-up was already long enough I thought.

  8. (Chuckling)

    How often after listening to General Conference, does this question pop up on a Sunday night, “This grace is so incredible, so super abounding, so completely thorough in washing away every one of my sins for all of my life – so I suppose it doesn’t matter how I live this week.”

    I don’t think that I have ever felt that gut reaction in all my years of living and listening to LDS speakers here in the I-15 Corridor.

    But bringing Romans 8 back into the picture: to be able to say, “I have no condemnation, forever.” To be able to say without batting an eye, “I am glorified.”

    Wow, that is incredible.

    And let’s remember that sanctification comes with bookends in Romans 8:

    The bookends are three words – en christo iesou

    Those are probably the three most precious words to me in this most precious of chapters – Christ Jesus is the treasure house of my justification, sanctification, and glorification.

    In Christ, I have it all. Absolutely everything. How can anybody even try to add anything to what one in Christ already has?

    (And the warning is that outside of Christ, there is not one good thing a person can do that is pleasing to the Father, Son, and Spirit. It is the height of rebellion against heaven to seek to do good outside of Jesus Christ.)

  9. Nice job Seth.

    If you haven’t read this Chapter in The Message, you should. It’s beautiful.

    http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans%208&version=MSG

    Jack, I really did think that the technical doctrine of predestination was a side-issue to what Paul’s main thrust in this chapter was. More of a tangent of technical theology from the words of a man who I don’t think was really thinking in a precise technical fashion (like later students of Paul – such as Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, and Calvin).

    I get the distinct impression that every verse about predestination is a side issue to a larger point.

  10. Seth,

    I am going to agree and disagree with you about Evangelicals’ approach to atonement, works, justification etc. in the paragraph where you said:

    Evangelicals have screwed this debate up just as badly as the Mormons have…Mormons might well be forgiven for thinking that this is really all Evangelicalism has to offer.

    I agree in the sense that I am sure you meant this, American Evangelicalism of the past 50 or so years has screwed up their end of the debate. There I have no disagreement. Too much of American Evangelicalism has lost touch with its historical roots, both in the early church fathers and in the Reformation. Because of that you end up seeing heated rhetoric spewed out mainly as part of an attack/counter-attack argument, where the point is to win points, not deal with theological profundities.

    However, I would like to disagree in a larger sense, Mormons and Evangelicals take the sides they take because both sides are hard wired to take these particular positions.

    The seeds of the Evangelical approach to grace goes right back to the original Protestant/Catholic debates of the late 15-teens and early 1520s. By 1530, the Protestant approach to grace was pretty much hammered out and the debates were over. So, this kind of polemic and the supporting theology was born out of debate, but not the Mormon/American Evangelical variety. By the time Mormons and Evangelicals decided to start talking to each other, the Evangelical position was already well over 400 years old.

    The Mormon position was cemented very early as well when Mormonism decided to position itself as Christianity + “The Missing Pieces.” If the Protestant/Evangelical position on grace is correct, then it’s grace alone and “The Missing Pieces” part of Mormonism is completely unnecessary. Since Mormonism has to say that “The Missing Pieces” are necessary, for its very existence, it cannot agree with the Protestant/Evangelical position.

    My point is that there are theological and existential reasons why the debates play out this way. Only at the surface level can this be explained by an appeal to rhetorical maneuvering.

  11. Seth ~ I was more curious to explore what Mormons believe about being sons and daughters of God. As you point out, Romans 8:14-17 seems to argue that we become sons (and daughters) of God through faith. But the LDS church heavily preaches that all human beings are already sons and daughters of God, with or without faith, and some Mormons use this as a cudgel against other Christians for teaching that we are “mere creations” of God. I know that it’s theosis-related, but it’s the first part of the equation that I’ve never really understood. In what sense are total unbelievers “sons and daughters of God” in the LDS cosmology?

    If it’s something that’s going to sidetrack you though, you don’t have to try to answer.

  12. Todd-

    But bringing Romans 8 back into the picture: to be able to say, “I have no condemnation, forever.” To be able to say without batting an eye, “I am glorified.”

    Wow, that is incredible.

    Don’t you mean “I am justified?”

    LDS teaching is that once we are justified, we are rewarded according to the law that we desire to live, whether the higher or the lower, and our glorification is determined by what we choose, God offers all of his glory to those willing to receive it.

    It is the height of rebellion against heaven to seek to do good outside of Jesus Christ.

    I can’t see how this conclusion follows from Romans. I think this sort of thinking leads to a distorted view of the world.

    LDS teaching is that righteousness of any variety is its own reward. God does not find us rebellious when we are righteous, just inadequate and compensated.

  13. Jared, look at those tenses in Romans 8. Why stated thus? I believe God desires us to look at it as if it were a done deal.

    My predestination is that the boundaries of my life have been marked out so that I will be completely conformed to the image of the Lord Jesus Christ.

    And who is going to stop God?

    _____

    And secondly, we differ on the righteousness. If it weren’t for the Bible, I would probably be ecumenical, Jared. :) And that there are all these different paths, and that each path can just be added upon (just pick your own). But I am confronted with the book of Romans. And Romans has one key word above all the others – it’s righteousness. And this righteousness of God is exclusive – it’s grace alone through Christ alone. And how to obtain the righteousness of God is exclusive. To disregard this is to be disobedient to the faith. No matter how good one is. No matter how sincere one is.

    And I don’t think that this idea originated with Augustine and on upwards in church history to Martin Luther and beyond.

    There is not a righteousness of God out there apart from Jesus Christ – the eternal King of grace and glory. This is what the party and celebration is all about.

  14. And Romans 8 is one HUGE party. We ought to be bursting at the seams with joy and exclamation points before we get into the theodicy of chapter 9.

  15. Jack said: I was more curious to explore what Mormons believe about being sons and daughters of God. As you point out, Romans 8:14-17 seems to argue that we become sons (and daughters) of God through faith.

    aquinas does a interesting analysis of the historical development of these doctrines in Mormon thought:

    https://thepierianspring.wordpress.com/2010/01/31/darwinisms-influence-on-the-mormon-view-of-spirits/

    https://thepierianspring.wordpress.com/2010/03/05/darwinisms-influence-on-the-mormon-view-of-spirits-part-ii/

  16. Jack, I didn’t want to bring it into the main article because of space and theme constraints, but I have no beef with discussing it in the comments section.

    I don’t know how carefully Mormons have thought through the notion of being “children of God.” My suspicion is that it is primarily more of an emotional reaction they have to God than a detailed theological position.

    Having thought about the idea of being a child of God, and theosis and the biblical material on the subject, I have come to hold more of an adoptive model of childhood than a biological model. For one thing, I don’t believe in “Celestial sex” as some sort of scientific cause of spirit birth. I think this is inconsistent with our theology of the eternal nature of spirits, and my own idea of the free nature of said spirits.

    I actually feel that ALL relationships in heaven are adoptive. We choose God, and he chooses us. It is in this sense we are “children of God.” And I think that all Mormon declarations of childhood are in a sense hopeful and forward-looking. So I don’t personally find any problems in Paul’s highly adoptive language here.

  17. Todd, I still hold that the subject of the later verses in Romans chapter 8 is not God the Son (Jesus), but rather God the Spirit (the Holy Ghost). The Spirit, not the Son is the star player for much of the chapter.

    David, good points about the broader sweep of American Evangelicalism, and how we do have certain tendencies and stances hardwired into us via our theology. I did try to touch on that notion a bit when I noted that Mormons are naturally inclined to skip justification in favor of sanctification, simply because most of our uniquely LDS scripture is talking about “stage 2″ so to speak.

    The Doctrine and Covenants, for instance is almost entirely swimming in the realm of sanctification, and not necessarily justification.

  18. What I have a hard time understanding is:

    (1) We become children of God in the pre-existence (“spirit adoption” or viviparous spirit birth, I’m not sure this really matters as far as this question is concerned)

    (2) We have to be adopted again through faith in Jesus Christ.

    Is that correct? I can understand the need for becoming children of God in one case or the other. Having both just seems kind of redundant.

  19. Oh. I guess you’re last paragraph tries to address that. Sorry, I read too fast.

    I’m just not sure that when my LDS friends and the Family Proclamation declare that all people are sons and daughters of God, they really mean it in a hopeful and forward-looking sense.

  20. Seth, I do revel in the emphasis on the Holy Ghost in chapter 8. Without the Holy Ghost, I would be a dead man outside of Christ.

    I bow my heart to the Trinity.

  21. Jack, I do think the phrase is meant in an aspirational sense. We always have a sense of what we are trying to live up to when we say it, so I’m not sure an adoptive model would be that big of a stretch.

  22. Jack – I think the LDS view of “son-ness” and “daughter-ness” can best be looked at as two completely difference senses used in different contexts.

    (1) The literal sense. “All human beings—male and female—are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny” (Family Proclamation).

    (2) The metaphorical sense. “And now, because of the covenant which ye have made [to follow Christ] ye shall be called the children of Christ, his sons, and his daughters; for behold, this day he hath spiritually begotten you; for ye say that your hearts are changed through faith on his name; therefore, ye are born of him and have become his sons and his daughters” (Mosiah 5:7, Book of Mormon).

    One is referring to our universal heritage, through which we inherit divine characteristics and potential, and the other is referring to a change in nature that one must undergo to enter the kingdom of God (being “born again” of the Spirit).

    That said, using the same identical wording sometimes causes confusion among latter-day saints as well. On my mission in France, one of the bishopric members taught, using the Mosiah 5:7 reference above, that “we are all children of God, but we are not all his sons and daughters.” I think that just makes it more confusing.

    I have heard others differentiate the two by noting that we are all God’s (The Father/Elohim’s) children, but in order to be Christ’s children (who, in Mormon belief, is separate from the Father and, although part of the Godhead, is also a fellow spirit child of God the Father), we must be spiritually reborn. I think this is a better way of viewing it, though one may need to understand “God” in certain scriptural passages to be referring to Christ and not the Father.

    I’m not sure if that sheds any new light, but that is my understanding of the terminology.

  23. In unison with all the others, I’d like to commend Seth for his “Thoughts for LDS-Evangelical Dialogue” section.
    You have the ability to see the dialogue objectively. And you’re a great writer—with lots of analogies and metaphors. Have you ever asked God if he wants you to write a book?
    Thanks.

  24. One way that I think you can look at the LDS concept of being spirit children of God from the pre-mortal existence and then becoming the sons and daughters of God through Christ is to compare it to LDS children born into the church.

    On the one hand, a child becomes a “member of record” when his or her name is added to the church membership database. This can be (quite loosely) compared to us all being spirit children of God. Unlike Seth (I think), I don’t believe we chose to become God’s children in the pre-mortal existence. LDS theology teaches that intelligences are eternal, but, at some point, God organised the intelligences that were and clothed them in spiritual bodies, thus becoming the father of our spirits.

    However, just as all members of record must enter into the covenant of baptism to truly becomes members of the LDS church (despite what Junior Primary children the world over sing), so must we enter into a covenant with God through Christ to truly become His children.

    It isn’t a very good comparison, I’m sure, but maybe that at least helps, a bit…

  25. I don’t want to be overly bothersome here, but sometimes I just don’t get it.

    What I find difficult about Paul is that he seems (too) often explains things only in figurative language. He is speaking within a sort of conceptual paradigm that i have trouble translating into actual action that i can sink my teeth into.

    For example here:

    12 So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh–

    13 for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live.

    Ok, what is the process by which we put to death the deeds of the body? What sort of action, choice or effort is he talking about.

    Does anybody have a concrete example from their lives or from somebody else?

  26. I see this particular passage as an example of Paul discussing what Mormons refer to as spiritual death. (No matter what we do, we are all going to experience physical death unless a) we are translated or b) we live until Christ comes, and are changed in a twinkling, instead).

    With that in mind, I can only draw the conclusion that the living he talks about is equivalent to salvation–being saved from spiritual death. So when we put to death the deeds of the body, I would think he is talking about our sins and weaknesses. I good concrete example I can think of is an alcoholic who gives up drinking alcohol as he puts his life into God’s hands.

  27. ok, but a alcoholic seems to be a special case, Paul seems to be talking about everyone.

    What is our “obligation” here. It seems to be something different than simply believing that Jesus will forgive us. According to Paul we die if we don’t fulfill it right? Game over.

  28. Jared – I see this passage as referring to living after our carnal/fleshy/evil desires: selfishness, vanity, pride, lust, etc. If we are giving ourselves to these (in LDS lingo: the “natural man”), then we are spiritually dead. If, however, we are born of the Spirit (i.e., our very natures and desires have changed through Christ such that we really _want_ to do good), then eternal life awaits us.

    Example from my own life: I preside over the organization in our congregation that is responsible for the young men (ages 12-18). The flesh/natural man wants to appear to parents and leaders as a competent, organized, and efficient administrator and leader – it desires praise. However, as I yield to the Holy Spirit, I am moved to focus on serving and loving the individual, even when that often leads to deviating from our plan and sometimes appearing disorganized.

    Or when I am teaching adults a class, am I trying to impress my audience with Hebrew constructs and little known historical facts, or am I trying to teach what God would have me teach them and try to truly reach the individual?

    I think Paul probably explains it best in Galations:

    16So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. 17For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. 18But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.
    19The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

    22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. 25Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other. (NIV)

  29. “Ok, what is the process by which we put to death the deeds of the body? What sort of action, choice or effort is he talking about.”

    Back to Romans 6.

    Baptism.

    God puts the old flesh to death in Baptism. “We are to consider ourselves dead to sin.”

  30. It should go without saying here that Romans 8:16 is a staple text used in Mormon culture to prove that we are literally begotten sons and daughters of heavenly parents. I know there is an aspirational element to this, that one should live up to their heritage and ultimate calling. But I really do think Mormonism largely misses out on the beauty of adoptive sonship, which is precisely what Paul is speaking of (here and in other letters of his).

    (Btw, clear parallel between Romans 8:16-17 and Galatians 4:4-7: “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.”)

    I asked some Mormon professors (from BYU and BYU Idaho) about the problem with this verse. The explanations usually go like this: Since we are literally begotten sons and daughters of Heavenly Father, adoption is something (per the 1916 FPS theology) that the “Eternal Father” Jesus does, not so much the Heavenly Father (there are mentions in Mormon literature to the Father adopting people, but they seem sparse). But Romans 8 seems especially problematic for the view that Jesus is the one who adopts, since it is clearly the Father doing the adopting in the passage, not Jesus. So then I asked the professors, why would the Father adopt children that are already naturally his?

    One professor at BYU Idaho was the most clear and thoughtful in his response: he said that at the Fall we were all disinherited by the Father. So we were treated as children before, but then disinherited as children, to then become adopted back into sonship through the plan of salvation. I replied that this seemed horrific, since in the traditional LDS view the Fall was an event of imitable righteousness by Adam and Eve, a necessary transgression that somehow wasn’t a bona fide sin. In other words, it is an example of the Father punishing his children for what is essentially pre-agreed-upon righteous decision-making.

    But this is a professor’s explanation of the adoption problem. On the street, and in the wards (in my Gentile opinion), adoption by the Father doesn’t seem to be on the radar screen. The beauty and glory of it is lost on Mormons. And Romans 8:16 continues to be a passage used by Mormons, including missionaries on my front doorstep and laymen at Temple Square, to prove that we are literally begotten sons and daughters of heavenly parents.

    Grace and peace, only in Jesus,

    Aaron

  31. The problem is that people here are assuming that family means primarily biology.

    It doesn’t.

    In the end, all familial relationships are voluntary, and in this sense – adoptive.

  32. I don’t think that is the problem at all, Seth. I think whether spirit birth is viviparous or whether we’re eternally uncreated free agents who got together and made a contract to be adopted by the Father and become his spirit children in the pre-existence is completely irrelevant to the question here.

  33. Thanks JT, I appreciate the personal reference.

    Old Adam. If all Paul means is baptism, why doesn’t he just say it? Why call refer to “baptism” again in a different way in the same letter?

  34. Seth, correct me if I’m wrong, but don’t you jettison the main views of modern mainstream Mormonism on this issue—the views rooted in Brigham Young and B.H. Roberts? The views that still say spirit-birth has bodily meaning?

    If so, then you probably should be clear that you represent a fringe Mormon minority. Otherwise, it seems you’re implicitly trying to sell your view as though it is the view of general Mormonism (in any cultural or institutional or broad historical sense).

    I have a lot more respect for fringe Mormon views when they are by open admission fringe Mormon views.

    Take care,

    Aaron

  35. On adoptive vs. literal spirit children

    I think the answer could be simple, Paul might not have known about the interpretation of the Book of Abraham that lead to the conclusion that people are in some sense literal spirit children of God, or even have been acquainted with it. You can’t expect him to be 100% consistent with what he didn’t know about.

    This answer is not inconsistent with LDS thought. There is no requirement that Paul know everything that Joseph Smith did.

    Also, a good quote from aquinas’ post shows that the idea of literal kinship might be a later development (http://thepierianspring.wordpress.com/2010/03/05/darwinisms-influence-on-the-mormon-view-of-spirits-part-ii/) he qoutes Joseph Smith. :

    To be a son of God, is to be born of God, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh but of God: to be related to, and be the son of God. Paul says in writing to the Galatians, now ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus; for as many of you as have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ” . … ‘and if ye be Christs, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”

  36. Not to sidetrack the discussion of Romans, but really what you have are two traditions within Mormonism. Adoptive theology is the only theology one will find in the Book of Mormon, and Joseph’s revelations and sermons. The notion of “sons of God” for Joseph never referred to “spirit birth.” This was a later doctrinal development after Joseph Smith, and I offer an outline of this history in the series that has been linked to above. The Darwinian “heresy” was the main catalyst for emphasizing spirit birth. As a result Mormonism tended to employ new theological language such as “spirit birth” and the adoptive theology found in the Book of Mormon and Joseph’s sermons was downplayed and not emphasized as much, even though it enjoys broad scriptural support.

    Mormons today find themselves living at a time when spirit birth has arguably become the dominant narrative, but Mormons in reality are inheriting two distinct strands of thought and, like most all people who inherit a religious tradition that contains two or more strands that are actually in tension and even contradictory, they tend to want to harmonize these into one unifying narrative, rather than tease out the historical origins and to choose one over the other.

  37. I consider my views to be authentically Mormon and well rooted in scripture. Both the Bible and uniquely Mormon scripture.

    Many Mormons hew to the spirit birth model. But try pinning them down on exactly what that means and entails, and things are likely to start going all over the place. It’s not really something that lay Mormons are encouraged to spend much speculation on.

    So I don’t really see any particular need to qualify my views as fringe.

    This is an area where very few people even have a defined opinion to begin with. So talking about what is or is not fringe is both futile, and utterly beside the point.

  38. “If all Paul means is baptism, why doesn’t he just say it?”

    He does.

    “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” (Romans 6)

    In Galatians Paul writes, “All of is who were baptized have put on Christ”

    Our rational minds think being made clean in baptism (by sharing in Christ’s death and resurrection (Romans 6, again) is just too easy. There must be something that we have to DO.

    Naaman thought it was too easy. “If the Lord asked something difficult would you not then do it?”

    Well, Naaman finally Naaman listened and washed, and was clean.

    The Lord commanded all to go and baptize, and that we be baptized. What for? A meaningless religious exercise?

    No. There is real power in baptism. God gives us “forgiveness of sins in it, and the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2)

    And the promise is to our children, also.

    It’s just too easy, and it doesn’t make sense to our rational minds.

    Well, God’s mind is not like ours. His ways are not our ways.

    There is a more excellent way. Trusting in what God has done for us is the way.

  39. As to how we’re children of God, the way I see it is that we are born as children of God in some spiritual sense (I’m not sure exactly what that means) but not in a “legal” sense. Whether because of the Fall or for some other reason, at least once we’re accountable for our actions (and maybe earlier, I haven’t thought this all the way through) we are no longer children in the sense that we are entitled to inherit everything the Father has to give us. But through the kind of faith that leads to justification and sanctification we do.

    Our rational minds think being made clean in baptism … is just too easy. … It’s just too easy, and it doesn’t make sense to our rational minds.

    If it’s so easy, why does Paul seem to struggle so much in chapter 7?

    And in 8:17, Paul tells us that if we want to be heirs with Christ we need to suffer with Christ. That doesn’t sound easy to me.

    Your it’s-so-easy-we-just-need-to-be-baptized system (if you’re chosen, of course, and if not, tough luck) may be internally self-consistent, but I don’t see how it matches the clear teaching of Paul.

  40. Old Adam,

    Paul says its the Roman church members’ obligation to live according to the spirit. He implies a choice to live in one way over another, post baptism (since the Roman saints were baptised)

    What I am seeking is the content of the choice.

  41. If so, then you probably should be clear that you represent a fringe Mormon minority.

    Aaron, you just described most of the bloggernaccle and Mormon apologists.

    End thread jack.

  42. Jared you ask a great question. I have an answer for you. I just need to find time to deliver it.

    In the mean time check out Renovation of the Heart by Dallas Willard

  43. David, there’s a reason that the views in the bloggernacle tend to thrive the way they do.

    Most Mormons are too busy with ordinary life to bother with complex theology (and this is just as true of Protestants as of Mormons by the way). The bloggernacle is what happens when Mormons sit down and think through the implications of their theology and their scriptures.

    I’m not going to bother announcing myself as a part of some “fringe” when there isn’t even an existing center to begin with.

  44. I appreciate that Mormons who sit down and wrestle with their theology tend to move away from the mainstream. Godspeed!

  45. [Paul] implies a choice to live in one way over another, post baptism (since the Roman saints were baptised)

    What I am seeking is the content of the choice.

    My quick reading of chapter 8 is that Paul is saying that as we walk in the Spirit (and Paul doesn’t explicitly define that) is that our minds, our outlook, out desires, our thoughts, our feelings will be directed toward the things of God, and that this will give us a freedom to live righteously. He doesn’t go into specifics much, but it’s clear to me that he’s talking about an inward change that leads to outward actions rather than using outward actions as a means of directing inward change.

    I’ll look forward to what Tim has to say about this.

  46. What I’m saying Tim is that on these topics, there isn’t really a “mainstream” to move away from.

    Mormons dress the same for church, vote the same, have identical sacrament meetings, are taught the EXACT same Sunday School lessons, are taught the EXACT same RS/PH lessons, have all the same manuals from Primary through Adults, use the same missionary curriculum, listen to the same correlated general conference talks, meet in buildings that look the same, watch the same endowment movie(s) on a semi-regular basis, wear the same underwear, read the exact same correlated scriptures, and so on and so forth.

    Yet, there is somehow no “mainstream” Mormon view? That somehow they all arrive at independent conclusions regarding their doctrine?

  47. David, the “mainstream” doesn’t talk about how spirit babies are made.

    There is no there, there.

    Check your Sunday School manuals.

    It isn’t in there.

  48. David,
    The church does not establish a “mainstream” Mormon view on most issues. Outside of the CES you have all kinds of different views and lay discussions on these sorts of things. This is because, unlike protestants, Mormon leaders are not professionally trained in theology and therefore tolerate a lot of difference, and even “error” in the way doctrines are described.

    ———————————-
    On whether Seth’s view is “fringe” :
    Aaron describes Seth as fringe because he said that all family relationships are a essentially a matter of choice.

    This is totally consistent with all LDS theology.

    The question seems to be, do LDS believe that there was a certain process by which God created spirit “bodies” from something called intelligences. This is a view that, as aquinas described in the posts i referenced above, was developed after Joseph Smith. It is what is taught at church. However, there is no real understanding or doctrine on what this process is, what it really entails. We know that it doesn’t make us glorified and does not make us heirs like Christ is an heir. Its a different process if it is a process at all. It may be non-standard to throw out belief in this sort of process, but considering there is no real content or import to the process in Mormon theology, it doesn’t make much difference. Such a deviation from the standard teaching is very normal among LDS and would not disqualify you from being “Mainstream”.

    This is primarily because the adoptive idea, that Seth alludes to is far stronger. LDS doctrine is that humans are eternal beings and at each step in the plan of salvation we decided to participate. We choose to associate with God, we choose to be his spirit children and we choose to come and belong to physical families. Ultimately we will decide to accept the gifts of God and become heirs to all he has through grace and obedience to the celestial law. We always have a choice. Therefore, every step of the way the parental relationship is not quite the same as a purely physical parentage, it is more akin to adoption, even if you believe in a pre-existence birth of spirit bodies from intelligences.

  49. I suppose people aren’t going to take my word for this, so let’s just list off the uniquely LDS scriptures on the issue:

    Moro. 7: 26, 48

    26 And after that he came men also were SAVED BY FAITH in his name; and by faith, they BECOME the sons of God. And as surely as Christ liveth he spake these words unto our fathers, saying: Whatsoever thing ye shall ask the Father in my name, which is good, in faith believing that ye shall receive, behold, it shall be done unto you.
    • • •
    48 Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are TRUE FOLLOWERS of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may BECOME the sons of God; that when he shall appear we SHALL BE like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure. Amen.

    Moses 8: 13, 21

    13 And Noah and his sons HEARKENED unto the Lord, and GAVE HEED, and they were CALLED the sons of God.
    • • •
    21 And also, after that they had heard him, they came up before him, saying: Behold, we are the sons of God; have we not taken unto ourselves the daughters of men? And are we not eating and drinking, and marrying and giving in marriage? And our wives bear unto us children, and the same are mighty men, which are like unto men of old, men of great renown. And they hearkened not unto the words of Noah.

    3 Ne. 9: 17

    17 And as many as have received me, to them have I given to BECOME the sons of God; and even so will I to as many as SHALL BELIEVE on my name, for behold, by me redemption cometh, and in me is the law of Moses fulfilled.

    D&C 11: 30

    30 But verily, verily, I say unto you, that as many as receive me, to them will I give power to BECOME the sons of God, even to them that believe on my name. Amen.

    D&C 34: 3

    3 Who so loved the world that he gave his own life, that as many as would believe might BECOME the sons of God. Wherefore you are my son;

    D&C 35: 2

    2 I am Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who was crucified for the sins of the world, even as many as will believe on my name, that they may BECOME the sons of God, even one in me as I am one in the Father, as the Father is one in me, that we may be one.

    D&C 45: 8:

    8 I came unto mine own, and mine own received me not; but unto as many as received me GAVE I POWER to do many miracles, and to BECOME the sons of God; and even unto them that believed on my name gave I power to obtain eternal life.

    D&C 76: 58

    Wherefore, as it is written, they are gods, even the sons of God—

    [Note, this one comes during a discussion of who enters the Celestial Kingdom – meaning that the word “sons” is not being used universally, but rather for a select group of people who have entered into the proper relationship with God.]

    D&C 128: 23

    23 Let the mountains shout for joy, and all ye valleys cry aloud; and all ye seas and dry lands tell the wonders of your Eternal King! And ye rivers, and brooks, and rills, flow down with gladness. Let the woods and all the trees of the field praise the Lord; and ye solid rocks weep for joy! And let the sun, moon, and the morning stars sing together, and let all the sons of God shout for joy! And let the eternal creations declare his name forever and ever! And again I say, how glorious is the voice we hear from heaven, proclaiming in our ears, glory, and salvation, and honor, and immortality, and eternal life; kingdoms, principalities, and powers!

    Moses 7: 1:

    1 And it came to pass that Enoch continued his speech, saying: Behold, our father Adam taught these things, and many have believed and BECOME the sons of God, and many have believed not, and have perished in their sins, and are looking forth with fear, in torment, for the fiery indignation of the wrath of God to be poured out upon them.

    (emphasis added in all passages)

    Aaron, how do you BECOME something that you already automatically were by some biological process?

    Calling the adoption model of divine families “fringe” is simply ridiculous in light of how well-established it is in our scriptures.

  50. Check your Sunday School manuals.

    OK, from chapter 7 of the Brigham Young manual:

    Things were first created spiritually; the Father actually begat the spirits [see D&C 76:24], and they were brought forth and lived with him.

    From Teaching of Joseph F. Smith lesson 40

    Among the spirit children of Elohim, the first-born was and is Jehovah, or Jesus Christ, to whom all others are juniors…Jesus Christ is the Son of Elohim both as spiritual and bodily offspring; that is to say, Elohim is literally the Father of the spirit of Jesus Christ and also of the body in which Jesus Christ performed His mission in the flesh, and which body died on the cross and was afterward taken up by the process of resurrection, and is now the immortalized tabernacle of the eternal spirit of our Lord and Savior.

    I also think this Harold B. Lee quote from chapter 1 of the Harold B. Lee manual teaches the same thing:

    All the organized intelligences before the earth was formed, who had become spirits, were there, including many great and noble ones whose performance and conduct in that premortal sphere qualified them to become rulers and leaders in carrying out this eternal plan.

    I admit the use of the passive voice to avoid naming the agent of the means of becoming spirits does not make that quote conclusive, but if fits with the doctrine and BY and JFS are teaching.

    In any case, these were said by a president of the church, passed the correlation committee, and were in lessons discussed in church. I take them as the mainstream Mormon view, and that most Mormons would interpret the Romans 8 take on being children of God in light of this view.

  51. Eric.
    Todd Wood his is own kind of Big A.
    He’s never meant to be helpful.
    He loves contention.
    Readers of the BoM know who else love contention.
    Maybe Todd is in his employ.

    Goodbye LDS & Ev blog of hatred.
    I am cutting emotionally unhealthy things,
    Like Tim’s blog, and the venomous anti-Mormons who publish here out of my life.

  52. If one is going to consult Church manuals be sure include the Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith (2007). The First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve (including Correlation) published for the entire Church Joseph Smith’s sermons on the eternal and uncreated nature of man:

    “All learned men and doctors of divinity say that God created it in the beginning; but it is not so: the very idea lessens man in my estimation. I do not believe the doctrine… There never was a time when there were not spirits … All the fools and learned and wise men from the beginning of creation, who say that the spirit of man had a beginning, prove that it must have an end; and if that doctrine is true, then the doctrine of annihilation would be true. But if I am right, I might with boldness proclaim from the house-tops that God never had the power to create the spirit of man at all. God himself could not create himself. … It is a spirit from age to age and there is no creation about it.Chapter 17, pp. 209-210.

    It is important to realize that Joseph’s view on the uncreated and eternal nature of man coincides perfectly with the Book of Mormon and his revelations and sermons that we become sons and daughters of God in this life. Joseph borrowed liberally from and endorsed Paul’s teachings on adoption:

    “To be a son of God, is to be born of God, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh but of God: to be related to, and be the son of God. Paul says in writing to the Galatians, now ye are all the children of God. by faith in Christ Jesus; for as many of you as have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ” . … ‘and if ye be Christs, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” We may here pause-and ask, what we inherit? says Paul, “ye are heirs of God, and joint heirs with Jesus Christ our Lord.” … and hence in Gal, iv: 4-7, it is written, “But when the fullness of time was come, God sent forth his son made of a woman-made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. And because ye are sons. God hath sent forth the spirit of his son into your hearts, crying, abba, Father. Wherefore thou art no more a servant but a son; and if a son. then an heir of God through Christ. …

    There is a depth, a dignity and glory connected with this subject that very few have had any idea of; but when rightly understood it has a tendency to enlarge the heart, expand the capacity, to give us just, and comprehensive views of the plans of Jehovah, and it justifies the ways of God to man. Narrow prejudice and bigotry flees at its approach, and haggard superstition hides its head in shame. It was a subject upon which the apostles loved to dwell; and Paul in writing to the Galatians concerning their departure from the simplicity of the gospel,-portrays the dignity, the freedom, the blessings, and the glory of the sonship in striking and vivid colors…” “Sons of God,” Times and Seasons, Vol. 4 No. 5, January 16, 1843, p.74.

    Notice that Joseph Smith cites approvingly, without any modification, Romans 8:17; Galatians 3:26, 29; Galatians 4:4-7, including the term “adoption of sons.” This phrase was not changed in the JST either.

  53. So Paul struggles with sin (chapter 7)…so what?

    Don’t we all? Yes, we do.

    We always will, as long as we are still alive on this earth.

    That is not the point.

    The point is that “WE ARE TO CONSIDER OURSELVES DEAD TO SIN.”

    Even though we still sin. Why? Because we HAVE BEEN BAPTIZED! This is why I picked Romans 6. It is the lynchpin of the whole chapter.

    God makes us righteous. He uses His Word, and that includes Baptism. It is all over the New Testament.

    Are we trusting in our sincerity, our fruits, our good works, our decision, etc. … or are we trusting in what God has done for us?

    We are made clean in our Baptisms. We can walk away from our baptisms, in which case what good is it? Or we can trust in it, and return to it (repentance and forgiveness), over and over and over again.

    Jesus said, “my yoke is easy”. NO MORE RELIGIOUS PROJECTS! Jesus did it All!

    But we just won’t have it. Jesus alone, is just never quite enough. We have to get our dog in this fight, and show just how serious we are. I’ve got news for you…nobody is serious about this stuff…except God. And He has decided to make us clean in the waters of Baptism.

    It’s a minority view, it’s radical, it’s Lutheran and biblical all the way…and I believe it to be true.

  54. Jared said

    Ok, what is the process by which we put to death the deeds of the body? What sort of action, choice or effort is he talking about.

    This is a field of study that many Christians have taken up. It’s usually referred to as Spiritual Formation.

    In contrast to TOA’s assertion that baptism once and for all puts the flesh to death, Paul talks about how he continues to do the things he hates and not do the things that he loves. He tells us the “be” transformed (active tense). There is clearly a now-and-not-yet kind of interaction going on for Christ’s restoration of all things. It’s available and it’s not yet here.

    I’ve gained a lot of help in putting the old self to death through the writings of Dallas Willard. His book Renovation of the Heart is all about how we can go about doing what the Bible tells us to do. Namely take on the character of Christ.

    He discusses the V.I.M. The Vision, Intention and Means. First a Christian has to have the vision. They need to know who Jesus is and have some idea of how they want to die to themselves.

    Next is the Intention to actually follow through and be transformed.

    Third is the means to do it. Willard directs us to the spiritual disciplines as a means of finding a new life in Christ. Fasting, Meditation, Solitude, Study, Prayer, Simplicity, etc. If I can teach my stomach to go with out food, I can teach my eyes how to go with out lust. If I remove distractions from my life I can more easily hear the voice of God. If I’m committed to knowing what is in scripture, knowing the will of God will be much more obvious when I need it.

    Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline is an excellent resource for how to practice the spiritual disciplines and what to expect from them. Can’t recommend it enough. you might also be interested in The Spirit of the Disciplines by Dallas Willard.

  55. (sigh)

    Actually, I don’t like the spirit of contention. In a humor sort of way, if I were to consider some of Seth’s statements on the fringe here in the Corridor, imagine what some people think of me and my beliefs in Ammon, Idaho.

    And psychochemiker, it is only God’s grace and His Spirit, that I am not some venomous hater. Thank God that I can’t go back to the old Todd Wood. He’s buried six feet under (Romans 6).

  56. Baptism.

    God considers us washed clean in it. Isn’t that good enough.

    There is no way we are going to stop sinning in this life. Should we always do our best not to? Of course! But our efforts will not gain us anything, theologically. Our efforts will not trump the cross of Christ, into which we are baptized.

  57. Thanks Tim. I will check those references out.

    TOA- But our efforts will not gain us anything, theologically. Our efforts will not trump the cross of Christ, into which we are baptized.

    But Paul says that we need to make the decision to live by the spirit or death awaits. That seems pretty important theologically.

  58. “Baptism – God considers us washed clean in it. Isn’t that good enough.”

    No, it isn’t. That’s just a one-shot deal.

  59. TOA,

    Grace is opposed to earning, it’s not opposed to effort.

    We will go on sinning, but the question Jared is asking is “how do we no longer go on sinning?”

    I agree, we are viewed as righteous by God. We have been thoroughly justified. As you like to say “so now what do we do about it?”

    Stop sinning, that’s what we do. Unfortunately too many of us are operating on “sin management”. Just trying to manage our sins and keep them hidden and discreet. Instead we should be seeking out ways to train ourselves to love righteousness and hate sin.

  60. PC said:
    I am cutting emotionally unhealthy things,
    Like Tim’s blog, and the venomous anti-Mormons who publish here out of my life.

    See you tomorrow!

  61. I still think that the best way to look at the adoptive v. literal spirit children dichotomy in LDS beliefs is to view them as totally separate and referring to different things – one to our universal spiritual DNA, and the other to our becoming “joint heirs” with Christ.

    Also, while the adoptive interpretation of Romans 8:16 is probably the favorable one, I don’t think it is a necessary interpretation.

    Here’s the NRSV of Romans 8:15b-17:

    “When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.”

    Paul is clearly talking about adoption before v. 15, but he _could_ be saying here in v. 15 that the Spirit tells us that we are literal spirit children of God, and that if we suffer with Christ we may be heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ (adoption to his kingdom). In other words, the “if, in fact, we suffer…” conditional statement may have as its antecedent the heirs portion only.

  62. Baptism is not a one time deal. God baptizes us once, but that baptism carries us through life as a ship carries it’s passengers. It moves with us. That is why Luther said we ought return to it daily. So we can trust in what God has done, in spite of what we see around us, and in ourselves. (we walk by faith and not by sight)

    I think I said earlier that we ought do our best.

    But not togain anything with God. Our efforts ought all be aimed at the neighbor, he/she needs us…God does not need our good works.

  63. Freedom and Effort – let me just throw out an imperfect illustration that has much to be desired.

    Let’s say that I was a prisoner of war. The enemy took me back through a winding tunnel passage way and chained me to the back wall. When they walked back around a tunnel bend, they posted two guards (nonvisible to me). When they reached the front entrance again of the tunnel, they posted two more guards and secured a big, iron gate.

    To terrorize me, the enemy continually piped audio messages to where I stood chained in the darkness. Those messages declared that I was a slave, that I would always be a slave, and that if I ever managed to break my chains (impossibility that it was) and walk around the bend, the soldiers would shoot me on the spot.

    Incredibly, one day, Rambo came to my rescue. He took out the front guards, broke down the iron gate, and then took out the soldiers within the tunnel. When he reached me, he set me free.

    And then he left.

    I stood there dazed. Wow. Amazing. I felt my wrists where there had been manacles. I flexed my muscles. I walked around in the small space at the back of this cave. This is AWESOME.

    But then I heard an audio message again. Was this some kind of trick by the enemy? Am I still a slave? What if they just want me to walk around the corner, so that they can shoot me? Perhaps, I should just stay back here. Hey, these new freedoms are a whole lot better than what I had.

    It is going to take gospel faith effort for me to reject those audio messages (put them to death) and walk around that corner in the tunnel. It is going to take daily effort for me to really believe that I am free in Christ by putting off the old and putting on the new concerning every one of my sin habits.

    My daily sanctification is directly connected to my justification.

  64. Todd,

    Excellent!

    That is exactly what a daily return to our baptisms ought be!

    The only difference is that in our baptisms, we are already dead! The truth about us is, even though the devil is piping in audio and visual propaganda to the contrary, we have died with Christ and we have been raised with Christ. All in our Baptism!

    That is good news! (for me, and many who have had it with the religious rat wheel)

  65. JT ~ when Joseph quoted Romans 8:17 in his article published in the Times and Seasons (see comment above) he was referring specifically to adoption. He couldn’t have used it to refer to “literal spirit children” because that concept did not exist at that time.

  66. Things get even fuzzier when you realize that the word “begotten” itself is often used in a context of a relationship we enter into – such as being “born” of the spirit.

  67. aquinas,

    I wasn’t trying to establish what “official doctrine” was by quoting the manual. I was merely trying to show that the subject does come up in church manuals, contra Seth’s assertion that it doesn’t.

    In any case, it really doesn’t matter what Joseph taught on the matter. There’s all kinds of stuff that he taught that no one in the church believes anymore and people generally can’t run away from that stuff fast enough.

    My only assertions would be that most people in the church I have talked to would not hold to Seth’s adoption position, but would hold to a literal spirit child position. It makes better sense of the much loved doctrine of eternal families. I also think that it is more widely held because it’s a position that is held by later prophets, and Mormons are encouraged to (and generally do) go with the later prophet over the older prophet. In fact this was recently re-emphasized in GC when two GA’s read Ezra Taft Bensons 14 Points talk back into the record.

    However, I really have no way of verifying this, short of financing and conducting a church wide survey on the matter, which I’m not going to do. So, I will simply submit proposal as plausible and that it accords with my experience. YMMV.

  68. If that’s what you were trying to establish David, you haven’t established it.

    Because none of those quotes had much to say about the technicality of spirit birth one way or the other. In fact, half of them didn’t even advocate for a spirit birth model to begin with.

  69. Sing with me now:

    The Old Adam approaches everything from a Lutheran perspective. This is decidedly different from an American Evangelical or a Mormon perspective.

  70. “The Old Adam approaches everything from a Lutheran perspective. This is decidedly different from an American Evangelical or a Mormon perspective”

    It is radically different.

    It is radically Christ centered.

  71. Well, enough has to be put out there to really demonstrate that belief in Celestial familial bonds as being adoptive is “fringe.”

    You could do that by quoting scripture – but most of it seems to support my take on this.

    Or you could do it by quoting manuals – but that would be undermined if the manuals also supported my view as well.

    Or you could do it by appealing to “whatever most Mormons believe” – which I’ve pointed out is not something they’re usually thinking about to begin with. Besides, popular folk doctrine is always an iffy place to go defining what a religion’s theology actually is (if we’re going to do that, we’ll have to declare most Protestants to be works-centered – since salvation by works is a very popular belief among Protestants – despite the best efforts of their ministers).

  72. David said: My only assertions would be that most people in the church I have talked to would not hold to Seth’s adoption position, but would hold to a literal spirit child position.

    Every LDS believes in adoption at confirmation, i.e. adoption into the house of Israel that makes you heirs to the kingdom.
    This is a spiritual adoption.

    This is something different than the literal spirit child idea and is part of the becoming adopted children of God.

    You are getting it wrong if you think that LDS believe that the pre-existence spirit birth is the same thing as what Paul is talking about here.

  73. Seth, I always thought it would be a kick in the pants if the LDS Church hired me to do neighborhood ward surveys.

    But I would always ask the question first to bishops, then their wives, and then work it down through the community.

    Wouldn’t that be fun?

  74. The difference being that the LDS survey would not be theologically important. The protestant survey may make heretics out of a substantial percentage of the congregation.

  75. Yes, it would.

    I have dabbled in neighborhood surveys in Idaho Falls. And they are fascinating – the unique answers that one receives from both “LDS” and “Protestants”.

  76. We should craft a survey and have it published in the Idaho and Utah newspapers.

    I am looking at a poll today on the front page of our local paper. There has been a big stink in S.E. Idaho over how much the LDS faith is a factor in political elections.

    Well, gents, I am off to Greek class this evening with a local Presbyterian pastor.

  77. Well, enough has to be put out there to really demonstrate that belief in Celestial familial bonds as being adoptive is “fringe.”

    Thanks for dodging the question.

    You could do that by quoting scripture – but most of it seems to support my take on this.

    Given your hermeneutical framework, yes. However, I also think your hermeneutical framework is on the fringe of Mormondom. It’s no surprise that a fringe hermeneutical framework leads to fringe beliefs.

    Your framework is fringe because by your own admission you only consider what the early church leaders, Joseph Smith specifically, said to be binding doctrine. All the rest is somehow non-binding midrash (though by describing it that way you show you don’t know how Jewish midrash works, but let’s keep what you said for the sake of argument). I would say that’s a view that is way out on the fringe of Mormon thought and practice. LDS members are encouraged to follow the most recent prophets and interpret what past prophets have said in light of that further light and knowledge, aka, continuing revelation.

    Or you could do it by quoting manuals – but that would be undermined if the manuals also supported my view as well.

    No, it would simply establish the fact that Mormon “doctrine” is completely muddled on this issue. I fully agree with that position. The issue that you raised was that of what most people believe. The issue can be muddled, yet still have a majority of people believe a certain way. This is the issue because if the majority believes something other than you, you are by definition on the fringe.

    Besides, popular folk doctrine is always an iffy place to go defining what a religion’s theology actually is.

    Mormonism has no theology, so if you are trying to get at what Mormon theology is, it’s a failing proposition. Given that, I don’t know what else to look at other than what the current leaders teach (which you yourself discount as non-binding midrash) or what the majority of members believe, which is what I have been trying to argue.

  78. DC said:
    The Old Adam approaches everything from a Lutheran perspective. This is decidedly different from an American Evangelical or a Mormon perspective.

    What?!? The Old Adam is Lutheran? Next you’re going to tell me that Cal thinks that Mormons are Christians. . . .
    ;)

    Seth said
    I don’t think I do by any definition that matters.

    And there’s the rub.

    I’m curious, where did Mormons get the idea that spirits are born via celestial sex? We’ve established that it’s not in Mormon scriptures and we’ve established that Mormon manuals don’t communicate or encourage the idea. So how did it become such a dominate thought?

  79. Seth,

    In any case, I just got off the phone with my brother-in-law. I asked him his opinion on what the majority of church members think on this issue. He said he though most would be clueless. Since this seems to agree with your take on the matter, I will concede the point.

  80. I’m curious, where did Mormons get the idea that spirits are born via celestial sex? We’ve established that it’s not in Mormon scriptures and we’ve established that Mormon manuals don’t communicate or encourage the idea. So how did it become such a dominate thought?

    It’s the only logical conclusion to so many varied Mormon doctrines that I think most members just connect the dots and make that conclusion. Of course, liberal and internet Mormons will be quick to denigrate their co-religionists as a bunch of rubes, lacking in time or intellect to come to the proper conclusion.

  81. Tim,

    The first time I ever heard someone utter the words “celestial sex” as a term was by a non-Mormon who asked me if Mormons really believed it. That was when I was 17. My answer was, “Um… I’ve never heard that before…”

    My guess is that it arose in the Intermountain West by members of the church who decided it was high time they revealed to mankind that which God had not seen fit to reveal. In other words, it grew out of bored speculations, most likely based on bits and pieces of things that Brigham Young and other late 19th and early 20th century church leaders said. Why they said it I don’t know.

    Regarding all of this lengthy debate about Mormon theology, I’m pretty sure it has been mentioned before, but it is worth mentioning again: your average Mormon doesn’t think about theology. Your average Mormon doesn’t ask why something is, or why it happens, or how it happens, or when it happens. They tend to look at the broad doctrines (we are all children of God) and accept them as that. No need to ask what we actually mean, because, to them, it doesn’t matter. (For example, I am 99% percent certain that the majority of Mormons have no idea what viviparous birth means.)

    So what we have our non-Mormons, like Aaron S, who go around trying to play “gotcha” with people who, by and large, don’t understand what the “gotcha” is about, because they just don’t care. Hence, when Seth says there is no mainstream, I tend to agree: there is no mainstream LDS teaching on these theological issues because the mainstream members of the church don’t think about, and don’t teach about, these issues.

  82. Tim ~ I’m curious, where did Mormons get the idea that spirits are born via celestial sex? We’ve established that it’s not in Mormon scriptures and we’ve established that Mormon manuals don’t communicate or encourage the idea. So how did it become such a dominate thought?

    Probably from Orson Pratt in The Seer. He basically says that a man with one wife will have a much slower time populating his world with spirit children than a man with more wives.

    It’s not hard to connect the dots on why having more women speeds up the process.

    I’d have to dig to find the quote though.

  83. Regarding the provenance of “spirit children,” I think any LDS general authority will tell you that we don’t know. “Celestial sex” is pure speculation.

    Jack – How many Mormons have actually read any part of _The Seer_ or the Journal of Discourses? And of those who do, how many of them actually think that they represent church doctrine? I think Tim might have a point.

    Alex – “For example, I am 99% percent certain that the majority of Mormons have no idea what viviparous birth means.” Count me as one of them. I just looked it up, and am still trying to figure out what it has to do with Mormon beliefs.

  84. JT ~ Actually, I find Mormons delving into the earlier writings of their leaders on a pretty regular basis. As a teenager, I took the missionary discussions at the home of a man who was a great-great-grandson of Parley Pratt, and one of the books he had me read while I was taking the discussions was Key to the Science of Theology. Some Mormons have very nice collections of older writings of leaders in their homes, particularly those of the older generations.

    But it’s not so much that I think Mormons today are going out there and reading The Seer and saying, “Hey, spirit birth, I totally believe in that!” It’s that I think the idea crept into Mormonism from Orson Pratt (among others) and it’s been quietly articulated ever since. The fact that current temple sealing policies fit Pratt’s theories like a glove probably helps.

    My own husband believes in viviparous spirit birth (though he wouldn’t use that terminology) and celestial sex, and he’s expressed an openness to the idea that having spirit kids may mean pregnancy for the woman. I’m flattered that he likes sex with me so much that he wants to have it in the next life, but he’s not allowed to talk about that last part around me under threat of domestic violence.

  85. My general response when it comes to speculative theories is just, “Maybe, maybe not. I’ll wait until God tells me and, in the meantime, worry about overcoming my weaknesses now.”

    I think Mormon discussions about how spirits are/were created are akin to the ancient discussions about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. Honestly, does it matter? I don’t think we can change how God does what He does, and if it is important for us, I’m sure he’ll let us know. Not that I’m opposed to thought experiments and speculations–just opposed to the idea that these games are actually of some sort of theological significance.

  86. Alex, I think that trivializes the question too much – since this discussion does yield us valuable theological information.

    I agree that this question is not crucial enough that not having it settled is enough to undermine the validity of any religious movement. But that doesn’t mean it’s trivial either.

    Certainly, it’s of more weight than dancing angels.

  87. I think Mormon discussions about how spirits are/were created are akin to the ancient discussions about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

    I’d also like to point out that it was theologians of the middle ages who are accused of talking about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

    But more to the point, no one actually discussed that in the middle ages. It’s an early modern attempt to dismiss scholasticism in a single sentence. However, if you can provide a reference to a philosopher or theologian actually raising the question, I will be happy to reconsider my views.

    And, I actually think this is a pretty important question for Mormons to answer. Theology is not abstract from practicalities, as many people try and make it. You can’t put deep questions in one box and practical strategies for being a good person in another. Because what it means to be a good person and how you go about it come directly from those deep theologies.

    Take this particular case of people having sex in the hereafter to make babies. If that’s true, then heterosexual sex is the eternal order of things. This has direct implications for how far the LDS church is allowed to go in accepting homosexual behavior for all times. It also means that prop 8 was not a merely politically expedient, but was part of a cosmic struggle for the eternal way of things. It also gives Mormons a reason to not be hypocritical in supporting prop 8, because the issue is not about civic marital rules (which Mormons were more than happy to violate in the 19th century), but about an eternal order which children have the right to experience. It also has implications for just how far Mormons can support alternate routes to making babies. And the list goes on and on.

    My point is not to debate these issues, but to show reasons why a trite dismissal of “deep theologies” is counterproductive to living a good life.

  88. well stated.

    Deep philosophical and theological discussions always work their way down to artistic and cultural expressions which in turn influence how people behave.

  89. I think it would be easier for Mormons to delve into, and try to answer these sorts of theological loose ends if they didn’t constantly feel like every one of them was being exploited as an argument against the fundamental validity of the entire movement.

  90. Deep philosophical and theological discussions always work their way down to artistic and cultural expressions which in turn influence how people behave.

    I think the opposite is the reality. “Deep philosophical and theological discussions” are generally the reflection, not the origin of that is going on in behavior and life. No doubt there is a two-way influence but practicalities, science and political realities break the back of theology time and time again.

    Also, as Seth said, the entire discussion came about because his view, which seems very close to the non-Mormon Christian view, was challenged as somehow not a “true” Mormon view.

    This is a strange sort of discussion to have:

    Non-Mormon: What do you believe?
    Mormon: I believe X.
    Non-Mormon: I believe X too, but you must not be a “mainstream” mormon, because other Mormons have said that they believe X and Y.
    Mormon: Well, there is a lot of variety in Mormon beliefs and Mormons don’t consider this variety to be significant.
    Non-Mormon: You are wrong, there is less variety than you say and it is significant that you are different.
    Mormon: What the heck??? I really don’t know how to respond, do you want to talk about what I believe or not. Or is this discussion about how YOU define Mormonism.

  91. I think it would be easier for Mormons to delve into, and try to answer these sorts of theological loose ends if they didn’t constantly feel like every one of them was being exploited as an argument against the fundamental validity of the entire movement.

    To quote a Mormon euphemism, “I never said it would be easy, I only said it would be worth it.” It’s always easier to do something when there is no opposition.

  92. I think the opposite is the reality. “Deep philosophical and theological discussions” are generally the reflection, not the origin of that is going on in behavior and life. No doubt there is a two-way influence but practicalities, science and political realities break the back of theology time and time again.

    I would submit that your reading of events is profoundly a-historical and has more to do with a particular variety of narrow sighted Anglo-American post-modernist and scientistic triumphalism than history. But, that’s just me.

  93. I’m guessing several of us are responding to slighting different issues. Exactly what view is being characterized as “fringe” is unclear. However, I’m arguing that one simply cannot describe adoption theology as a “fringe” view in Mormonism. It is the only one will find in the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith’s revelation and sermons. It enjoys more scriptural support than the later concept of “spirit birth.”

    However, I’ve never argued in my writings that “spirit birth” isn’t part of the Mormon theological tradition. Blake Ostler, who surveyed Mormon thought on pre-existence concluded: “The view that man originated when spirit matter was organized into an individual through literal spiritual birth seems to have been the only view consistently elucidated from 1845-1905.” Blake Ostler, “The idea of pre-existence in the development of Mormon thought.” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, 15:1 (Spring 1982): 68.

    I understand that many want to take a snap-shot of the collective Mormon consciousness and argue which views are more pervasive or pronounced in the minds of a given Mormon population. I would love to have access to such data, but we don’t have such data. Mormon bloggers are constantly trying to perform limited polls now and then. Still, I question whether we need to add commentary constantly on what views are in accordance with the “average Mormon.” Especially since, apparently, the “average Mormon” doesn’t use the internet but remains confined to the chapel.

    As I’ve stated above, I believe most Mormons who are aware of these different views in Mormonism are going to simply embrace both. Christians embrace four Gospels that contain different theologies without a problem and end up harmonizing them. Mormons have three different creation accounts and don’t reject one over the other. The Hebrew Bible does not proffer one unified theology, systematic theologies notwithstanding. It is typical human behavior to harmonize religious ideas. We see it already on this thread. It shouldn’t be surprising to learn Mormonism has at least two schools of thought on some matters.

    I completely agree that adoption theology has been overshadowed by the spirit birth narrative. There are many reasons that this is the case. It is less-well known, less emphasized, etc. But dismissing it as fringe is incorrect, not to mention a wasted opportunity to have Mormons and Evangelicals discussing what both can accept. Wouldn’t that be closer to what Millet envisioned? As Tim described “Mormons and Evangelicals getting together to study the Book of Romans without shedding an ounce of their own convictions.”

  94. In light of Mormon-Evangelical dialogue, honestly I thought Evangelicals would be glad and even rejoice to learn that Joseph Smith taught an adoption theology. Yet, what I hear instead on this thread is “Oh well, who cares? That isn’t what Mormons today believe, and any Mormons who do, well they are a freak anomaly.” Even if that’s true, what’s then the point of engaging in interfaith dialogue? Is interfaith dialogue only concerned with static aggregate populations of “the average Mormon” entering into dialogue with other static aggregate populations with “the average Evangelical,” or with individuals engaging into dialogue with other individuals?

    Yes, it is a long standing stereotype that Mormons all think alike and act alike. And arguing that Mormons who don’t fit that stereotype are fringe is not very fruitful. That isn’t helpful to interfaith dialogue. What’s the point of dialogue if every time a Mormon speaks he or she is told “Well, I don’t really care what you think because every other Mormon doesn’t think the way you do.” It might be a correct observation as far as it goes, but isn’t that why we are dialoguing with each other? That’s what is going to happen when individuals engage in dialogue with other individuals. I think most people who frequent this thread are going to have unique perspectives. I think people should give up the quest to find the “average” person of any given faith demographic online, just accept you are speaking with an individual.

    In addition, people need to realize that being Mormon or being Evangelical doesn’t mean you are an expert or even well-versed on the history, philosophy or theology of your faith tradition. It means you have valuable experience as an adherent or practicing member of your faith. And sharing that experience is important and critically vital. But some people outside of your faith tradition are going to know more about your history or theology than you do. That’s just a fact of life. Yet, if a person is going to argue about their faith beyond their own personal experience with it, we expect that person to back up their claims with scholarship and research, by citing something that everyone else can examine, and to be prepared to have their claims critiqued by others. If you stay within sharing your personal experience the most people can argue is “Well, your experience doesn’t count because its fringe or not normal or average, so I don’t really care.” That isn’t very helpful in my view, but this is what is happening.
    If Mormons and Evangelicals can find points of commonality, why not begin dialogue from that point? Why continue to argue that that point of commonality really doesn’t matter? What I hear is “Well, I don’t care about hearing any views from Mormons unless every single Mormon on the face of the planet adopts that view simultaneously, when that happens, get back with me.” What a great attitude to foster dialogue! Most Mormons I know want to learn about Joseph’s earlier views and are not disturbed to learn that he may not have taught spirit birth. It is true there are some who tenaciously hold to spirit birth and even accuse me and others of smuggling Evangelical theology into Mormonism. That isn’t helpful either.

    I guess I’m a little surprised. I thought more Evangelicals would be pleased to learn about adoption theology in the Book of Mormon and in Joseph Smith’s thought. I didn’t expect them to merely denounce it as fringe and unworthy of attention or to even go as far as to argue that what Joseph Smith taught is irrelevant.

  95. David,

    I don’t understand what you are arguing for, that Mormons SHOULD have a uniform theological position on these issues or that they DO have a uniform theological position that is not Seth’s?

    Are you really arguing that Seth’s is not a “Mormon” position on these issues?

    Clearly some LDS believe in a spirit-birth process in the pre-existence, some don’t, and some don’t care or don’t think it matters. From and LDS point of view, all of these views are acceptable, EVEN IF they don’t represent the view that is found in the current version of LDS teaching manuals. There are all kinds of reasons for this, but it is the reality.

    Do you not understand this or are you just trying to argue that it shouldn’t be this way?

  96. I would submit that your reading of events is profoundly a-historical and has more to do with a particular variety of narrow sighted Anglo-American post-modernist and scientistic triumphalism than history. But, that’s just me.

    It’s just you. Theological positions go by the wayside as soon as the social and scientific realities, or even philosophy make them seem silly. It’s been this way since (at least) Copernicus. I think history reflects that the only theological positions that are truly safe from revision are those that retreat beyond what can be measured or matters to people on earth, or are consistent with what matters.

  97. I don’t understand what you are arguing for, that Mormons SHOULD have a uniform theological position on these issues or that they DO have a uniform theological position that is not Seth’s?

    I said above that I don’t think Mormons have a theology at all.

    Are you really arguing that Seth’s is not a “Mormon” position on these issues?

    I already retracted my claim above that I think that Seth’s views on this particular issue are on the fringe.

    Clearly some LDS believe in a spirit-birth process in the pre-existence, some don’t, and some don’t care or don’t think it matters. From and LDS point of view, all of these views are acceptable, EVEN IF they don’t represent the view that is found in the current version of LDS teaching manuals. There are all kinds of reasons for this, but it is the reality.

    I acknowledged this much above.

    Do you not understand this or are you just trying to argue that it shouldn’t be this way?

    In light of my previous answers, this question is moot.

  98. And for the record, I firmly believe in Ovoviviparous spirit birth, or at the very most aplacental viviparity . . which I admit IS “fringe”.

  99. It’s just you.

    Wow, thanks for the explanation.

    Theological positions go by the wayside as soon as the social and scientific realities, or even philosophy make them seem silly. It’s been this way since (at least) Copernicus. I think history reflects that the only theological positions that are truly safe from revision are those that retreat beyond what can be measured or matters to people on earth, or are consistent with what matters.

    It seems, essentially, your worldview is empiricist to the core, so there is no way I could possibly sway you to my position. You take it as an article of faith that everything proceeds from particulars, and that all generalizations are made from these particulars. Hence, you see history as nothing more than theories being destroyed by the inevitable march of scientific and empirical progress. Thus, only theology which accords to what you see as reality, measurable empirical reality, will survive. In the end, science is the ultimate judge of theology.

    But, I think that is precisely backwards. Science itself is a lens through which to see reality, complete with its own blind spots and rules to follow. Empirical facts don’t create science, an overarching philosophy allows and impels scientists to evaluate facts in a certain way. So, the extent to which science overturns theology is based on assent to the philosophical framework of science. In my view, it’s ideas that drive history, not the other way around.

    However, I had to chuckle at the last phrase you said, “consistent with what matters.” From which value free empirical framework to do you derive knowledge of what matters? Science isn’t telling you what matters. You may be using science as a tool to get at “what matters,” but science doesn’t, and can’t, tell you “what matters.” Which is precisely what I am trying to argue, that history is driven by ideas. And in religion, the framework for discussing ideas is generally called theology. That’s why theology matters.

  100. I shared a verse from Romans 8 in the Idaho Falls hospital yesterday morning.

    And then I shared a verse from Romans 8 in one of the senior citizen centers yesterday evening.

    Yes. theology matters a great, great deal.

  101. aquinas, finding something in your canon or in early Mormon writings doen’t save it from the status of being fringe today. D&C 89 encourages the drinking of a certain kind of beer, but that would be a fringe belief and practice among modern Mormons. Mormonism in general is not a minimalist “religion of the book”, a prima scriptura or sola scriptura system. As Robert Millet himself admitted with refreshing public honesty:

    “I think most Latter-day Saints would be prone to answer this by pointing out the value and significance of living oracles, or continuing revelation, or ongoing divine direction through modern apostles and prophets, and thus to conclude that living prophets take precedence over canonized scripture” (Claiming Christ, p.31).

    Add to that the momentum of the enormous train of Mormon culture and tradition and uncorrected folk beliefs, and you have a huge problem that shouldn’t be ignored.

    Modern fringe Mormons can often find seeds or explicit support for their positions in Joseph Smith and their canon (including Romans 8!), but my point stands. A transplanted Mormon from the 1830’s would today have many fringe beliefs. It’s not right for modern Mormons with fringe beliefs to use their canon and founding prophet as an excuse to not be open and honest about the current state of affairs in Mormonism.

    I’m happy to talk with my evanjellyfish Mormon friends, whose beliefs are often rooted in the canon and early Mormonism, but I’m not happy to do so when it is an exercise in fantasy-land denial. It’d be like a discussion between an evangelical and a Mormon who believes full remission of sins happens prior to baptism, not at all at baptism itself (an idea that has support in D&C 20:37, contra page 115 of Gospel Principles [2009]). It is better to have that kind of discussion only if it’s out on the table that it isn’t an idea prevalent in cultural or institutional Mormonism. Same thing with the idea that being children of God is merely an pre-mortal adoptive concept with no connotations whatsoever of literal spirit birth / begotten obtainment of a spirit body.

    Jared writes, “Aaron describes Seth as fringe because he said that all family relationships are a essentially a matter of choice”

    Incorrect, as B.H. Roberts’ tripartite model doesn’t seem to preclude personal intelligences choosing to become spirit children. I describe Seth’s view as fringe because it rejects the traditional, meaningful Mormon notions of spirit birth (which at the very least entail an begetting event where one gets a spirit body). And specifically I am pointing out how Mormons use Romans 8:16 as opposed to how Seth recognizes Paul to have used it.

    The beautiful New Testament theme of adoption by grace through faith in Jesus Christ (who gives us the Spirit of adoption by which we cry, “Daddy!”) is in no way taught alongside another idea that we were already children of God before the adoption. But Mormons, from the time they are precious, impressionable little children, are taught to find their significance in being literal begotten sons and daughters of God, a description given to all humans on earth, regardless if they are “led by the Spirit of God” (Romans 8:14). This strong, persistent theme in Mormonism not only misuses scriptures like Romans 8:16, it not only overshadows the beautiful New Testament theme of adoption, it tragically smothers it. For a person who sees what Paul is really teaching, how can this not break your heart?

    I would love to see neo-orthodox Mormons, etc., use early Mormon roots as a basis to promote the evangelical idea of adoption by the Father through faith in Jesus Christ, but the only right way to do that is with integrity.

    With passion in Jesus,

    Aaron

  102. I wouldn’t consider myself an empiricist to the core at all. Far from it. But i would consider theology among the weakest sorts of ideology. I just believe ideological frameworks of science and philosophy generally drive theology, not the other way around.

    E.g. Augustine was driven by Plato, Aquinas by Aristotle.

  103. Aquinas,

    Thanks for putting everyone back on track.

    I’m quite thrilled that you, Seth and other Mormons are putting adoption forward as the preferred theological position. I say “Godspeed”.

    I think returning to the roots of Joseph Smith pre-Nauvoo and to the Book of Mormon is a great prospect and one I pray for. As you pointed out, that’s not going to be an entirely acceptable thing for you to do among other Mormons. Particularly with the “14 Fundamentals of Following a Prophet” being dusted off again. But if I can offer any encouragement, I’m all for it.

    I don’t think taking a poll of what the average member believes is all that helpful in defining a religion. I’m terrified by how many Evangelicals answer those polls. I would love for Mormons and Evangelicals to both give deeper thought to their theology and recognize both have significant gaps in understanding and thoughtfulness.

    In addition, I think you’re right that we need to deal with each other as individuals. But there are also some places where we’re dealing with larger themes as well. I don’t believe in a pre-tribulation rapture. I think my viewpoint has more Biblical foundation than the alternative, but I recognize I’m also not in the mainstream of Evangelical thought. I can accept that I’m on the fringe and still maintain that my viewpoint is more sound.

  104. Aquinas, I am glad that adoption theology exists in LDS Scripture and the history of Joseph Smith’s thought. I learned something in this thread that I did not know before.

    I just don’t agree with the expectation I’ve been feeling from this thread that evangelicals have to give this strain of LDS thought the exact same amount of space at the table as viviparous spirit birth.

    I also feel like there’s something of a double-standard here. Take the old counter-cult chestnut: “Mormons believe God had sex with Mary.” It was definitively taught by Brigham Young and numerous LDS prophets and apostles, and it’s believed by some Mormons today. But if evangelicals even bring it up in a nuanced, qualified fashion, trying to give it its appropriate place as a minority strain in the history of LDS thought, Mormons can’t rush fast enough to declare it “fringe” and “not doctrine” and point out “no one believes that anymore.” (If anyone disagrees, please review the multiple complaints and objections I got for even mentioning it in passing on this thread here.)

    I guess my decision is that I’m going to treat LDS adoption theology exactly the same way I treat the God-Mary thing. I’ll point out where it comes from, I’ll point out that early leaders used to teach it, and I’ll point out that only a few Mormons believe it today.

    I do want to apologize to both you and Seth. I did not mean to give you the impression that your feelings on this are not important just because they’re uncommon among Mormons today, and it grieves me to think that I’ve done that. Please forgive me.

  105. I guess I’m a little surprised. I thought more Evangelicals would be pleased to learn about adoption theology in the Book of Mormon and in Joseph Smith’s thought. I didn’t expect them to merely denounce it as fringe and unworthy of attention or to even go as far as to argue that what Joseph Smith taught is irrelevant.

    I think it is surprising to most Evangelicals to find out that the Book of Mormon contains a mostly garden variety form of protestant Christianity, with only a very few mildly heretical views. Indeed, there are numerous Christian churches that have more heretical views than the Book of Mormon espouses and yet they are still considered firmly in the Christian camp. It’s surprising because the obvious question for an evangelical to ask next is: “What the hell happened, why did you move away from this stuff?”

    And here is where I think Mormons need to own the teachings of their church. When talking to evangelicals too many want to pretend that an appeal to the Book of Mormon (easily Mormons’ most unique orthodox scripture) somehow settles a theological question. Everything else becomes “unimportant” or “not doctrine” or “only opinion.”

    Take Seth’s defense of his adoptionistic ideas. Notice that with the exception of D&C 128 all of his scripture quotes come from the New York and Kirtland eras of the church. I would agree that in those eras Mormonism probably did have an adoptionistic framework for understand being children of God. But, you can’t just ignore what came later. The overarching problem is that Mormons have no theology and Mormon doctrine is a layer cake. You can always find a layer that suits your preferences. But in a church where one is told to focus on the top layers of that cake, and interpret the lower layers in light of the top layers, it’s hard to see only focusing on the lower layers as not being outside the mainstream.

  106. I guess my decision is that I’m going to treat LDS adoption theology exactly the same way I treat the God-Mary thing. I’ll point out where it comes from, I’ll point out that early leaders used to teach it, and I’ll point out that only a few Mormons believe it today

    I think this is a bit simplistic. A version of adoption theology is very prevalent, and could be considered a bedrock doctrine.

    Here is James Faust explaining in a youth magazine:

    http://lds.org/ldsorg/v/index.jsp?locale=0&sourceId=7dc2ad74be99b010VgnVCM1000004d82620a____&vgnextoid=024644f8f206c010VgnVCM1000004d82620aRCRD

  107. I did not say that theology doesn’t matter, by the way. Nor did I say that delving into an understanding of our beliefs was unimportant.

    What I did say is that one cannot have a serious discussion about how God works when God Himself has not told us. We are trying to figure out a method that has never been described, as far as we know, by God.

    It is like me looking at a website and deciding how the designer made her decision to develop a particular element, discussing it with other website enthusiasts, coming up with an answer that makes sense to us, but never bothering to ask the designer herself. I fail to see the value in such a discussion. Even after the many comments posted here, I still fail to see the value of debating spiritual birth as adoptive or viviparous, because, regardless of what viviparous birth is on earth, I highly doubt it would be at all similar in the next life.

    And concerning David’s comments regarding the eternal nature of gender/sexuality and how it informs the LDS viewpoint of homosexuality, I believe it has already been firmly established by LDS leaders that Mormonism teaches that gender is “an essential characteristic of eternal identity and purpose”, so a discussion that speculates on the method of post-mortal procreation is not going to make any difference in that understanding.

  108. Ahh, the Spirit is everything – the Wind who carried the Word.

    So was it the Spirit presenting those theological arguments through Paul? :)

    ___

    Aquinas, I would consider the network of Idaho LDS bishops, stake presidents, and on up to the Idaho Authorities and higher to be a very advanced and sophisticated religious system driven by core ideas, shaped by over a century.

    So I don’t know, even Bob and Blake both appear to be fringe among the massive Idaho LDS Authority structure and belief system.

    I do think that LDS Mainstream in 2010 has everything to do with those geographic Authorities in an area.

  109. Jack- Just to give you my perspective, “Viviparous spirit birth” was almost never discussed in my childhood, but adoption theology was discussed in detail.

    My father was my Bishop and then my Stake President and eventually a Mission president, he also teaches Seminary. He has taught an adoptive type theology from the pulpit throughout his ministry. I am going to assume that hundreds and hundreds that were influenced by what he said did not consider his view fringe. But I would admit that i learned Mormonism from the scriptures and from him, more than from the manuals. I can’t believe he was ever challenged in any significant way for believing and teaching this.

    From my experience, I think people have to understand that CES, BYU ideas can be as much “fringe” as anything in the church.

    So in my experience the viviparous idea, whatever that could mean, is strange or on the edge of Mormonism, rather than its center.

  110. So was it the Spirit presenting those theological arguments through Paul?

    Perhaps in the same way as it was presenting arguments through Joseph Smith.

  111. I think this is a bit simplistic. A version of adoption theology is very prevalent, and could be considered a bedrock doctrine.

    Here is James Faust explaining in a youth magazine:

    Jared, you’ve said this on more than one occasion now, so I’ll address it. I don’t think you are understanding what is going on here. You are conflating adoption as children of God with adoption into the house of Israel. LDS theology teaches that all are spirit children of God and that all faithful Mormons are adopted into the house of Israel if they are not already direct descendants. In LDS theology these are two separate things.

    In any case, when an LDS says they are adopted into the house of Israel, they are not referring to the same thing as when an evangelical says they are adopted as children of God. You seem to imply that LDS ideas about adoption into Israel are the same as adoption as children of God. In an LDS context they are decidedly not.

  112. Sorry, I was being imprecise in referring to “LDS theology.” I don’t think such a thing exists. I should have said something like “the dominant doctrine in Mormon thought.” Mea culpa.

  113. David,

    Well, I absolutely agree that LDS are not talking about precisely what evangelicals are talking about, evangelicals don’t believe in a pre-existence, and the idea of the fall and depravity of man is different.

    However, I think the effect of the adoption is the same in both traditions. i.e. getting on track to glorification, changing from a mere spirit-child to a begotten son or daughter, a joint-heir with Christ. In LDS tradition, prior to this adoption the spirit-child is not a joint-heir with Christ, just as in Evangelical thought the created human is not a joint-heir with Christ, or a begotten child of God.

    Although the precise theological explanation of the adoptive process is off, the practical effect is very close to the same.

  114. Most Christians I have spoken with believe the “we are all God’s children” concept as well. Its outside the “theology” but its hardly fringe.

  115. Jack, no problem.

    David, if you’ve got a list of scriptures you think represent a later period and a different doctrinal strain, please share.

    Aaron, I think it’s fairly obvious you only brought up this topic in an attempt to make sure that Ed Decker’s repulsive rhetoric about “endless Celestial sex” doesn’t go out of fashion.

    Never one to give up a handy club without a fight, are you?

  116. Um . . . Seth?

    I’m the one who brought up the topic, not Aaron, and I solemnly swear that a discussion of “celestial sex” was the farthest thing from my mind when I did it.

    And you were the one who first mentioned “celestial sex,” not Aaron.

    Just sayin’.

  117. David, if you’ve got a list of scriptures you think represent a later period and a different doctrinal strain, please share.

    I provided a list of current Sunday School LDS lessons which support the literal spirit birth model. Jack also provided some references which support that. I think it’s implicit in the concept of eternal marriage.

    I can’t list any canonized scriptures because with the exception of 14 sections of the D&C, 2 official declarations, and the Book of Abraham, no LDS scripture post-dates the Missouri period. As far as I can tell, all Mormon ideas about this subject post date the Missouri period, so the chances of finding them inside the canon are very slim.

  118. I didn’t mean bringing up the topic of child-parent theological notions.

    I meant the whole “fringe” argument – which Aaron did initiate. I’ve read Aaron enough to know what he was up to there.

  119. Jack ~ I don’t believe it is at all tenable to equate adoption theology which is not only attested in the New Testament but also the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith’s sermons and revelations, with the views of Brigham Young on the conception of Jesus Christ. I hope I can strongly persuade you otherwise. The largest reasoning being that adoption theology is attested explicitly in Mormonism’s foundational texts in numerous places.

  120. “Aaron, I think it’s fairly obvious you only brought up this topic in an attempt to make sure that Ed Decker’s repulsive rhetoric about ‘endless Celestial sex’ doesn’t go out of fashion.”

    I propose an LDS&Evangelical version of Godwin’s law:

    As an online discussion grows longer between an evangelical and a Mormon, the probability of a comparison involving Ed Decker approaches 1.

  121. What’s this Aquinas? You’re actually taking a theological position and stating it? Usually you’re too coy for that.

  122. I honestly didn’t know that Ed Decker was a Nazi. . .

    According to Decker, he descends from Jews, most of whom were wiped out in the holocaust. If true, your comparison is truly repulsive.

  123. All seriousness aside, i think Aaron doesn’t deserve any comparison with Ed Decker or Hitler, i think he is a sincere guy and relatively likable. And I don’t care if he criticizes celestial sex.

  124. The idea of spirit birth bothers me a lot less than the idea of not spanking your spirit kids when they start worshiping you as the Most High Eternal Almighty Omnipotent Everlasting Holy of Holies God.

    Celestial bottoms were made for Celestial spoons.

  125. Pingback: ClobberBlog » Godwin’s Law for Mormons & Evangelicals

  126. Sorry, that was low.

    Not at all, I consider Bruce M. the other “Boss”. I am upset that you are throwing his name around in jest.

    No one is ever going to be accused of being a Monson.

    Right, I can’t imagine anyone here rising to his level of awesome.

  127. I’d say something clever… but my dad is reading this thread, so I have to behave.

    And he agreed with Aaron.

    ….

    But I’ll never tell what.

  128. No one is ever going to be accused of being a Monson.

    Almost, the ultimate reverse insult will have to be J. Golden Kimball.

  129. Speaking of Bruce R. McConkie, he weighed in on Romans 8:16-17 back in the April 1952 general conference with these words:

    Actually, before you read them, take a guess as to whether you think he goes for adoption or literal on this.

    Now read on:

    “All of us who have received the gospel have power given us to become the sons of God ( John 1:12). We can do that by faith. And Paul says those that become, by adoption, sons of God are joint heirs with Jesus Christ ( Rom. 8:14-17), entitled thereby to receive, inherit, and possess, as Christ has inherited before.”

  130. Just curious, do the protestants here believe all people are children of God (rather than just Christians) and do they consider their views the common position on the subject?

  131. BTW, if you haven’t ever checked out scriptures.byu.edu, it is a scripture index that shows, for a given scriptural verse, what general conference talks (1942-present), discourses from the Journal of Discourses, and/or excerpts from the Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith have referenced the verse. There is a vast reservoir for Romans 8.

  132. Ironically, when doing a larger study on this before Bruce McConkie was one of the few Mormon authors I could find who explicitly spoke of Heavenly Father adopting individuals through the gospel. But that kind of thinking doesn’t seem to have percolated well. Nor does Bruce’s approach to Romans 8:17 in 1952 seem to be that common in the Mormonism of 2010.

  133. Sorry, I meant specifically Romans 8:16, not 8:17.

    “Just curious, do the protestants here believe all people are children of God (rather than just Christians)”

    Liberal Protestants speak of an ambiguous notion of everyone being a child of God, and have little sense of the dichotomy that Paul speaks of in Romans 8 (i.e. only those who are led by the Spirit are sons; only those who have received the Spirit of adoption). When Mormon missionaries ask people, “don’t you believe everyone is a child of God?”, it usually resonates with that liberal, ambiguous notion of a caring Father God who equally considers everyone a son or daughter. The resonation rarely has anything to do with a notion like that of Smith’s, Young’s, or Roberts’.

    While conservative Protestants still affirm a compassionate, caring love by God for all creation (except for some radical hyper-Calvinists), in my experience they have been really strong in affirming the dichotomy in Romans 8. Only those who are saved and led by the Spirit are adopted children of God. While we are in the image of God, no one is a natural child of God since we are created, finite, contingent beings dependent on God for our very fundamental continued existence.

    I second JT’s recommendation of scriptures.byu.edu! I use it all the time.

  134. Aaron, I had to resort to Elder McConkie in preparing this article, because it’s hard to find any Mormon authors besides him who treat the scriptures in a systematic chapter-by-chapter fashion.

    The reason he’s been such a go-to resource is almost as much because of his prolific approach as because of his credibility.

    I pulled almost all my LDS scripture references in the original post from one of his treatments of Romans.

  135. I think that Elder McConkie believed strongly that we were all spirit children of a Heavenly Father, but I think he also recognized that the terms “son of God” or “daughter of God” or “children of God” could also be used in a different sense to refer to those who had accepted the gospel of Christ and had been spiritually converted or reborn. He clearly believed that Romans 8:16-17 referred to the latter sense.

    I think, for the most part, the Mormonism of 2010 sees it this way as well. At least with regard to Romans 8:16-17, Elder Quentin L. Cook cited those verses in the April 2010 general conference to support his assertion that “[t]hey who are sealed by the Holy Spirit of Promise receive all that the Father has” – clearly referring to adoption.

  136. Anyone with a copy of Mormon Doctrine care to share BRM’s thoughts on spirit children/spirit birth/intelligences etc.?

  137. Just curious, do the protestants here believe all people are children of God (rather than just Christians) and do they consider their views the common position on the subject?

    basically what Aaron said.

    In the “we’re all created by God” sense, we are his children. But if you pushed me or any Protestant to reconcile that with “being adopted through Christ” we’d drop the first notion.

  138. on children of God.

    Aaron, thanks for the answer. I am curious because i suppose i didn’t realize the gap between common belief and theology on this point.

    Practically everybody I talked to on my mission believed that all people were children of God and many believed we all lived in heaven before we came here.

    “Our Father, who art in heaven . . .”

  139. JT, I agree that McConkie maintained those distinctions, but it’s much less clear with Quentin L. Cook, and it is by no means the dominant approach to the passage by Mormons. You can’t assume people are connecting the dots between verses 16 and 17, especially given the common usage of 16.

    I am tempted to do another video on this, asking Mormons if they believe Romans 8:16 is about all of us being literal children of Heavenly Father, or about some of us being individually adopted children of Heavenly Father by faith in Jesus. I think you know well as I do what the general results would be. And keep in mind, 8:16 has been ingrained in Mormon culture. It isn’t just a random verse from the Bible.

  140. David: At your service.

    Mormon Doctrine (Bruce R. Mconkie) on:

    SPIRIT CHILDREN:

    1. All men in pre-existence were the spirit children of God our Father, an exalted, glorified, and perfected Man. “The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s” (D. & C. 130:22); the offspring born to him in that primeval sphere had bodies of spirit element. “I was in the beginning with the Father, and am the Firstborn,” Christ says of himself; and of all men, his spirit brethren, he says, “Ye were also in the beginning with the Father.” (D. & C. 93:21-23.)

    2. In a future eternity, spirit children will be born to exalted, perfected glorified couples for whom the family unit continues. The very glory of exalted beings is to have “a fulness and a continuation of the seeds forever and ever.” (D. & C. 132:19-25, 29-32; 131:1-4.)

    SPIRIT BIRTH

    1. [Literal] In the literal sense, the expression spirit birth has reference to the birth of the spirit in pre-existence. Spirits are actually born as the offspring of a Heavenly Father, a glorified and exalted Man. They will be born in a future eternity to future exalted beings for whom the family unit continues. (D. & C. 131:1-4; 132:19-24, 29-32.)

    2. [Adoption] In a figurative sense, the expression spirit birth has reference to those who are born again of the Spirit, who have become new creatures of the Holy Ghost. (John 3:3-12; Mosiah 27:24-31.)

    INTELLIGENCES

    Abraham used the name intelligences to apply to the spirit children of the Eternal Father. The intelligence or spirit element became intelligences after the spirits were born as individual entities. (Abra. 3:22-74.) Use of this name designates both the primal element from which the spirit offspring were created and also their inherited capacity to grow in grace, knowledge power and intelligence itself, until such intelligences, gaining the fulness of all things, become like their Father, the Supreme Intelligence. (Teachings, p. 354.)

    Bonus material (more than you asked for):

    SPIRIT ELEMENT

    “There is no such thing as immaterial matter,” the Prophet tells us. “All spirit is matter, but it is more fine or pure, and can only be discerned by purer eyes; We cannot see it; but when our bodies are purified we shall see that it is all matter.” (D. & C. 131:7-8.) This spirit element has always existed; it is co-eternal with God. (Teachings, pp. 352-354.) It is also called intelligence or the light of truth, which “was not created or made, neither indeed can be.” (D. & C. 93:29.)

    Speaking of pre-existent spirits, Abraham calls them “the intelligences that were organized before the world was.” (Abra. 3:22-24.) Thus, portions of the self-existent spirit element are born as spirit children, or in other words the intelligence which cannot be created or made, because it is self-existent, is organized into intelligences.

    SPIRIT BODIES

    Our spirit bodies had their beginning in pre-existence when we were born as the spirit children of God our Father. Through that birth process spirit element was organized into intelligent entities. The bodies so created have all the parts of mortal bodies. The Brother of Jared saw Christ’s spirit finger and then his whole spirit body. “I am Jesus Christ,” that glorious Personage said. “This body, which ye now behold, is the body of my spirit; … and even as I appear unto thee to be in the spirit will I appear unto my people in the flesh.” (Ether 3:14-17.)

    We had spirit bodies in pre-existence; these bodies are now housed temporarily in mortal tabernacles; during the period between death and the resurrection, we will continue to live as spirits; and finally spirit and body will be inseparably connected in the resurrection to form immortal or spiritual bodies.

    Animals, fowls, fishes, plants, and all forms of life were first created as distinct spirit entities in pre-existence before they were created “naturally upon the face of the earth.” That is, they lived as spirit entities before coming to this earth; they were spirit animals, spirit birds, and so forth. (Moses 3:1-9.) Each spirit creation had the same form as to outward appearance as it now has in mortality — “the spirit of man,” the revelation specifies, being “in the likeness of his person, as also the spirit of the beast, and every other creature which God has created.” (D. & C. 77:2.)

    ADOPTION

    By the law of adoption those who receive the gospel and obey its laws, no matter what their literal blood lineage may have been, are adopted into the lineage of Abraham. (Abra. 2: 9-11) “The effect of the Holy Ghost upon a Gentile,” the Prophet says, “is to purge out the old blood, and make him actually of the seed of Abraham.” Such a person has “a new creation by the Holy Ghost.” (Teachings, pp. 149-150.) Those who magnify their callings in the Melchizedek priesthood are promised that they will be “sanctified by the Spirit unto the renewing of their bodies. They become the sons of Moses and of Aaron and the seed of Abraham.” (D. & C. 84:33-34) Indeed, the faithful are adopted to the family of Christ; they become “the children of Christ, his sons, and his daughters”; they are “spiritually begotten,” for their “hearts are changed through faith on his name,” thus being “born of him,” becoming “his sons and his daughters.” (Mosiah 5:7.) Paul explained the doctrine of adoption by saying, “As many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God,” because they receive “the Spirit of adoption,” being or becoming Israelites, “to whom pertaineth the adoption.” (Rom. 8:14-24; 9:4; Gal. 4:5; Eph. 1:5.)

  141. McConkie writes under the entry “Sons of God”:

    “In one sense, the sons of God are the spirit offspring of the Father, the ones who “shouted for joy” when “the foundations of the earth” were laid. (Job 38:1-7) But in a more particular and express sense, they are the ones who accept Christ and his laws and press forward in devotion to truth and righteousness, living “by every word that proceedeth forth from the mouth of God” (D&C 84:44), util they become new creatures of the Holy Ghost and are thus spiritually begotten of God. they become by adoption “the children of Christ, his sons, and his daughters” (mosiah 5:7), and also, through him, they are begotten sons and daughters unto his Father. (D&C 76:22-24)

    Other relevant excerpts from the passage:

    “The sons of God are members of his family and, hence, are joint-heirs with Christ, inheriting the fulness of the Father. (D&C 93:17-23) Before gaining entrance to that glorious household, they must receive the higher Priesthood (Moses 6:67-68), magnify their callings therein (D&C 84:33-41), enter into the new and everlasting covenant of marriage (D&C 131:1-4; 132), and be obedient to all things (Doctrines of Salvation, vol 2, pp 8-9, 37-41, 59, 64-65)”

  142. Aaron, if you are going to ask them that, be sure to ask them how they think a spirit child is “born” and what they think that being looked like before birth, and how it was different after birth.

    You have to be specific here. You’re question leaves too much open to vagueness and interpretation.

  143. Aaron, I think your grasp of “Mormon culture” and your ability t define the “dominant mormon position” on this is tenuous at best. I spent two years talking to every random protestant I met about religion and grew up in the bible belt.

    Based on my experience I would say the “conservative” position on this issue is “fringe” and the idea that God is everyone’s Father is the dominant.

    But would never think that I have anything close to an authoritative view.

  144. Aaron – I was referring to the general idea of there being two different senses to being children of God. I think most today, including myself, would agree with the substance of Mormon Doctrine’s entry on Spirit Birth – that there is a literal sense and an adoption sense.

    With regard to the poll on what Romans 8:16-17 means, it will entirely depend on how you asked it. Do you let them read vv. 12-18? Or just 16 and maybe 17 out of context? Do you state one in common LDS terms and the other in evangelical-sounding (to a Mormon) terms? In the end, I’m not sure it would show anything other than how closely they read their scriptures and whether they used it on their mission to prove a certain point.

  145. And, for the record, as a missionary, I never used Romans 8:16 to “prove” that we are literal spirit children of God, I never needed to, being children of God was never a hurdle, i can’t see how it is “ingrained in Mormon culture.”

  146. The question would specifically have to do with Romans 8:16, showing how Mormons have been influenced to understand it and use it.

    Of course they take it out of context. Mormons take Romans 8:16 out of context all. the. time. And leaders aren’t doing anything serious to correct it (in fact, they largely seem to buy into the eisegesis).

    I don’t shrug at this. It’s a big deal.

    Jared, of course conservative evangelicals are fringe when compared to the bulk of American self-confessing Christians. You’re talking to someone who suspects most of American “Christians” are comfortably on their way to hell.

  147. You’re talking to someone who suspects most of American “Christians” are comfortably on their way to hell.

    Of course you can’t mean those like Kanye West? say it ain’t so!

  148. Aaron, whether or not a Mormon believes Romans 8:16 refers to adoption or our universal heritage is about what they think a specific verse means. I would venture to say that most, if not all, practicing Mormons believe that one must be born again of the Spirit, become the sons/daughters of Christ (whether they use the English word “adoption” is irrelevant – they are referring to the same concept), and remain in the covenant (enduring to the end). The LDS scriptures are clear on this. Practicing latter-day saints actively work toward that and covenant to remember Christ and take His name upon them every week when they partake of the sacrament. If some are possibly misinterpreting a verse of scripture in the process, I think the only thing they are losing out on is understanding what Paul meant in that specific instance – not on the substance of his teachings.

  149. And, for the record, as a missionary, I never used Romans 8:16 to “prove” that we are literal spirit children of God, I never needed to, being children of God was never a hurdle, i can’t see how it is “ingrained in Mormon culture.”

    Right, because we all know that the subject of being children of God is a major component of the missionary discussions.

    Every missionary, as soon as they realize that they are not dealing with an atheist, pretty much jumps right to Joseph Smith. And even when dealing with an atheist, most missionaries just skip to Joseph Smith anyway, figuring if they can get the investigator to accept Joseph Smith as a prophet, the whole belief in God thing comes along as a logical consequence.

    And in any case, as Aaron and Tim have pointed out, when you say we are children of God to a Protestant, what is going on in their head may bear little resemblance to what is going on in yours.

  150. JT,

    Thanks for doing the typing (or copying and pasting) from BRM. His entries are pretty much what I expected.

  151. For what it’s worth, I just did a quick search on lds.org to see how Romans 8:16 is used in conference talks and/or Ensign articles, and I found it most often is used as a footnote, and ambiguously so. In nearly every case it’s unclear whether the writer/speaker is referring primarily us being children of God on account of a spiritual birth or by adoption (because the person is speaking to those who are already in the church), so I agree that most often Romans 8:16 is used imprecisely in the LDS world.

    Interestingly, though, the first article I found where the writer (although not by a well-known general authority) used the verse to make a point about the nature of our being a child of God was one in which the speaker was clearly referring to adoption. Elder F. Melvin Hammond wrote:

    … we who are baptized become the children of God by spiritual rebirth: “If children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:17). We become part of the most remarkable family on earth, and “the Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God” (Romans 8:16). Peter described this family as “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people” (1 Peter 2:9). It makes no difference if we are poor or rich, learned or illiterate, old or young, sick or well—all are invited to repent, be baptized and confirmed, and become part of this unique family. [emphasis added]

    Again, for what it’s worth, having lived in both evangelical and LDS worlds, I would say that the vast majority of evangelicals, if asked who is a child of God, would say that all people are, and if asked to explain would say that they’re God’s children because God made them.

    The vast majority of Mormons would say the same thing, with the added proviso that all people are spirit children of the Heavenly Father. Asked to explain exactly what that means, I have no idea how a typical Mormon would answer. I don’t recall ever hearing the subject come up outside of the Web.

  152. And in any case, as Aaron and Tim have pointed out, when you say we are children of God to a Protestant, what is going on in their head may bear little resemblance to what is going on in yours.

    I see now, no doubt. Or little resemblance to a Catholic’s : http://www.catholiccourier.com/cc/index.cfm/commentary/bishops-column/all-are-beloved-children-of-god/

    I guess I didn’t fully realize the extent of the Protestant doctrine in separating creatures from children. Probably because you have to be a theology student to really get it. You don’t run into the distinction much talking to the average believer. It makes me further realize the theological gap is stronger than I had thought.

    I can see how “I am a Child of God” might actually offend one of the conservatives.

  153. “Have to be a theology student”? No Jared.

    It was just being taught the Roman’s Road since I was a little child in S.E. Idaho.

  154. The SBC church on 1st Street in town has placed a new message on their outside lettering board. I caught it today.

    It’s beautiful (the textual variant without the qualifier is intriguing):

    Romans 8:1 – “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (End of verse)

  155. I just checked in my scriptures that are still marked from my mission, and noticed that I always used both 16 and 17 from chapter 8, and it is noted that it is used in a discussion about the blessings that come from being baptised and taking upon ourselves the name of Christ. So, to everyone who is insisting that EVERY missionary uses Romans 8:16 only, and uses it as proof that we are literal children of God, I can offer only the refutation that neither I nor any of my several mission companions ever did.

    Also, when teaching people, we always started with God, worked through the OT prophets, spent a considerable amount of time on the life and mission of Christ, then moved on the apostles and the later apostasy before even touching on Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon, and the Restoration. I asked my father-in-law, who served his mission in Belgium before I was even born, and he said that their first lessons always followed the same outline. They referred to them as GTLs – Gospel Timeline discussions. I haven’t met any missionaries in California, Illinois, or Victoria, Australia, who jumped straight to the Restoration.

    Maybe they do it differently where DC is hanging out, and in whatever part of Cali Tim is in, and wherever Aaron S makes his movies, but I must have the luck to miss them.

  156. Well, we’ve had out the notion of our child-parent relationship with God the Father.

    But I’m curious what the Evangelicals here think of the possibility that really the only thing SOME Mormons may be lacking – from a perspective of salvation by grace – is a proper sense of the problem Christ’s death was solving, and a proper attitude of repentant humility about it – and if you could insert those mere attitudes into the LDS paradigm, the rest of the structure would be more or less OK (being legitimately a part of the process of sanctification).

    I’m curious as to whether the regulars here have any reservations about that.

  157. Just got back from Temple Square. Stayed from 7pm until 11:30pm talking to Mormons. I wish you guys could be flies on my shoulder.

    ‘night.

  158. “But I’m curious what the Evangelicals here think of the possibility that really the only thing SOME Mormons may be lacking – from a perspective of salvation by grace – is a proper sense of the problem Christ’s death was solving, and a proper attitude of repentant humility about it – and if you could insert those mere attitudes into the LDS paradigm, the rest of the structure would be more or less OK (being legitimately a part of the process of sanctification).”

    I think that is the problem with the church (Protestant, Catholic, Evangelical, etc.)

    Just about everyone wants a Christ + (something), theology.

    Whether it’s your decision, your good works, your sincerity, your Pope, your…whatever.

    It’s Christ …ALONE. Otherwise, what was that cross all about?

    The problem (to me anyways) seems to be trusting in the One who died for us, who forgives, and who has done it all for us.

  159. Seth ~ But I’m curious what the Evangelicals here think of the possibility that really the only thing SOME Mormons may be lacking – from a perspective of salvation by grace – is a proper sense of the problem Christ’s death was solving, and a proper attitude of repentant humility about it – and if you could insert those mere attitudes into the LDS paradigm, the rest of the structure would be more or less OK (being legitimately a part of the process of sanctification).

    I think the number one reason evangelicals fear that Mormons are not saved is because of their theology of who Christ is. But if you shelve that issue and just look at the grace v. works thing . . .

    Evangelicals would still feel uneasy about what Mormons teach about the necessity of the other ordinances in “the process of sanctification,” as we’re calling it. No evangelical church has such a rigid list of specific requirements for being sanctified. I think they’d be concerned about baptism being seen as a requirement for the justification part.

    But this would be an improvement for sure, and certainly a way of viewing LDS beliefs that puts them closer to what traditional Christians believe.

  160. Pingback: Paul’s Epistle To The Romans | Songs From The Wood

  161. Wouldn’t we sort of just be like Catholics in that regard?

    Catholic sacraments function much differently than do Mormon ordinances. First, the only ordinance a Catholic would consider necessary for salvation/exaltation/(whatever you want to call it, i.e. living with God and getting all the goodies you can possibly get, please no equivocation on the stupid salvation/exaltation debate here) would be baptism. There are plenty of Protestants who would also agree to that proposition. Second, for that one ordinance there is no authority requirement. If a baptized Methodist decides to become Catholic, no re-baptism is necessary. In an emergency situation anyone can perform a Catholic baptism provided they say the right words and pour the water at the right time.

    But the real difference is why sacraments are performed in the Catholic church. They are seen as the communication of the grace of Christ in an outward ceremony. That’s why Catholics make such a big stink about transubstantiation, their theology is that you are literally communing with Christ.

    Take Catholic eucharist/Mormon sacrament for comparison. In the eucharist you literally commune with Christ, literally eat his body and drink his blood, physically receive his grace, and a forgiveness of sins is pronounced by the priest. The Mormon sacrament is entirely symbolic and is only done in remembrance. Mormons talk about forgiveness of sins at sacrament, but it’s actually never said anywhere in the prayer. It’s very explicit in a Catholic eucharist.

    All other Catholic sacraments are seen as ancillary and optional, but all are related to the communication of grace, with perhaps the exception of marriage. But even then, a traditional Catholic wedding will involve a eucharist. The other Mormon ordinances are not related to the communication of grace and are mandatory.

  162. Oh incidentally, I just looked up the quote from Robert Millet that Aaron quoted thus:

    “I think most Latter-day Saints would be prone to answer this by pointing out the value and significance of living oracles, or continuing revelation, or ongoing divine direction through modern apostles and prophets, and thus to conclude that living prophets take precedence over canonized scripture” (Claiming Christ, p.31).

    Well, turns out Aaron cut out half the context from it. So here’s the whole thing:

    “It’s a little tough to answer the question: Which is of greater importance to you people, the living prophet or the standard works (another way of describing our scriptural canon)? I think most Latter-day Saints would be prone to answer this by pointing out the value and significance of living oracles, or continuing revelation, or ongoing divine direction through modern apostles and prophets, and thus to conclude that living prophets take precedence over canonized scripture. ON THE OTHER HAND, a number of LDS Church leaders have commented that while Mormons look to living prophets and modern revelation as their guide to walk and talk in modern times, they are quick to ADD that prophetic pronouncements will be in harmony with the standard works, the canon. From this perspective, then, it appears that THE STANDARD WORKS TRUMP THE LIVING PROPHETS. And so, to be honest, it’s a little tough to decide which is the chicken and which is the egg. It is rather fascinating that the above does not seem to pose a particular problem for the Mormon faithful; most do not see it as an ambiguity but rather continue to study their scripture and hearken to the words of their living prophets”

    Millet & McDermott, “Claiming Christ” pp.31 (emphasis added)

    Now gee Aaron… I wonder why you could have missed all that other stuff in there. Since “refreshing honesty” is such a theme today – maybe you could take that theme and run with it a bit. How would that be?

  163. Seth, I in no way meant to imply that Millet himself endorses the common Mormon approach to the primacy of living leaders over scripture. Not only do I already assume people here know Millet is an advocate of prima scriptura (scripture takes precedent over uncanonized statements of leaders), in my article on the various Mormon views of officiality I write the following (after the quote from Claiming Christ):

    “Rather than endorsing this mainstream approach, Millet goes on in the book to promote an approach much like prima scriptura.”

    I apologize for not being clear. But methinks you’re mainly on a get-Aaron kick.

  164. Also, notice the way I introduced the Millet quote in this thread:

    “Mormonism in general is not a minimalist ‘religion of the book’, a prima scriptura or sola scriptura system. As Robert Millet himself admitted…”

  165. Chopping source quotes is just something that tends to really push my buttons (since it is done to us Mormons so frequently and shamelessly by Evangelical ministries). Millet wasn’t just talking about his own prima scriptura views in that passage.

    He was talking about how MOST MORMONS approach the problem – and it’s not a clear-cut case of prima ecclesia. You made it sound like Millet was admitting that most Mormons are “not people of the book” and are prima ecclesia. When his actual quote was merely stating that both elements run strongly throughout LDS culture.

  166. Seth,

    The context doesn’t really add much. Adding a special proviso that you can find some people to say something else doesn’t change the fact that the majority answer that living prophets trump dead ones. And given the reintroduction of the 14 points Ezra Taft Benson talk back into the record, the minority position just got that much more untenable.

    In any case Millet makes a huge non sequitor in his attempt to arrive at an answer that evangelicals will find more palatable. He says that the living prophets will be in harmony with the standard works, then says that this somehow means that the standard works trump the living prophets. Huh? Harmony means that nobody trumps anyone else. If I were to say that my wife and I are in complete harmony, therefore I trump my wife, you would rightly see the problem.

    Not to mention the fact that new revelation can be added to the canon at any time by the living authorities (provided the church sustains the changes, which will always happen as voting is a mere formality). And there is no mechanism to make sure that the new stuff agrees with the old. In fact in many cases it’s blatantly obvious they don’t. When D&C 132 replaced the “No, we’re monogamists” section of the D&C in 1876, you couldn’t ask for a more text book case of living prophets trumping old ones with something that directly contradicts the old accepted revelation.

  167. And there is no mechanism to make sure that the new stuff agrees with the old. In fact in many cases it’s blatantly obvious they don’t.

    Sort of like the Bible. . .

  168. Millet does make it sound like most Mormons approach the issue in a prima ecclesia kind of way (ahem, in the “Fourteen Fundamentals” kind of way, as has been mentioned). Liberal Mormons seem to make observations like this too, so why does it (the observation itself) have to be so controversial for you, Seth? Haven’t you heard the joke, “Catholics officially believe in the infallibility of the pope, but unofficially believe in the fallibility of the pope. Mormons officially believe in the fallibility of the prophet, but unofficially believe in the infallibility of the prophet.” I heard that joke first from a BYU professor, by the way.

    Again, it just seems like you’re trying to pick a fight with me.

    Read the quote again:

    “I think most Latter-day Saints would be prone to answer this by pointing out the value and significance of living oracles, or continuing revelation, or ongoing divine direction through modern apostles and prophets, and thus to conclude that living prophets take precedence over canonized scripture” (Claiming Christ, p.31).

    Yes, there are other factors and strains in Mormonism, but on the whole, this statement of Millet stands. Mormons conclude in significant ways that “living prophets take precedence over canonized scripture.”

  169. Sort of like the Bible. . .

    Hey Jared, I’m not an inerrantist so you aren’t scoring points with me, I’m already there. Though it never ceases to amuse that Mormons can’t wait to chuck the Bible under the bus in an attempt to score points.

  170. G.K. Chesterton once said that it’s precisely because a religious system has elements within it that seem irreconcilable that it can stay relevant to people. The conflict keeps it viable as a source of debate, study, and personal growth.

    Things that are quickly settled and resolved are quickly forgotten and quickly don’t mean anything to us.

  171. Seth, I don’t typically engage in the works/faith debate here because most of the Mormons who would be interested in talking with Evangelicals are already in agreement with us.

    I see the LDS church moving toward salvation by faith alone more and more. I’m encouraged by it, but Mormonism isn’t there yet. I think you illuminated some of the reasons for the problem. It’s traditionally been a keen way to set up a boundary against Evangelicalism.

    It’s by no means my chief concern with Mormonism.

  172. Well, it is one reason why Christian beliefs in the Trinity don’t really bother me anymore. Chesterton was the first person to actually explain the whole “mystery” thing in a way that was even remotely appealing. So I’m OK with it, even if I still don’t buy into Nicene Trinitarianism.

    Of course, if any Christian wants to use it as a club to keep people outside “Christianity” the gloves are coming off. But I’m pretty much OK with contradictions inside religious belief – at least moreso than before.

    I’m working through G.K. Chesterton’s book “Orthodoxy” right now. Good read – a rather brutal critique of secularism though.

  173. G.K. Chesterton once said that it’s precisely because a religious system has elements within it that seem irreconcilable that it can stay relevant to people. The conflict keeps it viable as a source of debate, study, and personal growth.

    What does that say for a religious system where debate is quashed and people are told to stick to the manuals? The only debates are see are between a few liberals who know to shut up at church, are content to be cub scout leaders, and keep their debates securely in the bloggernacle and at Sunstone.

    Now, I’m not saying that you walk into any old church and find a raging debate, far from it. But most denominations or churches provide at least some limited institutional space for debate and discussions. Where is this in the Mormon church? If it’s so important to keep beliefs viable through debate and discussion, surely there is some place for it in an institutional setting. I’ve not found it anywhere in the Mormon church, but I would love to be shown to be wrong.

  174. Seth,

    Disregard the last comment, you’re probably talking about conflict on a personal intellectual level. My mistake.

  175. David, I know you’re just making a point, but the “liberals” are not always marginalized at church. I know plenty who are known in their wards as such who are nonetheless put in positions of high responsibility.

    Those kind of callings usually have more to do with your service record rather than your ideological record. The kinds who show up for service projects, get their home teaching done, complete assignments reliably. Those types end up in leadership – often regardless of ideology.

    The Cub Scout thing serves better as an inside joke than a serious commentary on the LDS culture.

    Now, what does that say for our system where debate is squashed?

    Simple – that the people within it need to grow up a bit.

    But let’s be clear here – it’s not LDS doctrines, scriptures or theology that are the problem – but rather the popular culture that ignores them. Your criticisms could be entirely valid, and you would still have only established that Mormonism will outlast the current culture that is carrying it.

  176. David ~ The context does matter here because Millet is acknowledging that the issue is not cut and dry, but that it is nuanced. On the one hand, on the other. In addition, Millet is reporting what members are prone to think on the one hand, but also reporting that numerous LDS leaders have added that “prophetic pronouncements will be in harmony with the standard works, the canon.” You may disagree with those LDS leaders or with Millet’s assessment of the situation, and that’s fine. That is not the issue.

    The issue is that Aaron has decided to make the argument that “find[ing] seeds or explicit support for [adoption] in Joseph Smith and their canon (including Romans 8!)” is insufficient, and that “finding something in your canon or in early Mormon writings doesn’t save it from the status of being fringe today.”

    Therefore, he is utilizing Millet’s partial quotation to bolster his argument that what matters are recent statements by Mormon leaders or the actual beliefs of the aggregate Mormon consciousness, not what early Mormons have stated in the past or what is contained in the canon (i.e. the two sources that were used to illustrate the concept of becoming sons and daughters of God by faith). Now, it is relevant because Millet’s full quotation would not have bolstered Aaron’s argument because that part of the quotation acknowledges the important role of the canon, and that living prophets and apostles are often citing back to the canon of scripture.

    As the thread has developed, we have seen not only statements referring to becoming sons and daughters of God in the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants, and Joseph’s sermons, but also in statements by other LDS leaders such as Elder Bruce R. McConkie (1952) and Elder F. Melvin Hammond (2006). To that list I could add statements by John Taylor (1864); President Joseph F. Smith (1901), President Charles W. Penrose (1915) and President Joseph Fielding Smith (1970) to name a few.

    Again, the genesis of this debate is that this is a post on Romans 8 (I think we all agree on that), and I’m citing to an article titled “Sons of God” published in the Times and Seasons that actually refers to Romans 8. Now, what I seem to be sensing from you and Aaron, is “who cares?” I’m trying to share something that I feel is valuable and relevant to the conversation, but it seems odd to to be put in a situation where I’m required to prove I’m not engaging in historical revisionism and being dishonest. If people don’t want to accept what I am saying, that’s perfectly fine. Feel free to ignore it. I completely understand it might be new to some people regardless of affiliation. (And as a caveat, I’m in no way saying Joseph may not have incorporated other themes or flavors to his views on adoption. There are academic articles coming out next year that cover this topic in Mormon history.) However, I think in the face of all this, maintaining that it is “fringe” is completely inaccurate and tends to border on denial, and its symptomatic of a larger problem at play.

    I understand the desire to make general observations that “just because this, doesn’t mean that.” I don’t necessarily disagree at a general level. But I’m not making a general claim here, I’m citing to specific references that are not confined to one time period or geographical location, but seem to be rather consistent in the tradition of Mormonism. I will be the first one to point out, as I have on more than one occasion, that it might not be a particularly strong pulse, but it certainly isn’t dead and it certainly isn’t made up or contrived.

    But the larger issue here is our fundamental understandings of the goals, purposes and methods of interfaith dialogue. It is beneficial for Mormons to be able to draw upon a variety of sources and traditions as they navigate through life, develop their beliefs, and discourse with others. Mormons can draw upon different sources in their tradition as they confront new situations and challenges. I think Evangelicals would be more successful to bridge understandings by making comparisons with those traditions in Mormonism that they agree with, they would be more successful if they express agreement and acknowledgment of those areas that they do agree, even if there are concepts and doctrines that they strongly disagree with at the same time. This obsession with immediately stopping any Mormon from offering his or her views and making a determination whether she is average or not (based on what criteria it isn’t clear) and if this initial screening shows this Mormon is not a chapel Mormon or the “average Mormon” then we basically tell them that their personal views are quite irrelevant to our larger grander project of comparing real Mormonism with real Christianity, and send them home packing, that isn’t my idea of interfaith dialogue at all. I don’t really know what to call that. So, we may disagree on that point, at a core fundamental level, of the purpose of interfaith dialogue. Perhaps you can respond to that point and help me better understand your goals and purposes for interfaith dialogue.

    For me, I see this attitude as consistent with what has happened in the past with interfaith dialogue. Once Mormons like Stephen Robinson and Robert Millet began to engage in dialogue, live and in writings, with Evangelicals like Craig Blomberg and Gerald McDermott and others, they are have been accused of lying and being dishonest.

    Dr. Blomberg spoke about the criticism that followed in the wake of How Wide the Divide (aside from complete outrage): “There were three very clearly recurring themes mostly at Stephen but to some degree at me. The first was: this doesn’t sound like any Mormon we’ve heard. Stephen’s lying. He’s not telling the whole story. This is a dangerous book because it misleads people as to how close Mormonism is to historic Christianity. The second slightly more generous response was: Dr. Robinson may well be telling the truth about his own views, and he’d better be careful because he is probably about to be excommunicated, but it’s still a dangerous and misleading book because his views aren’t representative; they’re idiosyncratic. A third view was more generous still among the critics and that was: No he is probably telling the truth and yes we have read enough of very recent Latter-day Saint literature to recognize that he does represent directions the church would like to go in and increasingly is going in . . . but as admirable as such conversations are . . . it’s not the type of thing you publish because again it misleads people, any time you focus on what you agree on and not just on what you disagree on, you make people think that the differences aren’t all that crucial.”

    I believe the value of interfaith dialogue isn’t merely in comparing and contrasting, although I highly encourage that, but also getting people to explore their own faith traditions as they learn about the faith traditions of others, to probe the tradition and learn from each other. I’ve learned much from my discussions with Evangelical friends and have learned much about Mormonism in the process. To those who say, “go ahead explore your faith tradition till the cows come home, it ain’t changing anything, and when your Church changes then come talk to me,” I say that we fundamentally disagree on the goal and purposes of interfaith dialogue.

  177. I’m working through G.K. Chesterton’s book “Orthodoxy” right now. Good read – a rather brutal critique of secularism though.

    I found it tedious: there is so much in the way of good ideas in there, totally buried in what appears to be running swipes against specific contrmporaries.

    I’d rather he had just written what his ideas are instead of mixing it up with constant editorializing about stuff that is totally irrelevant to me.

  178. David, I know you’re just making a point, but the “liberals” are not always marginalized at church. I know plenty who are known in their wards as such who are nonetheless put in positions of high responsibility.

    That’s not the substance of what he’s saying, though. You’re mistaking the snipe for the argument.

    Even is liberal Mormons are stake presidents all over the place, that still doesn’t mean that there is institutional space for debate and discussion, and the bloggernacle and Sunstone don’t really count.

  179. So the reason I am the Webelos Den Leader now has nothing to do with counselor in the Primary presidency in my ward assigned to the Cub Scouts wanting me to work with the 10-year-old boys (something I do professionally, as well) and everything to do with those in my ward, who had only known me for the two weeks I’d been in the ward, being afraid of my preaching the crazy ideas I’ve picked up from the Internet.

    Wow. Didn’t know that my online presence was such a frightening thing.

  180. I guess Kullervo, that would depend on whether you consider the role of Sunday services to be to preserve and promote the intellectual and theological life of Mormonism.

    I agree that Chesterton wastes a lot of the modern reader’s time taking gleeful pokes at his contemporaries (who are all dead by now). But if you can skip over that, it’s still thought-provoking.

  181. I guess Kullervo, that would depend on whether you consider the role of Sunday services to be to preserve and promote the intellectual and theological life of Mormonism.

    Who said anything about Sunday services? I thought David’s point was that there is an institutional resistance to development of ideas through exploration and debate. There’s no real place within Mormonism, (that isn’t massively marginalized) to debate and develop Mormon theology. Not that there needs to be a place for it in Sunday services.

  182. acquinas writes, “Therefore, he is utilizing Millet’s partial quotation to bolster his argument that what matters are recent statements by Mormon leaders or the actual beliefs of the aggregate Mormon consciousness, not what early Mormons have stated in the past or what is contained in the canon…”

    I wouldn’t argue at all, nor have I ever (to my knowledge), that recent teachings and beliefs matter while early Mormonism doesn’t. Rather, it all matters (even the stuff that is neither modern nor canon). Read carefully:

    “It’s not right for modern Mormons with fringe beliefs to use their canon and founding prophet as an excuse to not be open and honest about the current state of affairs in Mormonism. I’m happy to talk with my evanjellyfish Mormon friends, whose beliefs are often rooted in the canon and early Mormonism, but I’m not happy to do so when it is an exercise in fantasy-land denial. It’d be like a discussion between an evangelical and a Mormon who believes full remission of sins happens prior to baptism, not at all at baptism itself (an idea that has support in D&C 20:37, contra page 115 of Gospel Principles [2009]). It is better to have that kind of discussion only if it’s out on the table that it isn’t an idea prevalent in cultural or institutional Mormonism.”

    Notice that I didn’t say that discussions involving Mormon neo-orthodoxy were to be avoided, but rather were better had when done with integrity.

    What goads me is the callous, cold-hearted, fantasy-land of denial which looks to early Mormonism (and a small scattered collection of quotes, some modern) while turning a blind eye to the general state of affairs in modern Mormon leadership and culture. If you love your people, even your own Mormon people, you can’t treat this like an intellectual game solved by finding a few quotes. We are dealing with real people, not just the ones here in the thread, but millions of others (including children) who aren’t a part of the subculture of the smarty-pants bloggernacle or Robinson/Millet-influenced interfaith dialog.

    Who cares about them? I care. Finding a few quotes that speak contrary to a dominant view doesn’t make it a non-issue, or the minority view any less minor.

    acquinas writes, “Now, it is relevant because Millet’s full quotation would not have bolstered Aaron’s argument because that part of the quotation acknowledges the important role of the canon, and that living prophets and apostles are often citing back to the canon of scripture.”

    Then you’re still missing the point of my use of the quotation. The point isn’t to deny that Mormonism has within it strains of minimalism (like that of sola scriptura or prima scriptura). The point is to take seriously what most Mormons culturally conclude, namely that “living prophets take precedence over canonized scripture.”

    If you want a sense of my heart behind this issue, read my article on it. I’ve had a lot of fruitful discussions with some close Mormon friends on the evangelical nature of much of early Mormon literature. But we were only able to do that with integrity as we were honest about the difference between modern Mormon teachings and beliefs and early Mormon teachings.

    acquinas writes, “I will be the first one to point out, as I have on more than one occasion, that it might not be a particularly strong pulse, but it certainly isn’t dead and it certainly isn’t made up or contrived.”

    Yes, thank you. I agree. That is what I am looking for, right there. And not only a passing propisitional affirmation, but an emotionally invested one, which I hope you have. Maybe I missed it earlier, but that kind of admission would go a long way if it was offered up front.

    Sincerely,

    Aaron

  183. Yeah, and saying that modern prophets take precedence over scripture is basically a non-statement given that the same people firmly believe a prophet would never contradict scripture.

  184. Wow. Didn’t know that my online presence was such a frightening thing.

    It’s the hair. Truly frightening.

    For all and sundry. I had hope my comment would be ignored. I guess the best way to not get something ignored is to say ignore it.

    In any case, I too was once a liberal Mormon. And, I was made Webelos scout leader after I decided that I could not in good conscience follow the CES curriculum for teaching seminary students. It’s also the only reason I support the church keeping the BSA program. It gives those people who want to remain in the church, but no longer believe some or all of the doctrine, a chance to participate and contribute with their integrity in tact.

  185. Seth: I finally made some time to read your post. Excellent work! I don’t have the…stamina to read the comments, but wanted to be sure to give you my praise for a job well done.

  186. DC – If you wanted your comment to be ignored, then why would you continue to claim that the Scout callings are reserved for the less-than-faithful-in-adhering-to-conservative-Mormon-viewpoints?

    Maybe it is true where you live, but when I look at the men and women working with the Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts in my stake, I don’t see them as being this crazy, out of control, liberal Mormons. Heck, I don’t even consider myself to be a liberal Mormon! Come to think of it, one of the scout leaders in my previous ward is the son of an apostle, and I guarantee that Mike is NOT a liberal Mormon who “no longer believes in some or all of the doctrine.”

    Some of the strongest members of the church I have ever known served in scouting, some for well over a decade, and since I am serving in the Cub Scouts, along with my best friend, I really don’t take kindly to the explicitly stated idea that he and I are only in the scouts because we can’t be trusted elsewhere.

  187. Alex, he just made a comment that he immediately wished he’d worded differently or not made right after he hit “submit.”

    Happens to me all the time.

  188. Seth, accidentally hit submit once, and I forgive the error. Claim that you wished your comment had been ignored because you wished you’d worded it differently, and then immediately make the same statement again, and I have a hard time believing you accidentally hit submit the first time.

    To wit:

    “The only debates are see are between a few liberals who know to shut up at church, are content to be cub scout leaders, and keep their debates securely in the bloggernacle and at Sunstone.”

    Followed by:

    It’s also the only reason I support the church keeping the BSA program. It gives those people who want to remain in the church, but no longer believe some or all of the doctrine, a chance to participate and contribute with their integrity in tact.

    Maybe I’m being too hard on DC, but I’ve seen this theory on why people are called to serve in scouting pop up in quite a few places recently and, as a Scouter who is excited to finally be working with the Scouts again for the first time in almost a decade, I’m a tad bit annoyed with the insinuation that scouting is just a place to put troublesome people.

  189. Okay, wow. I just spent my Saturday morning reading this whole thread (husband is gone all day and the Halloween party isn’t until this evening, so what else was I gonna do?). :) A couple thoughts…

    1)–LOVED the post, Seth. Really, really well done.

    2)–All I can say is that I am an “out” liberal Mormon (i.e. my bishop and stake president both know I have doubts about the Restoration and approach things, shall we say, “unconventionally”) and over the past two years I have served in the Relief Society presidency and the primary presidency. In fact, when I was called to the Relief Society presidency I told my very orthodox bishop that I wasn’t sure I was the right candidate for the job, given my unorthodox views — but he said he felt I really loved the sisters and that was all that mattered.

    I know my experience isn’t representative, but I’ve found that you won’t necessarily be marginalized if you espouse perspectives that are outside the mainstream. I recognize that in order to walk this line, you must be particularly careful and positive in the way you interact with the ward — something that comes naturally to me but that I recognize is not so easy for everyone — and I regret that this is the case. It would be better if no one were marginalized, not just those who are good at being diplomatic. I pray for the day this changes, because it is probably the aspect of my Mormon experience that grieves me the very most.

    Still. It can be done, and I think it’s worth noting that it can.

  190. Alex,

    Bully for you that you like scouts. I’m happy you have a calling you like. That wasn’t my point. Note that I did not say that all people in scouts are liberal hippies. My only point that it is one place where people who no longer feel comfortable in teaching or leadership positions can go. Another would be clerking, but that doesn’t mean that all clerks are liberal hippies.

    I hate scouting, with a passion. Yet, for that transitional time period when I was trying to figure out where I was going to end up, scouting was a calling I could do without problems. So for that I am grateful for scouting, it filled a niche for me at a time when I needed it, even though I hate it.

  191. Pingback: I now understand why homosexuality is wrong « Irresistible (Dis)Grace

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