About Jared C

I am a criminal appeals attorney, father of four, raised in Kansas, live in San Diego.

Notes on the possibility of a profitable dialogue between Mormons and Protestants

This is a response to Gundek’s suggestions regarding the way forward in my project to create a profitable LDS/Evangelical dialogue.  (Again, I didn’t edit this much and it might be a bit too repetitive, so please read charitably. :) )

Like I have said earlier, I really don’t know much about being a converted Protestant, but I know that I now see something now that I didn’t see as a believing, spiritually minded Latter-day Saint.  I am starting with the Light of Christ because the LDS will have no problem acknowledging that whatever truth I did find, it was not from an experience with the Holy Ghost, or from the Gift of the Holy Ghost.  This is important because I am not LDS anymore and I want to be clear that whatever think about salvation does not threaten the LDS tradition because it comes outside of LDS covenants and outside of the Gift of the Holy Ghost.  Mormonism is, by definition, the religion that is revealed outside of the understanding available through the Light of Christ, i.e. the Spirit of God, that those outside the Church have access to.

The Light of Christ seems a great place to start my dialogue with the LDS tradition because within the LDS tradition, whatever light and knowledge I have found must have come through the Light of Christ.  By couching my understanding in terms of the Light of Christ, it side-steps all LDS revelation and tradition, and tries to go to the root of what non-LDS see in God that Joseph Smith may have taken for granted, or simply failed to grasp.  It is no knock on Joseph Smith to claim that he did not understand the full nature of the Light of Christ, because the Light of Christ encompasses all knowledge.

In some ways I am trying to reverse-engineer my conversion process, restating the ideas that pushed me over the edge. The problem with this approach is that  that once I began to recognize the reality of law and the reality of grace, and then feel the joy that this recognition brought, all kinds of ideas started clicking together to the point that I didn’t know precisely what convinced me, and how to explain why the argument was inescapable.

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The “God” of orthodox Christianity is the “Light of Christ” of Mormon Christianity

I think one of the most important steps Mormons and Evangelicals need to make in order to have a productive dialogue is to come to terms with what appear to be radically different views of God.  The more I revisit LDS scripture on the subject, the more I am convinced that in the best understanding of Joseph Smith’s conception of the cosmos that thing which traditional Christians call “God” is actually what he termed the “Light of Christ.”

Joseph Smith envisioned God as an exalted and perfected man.  For many reasons, this vision is the foundation of the Restoration.   To Joseph, God became God through intelligent obedience to the laws of the universe, a universe which necessarily was not created by him, but organized by his manipulation of the universe through faith and righteousness. This earth was formed to provide a place for lesser spirits, humans, to do the same by agreeing to become children of God and come to earth, suffer, and die, and then be redeemed by Jesus, who volunteered to be the Christ.   According to the Book of Mormon, the law is the foundation of God’s godhood and all reality:

“And if ye shall say there is no law, ye shall also say there is no sin. If ye shall say there is no sin, ye shall also say there is no righteousness. And if there be no righteousness there be no happiness. And if there be no righteousness nor happiness there be no punishment nor misery. And if these things are not there is no God. And if there is no God we are not, neither the earth; for there could have been no creation of things, neither to act nor to be acted upon; wherefore, all things must have vanished away.”  (2 Nephi 2:11)

God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost are bound by the law,i.e. they are not the law, they are outside of the fact that is the source of the way things are.  The question remains: Why does there need to be a Christ? Why is their law in the first place?  Why is the universe the way it is?   Why is the world comprehensible at all? What is the source of God’s intelligence? These questions cannot really be answered in any intelligible or scientific way, these are the ultimate mysteries, they cannot be understood or even spoken of, because these mysteries are what allows for all order and intelligence. As Einstein said: “The most incomprehensible thing about the world is that it is comprehensible.”

For traditional Christians, these questions are answered by pointing to an God that is outside the universe, that is the incomprehensible ultimate cause of the laws of the universe, the ultimate source of the mysterious orderliness and intelligence within the way things work in the universe.   God “is infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions, immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, most wise, most holy, most free, most absolute, working all things according to the counsel of his own immutable and most righteous will.”  (Westminster Confession, chapter 2)

Joseph’s Smith rejected that this mystery was our Heavenly Father, but the religion he envisioned still had to account for the source of the law and the necessity of Christ.  There must be some other mystery that allowed our Father to be God, the fact that required that there be opposition in all things.  Protestant’s call this fact “God,” Joseph Smith called this fact the “Light of Christ”

It was revealed to him that the Light of Christ “proceedeth forth from the presence of God to fill the immensity of space.” It is “the light which is in all things, which giveth life to all things, which is the law by which all things are governed” (D&C 88:12-13; see also D&C 88:6-11).   This Light is not compound, nor is it a being, nor does it have parts or passions, it is the simple fact that allows all things to exist as they do, it is the source of the law, and the source of whatever facts that allow for salvation from the law.  To Mormons, the Light of Christ defines what it is to be God, what it is to be Christ, and the truth that the Holy Spirit testifies of.  The LDS term “Light of Christ” must be that fact that Evangelicals call “God.”

Seeing the God of the Nicene Creed of the Light of Christ might make the creed comprehensible to Mormons.  Translating the Nicene Creed into Mormon terms might look like this:

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I’m looking for a hard-headed Mormon.

I want to see if there is a way to explain the Evangelical view of salvation in terms that a Mormon would both agree with and adopt as their own.  I want a hard-headed mormon because i want to make it clear that I am not trying to convert anybody from Mormonism. I want somebody who has no fear of being converted away from the Church. (Being hard-headed myself, I don’t yet see why conversion from the LDS Church is necessary to be saved in the Evangelical sense.)

Ultimately my goal is to clearly and simply explain the Evangelical view of salvation in terms that Mormons would feel comfortable teaching their children. So, obviously,  I expect it to be more of a cooperative exercise than antagonistic to the Church in any way. It may involve vetting whatever we come up with in this forum for Evangelical feedback.  I am happy to protect the anonymity of anybody who is willing to contribute their opinions in a public way.

If you are such a hard-headed Mormon, and are at all interested, text or call me at at 8 5 8- 2 1 2-8 0 5 8. or email me at jaredcoleman100@gmail.com

“Grace” and Politics: searching for new terminology to explain salvation

This post is a bit incomplete, and un-proof read, but I thought I would throw out these thoughts in response to SlowCowboy’s comments.

I am still coming to grips with the conversion experience that I had a few weeks ago, and still very tentative about committing to any particular way of explaining it, even though I recognize that it is unmistakably similar to Protestant Christianity. The new way of feeling joy has made me realize that I probably didn’t know much of anything before, and things that were confusing to me before seem much clearer. I don’t think I have things figured out. Part of my confusion was thinking that I did. I also recognize that I have a lot to learn about the experience of grace, I am a new convert. Pascal’s thought means a lot more to me now: “Men often take their imagination for their heart; and they believe they are converted as soon as they think of being converted.”

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Joseph Smith’s bedrock message about the Light of Christ

In LDS teaching there is often a minor mistake often made in explaining the Light of Christ, but this mistake can have dramatic consequences in the minds of LDS children.

The light of Christ often defined by LDS Missionaries as the conscience, enabling people to judge good from evil. But according to doctrine, the conscience is only a manifestation of the Light of Christ. But if you judge by the Book of Mormon, the Light of Christ must also be the thing that allows you to see salvation from the conscience.  A critical doctrine in the LDS Faith is that Adam and Eve were sent from the garden with a specific sort of enlightenment: (1) the knowledge of good and evil, and (2) a knowledge of their inevitable salvation from good and evil.  The Books of Abraham and Moses establish that Adam and Eve knew about Christ from the time they left the Garden. Symbolically, the temple ceremony must mean that (1) all humans have a conscience, and (2) they have the capacity to understand their ultimate salvation, even before Jesus taught about it.  This understanding is assumed, before any priesthood, and any of the covenants.  This must be the Light of Christ. 

The temple ceremony also must mean that parents have the responsibility, before anything else, to teach their children to distinguish good from evil and to choose the right, and the inevitable salvation from their wrong choices in Christ.  Children must be taught that their salvation is inevitable in Christ, just as it is inevitable that they will fail to do good in nearly every choice they make.  To not teach the full light of Christ, is to fail to teach the first principle of the Gospel.  Without being enlightened in the mind somehow by the light of Christ it is not possible to have faith in Jesus Christ.

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Pass the Christ-amine.

The scariest and perhaps the strongest argument in front of me that I might a Christian is that, all of a sudden, I find Kirk Cameron interesting.  Kirk Cameron was once my poster child for the intellectually retarded, but now, shockingly, it seems I have no choice but to grant that there might be some genius to his approach to showing people the basics of the light of Christ, and it might be worthwhile.  I might need some Christ-amine.

The difference between the Light of Christ and the Gift of the Holy Ghost

I have probably been thinking about this way too much lately, but it seems to be an occupational hazard when what I do otherwise is make hopeless arguments for the hopeless people that are my clients.

I wanted to share a common LDS example of the difference between what the LDS call “the light of Christ” and what they call “the Gift of the Holy Ghost.” In LDS teaching, the Gift of the Holy Ghost was not on the earth at the time Jesus was on the earth. The Holy Ghost was around, but this particular state of having its “constant companionship” was not. This is the explanation of why Jesus’ disciples seemed so clueless about who He was. They were simply operating on what Jesus taught and the light of Christ. This is why Thomas doubted, this is why Peter denied Christ three times – they didn’t have the power of the Gift of the Holy Ghost to make them strong and unshakable in their testimonies.  After Pentecost, when they received the “baptism of fire,” the book of Acts shows that the apostles did not falter.

This story is used in LDS teaching to show that the surest way to know that Jesus, a man, was actually God (in the LDS sense or any other sense) was by accepting the testimony of the Holy Ghost, not by seeing visions and miracles. Why? Because, as shown by Peter’s humiliating denials, and Thomas’s obstinate doubt, even the Gospels report that intimately knowing the man Jesus, watching him be crucified for his teaching (not to mention watching him raise the dead) did not fully convince them that his cause was worth being crucified for. But after Pentecost, it is pretty clear that the Apostles were all willing to “take up the cross” in the most brutally literal way. This unbelievable commitment to sacrifice for the truth – like what Stephen showed – was probably what shocked Paul out of his complacency and prompted him to see the “light of Christ” on the road to Damascus.

The flip-side of the story is also fascinating. What in the world convinced the disciples in the first place, if not the Holy Ghost? Jesus must have been essentially a social outcast, a bastard step-son of a typical family, probably treated precisely like a step-child, he clearly took comfort in the scriptures and spent plenty of time thinking about their meaning, even when he was a pre-teen. When started his ministry it probably seemed to His community that he completely lost his marbles, they were ready to stone him for his blasphemies. He was a dangerous man to be associated with from the beginning. He openly blasphemed, ate and drank with traitors, outcasts, and sinners, did not share the revolutionary politics of the day, caused public disturbances in holy places, and preached the moral bankruptcy of all of the powers that be of the day.

What was it that these early disciples saw in Jesus words that made them break away from their culture, even if they were yet unwilling to give up their lives?  To the LDS it was not the Gift of the Holy Ghost, it was the words of Jesus and the light of Christ that shone in his words.  The LDS believe it is these words and the light of Christ that kept the church alive, in spite of the apostasy of the clergy, and laid the groundwork for the Restoration.