Salvation or Exaltation

This is Part 2 of a review of Spencer W. Kimball’s “The Miracle of Forgiveness” Part 1 can be found here.

One of the most fallacious doctrines originated by Satan and propounded by man is that man is saved alone by the grace of God; that belief in Jesus Christ alone is all that is needed for salvation. Along with all the other works necessary for man’s exaltation in the kingdom of God this could rule out the need for repentance. It could give license for sin and, since it does not require man to work out his salvation, could accept instead lip service, death-bed “repentance,” and shallow, meaningless confession of sin. [page 206]

The above quote would have most Evangelicals barring the doors and rejecting Mormonism in total. I noticed something in it though that may indicate how Kimball could so utterly reject the plain words of Paul. Indeed Kimball seemed to recognize the tension himself and acknowledges:

Of course we need to understand terms. If by the word “salvation” is meant the mere salvation or redemption from the grave, the “grace of God” is sufficient. But if the term “salvation” means returning to the presence of God with eternal progression, eternal increase, and eventual godhood, for this one certainly must have the “grace of God,” as it is generally defined, plus personal purity, overcoming of evil, and the good “works” made so important in the exhortations of the Savior and his prophets and apostles. [page 207]

I wonder how Kimball was taught that the word “salvation” could be synonymous with the word “exaltation”. It seems a considerable amount of confusion would be cleared up if he recognized that the words mean different things. In fact he agrees that the “grace of God” (as people call it) IS enough for salvation. But then he adds a number of rewards to it as if there is “Salvation Jr.” and “Real Salvation.” This conversation has come up in this space before and now more than ever I’m curious where this started in Mormon thought. Kimball quickly departs from this “mere salvation” and consistently uses the word “salvation” to mean “exaltation” in the rest of the book.

I think he does this to the detremint of his own understanding of Mormonism. Late in the book he struggles to help a woman who had committed adultery and has given up hope for salvation because of something Joseph Smith stated in the disciplinary council against Harrison Sagers. Smith stated:

If a man commit adultery he cannot receive the celestial kingdom of God. Even if he is saved in any kingdom, it cannot be the celestial kingdom.

Kimball clearly wrestles with this himself and presents over a dozen Mormon scriptures that indicate that adultery can be forgiven. He asserts that words should be inserted into the quote so that it insteads says:

If a man commit adultery (and remain unrepentant) he cannot receive the celestial kingdom of God. Even if he is saved in any kingdom, it cannot be the celestial kingdom.

But this is clearly not what Joseph Smith stated. He was in no way saying adultery can’t be forgiven and salvation is lost for any who sin in this way. He was quite clearly differentiating between salvation and exaltation. Kimball puts a fog over his own understanding of Mormonism by equating the two.

D&C 76:103 agrees with Smith in his condemnation of adultery and his pronouncement that adulterers will not enter the Celestial Kingdom.

This is not the first time I’ve encountered this confusion. Does anyone know or understand when “salvation” and “exaltation” began to mean the same thing for Mormons?

You can read part 3 of my review of “The Miracle of Forgiveness” here.

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49 thoughts on “Salvation or Exaltation

  1. Great article.. But, Smith not only commited adultery with many women but empregnated a minor child [Fanny Alger]. Never repented. Instead he claimed it was Ok with God and had a convenient revelation that it was ordained of God in the plurality of wives and the use of ‘spiritual’
    wives, usually the wives and daughters of true believers. Seems to a pattern with egomaniacal cult leaders..

  2. Yes, it does seem that at least in practice Joseph Smith was doing the exact same thing as Harrison Sagers at the time. Whether or not he was justified in doing so is something believing-Mormons must wrestle with. The matter is clear enough for me.

  3. “Does anyone know or understand when “salvation” and “exaltation” began to mean the same thing for Mormons?”

    I’ve never thought of them as meaning the same thing, so I am of no help. In fact, I’ve often thought that they essentially mean the same thing for Evangelicals (not that the two words are synonymous, because you don’t use the word “exaltation”—right?).

  4. Similarly, I am curious to know when the “worthiness” narrative really evolved in Mormonism — the idea that you have to be “worthy” to “qualify for” certain blessings. You see hints of it in, like, the D&C or whatever (any blessing from heaven is because of obedience to the law upon which it is predicated), but it doesn’t feel like it gained serious traction until the mid-20th century. I don’t know if that’s true, or if it’s just my impression.

  5. Katie, you might be interested in this and this.

    Regardless of the terms used in different eras of Mormon history, the general theme of earned merit seem inescapable for any religion that wants a narrative of furthering a genealogy of Gods. I think this is one reason why the neo-orthodox folks BYU are having a hard time making more impact. Pushing a genuine, sustainable grace-narrative requires more than a change of rhetoric. It has to be rooted in a grander view of God and his absolute supremacy, glory, uniqueness, etc. Not incidentally, many Mormons who are trying to adopt a more genuine grace-narrative are also dropping traditional Lorenzo Snow couplet theology.

  6. “Pushing a genuine, sustainable grace-narrative…has to be rooted in a grander view of God and his absolute supremacy, glory, uniqueness, etc.”

    Why? I don’t see it, but I can see why a Calvinist would.

  7. That’s not an answer that distinguishes Mormonism from any other branch of Christianity, as your previous comment intended.

  8. . Does anyone know or understand when “salvation” and “exaltation” began to mean the same thing for Mormons?

    Salvation and exaltation don’t mean the same thing. Which is what you detected when you were discussing Kimbell’s multiple salvations. There are 3 types of salvation in Mormonism. I’ll quote an earlier comment

    1) Unconditional or general salvation, that which comes by grace alone without obedience to gospel law, consists in the mere fact of being resurrected / immortality. This is just a property of the connection between body and spirit.

    2) Conditional or individual salvation which is grace plus obedience which is to gain eventual entry into the Celestial Kingdom though usually as a ministering servent.

    3) Full salvation which is grace plus obedience plus the restored gospel, the priesthood, and the sealing power, the ministering of angels, the working of miracles, the prevalence of gifts of the spirit; which is exaltation.

    So in sense (1) you are saved by grace, in sense (2) you are saved by faith plus work (like a Catholic) and in sense (3) you are saved by Jesus through his instrument the church (again not too different from the Catholic view). Given that they see 3 levels of salvation and Evangelicals see only (1) it probably makes sense to use m-salvation (salvation as defined by Mormons) and p-salvation (Salvation as defined by Protestants) to denote which one you are talking about. The words just aren’t defined to mean the same thing.

    IMHO as I learn more about modern Mormonism it seems to have a lot in common with Orthodox Christianity using words from Protestant Christianity. A lot of the disagreement seems to be on vocabulary and stuff that Protestant wouldn’t agree with Catholics on. ((link to earlier thread).

  9. I think many Mormons can easily believe that if they viewed God the way apostate “creedal” traditional Protestants do, they’d have a different view of the salvation-narrative too. You don’t have to agree with evangelicalism or Mormonism to agree with this fact: Mormonism’s view of the Gods informs/shapes it view of the purpose of life, creation, the Fall, salvation, worthiness, exaltation, etc.

    Elsewhere on the web Mormons have made the connection between creation ex nihilo and evangelical soteriology. They were onto something. But even creation ex nihilo is rooted in the larger issue of God’s nature.

  10. As an aside D&C 132 has an excellent discussion of the distinction between salvation and exaltation. JS explicates that material vows (like marriage) that are not templed sealed break at death and thus regardless of how righteous one is you cannot achieve exaltation without the new covenant. As the same time the person in question does reside in the Celestial Kingdom, but as a ministering angel.

    He also touches on this in 131 and there JS explicitly states that the highest form of salvation is exaltation. Kimball’s usage seems consistent with JS’s

  11. Aaron —

    As an aside, Jews who have an elevated view of God take salvation to mean deliverance from negative communal circumstances.

    So in the time of Jesus jews (in general) meant by salvation:

    Rescue from national enemies
    Restoration of national symbols
    Liberation from Rome
    Restoration of the Temple
    Free enjoyment of their own land

    Some had a more elevated view including some or all of:
    State of peace among peoples
    Inauguration of the age to come
    Inauguration of a new covenant between Israel and her God

    And of course these are vastly better supported in the Old Testament.

    ___

    And probably the most elevated view of God is from Islam which consistently preaches salvation by works of righteousness. So I’m not entirely sure I see a connection between believing in Protestant salvation and believing in the Protestant “higher” view of God.

  12. Anyone who believes their sin-stained works can help please a holy God… don’t really know the holiness of God. Muslims need a much higher view of the righteousness and justice of God, and of the necessity of propitiation.

    “All have sinned and fall short of God’s glory, but all are treated as righteous freely by his grace because of a ransom that was paid by Christ Jesus. Through his faithfulness, God displayed Jesus as the place of sacrifice where mercy is found by means of his blood. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness in passing over sins that happened before” (Romans 3:23-25)

  13. Tim: I don’t have the answer to your question, but I don’t think the shift in the meaning of “salvation” should be surprising considering that our soteriology is different. Whereas in evangelicalism (as I understand) one is usually considered to be “saved” or not, we LDS tend to more more process-oriented and also see three (or more) degrees of glory in the afterlife. For better or worse, we may use the traditional word to describe multiple concepts.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if you’ve seen this before (I’ve probably even linked to it at some time), but in the following talk Elder Oaks acknowledges the confusion over the use of the word “salvation” and points to six distinct meanings: Have You Been Saved?

    FWIW, my experience has been that when Mormons use the word “salvation” they usually are referring to exaltation (so my observation has been different than BrianJ’s). That said, I don’t hear the words “salvation” and “save” being used all that much; the most common synonym I hear for “exaltation” is “eternal life.”

  14. Eric: I apparently was not clear enough in my first comment. When I wrote, “I’ve never thought of them as meaning the same thing,” I did not mean it to contradict with your observation that “when Mormons use the word “salvation” they usually are referring to exaltation.” Here’s how I have thought of the two words (for as long as I can remember): Salvation is a very broad word encompassing all forms of becoming free from the sorrows of this world: free from sin, death, despair, worry, etc. It’s heaven in all its degrees, since all of heaven’s degrees enjoy this peace. Exaltation is a “special case” of salvation, a subset, a circle within the larger Venn circle.

    So yes, when Mormons say “salvation” they very well might mean “eternal life/exaltation” and be perfectly accurate—-though not perfectly precise or specific. And yes, most of the time (in my experience) that Mormons talk of salvation they are talking in the narrow sense of exaltation because Mormons don’t generally have conversations along the lines of “Let’s all shoot for the Terrestrial glory.” Rather, we hope for a salvation that bestows Celestial glory; i.e., exaltation.

  15. Jesus said, “To the one who is victorious and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations—that one ‘will rule them with an iron scepter and will dash them to pieces like pottery’—just as I have received authority from my Father” (Rev 2:26-27).

    I don’t fully understand that verse but according to one dictionary definition of “exalt”—to raise up esp. in rank, power, or dignity—it sure sounds like exaltation to me. If Jesus wants to exalt me, I’m not stopping him! My name’s Jimmy—I’ll take all ya gimmy.
    Seems that some people don’t want every gift Jesus has for them.

  16. Anyone who believes their sin-stained works can help please a holy God… don’t really know the holiness of God.

    I don’t see how this couldn’t be completely reversed to “Anyone who believes their defective sin-stained faith can help please a holy God… don’t really know the holiness of God“. That cuts anyway. Either God tolerates imperfect humanity through some mechanism or he doesn’t. Either God is interested in certain aspects or he isn’t. There is no principled distinction between believing God is interested in works, in prayer, in ritual in faith. Which specifics do or do not interest God is not a question of the holiness of God at all.

    And it is particularly pointless to use quotes like Romans 3, in a Protestant context, which presuppose an entirely different framework.

    It would be like me contradicting your view with

    I do not believe in a fate that falls on men however they act; but I do believe in a fate that falls on them unless they act.
    –Buddha

  17. Aaron: “Anyone who believes their sin-stained works can help please a holy God… don’t really know the holiness of God.” I wish you wouldn’t make unsupported or unexplained assertions like this because it does nothing to elucidate your theology. I could respond with equally unhelpful assertions:

    Anyone who believes their good works are not pleasing to God… likes to drown puppies.

    On a different note, I’m not sure if this:

    “You don’t have to agree with evangelicalism or Mormonism to agree with this fact: Mormonism’s view of the Gods informs/shapes it view of the purpose of life, creation, the Fall, salvation, worthiness, exaltation, etc.”

    …was an answer for me, or for CD-Host, or for anyone really.

  18. Brian, you’re really going to be shocked when you see me—and even more shocked when you see Tim—in the Celestial glory when you get there. 🙂

  19. Aaron said, “Anyone who believes their sin-stained works can help please a holy God… don’t really know the holiness of God.”

    Please clarify. By “sin-stained works” do you mean just those works that are done with the wrong motive or inspired by the wrong spirit—that sort of thing—or are you including those works (deeds, actions) that are empowered by the Holy Spirit—those works that are actually done by Jesus through a person?

    Tim, I’m not laughing.

  20. “Brian, don’t you guys believe the highest kingdom we non-Mormons can attain is the Terrestrial?”

    If you persist in rejecting the Gospel and its ordinances, then yes. But why should I be surprised if you later change your heart and mind?

  21. Cal asked:

    Brian, don’t you guys believe the highest kingdom we non-Mormons can attain is the Terrestrial?

    I can’t answer for Brian, but I’ll answer for myself (and I’d be shocked if he disagreed with me here): No.

  22. If Steve McQueen can make the great escape, I’ll find a way into the Celestial even if I have to dig a tunnel!

  23. As to when exaltation became a separate term from salvation, I think like so many Mormon doctrines, it has its roots squarely in polygamy. The problem is that because polygamy is no longer allowed in Mormon discourse, the term has become free-floating, no longer attached to its original context.

    If you look up “exaltation” in the index to the triple combination or go to lds.org scripture search and punch in exaltation it’s really obvious that this exact term is confined almost entirely to D&C 132. Here’s D&C 132:17, where I think the difference between exaltation and salvation is first taught unambiguously:

    For these angels did not abide my law; therefore, they cannot be enlarged, but remain separately and singly, without exaltation, in their saved condition, to all eternity; and from henceforth are not gods, but are angels of God forever and ever.

    Notice those who do not engage in the new and everlasting covenant are saved (hence they attain salvation, the root word is the same), but are “without exaltation.” This is the first instance I can think of where the distinction is made clearly.

    The confusion nowadays simply results from the fact that Mormons don’t much care for D&C 132 in toto anymore. The original concept as the early Mormons interpreted it was that either practice of polygamy was required for exaltation or that those who were more valiant in living the law of plural marriage (i.e. had more wives) would be exalted more highly, even within the celestial kingdom. You find both interpretations in 19th century Mormonism. I think the former interpretation is what D&C 132 was getting at, but I’m not going to quibble over details. The bottom line is that neither interpretation is preached today in the LDS church. However, it’s alive and well in various fundamentalist LDS sects.

    What has happened since then, and the reason for the confusion, is that the word “exaltation” has become detached from it’s original specific meaning and now floats around to mean whatever people want it to mean. You still might hear a fairly restricted version of exaltation being attached to marriage in the temple, but I haven’t heard that for several years now. I think this is the best and most precise way to describe exaltation. And I think when you corner most Mormons, they will admit that eternal marriage is a component of exaltation.

  24. Similarly, I am curious to know when the “worthiness” narrative really evolved in Mormonism — the idea that you have to be “worthy” to “qualify for” certain blessings. You see hints of it in, like, the D&C or whatever (any blessing from heaven is because of obedience to the law upon which it is predicated), but it doesn’t feel like it gained serious traction until the mid-20th century. I don’t know if that’s true, or if it’s just my impression.

    I think you have to be clear about what worthiness entails. In a Mormon context it mainly means that a church leader has judge you fit to participate in certain activities and ordinances in the Mormon church. I’m ignoring worthiness before God, because I think all Christians would agree that some type of worthiness is necessary to be in God’s presence. Though in a Christian context the worthiness comes through the work of Jesus Christ, not through any work which merits one saying that they are worthy to be in God’s presence sans Jesus. So worthiness is a Mormon context is very much about being judged fit to participate in church activities in the here and now, as judged by a church leader.

    Because of this, I think it’s much earlier than the 20th century that worthiness becomes a key issue in Mormon ecclesiastical life. I would locate the concept of “worthiness” coming to the forefront of Mormonism during the Mormon Reformation of 1856-1857. That’s the first instance I know of where members were required to declare to church leaders their commitments to spiritual practices and church teachings. People were asked to recommit to the church through baptism. Those who did not measure up and become re-baptized risked removal from the church rolls. Although they may have used different terminology, the Mormon reformation was about instilling and requiring a level of worthiness to continue to participate in and be a member of the LDS church.

  25. Sorry, I just realized I spent a lot of time answering the wrong question. Though I think I swerve into a possible answer to the right question at the end of my first post.

    My apologies.

  26. In his first of three recent comments, I think David Clark makes some helpful observations. He overstates, however, the connection between polygamy in particular and the doctrine of exaltation. But, as he notes, he creates this connection often.

    Also misleading is this:

    What has happened since then, and the reason for the confusion, is that the word “exaltation” has become detached from it’s original specific meaning and now floats around to mean whatever people want it to mean. You still might hear a fairly restricted version of exaltation being attached to marriage in the temple, but I haven’t heard that for several years now. I think this is the best and most precise way to describe exaltation. And I think when you corner most Mormons, they will admit that eternal marriage is a component of exaltation.

    I have no opinion on David Clark’s experience over the last several years, but a brief glance at almost any LDS instruction manual will show that exaltation is universally taught in connection with temple marriage and sealing. Thus, it seems preposterous to say that Mormons must be “cornered” before they’ll connect exaltation to marriage, or that one could attend an LDS meeting on the topic and not have the connection immediately presented. Here’s the quick link and quotes from just a few of those manuals:

    After the endowment, what other ordinance performed in the temple is necessary for exaltation? (Temple marriage; see D&C 131:1–4.) Young Women Manual 2

    (Under “Requirements for Exaltation”) We must be married for eternity, either in this life or in the next. Gospel Principles Manual

    (Under “Ordinances Necessary for Exaltation”) Ordinances that are necessary for us to return to Heavenly Father include baptism, confirmation, the sacrament, conferral of the Melchizedek Priesthood (for brethren), the temple endowment, and temple marriage. Duties and Blessings of the Priesthood, Part B

    (As part of an extended discussion distinguishing between celestial glory and exaltation) In addition to the requirements to enter the celestial kingdom, what ordinance must we receive to reach exaltation? Preparing for Exaltation

  27. Count me in as another Mormon who won’t be shocked to see y’all in the CK. 😉 Also as someone who doesn’t understand Aaron’s point about works not pleasing God. I don’t know that God needs our works, but surely when we try to make Him happy, it does. (Is the idea that He is perfectly happy within Himself?)

    Interesting about the Mormon Reformation, David. Thanks for the tip.

  28. Oh, and I agree with Brian that temple marriage is pretty explicitly and openly linked to exaltation in contemporary Mormonism, at least in my experience.

  29. The David Clark Maxim: if you’re confused about anything in Mormonism, see if inserting polygamy back into the mix clears things up.

    Thanks, it was helpful.

  30. “Also as someone who doesn’t understand Aaron’s point about works not pleasing God.”

    It made sense to me when I considered it from a Calvinist viewpoint. I’m not sure that’s how he meant it though, so I may be totally mistaken. (His recent comments have reminded me of the Todd Wood School of Ambiguous Theological Jabs.)

  31. BrianJ,

    Does this now mean that “a brief glance at almost any LDS instruction manual” now establishes that something is “universally taught?” Because I was under the impression that LDS instruction manuals only establish helpful hints as to what might or might not be considered official doctrine and/or universally taught. Especially when cited by a non-Mormon, and doubly so when cited by an Evangelical Christian.

  32. BrianJ: It might, though I expect your inability to understand the question is a result of a hard heart, brought on by unresolved sin in your life. Might I recommend a wonderful book to help you out, it’s called “The Miracle of Forgiveness.” A visit to your loving and caring bishop will also help you through this time by guiding you through the strenuous process of making a full repentance for your sins.

    For maximum effect, please repeat the above in your best Richard G. Scott voice. If you really want to go the extra mile, include self-mortification for extra credit.

  33. David Clark: Oh don’t worry about me. Years of interfaith dialog have convinced me not to bother doing anything to effect my repentance.

    Tim: How can you “seriously” find something “funny”?! It’s a contradiction in terms—like saying “square circles” or “one being existing as three persons.” Besides, what form of self-mortification would you not find ugly?

  34. So I’ve been discussing some of these issues for about 2 decades now. I’ve been over and over church history (historian by training and trade), had knock-down-drag-out brawls with members of almost every Christian faith, both as a missionary and as your run-of-the-mill member, had incredible religious experiences with some of the best Christians I’ve ever known (almost none of them were Mormons [some weren’t even ‘Christians’]) and had a myriad of other religious interactions with all kinds and sorts. Can I just say, I’m very glad I stumbled upon this blog. I’ve spent the last several hours going through old posts and have enjoyed the (mostly) diplomatic, level-headed discussions I’ve seen over topics that normally result in someone propelling themselves off the nearest ropes and pile-driving the dissenting party.

    It’s refreshing, to say the least. Plus, living in Provo (which I think is the Mormon version of Azkaban), I haven’t had many outlets for serious religious discussion with people who care to have it. Homogeneity isn’t my thing unless it’s regarding my dairy products. I’ve learned from much practice and many difficult experiences that diplomacy is the only method to achieve real progress in discussion with those of differing opinions, more especially of those of differing faiths. I look forward to posting in the future, so long as time and two-year-olds permit.

  35. Gladly! I must say, I especially appreciate the restraint most poster show in addressing potentially controversial topics. There have been a couple of regular posters who are much more aggressive and insistent regarding things that are either misunderstandings in our various doctrines, or hard-to-pin-down historical issues (don’t get me started on Mormon history. That’s a much larger topic than I have time to do justice to). These individuals seem to be acknowledged here, but most people move on to more productive conversations. Seriously, I’m so happy to see this. I’ve been involved in some great ecumenical discussions, but this is the first one I’ve ever seen online that’s truly conducive to meaningful discussion.

    One comment I do want to make to someone that may be controversial is to Al Baurak: Regarding Fanny Alger, there is no evidence that either Joseph impregnated her, or that she was a “minor child” at the time they had any kind of relationship. Keep in mind, the definition of a “minor” is not historically pervasive. What you consider a “minor” is not what was considered a minor 180 years ago. Something I learned very early on in my career is that we – can not – read our morality into the past. It’s the equivalent of saying clothes in the past are “weird”, or the way they talked is “not normal”. At the time, that was how things were. So the “minor” argument is not valid in judging anyone in the past for the age of their relationships, including Joseph Smith.

    Also, regarding the type of relationship Joseph had with Fanny, or any other woman, declaring with absoluteness that it was adultery is risky historical business. Call me a postmodern historian, I’ll own that. But I’ve found in my research that as with any controversial topic, the truth usually lies somewhere between the extremes. If such issues were so black and white, I’m sure they would have closed the books on it, literally and figuratively. But it’s not, so as with any historical issue, the books remain open and study continues.

    All I’d ask is that you provide evidence for your claims, or ask sincere questions of someone trained in historiography. You don’t have to, but as the format of these discussions appear to be respectful and open-minded, I’d hope you’d oblige. I know I will.

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