Just a Little Atonement

A link to an article on Feminist Mormon Housewives popped up on my Facebook feed this morning. Though not the point of the article, the author briefly said something about the Atonement that stood out to me.

Second, know that it is NOT within your ability to save anyone. You can’t even save yourself. No matter how many good deeds you do, or how many times you attend the temple, you will fall short of perfect. We all do. All of us. We are all in need of the Atonement and God’s mercy and grace to save us. Even if someone only needs “a little” of the Atonement, it still covers us all equally.

I’m curious about the phrase “Even if someone only needs ‘a little’ of the Atonement”. Is this a common view of the Atonement within Mormonism that someone might only need “a little” of it?

The common Evangelical view is that “only” the Atonement can save us. There is no such thing as “a little” of the Atonement. If this view is of the Atonement is representative of Mormonism I think we may have yet another example of a common word that both Mormons and Evangelicals use with radically different definitions.

For an even more radical view on the Atonement, check out Louis Farrakhan’s sermon.

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117 thoughts on “Just a Little Atonement

  1. I don’t think this is any more common a view of the Atonement in Mormonism than it is in mainstream Christianity. In other words, you’re going to get some people with a twisted view in both places, and they probably don’t realize that Jesus is often talking to them about what the sinners should do.

  2. All she is saying is that no matter how much someone else looks like they are doing well, we all can use a friend.

    _____
    That said, it is going to be interesting to see all the folks that help you make something from nothing.

  3. I’m really not trying to make something from nothing. It’s just that it’s a phrase that wouldn’t occur to an Evangelical. It seems self-contradictory in our theology. As Katyjane is suggesting it could be a false view in both traditions, if so, I’m interested in how prevalent this view might be in Mormonism. From my perspective it’s not easy to find someone expressing this view in Evangelicalism at all.

    That said, I’m looking forward to a Mormon at first telling me this is the totally wrong idea of Mormonism and then telling me they actually whole-heartedly agree with the sentiment. 😉

  4. As I Mormon, I think what this statement misses is not just that the Atonement “covers us all equally” but that we all need it equally. No one needs “just a little” of the Atonement.

    Mosiah 2:21
    21 I say unto you that if ye should serve him who has created you from the beginning, and is preserving you from day to day, by lending you breath, that ye may live and move and do according to your own will, and even supporting you from one moment to another—I say, if ye should serve him with all your whole souls yet ye would be unprofitable servants.

    2 Nephi 10:24
    24 Wherefore, my beloved brethren, reconcile yourselves to the will of God, and not to the will of the devil and the flesh; and remember, after ye are reconciled unto God, that it is only in and through the grace of God that ye are saved.

  5. I’d agree with what Katie said. I’d say that most in the church see the Atonement as something that’s infinite in nature, and that nobody needs just “a little.” I think the writer’s use of the word in quote marks suggests it shouldn’t be taken literally, that she’s talking about appearances rather than reality.

    That said, there is a common view in Mormonism that we do what we can and the Atonement does the rest, “fills the gap,” so to speak. (See, however, this well-received talk, which takes a different approach.) I suppose there may be some who might say that the gap for some people is small, but I haven’t meant any.

  6. { From my perspective it’s not easy to find someone expressing this view in Evangelicalism at all.}

    TIM,
    As I read blogs from different Evangelicals I find that they do not agree with each other. Some of them even have some very unusual ideas of what the gospel is.

    Would it be fair for me make you justify their misunderstanding of your teachings?

  7. Fred, I’m not making anyone justify anything that is not their own viewpoint. I’m asking if this view is common. If you encounter a similarly foreign idea in evangelicalism I’m happy to tell you what i know about the idea and whether or not I agree with it.

  8. I have some long time Mormon friends. And they hold the view that they are doing alright in their walk of faith. Not perfect…but not too badly.

    I’d never say anything like that. The opposite is true for me. I am bound in sin and cannot free myself. I don’t need a little help to put me over the top…I am ungodly and in desperate need of a Savior.

  9. I think it was a throw away comment, which doesn’t really jive with Mormon scripture – BUT – That Mormons have an alternate view of the Fall and original sin, certainly makes their view of Atonement different. How Mormons see this playing out in their daily walk with Christ, seems to vary in my experience. The natural man (meaning every single one of us) is still an enemy to God, but I have seen an unfortunate turn (in GC no less) toward “righteousness” as what we do when we live the commandments of God – then access the Atonement when we screw up. Kind of like Atonement-as-band-aid instead of living water. This really kills me BTW – more than anything else I hear.

    As I’ve said before, I attribute this more to a lack of theology on the Mormon view of Atonement than a desire to disregard “what Jesus did”.

  10. I don’t know of anything explicit, but there are two aspects of LDS culture and teachings that may cause someone to say this.

    First, a huge percentage of LDS thought/teaching on the Atonement is couched in transactional terms and use finanical metaphors. Jesus is generally seen as “paying the difference.” By itself this wouldn’t lead someone to use the term “a little Atonement,” except that…

    Second, LDS culture is generally steeped in the concept of worthiness. Some people are more worthy than others. There is also a general idea that church leaders are more worthy/more holy than are rank and file.

    Put those together and I can see someone concluding that since there are varying levels of worthiness, and since Jesus pays the difference, some people will need a lot of Atonement while others will need a little Atonement.

  11. Mormon theology (such as it is) rejects the concept of original sin and insists that mortals are born innocent but posessing libertarian free will. It also introduces the idea that life is a test and a necessary experience for mortals on the path to godhood.

    So the sin problem in Mormonism consists of a failure to reach God’s perfect standard: you could choose to perfectly obey God’s commandments, but you do not. Accordingly, you have flunked the test because you have a quantity of sin that is greater than zero. In Mormonism it is theoretically possible (even if it never actually happens except in one instance) for a person to simply never sin.

    So, setting the Brad Wilcox talk aside (because, as nice as the talk sounds, I do not think that it is theologically rigorous enough to be able to tell with any precision what it is actually saying), you could certainly have someone in Mormonism that only needs a “little of the atonement,” at least for the purposes of justification. To the extent that you have fallen short, you need forgiveness which is only obtainable through the atonement. You have a finite quantity of sin that needs forgiving, so you need a finite quantity of atonement to justify you.

    (I have heard it taught that the atonement also pays an infinite/unimaginably large price for our exaltation above and beyond our sin debt, so I leave that open as a possibility, even though it seems at odds with lots of Mormon teaching about how one ultimately qualifies for godhood in the long run, i.e., an eternity of hard work).

    Contrast this to the orthodox Christian idea of original sin, in which humanity’s sin problem is a sinful nature and a fundamental inability–not even a theoretical possibility–of perfectly living God’s law. Our problem is not that we have committed a certain number of sins, but that we are sinful by nature. The difference is huge, and I have written about it on my own blog (and plan on refining and updating that post some more in the near future).

  12. Great thought David.

    Kind of like Atonement-as-band-aid instead of living water. This really kills me BTW – more than anything else I hear.

    Glad to hear it. You need to just start succinctly saying “The Atonement is not a band-aid, the only reason you can do anything righteous is because of the Atonement.”

  13. The rejection of original sin certainly presents some works-based-righteousness problems for the Mormon understanding of Atonement. But, it also gives us a more expansive view of God’s goodness.

    “all things which are good cometh of God”

    In other words, secular organizations that relieve suffering and protect the vulnerable in this world are guided by the spirit of God and contribute to God’s purposes – regardless of what they actually believe.

  14. In other words, secular organizations that relieve suffering and protect the vulnerable in this world are guided by the spirit of God and contribute to God’s purposes – regardless of what they actually believe.

    Original sin doesn’t rule that out either though. Total depravity doesn’t even rule that out.

  15. Tim, if there are plenty in orthodox Christianity that say the same, I submit that its a result of their modern (or post) sensibilities, which is cool. But I def. see it as an evolving position. Remember, original sin gave us infant baptism and Christians have been trying to run away from that idea ever since.

  16. Some of us Christians cling tightly to infant Baptism.

    It puts things in the proper order. Grace before faith. When faith does come (by hearing)…then Baptism is complete.

  17. Yeah, Christian, you act like infant baptism is self-evidently bad and assume that orthodox Christianity knows it. Your Mormonism is showing.

  18. . . . if only we had further scriptures to enlighten us about the controversies surrounding infant baptisms. What’s this you say, a Bible. A Golden Bible. . . .

    😉

  19. I stand all amazed that Heavenly Father revealed everything to the ancient Nephites that we would need to know to resolve the burning theological controversies of early 19th-century frontier America lay believers and pretty much nothing else.

    It just shows how true the Church is.

  20. Calvin called God the “origin and fountain of all goodness” and described music and philosophy and various other products of the human mind as “most outstanding gifts of the Spirit”. I am not sure why Calvinists would have you confused.

  21. I assume infant baptism is self-evidently bad to a lot of Christians, because a lot of Christians don’t practice it and in some cases outright denounce it. I’m not considering how Mormons view it at all. I’m always making a concerted effort to speak to (in this case) Protestants based on my own understanding of what Protestants believe (based on my own study of Protestant sources and what actual people have told me they believe). If infant baptism is actually a widely accepted practice in more than one Protestant tradition, I’m more than willing to be corrected.

    Also, if men and women who are not orthodox Christians can perform acts of genuine goodness without them being considered filthy rags, I’m also perfectly willing to be corrected. I’ve just been told that my whole life by countless Evangelicals. After the 100th time, I start to think that its what they actually believe. If you don’t agree with Calvin or contemporary interpretations of Calvin, that is obviously an acceptable position. But, I hope the genuine observer can empathize with my confusion. Outside of the Trinity, it often looks like anything goes in Protestantism. And too its usually the loudest voices that win out.

  22. More on original sin: If goodness can exist outside of orthodox Christianity (or only in those who have been saved by the traditional Jesus), then how corrupt are we? It seems that you have to pick one or the other. If there is a simple reconciliation for a corrupt world that can also do the work of God with no belief in the traditional Jesus, then I’d love to hear it.

  23. gundek, Please explain to me how Piper gets Calvin wrong – or who I get Piper’s interpretation of Calvin wrong. I’m genuinely confused.

  24. Christian J, mostly it’s just Baptists (and other contemprary Evangelicals who are influenced by Baptists) who oppose infant baptism. But that’s like saying mostly it’s just Seventh-Day Adventists who oppose observing the Sabbath on Sunday. No kidding. It’s why they’re called “Baptists.”

    And you don’t really have to really dig that deeply to see that the the worthlessness of our works in a Total Depravity context is specifically in terms of their ability to reconcile us or justify us to God. Not that literally everything we do is evil in every sense (especially since it’s all predestined by God anyway).

  25. More on original sin: If goodness can exist outside of orthodox Christianity (or only in those who have been saved by the traditional Jesus), then how corrupt are we?

    We are totally depraved, in the sense that, without God’s grace, we are entirely unable to respond to God.

  26. Are secular organizations (or Mormons) – who do God’s work of serving the poor and vulnerable – contributing to the building of God’s Kingdom?

  27. They could be.

    Part of the confusion is over what our good works have the power to do for us. “Filthy rags” rhetoric is directed at the efficacy of those works to save. Evangelicals are so concerned about this point (particularly when talking to Mormons) that we often over state the case.

    God is the source of all love and every act of love is an example of how we are made in His image.

  28. Just as a practical example when my wife and I speak about foster care we acknowledge that all foster parents are doing the work of God by establishing healthy emotional attachments with their kids. Without such attachments with an earthly father (or mother) it is quite difficult for people to live out the reality of such an attachment with a heavenly father.

  29. Christian,

    I guess I should have explained myself better.

    Baptism is the easiest. Paedobaptism would be understood to be rooted in covenant theology rather than original sin. Not speaking for all Protestants but Reformed see baptism as sign and seal of the covenant of grace the outward and visible sign of membership in the Church and think it would be sinful to be negligent to the little children. They understand passages such as Acts 16:33 referring to the Baptism of entire families by good a necessary consequence to imply infants, children, and women should be baptized despite the absence of a direct command to do so. To exclude infants, children, and women from the visible covenant community seems contrary to the command to go, baptize, and teach.

  30. As far as Piper goes I am not sure that he gets Calvin wrong, I would have to read him closer. The problem we have is trying to develop an anthropology from the TULIP mnemonic. The TULIP come from Dort (post Calvin) in response to the 5 points of the Remonstrants. Dort was never meant to be an exposition of Reformed theology but an answer to the Arminians.

    Total depravity, a term to the best of my knowledge Calvin never used, teaches that natural man (unregenerate) after the fall is unable to choose to follow God. Calvin clearly teaches that original sin has corrupted humanity and says, “Let it stand, therefore, as an indubitable truth, which no engines can shake, that the mind of man is so entirely alienated from the righteousness of God that he cannot conceive, desire, or design anything but what is wicked, distorted, foul, impure, and iniquitous…” Note this is in relation to the righteousness of God not the good things of humanity.

    For Calvin creation is as important in anthropology as the fall. Man is created in the image of God by nature and being created in the image of God is part of being human. Calvin roots the command to love our neighbor in this fact. Christ is the image of God, how much more should we love our neighbor made in that image. To be remade in the image of Christ is to restore our created humanity.

    Importantly for Calvin the image of God is not completely destroyed by the fall but vitiated otherwise we would stop being human. He roots idolatry in the corruption of the sense of the divine in humanity by the fall.

    When we talk about good works or kingdom building we need to distinguish between good works in a natural ability post fall and good works done in faith as an act of gratitude and true worship of God. First Calvin would say that no good work is meritorious, in that by performing a good work neither an unbeliever nor Christian can obligate God’s mercy. Good works are owed to God principally as our creator.

    Good works in a natural ability can be performed by nature of our humanity, they are imperfect and if used to justify ourselves as righteous are filthy rags. At the same time a good work done in faith is acceptable to God as spiritual sacrifices.

    When Calvin talks about the “admirable light of truth displayed” in unbelievers in the sciences medicine government etc. he grounds these in the Spirit of God as the fountain of truth and the dignity of humanity as the image of God. This I think displays the tragedy of the fall quite starkly.

  31. One last thing, when thinking about Calvin you need to place him in his theological context. His Roman Catholic opponents claimed the likeness of God was a “donum superadditum” or a divine grace given to Adam before the fall and taken away and in part restored in the sacraments of the Church. His Anabaptist opponents claimed there was no real change in the fall. Finally some Protestants claimed a complete loss of the image of God in the fall.

  32. We Lutherans believe that the Lord gives infants His Holy Spirit in Baptism (Acts 2:38). God adopts us in Baptism. Makes us His own. Gives us promises. His grace…before our faith. And the Living God is not hindered in what He does because of someone’s age. Infants have a leg up, if anything. They are not jaded yet. Maybe that is why Jesus said that we “should become as these little ones…”

  33. UMC Position on Infant Baptism:

    “Understanding the practice as an authentic expression of how God works in our lives, The United Methodist Church strongly advocates the baptism of infants within the faith community: “Because the redeeming love of God, revealed in Jesus Christ, extends to all persons and because Jesus explicitly included the children in his kingdom, the pastor of each charge shall earnestly exhort all Christian parents or guardians to present their children to the Lord in Baptism at an early age” (1992 Book of Discipline, par. 221)” (para. 226, 2008 Book of Discipline).

    Baptism is not a saving ordinance, but “incorporation into the body of Christ.” I think if you ditch the concept that ordinances somehow save, you aren’t left with much in the way of arguments against infant baptism.

  34. “Baptism now saves you…” (1st Peter)

    “Those of you who have been baptized,. have put on Christ” (Gal. 4:4)

    God can surely save apart from Baptism. But He can surely save in it, as well. Our Lord was not into empty religious ritual for shits and giggles. He commanded Baptism. He is in it…working His will in the person (no matter what age they are or how much they “know”).

  35. theoldadam,

    A point of clarification. When I use the term “saving ordinance” I am using it in the Mormon parlance. As is so often, the common vocabulary obscures differences in meaning.

    In the LDS church saving ordinance generally means that if you don’t have it, you don’t get into the celestial kingdom (or its highest degree). No punched ticked, no entrance. As a Methodist I take baptism as a means of grace, which is how I read your 1 Peter and Galatians quotes. Since we are saved by grace, baptism is obviously important in one’s salvation, we need the grace that comes through it. And it is a continual grace, like Paul said, baptism is putting on Christ.

    However, this is not (at least in my experience) how Mormons talk about baptism, nor does saving ordinance cover those ideas.

  36. “However, this is not (at least in my experience) how Mormons talk about baptism, nor does saving ordinance cover those ideas.”

    Though the use and terminology mentioned by you is definitely more of a protestant phraseology, the idea behind still jives fine with LDS. Ordinances are more than just a punch ticket to LDS. They are necessary, but they’re not sufficient. When I was a missionary I would often describe the ordinances, starting with baptism as means to bind you closer and closer to Christ. And that’s earnestly how I view all the ordinances/covenants that I’ve made as….as reminders of Christ, powerful and enabling bindings with my Savior that invites greater cleansing, sanctification, and enabling power through Him.

    As for the other comments, I find them annoyingly wanting of my actual experience and knowledge of the atonement as someone who is LDS. I don’t have the time nor capacity to respond to all of the points/depictions, but here’s an example of something that bothered me by theoldadam:

    “I have some long time Mormon friends. And they hold the view that they are doing alright in their walk of faith. Not perfect…but not too badly.
    I’d never say anything like that. The opposite is true for me. I am bound in sin and cannot free myself. I don’t need a little help to put me over the top…I am ungodly and in desperate need of a Savior.”

    The distinction for LDS is that we (should) focus on the enabling power of the atonement. If you asked about my walk in faith I would probably say something in similar to your friend. That I earnestly seek out God and walk with Him. His Spirit is with me and I trust Him implicitly. What He teaches me again and again is that I’m His daughter, He loves me, and to keep on going….that’s He’s there for me. So why would I doubt him in His words to my soul? Doing well, in my walk, simply means that I am moving in a way that generally aligns with the will of the Lord. That I’m not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but that I am where He wants me and that I will continue to do so. I don’t see this as something that I’ve done myself, but that God has made possible and created in me as I seek Him earnestly. He has enabled me to be the person I am today: generally at peace, earnestly doing good, and enjoying greater light and knowledge by His hand.

    I wouldn’t describe myself as mentioned by your description because it doesn’t fit how I see myself with the Lord. I am freed from much sin because of Christ and His atonement. I am where I am, because of how He’s gently made me and loved me into being. I am God’s daughter first and desire this state above all else, inspite of temptations and sin that frequntly bog my path. It is in and through Christ that I am able to walk within a godly path. God is the origin, author, and founder of my goodness. To say that I am whole-heartedly ungodly for me is to deny the works of His atonement within me. I am in a state of conversion of soul, I am not perfected nor will be in this mortal life, but the atonement is active in my life and I have full faith in it’s power to bring about perfection.

  37. Tasha, I appreciate your sincerity and the obviously heartfelt nature of your comment. However, I think it showcases some of the frustrations that orthodox Christians have when talking to Mormons about Mormon doctrine generally and about Mormon doctrine about the Atonement in specific, and I don’t think it resolves the issue raised by the OP, which is about the particular role that the atonement plays in individual salvation. General statements in the nature of testimony about the efficacy of the Atonement only muddy the waters.

  38. Kullervo, on that note, my first thought on the initial post was, no. I have never heard anyone ever state they/someone needs a “little” of the atonement as an LDS. Ever. At all. The closest to it are those (often talked about as outside oneself or past poor understandings of the doctrine, etc) that focus on what could be described as check-list faith. Where people get caught in a list of to do’s. But this is not considered a good thing to LDS.

    And I’m still not understanding the frustrations part that you’ve mentioned. Unless you’re talking about the part about having similar words used differently. In which case I find it equally frustrating, but for other reasons. Often those that are confused by the distinctions that I’ve talked to have a seemingly hard time recognizing the similarities….because they’re focusing heavily on the distinctions. Doing so will never give an accurate understanding of LDS beliefs…nor any belief system, period.

    The doctrine and use of the Atonement can be given in basic terms and scriptures. If I had to give a short list the atonement in LDS beliefs is
    1. Balancing….it balances the scales of good and evil presented for us in the world so that we are morally capable to choose (2 Nephi 2:26-27)
    2. Enabling….it gives us the power and strength to move foreward
    3. Redeeming….it’s not our names that we are brought before the Father in, but by Christ’s name (D+C 45: 3-5)
    4. Healing/soothing….it covers not only sin in LDS faith, but all pains, struggles, and issues that may arise (Alma 7:11-13)
    5. Converting….it is the only means of sanctification.

    I must run. But even by this short list I would hope it’s fairly obvious that “a little atonement” does not apply in LDS theology. The scriptures found were just off the top of my head, others could be given. If the idea of atonement in LDS terms (or any concept) is so difficult, the answer to me seems quite simple: start with the basics, seek out official sources, and ask before assuming. It’s that simple. Look up Preach My Gospel (the missionary teaching guide) and look up atonement in there for the basic idea, read the accompanying scriptures. Search atonement in the LDS.org search engine. It’s that simple.

  39. Ultimate cause or reason. Not what caused the need for atonement but, once there was a need what is the reason/cause that there is an atonement?

  40. “In Mormon theology what is the source of the atonement?”

    Christ. I’m not sure if there was something specific you were looking for…??

  41. oops looks like we posted at the same time. The reason/cause that there is an atonement in lds theology would be to conquer death (physical and spiritual). Basically to give us the capacity and path to return to God….to bring about God’s purposes which is “to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.”

    So basically everything 😉

  42. “Assuming the fall, what ultimately dictates that an atonement takes place?”

    just in case the last thing wasn’t clear. The ultimate fulfillment of purposes of God for His children

  43. I’m sorry I’m still not following you. My best guess is that in lds theology the result is also the root. For lds the atonement was planned before the foundation of the world. It was there because it was needed to fulfill the purpose of the lord.The root to that purpose is His love for all of us and the desire for us to have/be all that He is. But I’m probably still missing something.

  44. Maybe it would help if you answered from a protestant perspective first…just to get an idea of what your aiming for with the root of the atonement?

  45. Was the atonement “as it occurred” required in Mormon theology? In other words could God have worked out the atonement in another way?

    For example Anselm asks the question, “For what necessity and for what reason did God, since he is omnipotent take upon himself the humiliation and weakness of human nature in order to its restoration?”

  46. Doesn’t that point to the great plan of happiness is the root of the Atonement? I mean if the great plan of happiness requires the transgression of God’s will can the atonement be rooted in the same will?

  47. To be honest with you the plan of salvation is the reason I asking what the root of the atonement is in Mormon theology. A democratic council choosing the system reconciliation for an imposed estrangement creates more questions than it answers.

    I guess the best way to ask the question, is there something outside heavenly Father (a supreme nature or ultimate law) that determines the atonement?

  48. And that’s not meant to be an insult to anyone. I just think Gundek is assuming parts of conversation that not everyone is familiar with.

  49. . A democratic council choosing the system reconciliation for an imposed estrangement creates more questions than it answers.

    Yes, Mormonism has myriads of unanswerable questions in its theology. The teachings in the Book of Mormon assume a law that God cannot transgress, i.e. a condition on Godhood. God is not outside the universe, he is inside the Universe and organizes it from existing matter. Roughly speaking, Mormonism often teaches that God is God not intrinsically, but because his obedience to the celestial law.

    I think most of your theological questions cannot be answered within Mormonism because there are not nearly as many qualities of God that can be determined by deduction. Mormons don’t really know what God is in the same way that traditional Christian theology deduces his attributes. They believe that revealed knowledge of God shatters traditional theological assumptions and deductions. But they believe he is something than simply the source of everything.

  50. Tim,

    You are right.

    I have been reading Jesus the Christ at Jared’s recommendation and I was take by this passage in the introduction:

    “Instead of beginning our study with the earthly birth of the Holy Babe of Bethlehem, we shall consider the part taken by the Firstborn Son of God in the primeval councils of heaven, at the time when He was chosen and ordained to be the Savior of the unborn race of mortals, the Redeemer of a world then in its formative stages of development.”

    While the plan of salvation is not a surprise to anybody who has spent any time reading about Mormonism, I have been trying to work out the implications of what having chosen and ordained your own savior. Add to this the unique Mormon view of the fall and I am left scratching my head. Don’t get me started on the need for an infinite atonement from a finite god.

    Maybe this says more about why it took me 20 years to get a degree in a field I don’t use. Thank you GI Bill.

  51. “Roughly speaking, Mormonism often teaches that God is God not intrinsically, but because his obedience to the celestial law.”

    That answers everything, you sir are a genius.

    So the divine attributes say “omnipotence” in Mormonism would be more of a inconceivable degree of power rather than all power?

  52. “To be honest with you the plan of salvation is the reason I asking what the root of the atonement is in Mormon theology. A democratic council choosing the system reconciliation for an imposed estrangement creates more questions than it answers.”

    To help, I wouldn’t describe the council in heaven as democratic. Rather more like our first major decision of obedience to the Father. God presented the plan, not for a vote, but for us to accept and agree to. We could not accept the plan, but it wasn’t like choosing between political parties where the majority won. They were choosing to follow God’s plan which was perfect and lovin and agentic….or not. In short, we did not choose/ordain our own savior. The Father ordained and chose Him. He presented his choice for us to accept or not….to not was to rebel and end up with being cast out (ie satan and his followers).

    As for your other question about something outside of the Father that determines the atonement, the short answer IMO is no. Do I understand why the atonement was made as it is? Not entirely. I have my sense of why, but nothing fully concrete….especially before bed time during the week. Jared indicated one line of thought about Him being God because he follows celestial laws. Though this is a fairly common idea it is not the only one floating about and I personally don’t adhere to it myself. I used to….sort of…..but it didn’t necessarily fit and I recognized that. When I found something that better fit (from LDS sources p.s.), I replaced that thought with another. These types of ideas are discussed and volleyed….they’re not necessarily doctrine itself. Doctrine isn’t debated (ex Jesus is the Christ and Savior of all mankind…..no one ever debates that point like one would debate the above)

    What I do agree on is the LDS do not hold all the answers, we have plenty we (individually and as a whole) don’t know. There’s plenty I don’t know. What I enjoy about my faith is that it is dynamic and one that is constantly in pursuit for greater understanding and knowledge. I do see my belief as something that can shatter theological assumptions…sort of. My current philosophical bend into my faith, focusing on questions of concepts of time, dynamics or God, etc, follow a more Hebraic reference than a greek model, which is the prevailing perspective and foundational practice for most of western society/concepts. For example, time in greek ideals of time are linear (past->present->future), while herbraic are more dynamic (the present defines the past and the future). etc. But now I’m rambling.

    Also I don’t believe in a finite God either. That is not LDS beliefs.

  53. Gundek, Yes and it’s my understanding that this power is not eternal but contingent on His living out the covenants of his priesthood (and possibly contingent on his Heavenly Father living out his own contingent responsibilities).

  54. Yes, omnipotence means god can do everything that is possible, not that he can do everything. God’s power is limited by what is possible, and what is possible is limited by logic as well as the laws of reality (which God did not create).

  55. I agree with Tasha that there are differing opinions on the issue. There really is no straight answer to most of these questions because Mormons can validly adhere to any number of slightly different opinions stated in wildly varying degrees of theological precision by numerous current and former Church leaders. Members like Tasha may dismiss Talmage’s theories as speculation.

    There are mechanisms and practices that have stabilized the standard theology over time. However, substantial variation is possible (e.g. whether God is finite or infinite) As you may appreciate, this sort of variation will dramatically affect the character of person’s theology.

    Consequently, there must be hundreds of philosophically unsophisticated theories of the atonement swimming around the church. It’s almost appropriate to classify many of them as poetic rather than philosophical.

  56. Consequently, there must be hundreds of philosophically unsophisticated theories of the atonement swimming around the church. It’s almost appropriate to classify many of them as poetic rather than philosophical.

    They are devotional rather than theological.

  57. The doctrine and use of the Atonement can be given in basic terms and scriptures. If I had to give a short list the atonement in LDS beliefs is
    1. Balancing….it balances the scales of good and evil presented for us in the world so that we are morally capable to choose (2 Nephi 2:26-27)
    2. Enabling….it gives us the power and strength to move foreward
    3. Redeeming….it’s not our names that we are brought before the Father in, but by Christ’s name (D+C 45: 3-5)
    4. Healing/soothing….it covers not only sin in LDS faith, but all pains, struggles, and issues that may arise (Alma 7:11-13)
    5. Converting….it is the only means of sanctification.

    It seems like you are attributing all of God’s grace to the Atonement. There are significant implications to that, since Mormons generally believe that the Atonement is something we have to access–we have to do something to trigger the efficacy of the Atonement in our lives. Push button B to trigger result A (in fact, I believe that Mormon scripture says that this is a law “irrevocably decreed in heaven”).

    Also, I continue to be troubled by the vagueness and imprecision. So I want to press you with some follow-ups:

    2. Enabling….it gives us the power and strength to move foreward

    Okay. How? And why?

    Seriously. How? How does the Atonement “give us power and strength?” What do you mean by that? Is it merely an inspiration to us? Does it somehow impart personality characteristics and abilities to us that we would not otherwise have? If so, how does Jesus suffering in the Garden and dying on the cross translate into extra physical or moral strength for us? What do the two have to do with each other? How are they connected in any way? Where does this strength come from, and why does the Atonement make it happen or redirect it to us? Is it strength generated by the Atonement itself? Is it strength from Heavenly Father, purchased with the Atonement? And how do you know any of this? But please be particular and specific.

    To be honest, I strongly suspect that you don’t have any real answers, just more vaguely devotional generalities. And it’s no good claiming you just don’t know, because apparently you do: you at least know enough to confidently say the Atonement “gives us the power and strength to move foreward,” so I’d like to know what exactly you mean by that and where you get that from.

  58. “Members like Tasha may dismiss Talmage’s theories as speculation.”

    Though there are things I remember not fully agreeing with in Talmage’s book, this was not one of them. I re-read the portion about the preexistance to make sure and still don’t have a problem with it. In fact in the first part it states quite clearly that he was ordained of the Father. There’s nothing in there that states what gundek mentioned, though with the old phraseology I could see where some of these ideas could be assumed. Also the vast majority of Jesus the Christ I enjoyed reading and agreed with. I thought it was a great expounding of Christ. The 2-3 things that I wasn’t sure on were minor and superflous….and frankly I don’t even remember what they were.

    And though there are plenty of variation of thought on a number of things, God’s infinite nature is not one of them.

    “So the divine attributes say “omnipotence” in Mormonism would be more of a inconceivable degree of power rather than all power?”

    Likewise, on this point, I would diverge from Jared and say no. (See DC 88:41).

  59. Likewise, on this point, I would diverge from Jared and say no. (See DC 88:41).

    Poppycock. Literal omnipotence flatly contradicts most Mormon doctrine about the nature of God.

  60. Good works in a natural ability can be performed by nature of our humanity, they are imperfect and if used to justify ourselves as righteous are filthy rags. At the same time a good work done in faith is acceptable to God as spiritual sacrifices.

    gundek, This and the whole of your response is very helpful – thanks. Its frustrating, however, that this is the first time a Protestant Christian has been able to spell it out for me in this way.(because I’ve presented this question many times) I attribute this to one or more of the following reasons:

    A. When Protestants find out that I’m a Mormon, a switch turns on in their brain that prevents them from explaining anything to me but that every supposed act of goodness (particularly a Mormon act of goodness) is “filthy rags” – regardless of their role as general -image of God- type goodness or serving as justification for my standing before God. They believe in your explanation of things, but can’t bring themselves to give it to a Mormon straight – because -as they say – Mormons are predisposed to righteousness earning and need the point to be overstated.

    B. There is no Mormon switch. This is the consistent gospel view of these Protestants – taught to them by their pastors – who learned it in Seminary training – or developed it on their own after. I see evidence of this option, because I’ve heard more than one pastor teach it this way – speaking to their own congregation – with no apparent knowledge that a Mormon was in attendance. This is denominational quirk that is only taught among a small percentage of the church.

    C. Its much bigger than pastors, individuals or denominations, but a decidedly American Evangelical understanding of the gospel (attributed to Jonathan Edwards, Billy Graham or countless others). An understanding that going to heaven is the whole point of everything we do. (with no mention of kingdom building) An understanding that there are no acts of goodness that are *not* trying to justify ourselves before God – because we’ll be taken up in the rapture anyway – while the earth (and all our image-of-God goodness) burns.

  61. How does the Atonement “give us power and strength?” What do you mean by that? Is it merely an inspiration to us? Does it somehow impart personality characteristics and abilities to us that we would not otherwise have? If so, how does Jesus suffering in the Garden and dying on the cross translate into extra physical or moral strength for us? What do the two have to do with each other? How are they connected in any way? Where does this strength come from, and why does the Atonement make it happen or redirect it to us? Is it strength generated by the Atonement itself? Is it strength from Heavenly Father, purchased with the Atonement? And how do you know any of this? But please be particular and specific.

    Why do you think these questions are important, why are the answers at all critical?

  62. Why do you think these questions are important, why are the answers at all critical?

    Because either Tasha’s statement about the Atonement has meaning or it doesn’t.

  63. Thank you Christian,

    I would be remiss not to point out that Tim has created a place where it is safe to be orthodox.

  64. “It seems like you are attributing all of God’s grace to the Atonement. There are significant implications to that, since Mormons generally believe that the Atonement is something we have to access–we have to do something to trigger the efficacy of the Atonement in our lives. Push button B to trigger result A (in fact, I believe that Mormon scripture says that this is a law “irrevocably decreed in heaven”).”
    To clarify, I am definitely attributing God’s grace to the atonement. I would go as far as to say that the embodiment and epitome of God’s grace is the atonement. I do not have time for the rest but to say that I find your assessment inadequate and more indicated as to why you would see serious implications in a way that I don’t. But the short answer is no, not exactly.
    Also, I continue to be troubled by the vagueness and imprecision. So I want to press you with some follow-ups:
    “Okay. How? And why?
    Seriously. How? How does the Atonement “give us power and strength?” What do you mean by that? Is it merely an inspiration to us? Does it somehow impart personality characteristics and abilities to us that we would not otherwise have?”
    Here’s a quote from David A. Bednar of the quorum of the 12 apostles about it: “The enabling power of the Atonement strengthens us to do and be good and to serve beyond our own individual desire and natural capacity.” The reason it is vague because the results are often personal and difficult to describe. By enabling, I mean for just about anything. It allows me to grow as a person beyond one’s own limits. For me it has entailed, recognizing my weakness, helping me explore it, move forward in hope and faith/desire to do so, and then become stronger from something that would often be seen as a weakness. At times when something seems above and beyond my capacity to handle, He’s removed it from me and brought me greater strength and peace than before.
    “If so, how does Jesus suffering in the Garden and dying on the cross translate into extra physical or moral strength for us? What do the two have to do with each other?”
    I’ll focus on these 2 questions to keep this succinct. Again, note alma 7:11-13 for a start. LDS view the atonement as Christ overcoming all things, specifically all and everything to do with mortality….so not just spiritual and physical death, but also illness, weakness, troubles, temptations, etc. In doing so He overcame the world all power. The depths of the most wicked he has felt, held, and overcome thus making it His to have power over and gives him the capacity to draw all men to him (see 3 Nephi 27:14). Our strength comes by taking upon ourselves Christ. When we struggle, meet temptations, suffer, etc, as we place faith in God the power of God is open for us to receive….strength that we currently do not have to overcome all things. The end result is to be one, even as He is. This occurs as our faith continues and we are perfect through His atonement. Our weaknesses become our strengths because we have further taken upon Christ and His ultimate power to overcome all things that He received through the process of atonement. Scriptures about this that come to mind are in 3 Nephi when the people pray with Christ and Christ prays for them (can’t remember the reference off hand and I’m running late) and mosiah 15. Also some parts of D+C76, a part in Moses 7, another part in John, etc. But I don’t have time nor energy to expound.
    “ To be honest, I strongly suspect that you don’t have any real answers, just more vaguely devotional generalities.”
    I have answers. What I don’t have is time nor patience to answer 30 questions in greater detail.. I’m in grad school and my days are usually 10-12 hrs long. So what I give is basically off the top of my head with some minimal searches (can’t get entirely out of research, it’s in my dna). I started on the basics figuring that wouldn’t be much of a problem because what’s been given before this hasn’t exactly been deep theological discussion in the first place….much have remained with basic answers or responses with a number of those being inaccurate depictions of LDS belief.

  65. To clarify, I am definitely attributing God’s grace to the atonement.

    So, you are saying that the Atonement is the only source of grace?

  66. I started on the basics figuring that wouldn’t be much of a problem because what’s been given before this hasn’t exactly been deep theological discussion in the first place….much have remained with basic answers or responses with a number of those being inaccurate depictions of LDS belief.

    I, and most of the other commenters here, are extremely familiar with the basics. Please go ahead and skip them.

  67. “Poppycock. Literal omnipotence flatly contradicts most Mormon doctrine about the nature of God.”

    Kullervo, personally I would take the word of someone who is utterly Mormon when they say that it doesn’t contradict LDS doctrine. If someone Ev stated likewise, I would take their word for it. LDS (unless they err to the side of heretical) view God as all powerful, plain and simple. The idea that we don’t seems crazy (checked with my. But I even double-checked with dear old Wikipedia. they listed 5 different positions in which the word omnipotent can be used. Of those 5, 3 of them definitely fit LDS thought. 1 I’ve seen postulated. And only the last would be a little sketchy for a Mormon. So my answer is still the same.

    “So, you are saying that the Atonement is the only source of grace?”

    I would state yes with the caveat that the atonement is not as limited in definition/scope as you described earlier in Mormon theology. It is in all ways infinite. I’m sorry that I can’t explain this further. I would need more time and energy to construct my thoughts than I currently have today.

  68. I would need more time and energy to construct my thoughts than I currently have today.

    You would also need Mormonism to have an actual theory of the Atonement, which it does not.

  69. “I, and most of the other commenters here, are extremely familiar with the basics. Please go ahead and skip them.”

    I mean this with no offense and I can tell by the tone of dialogue that there is certainly more respect and care by most here, but the questions and concerns seem to have answers within the basics…..particularly much of what has been said or queried indicates to me that there is a less understanding of the scope, depth, and breadth of basic doctrinal significance and thought for LDS. The atonement and how it applies/seen is basic . Whether Christ is infinite or finite is basic. God’s omnipotence is basic. Not that this is bad or anything. My general philosophy about my faith is that I can only build so high if my strength of my basic and founding principles are weak or are not cemented back to the core.

  70. Tasha, the game here is to point out how Mormonism is a sort-of systematical-theological backwater. You may or may not be aware that traditional Christianity has built up a very complex system of theological analysis. Mormonism has not. In traditional theology what the Christian atonement is has been dissected concept-by-concept. If you don’t hit these points correctly there are arguments that will make it look like what you believe in is incoherent. Most here are mormons, former mormons are people that are looking at mormonism critically.

  71. If you don’t hit these points correctly there are arguments that will make it look like what you believe in is incoherent.

    Beliefs with no substance, and therefore don’t really hang together, are by definition incoherent. I’m not asking Tasha to hit a particular set of points correctly. I’m merely asking her to present the Atonement in a way that is specific rather than poetic: what does the Atonement actually do. I don’t think that’s unreasonable to ask. Any coherent set of points will do: in fact, the theology hinted at by Tim in the OP (i.e., that the Atonement allows the gap between what we do and what God’s perfect standard is to be bridged) would at least be a coherent idea. Wrong, but coherent. But as usual, when confronted with a formulation of Mormon belief that actually makes concrete claims, Mormons juke away from it in favor of broad, vague atheological platitudes.

  72. “Tasha, Kullervo was a Mormon well into adulthood.”

    If Kullervo was still LDS and stated the assumptions or inferences about LDS beliefs, I would say the exact same thing.

    Jared
    “Tasha, the game here is to point out how Mormonism is a sort-of systematical-theological backwater.You may or may not be aware that traditional Christianity has built up a very complex system of theological analysis. Mormonism has not. In traditional theology what the Christian atonement is has been dissected concept-by-concept. If you don’t hit these points correctly there are arguments that will make it look like what you believe in is incoherent. Most here are mormons, former mormons are people that are looking at mormonism critically.”

    Could you state that more clearly. I’m not sure if I follow you. What I do know is that if one gets the basic premises of a belief structure off then the analysis on those beliefs will be moot.

  73. Could you state that more clearly. I’m not sure if I follow you. What I do know is that if one gets the basic premises of a belief structure off then the analysis on those beliefs will be moot.

    If the basic premises of a belief structure are too vague to be meaningful, no analysis on those beliefs is even possible.

  74. vague atheological platitudes.

    Like those found in the Sermon on the Mount? What is the difference between theological and atheological? Can you give an example of something that Mormons believe that is “atheological”?

    You have assumed a theory of meaning here and are judging Tasha’s and other Mormon’s beliefs by it. What theory are you using?

  75. You have assumed a theory of meaning here and are judging Tasha’s and other Mormon’s beliefs by it. What theory are you using?

    Not at all. In order to talk about what a statement means, you have to be willing to actually talk about what the statement means.

  76. Read Blake Ostler’s Atonement in Mormon Thought and was wondering if in his compassion theory could be found in the idea that someone may only [want to] need a little bit of atonement? In Ostler there seems to be a one to one ratio of sins that are repented of and the ongoing albeit compassionate suffering of Jesus.

    “The Compassion Theory posits that when the darkness of our sins is mingled with the perfect light of Christ we are enlightened, but the darkness that is in us causes him to experience momentary but excruciating pain. The darkness is a cause of momentary pain that is turned to joy through repentance and healing relationship. Christ is not punished for our sins, nor does he bear our shameful guilt or moral culpability; rather, what he experiences is the pain and subsequent joy of entering into relationship of shared life and light with imperfect humans.”

    From a Protestant point of view Ostler takes the “It is finished” of the cross and turns it into “it is only getting started”. This does help makes since to me why a Mormon following Ostler would want to minimize the amount of atonement required when the very act of repentance causes excruciating pain to the Lord.

  77. I am impressed that Ostler tried to articulate a Mormon theory of atonement. Even if it’s not ever adopted as normative for the whole church, I think it’s a step in the right direction, at least to the extent that Mormons want to be able to meaningfully talk about their doctrine with other Christians.

  78. I think his paper was a good read, i’ll leave it to Mormons if he met his objectives. Head and shoulders above Nibley paper.

  79. Well, Nibley’s paper was about the Atonement, but (and I am probably getting ready to use the wrong adjective) it wasn’t really theological.

  80. Pingback: Two Models of the Atonement in Mormonism | Sailing to Byzantium

  81. Dear Evangelicals,

    I would think twice about accusing Mormons of Pelagianism. It may very well be true that they deny original sin, and it may be true that this is one aspect of Pelagian thought, there is more to Pelagianism than original sin.

    Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things.

    Evangelical Christianity is no less a “works-based salvation.” While Evangelicals agree that we are incapable of achieving salvation by our works, this is only an accidental condition of the fact that our works are not perfect. If we (particularly Adam) did not sin, we would not need a Savior. The Evangelical paradigm fails to acknowledge a real distinction between nature and grace, that heaven is not something we can achieve by our own nature. At least Mormons seem to acknowledge that heaven is a supernatural reward and not simply the result of us not sinning. If anything, this is more the essence of Pelagianism than a mere denial of original sin.

    Sincerely,
    A Papist

  82. I think the contrast between Nibley and Ostler is interesting. Many of Nibley’s observations and conclusions are almost dependent on theology being a very mysterious undertaking, a practice more suited to prophets than philosophers. Joseph-Smith-style Mormonism is a radical rejection of traditional methods of theology.

  83. Many of Nibley’s observations and conclusions are almost dependent on theology being a very mysterious undertaking, a practice more suited to prophets than philosophers.

    No, Nibley’s just a smart academic writing devotional literature.

  84. If you think Nibley is writing devotional literature I think you might need to explain what you mean by “devotional literature.” Most of what Nibley wrote was analysis of historical religious phenomena and comparing and contrasting with LDS belief and practice. He was nothing like Thomas Aquinas, and he wasn’t St. Teresa of Ávila either.

  85. Ok, whatever. Then it’s religious studies. It’s still not “dependent on theology being a very mysterious undertaking, a practice more suited to prophets than philosophers,” any more than my little brother’s religious studies masters thesis on place and movement in Mormon narrative was.

  86. From the forward:

    “It is thus abundantly clear that the whole philosophical theological enterprise, however well intended, is incompatible with the existence of continuing revelation. For that reason there can never be a theology, a systematic theology as such, in the true Church, and thus we should be overwhelmingly grateful for our living prophets.”

  87. Ok fair enough. My point remains that the contrast between Nibley’s explanation of the atonement and Ostler’s is that Nibley is not at all doing the same thing that Ostler is doing, i.e. an attempt at applying the tools of academic philosophy to explain the what and why of Jesus sacrifice. Nibley is making important, if latent, theological points by rejecting this approach. Nibley is the poster child for Mormonism’s anti-theological structure.

    My guess why Gundek liked Ostler better is that Ostler is engaging in a practice similar to traditional theology. Yet in a Mormon context, Ostler’s approach is very new and very different.
    Traditional Christian theology was done to find an an acceptable answer to fundamental questions that could be confidently incorporated into faith. What Ostler is doing is analogous to writing legal theory law review articles–i.e. a practice with far less power to effect what the law is.

  88. I don’t know what Nibley is rejecting, except that it is a standard LDS apologetic to insist that any theology outside their tradition is in some way distorted by an amorphous Hellenism. But honesty do you really want to read a regurgitation of the good Doctor von Harnack with a restorationist twist?

    What I am sure of is that it is far from abundantly clear that systematics are incomparable with continuing revelation, but we are not even really talking about a systematic but a thematic study of the atonement.

    I’m not sure Ostler is using the tools of academic philosophy or not. What I am sure of is that he is a clear writer. Clear writing is not as I understand it against continuing revelation.

    In Ostler’s piece he lays out definitions and criteria he will use in assessing various atonement theories and then examines a number of them. In his examination he seems to take care to represent the various views coherently and in an irenic way points out what he believes to be their weakness. Ostler lays out his theory and finnaly interacts with a critic of his ideas. I cannot asses the validity of his ideas inside Mormonism but his presentation was coherent and easily followed.

    To be honest I’m not sure what Nibley intended the main idea of “the Meaning of the Atonement” to be, except maybe that he is smart and knows a lot. It really reminded me of a sermon from a new seminary graduate who needs to prove haw many resources he used for sermon preparation.

  89. I don’t know what Nibley is rejecting, except that it is a standard LDS apologetic to insist that any theology outside their tradition is in some way distorted by an amorphous Hellenism.

    I may do a post on Nibley. I think he is very representative of a very smart believer in Joseph Smith’s theology.

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