“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.”

I have been thinking a lot about it, and I think there may be a problem with how the term grace is used that turns LDS off. In effect most of the typical Christian terms are politicized by LDS rhetoric – partly because of the boundary maintenance on both sides. Most Protestant ways of describing salvation are foreign to LDS children. I also don’t think grace can be clearly explained within the terminology most LDS accept, even by those who experience grace have problems explaining it to other LDS because the terms are made complicated in LDS theology, the concept of God is also quite complicated in LDS thinking. I am trying to figure out a way to simplify the explanation without invoking politics. My last posts are experiments in trying to describe grace without using the term.

I think there is a similar phenomena in the way the terms “liberal” and “conservative” are used. Most of the time they are just names people use to describe their faction and the opposing faction rather than names for concepts that describe aspects of political thought.  A child raised in a Republican home will probably misunderstand the concept of “liberalism” and a child raised in a Democratic home will probably misunderstand the concept of “conservatism”.

Similarly, to the LDS, grace is a term used by another faction, and if you start using it in the same way Protestants do you will often be corrected or denounced, or simply met with confusion.  I find that few LDS really “get” it and often it is met with open opposition and even hostility.  But I did find that my dad, a devout LDS leader, understood what I had experienced and was very glad to hear of my conversion.

I came to that conclusion several years ago that LDS Christianity and Protestant Christianity probably cannot come to terms, their belief systems are basically incommensurate.   Now that I think I have some grasp on what grace is,  I am trying to figure out terms that LDS can readily accept that will lead them to a different view of salvation.  Nearly all of my family are active LDS, including my children, so the task seems very pressing on me.  I have spoken with my dad about this, and he has given me some good ideas, but still a lot of thinking to do.

My ultimate project now, aside from completing my own conversion, is to try to explain the grace that I felt in a way that does not confuse LDS children or lead them to be corrected when they talk about it in Church. I am interested in knowing if anyone reading this blog has any thoughts on this project.


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

  1. If I have a singular goal in discussions with Mormons it is to attain common ground upon words and concepts used. By that, I don’t mean to suggest conversion of one over the other, but to achieve a mutual understanding of what is meant by words like grace and salvation.

    Despite some people’s reticence, I am sure, I actually get why some get upset when discussing with me. I think it is important to be clear on what words mean and what concepts mean within the given faiths. When Mormons use the term “salvation” they generally, I think, infer exaltation (something you seem to agree with, Jared); but exaltation is a very different concept than is traditional Christianity’s concept. Heck, even the near universal application by LDS of even basic ‘salvation’ differs from traditional Christianity’s.

    You ask how to describe grace to LDS so as not to put them under the gun or confuse them. I don’t know an easy answer. Others may have more specific examples, but I try to glean what people mean by certain things and contrast it with what I mean. I have no idea how successful it is with Mormons, but that is what I try to do.

    I think you’ve mentioned this in the past, but its as if Mormons and Christians speak different languages using the same words. Its tough, I think, to overcome, but it can be done if both sides are willing to learn.

  2. Thanks for the feedback. Most the the people who have participated in the conversation on this blog over the years are aware of the barriers you mention. I don’t think there is an easy answer either. I think most traditional Christians simply want to disabuse Mormons of their perceived errors. Most LDS views are so conceptually appalling to traditional Christians that they often don’t take them seriously. They see the LDS position as an insidious threat precisely because of the re-definition of traditional terms. Some have left Mormonism for traditional Christianity, and understandably and it still has a bad taste in their mouths. Likewise, many post-Mormons are not willing to listen to traditional Christianity because of this bad taste and also cultural concerns. It is generally the case that post-Mormons with Mormon family reasonably avoid religion so as not to cause family conflict, believing that traditional Christianity is very flawed and has nothing to offer them.

    The sort of dialogue I need is one that allows a Mormon to remain a Mormon, yet perceive Christ in a way that gives them a more Evangelical experience of salvation. I think there is plenty of flexibility within the Mormon system to adopt a more protestant view, but the barrier is generally the confusion of terminology and a long history of antagonistic politics. I think the goal is important for both Mormons and post-Mormons because they often retain an LDS view of Christianity long after they abandon belief.

    What I have going for me is that I am very familiar with LDS doctrine, what I have going against me is that I am no longer LDS, and I am still feeling out this new understanding. My last few posts have been an effort to explain my newly converted view in LDS language without accusing or denouncing the belief system. I think that they will correct their belief system naturally as soon as they “see the light.” I don’t know if my project is feasible, I did not clearly see the protestant argument until I had divorced myself of all theistic notions. But it seems to be worth a try.

  3. The continuity of grace is almost always overlooked in dialog with Mormons. A relationship’s permanence demonstrates its strength and value. Describe the ongoing permanence of reconciling grace.

  4. I think the task becomes easier once the true impact of the perfect demand of the law in a person’s life, hits home.

    Romans 1:18 – 3:20 is quite helpful in this respect, as well as reading the Sermon on the Mount. Once someone has been broken by the law, then grace can have the full, life giving impact that it is meant to have.

    And this project…this task…is the work of the preacher (any preacher)…and it must continue for the life of the sinner. Faith comes by hearing (law and gospel)…and we all need to hear it for a lifetime.

    I’ll keep you and your family in my prayers, Jared.

  5. @Gundek,

    Mormons may not understand the continuity of grace because of their metaphysics. In many ways Mormons are radically materialist, even “spirit” is thought of in a materialistic way. Grace, described as a thing doesn’t fit into it. I think the light of Christ is probably the best term to describe the permanence and continuity of grace. Mormons equate grace with the joy of feeling the Holy Spirit, I think this puts a very heavy burden on “spirituality” In my experience, one can understand and feel the joy of grace without being “spiritual” in the Mormon sense at all. This view is almost unheard of in the Church. This is why I think you almost have to divorce grace from the Mormon discussion of salvation. Whatever the experience of grace is, it is not the experience of receiving knowledge from God, it is just looking realistically on what God’s love must be. This starts to look like the light of Christ, which is the catch-all for any knowledge one can gain from the world alone.

  6. Maybe, I suppose it depends on what you mean, but I think the LDS have monopolized covenant language within the confines of the Church.
    I think that is part of the LDS problem. All heavenly reward is connected to covenants. Grace to those outside the covenants comes in the form of allowing anybody and everybody to make the LDS covenants after death. Ironically, the LDS don’t view the protestant world (in this life) as being under any covenant, and whatever God gives them for their performance in this life is by his grace alone.

    One strategy is to make the protestant heaven seem more attractive. In many ways, the LDS need to believe that anybody can experience the terrestrial kingdom here on earth, i.e. the presence of Christ in their lives.

  7. In many ways, the LDS need to believe that anybody can experience the terrestrial kingdom here on earth, i.e. the presence of Christ in their lives.

    Indeed, eternal life begins now. That’s a teaching I think eludes a lot of Protestants.

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