This is a response to Gundek’s suggestions regarding the way forward in my project to create a profitable LDS/Evangelical dialogue. (Again, I didn’t edit this much and it might be a bit too repetitive, so please read charitably. 🙂 )
Like I have said earlier, I really don’t know much about being a converted Protestant, but I know that I now see something now that I didn’t see as a believing, spiritually minded Latter-day Saint. I am starting with the Light of Christ because the LDS will have no problem acknowledging that whatever truth I did find, it was not from an experience with the Holy Ghost, or from the Gift of the Holy Ghost. This is important because I am not LDS anymore and I want to be clear that whatever think about salvation does not threaten the LDS tradition because it comes outside of LDS covenants and outside of the Gift of the Holy Ghost. Mormonism is, by definition, the religion that is revealed outside of the understanding available through the Light of Christ, i.e. the Spirit of God, that those outside the Church have access to.
The Light of Christ seems a great place to start my dialogue with the LDS tradition because within the LDS tradition, whatever light and knowledge I have found must have come through the Light of Christ. By couching my understanding in terms of the Light of Christ, it side-steps all LDS revelation and tradition, and tries to go to the root of what non-LDS see in God that Joseph Smith may have taken for granted, or simply failed to grasp. It is no knock on Joseph Smith to claim that he did not understand the full nature of the Light of Christ, because the Light of Christ encompasses all knowledge.
In some ways I am trying to reverse-engineer my conversion process, restating the ideas that pushed me over the edge. The problem with this approach is that that once I began to recognize the reality of law and the reality of grace, and then feel the joy that this recognition brought, all kinds of ideas started clicking together to the point that I didn’t know precisely what convinced me, and how to explain why the argument was inescapable.
I also realize that my epiphany came at the end of a very gradual process, after a lot of reading, and a lot of thought experimentation, and there are natural barriers to observing one’s own thoughts and though processes. Notwithstanding the difficulties, I am pretty sure the breakthrough came when I understood the nature of my own “sin” and understood that nothing that I had yet experienced, and no principle of action that I could formulate could provide a path out of this sin. For me, it took understanding sin in a very different way than I had as an LDS, and what it would take to escape it, to grasp that there is actually a way out of sin. This way out appeared as a simple fact, as soon as I dropped the conceit that I could understand the way out, I was able to accept it simply, and this mysterious simplicity happened to fit what Paul and Jesus said about the way out of sin.
As soon as I recognized this, but also recognized that others had experienced a way out of their sin, I seemed to see the “light” that illuminated the salvation that others experienced, and it illuminated my own. It also made Protestant theology and Paul’s ideas a lot more understandable. It began to seem like convincing argument when it seemed completely arbitrary before.
However, as Protestants might understand, when I tried to explain this new understanding of salvation to LDS it was met with hostility, confusion, and flat rejection. I think the root of this hostility lies in the very world-centered metaphysics. The LDS do not talk about anything that is really out-of-this-world, because the Godhead is completely contained within the world. Everything in the world s eternal, including all personality, all matter, and all spirit. In this way Mormonism is a sort of partial pantheism — everything is not God, but everything has godlike properties and becomes godlike as it obeys the will of God.
My goal in clearly defining the Light of Christ is to get LDS to think about and articulate that the source of the law, and the source of salvation are facts which are outside of nature and wrapped up in the fact which makes all facts of nature possible (including the exaltation of the Heavenly Father and Mother.) I think the ideas of Karl Barth and Wittgenstein pried the Mormon lid that I had on my personal theology by pointing out that whatever it is could “save” us from the realities of experience and the law must be outsidethe confines of experience and the law. Within Mormonism, Heavenly Father is not this fact, he is only a manifestation of this fact.
The Light of Christ theology seems to be a profitable area because as described in Joseph Smith’s revelations, and by later Church leaders, the Light of Christ does not come from Heavenly Father, but the God that is the fact outside of nature from which all nature and law and celestial life originates. The root of the Light of Christ is not Heavenly Father, it is the Spirit of God, an unknown God of all Gods, including the Father. This God is outside the personal project of eternal progression, the plan of salvation that humans, the Heavenly Father and Mother, the Son, and the Holy Ghost participate in. The Light of Christ is also variously called the “Spirit of God” and the “Spirit of Christ”. Identifying both God and Christ as having the same “Spirit” begins to approach a Trinitarian view of the universe. I think the Trinitarian idea can be approximated by explaining The Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost in terms of the Spirit of God, i.e. the omnipresent substance of Godhood that dominates all things.
In the LDS scheme, I think you can accurately say that the personal deity of each member of the Godhead necessarily has the same substance, i.e. the Light of Christ/Spirit of God/Spirit of Christ — the power which created all things, the Spirit which is through all and in all.
Thus, the Light of Christ–and whatever indescribable and unknown God that it emanates from–comes a lot closer to a description of the God of Protestant orthodoxy, the inescapable nature of sin in the world, and the world-defying nature of grace. My guess is that if I can convince an LDS to separate the muddled concepts that they don’t think about, and see things in terms of this unchanging “Spirit of God” rather than in terms of the creation of a particular coalition of exalted persons, I think they will be able to see sin differently, and then, perhaps, see salvation differently. Once they do this, it may be possible to convince them using Paul’s arguments that salvation from sin through grace is an absolute immediate reality, rather than a progression process that is yet to occur.