Learning from Atheists: Evolution might bring Mormons closer to Christ

Pascal’s thought: “The sages who have said there is only one God . . .  have seen by the light of nature that if there be a true religion on earth, the course of all things must tend to it as to a center. The whole course of things must have for its object the establishment and the greatness of religion. Men must have within them feelings suited to what religion teaches us. And, finally, religion must so be the object and center to which all things tend, that whoever knows the principles of religion can give an explanation both of the whole nature of man in particular, and of the whole course of the world in general.

And on this ground [atheists] take occasion to revile the Christian religion, because they misunderstand it. They imagine that it consists simply in the worship of a God considered as great, powerful, and eternal; which is strictly deism, almost as far removed from the Christian religion as atheism, which is its exact opposite. And thence they conclude that this religion is not true, because they do not see that all things concur to the establishment of this point, that God does not manifest Himself to men with all the evidence which He could show.

But let them conclude what they will against deism, they will conclude nothing against the Christian religion, which properly consists in the mystery of the Redeemer, who, uniting in Himself the two natures, human and divine, has redeemed men from the corruption of sin in order to reconcile them in His divine person to God.

The Christian religion, then, teaches men these two truths; that there is a God whom men can know, and that there is a corruption in their nature which renders them unworthy of Him. It is equally important to men to know both these points; and it is equally dangerous for man to know God without knowing his own wretchedness, and to know his own wretchedness without knowing the Redeemer who can free him from it. The knowledge of only one of these points gives rise either to the pride of philosophers, who have known God, and not their own wretchedness, or to the despair of atheists, who know their own wretchedness, but not the Redeemer.

And, as it is alike necessary to man to know these two points, so is it alike merciful of God to have made us know them. The Christian religion does this; it is in this that it consists.”

My thought: A peculiar aspect of Mormonism and many fundamentalist Christian faiths is the refusal to accept the theory of evolution as a viable explanation of the origin of human nature.  What evolutionary biology tells us about human nature is that it is our nature to be evil, to oppose God, and oppose the Law.  This is a truth that is very Christian, but something that has been denied vehemently since Plato.  Most Mormons are very much with Plato on this point.

If Mormons were able to embrace evolutionary biology more completely I think they might come closer to understanding original sin, and then recognize the reality of the escape from original sin.



61 thoughts on “Learning from Atheists: Evolution might bring Mormons closer to Christ

  1. Pascal adopted a path very similar to the LDS, he said that God is not known only by the “heart”–intuition or inspiration — in the same way we know we actually awake and alive, i.e. not in the matrix:

    “We know truth, not only by the reason, but also by the heart, and it is in this last way that we know first principles; and reason, which has no part in it, tries in vain to impugn them. The sceptics, who have only this for their object, labour to no purpose. We know that we do not dream, and however impossible it is for us to prove it by reason, this inability demonstrates only the weakness of our reason, but not, as they affirm, the uncertainty of all our knowledge. For the knowledge of first principles, as space, time, motion, number, is as sure as any of those which we get from reasoning. And reason must trust these intuitions of the heart, and must base them on every argument. (We have intuitive knowledge of the tri-dimensional nature of space, and of the infinity of number, and reason then shows that there are no two square numbers one of which is double of the other. Principles are intuited, propositions are inferred, all with certainty, though in different ways.) And it is as useless and absurd for reason to demand from the heart proofs of her first principles, before admitting them, as it would be for the heart to demand from reason an intuition of all demonstrated propositions before accepting them.

    This inability ought, then, to serve only to humble reason, which would judge all, but not to impugn our certainty, as if only reason were capable of instructing us. Would to God, on the contrary, that we had never need of it, and that we knew everything by instinct and intuition! But nature has refused us this boon. On the contrary, she has given us but very little knowledge of this kind; and all the rest can be acquired only by reasoning.

    Therefore, those to whom God has imparted religion by intuition are very fortunate, and justly convinced. But to those who do not have it, we can give it only by reasoning, waiting for God to give them spiritual insight, without which faith is only human, and useless for salvation”

    His proof of the wretchedness of man was made by pointing out how much of a nothing we are compared to the infinity that we pass through. We are aware of our wretchedness by understanding that we are infinitely small compared to the universe and infinitely large compared to the infinitely small. Humans are great because we can fathom our place in infinity and wretched because we cannot escape our hopeless condition.

    He argued against skepticism like this:

    The chief arguments of the sceptics—I pass over the lesser ones—are that we have no certainty of the truth of these principles apart from faith and revelation, except in so far as we naturally perceive them in ourselves. Now this natural intuition is not a convincing proof of their truth; since, having no certainty, apart from faith, whether man was created by a good God, or by a wicked demon, or by chance, it is doubtful whether these principles given to us are true, or false, or uncertain, according to our origin. Again, no person is certain, apart from faith, whether he is awake or sleeps, seeing that during sleep we believe that we are awake as firmly as we do when we are awake; we believe that we see space, figure, and motion; we are aware of the passage of time, we measure it; and in fact we act as if we were awake. So that half of our life being passed in sleep, we have on our own admission no idea of truth, whatever we may imagine. As all our intuitions are then illusions, who knows whether the other half of our life, in which we think we are awake, is not another sleep a little different from the former, from which we awake when we suppose ourselves asleep?

    [And who doubts that, if we dreamt in company, and the dreams chanced to agree, which is common enough, and if we were always alone when awake, we should believe that matters were reversed? In short, as we often dream that we dream, heaping dream upon dream, may it not be that this half of our life, wherein we think ourselves awake, is itself only a dream on which the others are grafted, from which we wake at death, during which we have as few principles of truth and good as during natural sleep, these different thoughts which disturb us being perhaps only illusions like the flight of time and the vain fancies of our dreams?]

    These are the chief arguments on one side and the other.

    I omit minor ones, such as the sceptical talk against the impressions of custom, education, manners, country, and the like. Though these influence the majority of common folk, who dogmatise only on shallow foundations, they are upset by the least breath of the sceptics. We have only to see their books if we are not sufficiently convinced of this, and we shall very quickly become so, perhaps too much.

    I notice the only strong point of the dogmatists, namely, that, speaking in good faith and sincerely, we cannot doubt natural principles. Against this the sceptics set up in one word the uncertainty of our origin, which includes that of our nature. The dogmatists have been trying to answer this objection ever since the world began.

    So there is open war among men, in which each must take a part, and side either with dogmatism or scepticism. For he who thinks to remain neutral is above all a sceptic. This neutrality is the essence of the sect; he who is not against them is essentially for them. [In this appears their advantage.] They are not for themselves; they are neutral, indifferent, in suspense as to all things, even themselves being no exception.

    What then shall man do in this state? Shall he doubt everything? Shall he doubt whether he is awake, whether he is being pinched, or whether he is being burned? Shall he doubt whether he doubts? Shall he doubt whether he exists? We cannot go so far as that; and I lay it down as a fact that there never has been a real complete sceptic. Nature sustains our feeble reason, and prevents it raving to this extent.

    Shall he then say, on the contrary, that he certainly possesses truth—he who, when pressed ever so little, can show no title to it, and is forced to let go his hold?

    What a chimera then is man! What a novelty! What a monster, what a chaos, what a contradiction, what a prodigy! Judge of all things, imbecile worm of the earth; depositary of truth, a sink of uncertainty and error; the pride and refuse of the universe!

    Who will unravel this tangle? Nature confutes the sceptics, and reason confutes the dogmatists. What then will you become, O men! who try to find out by your natural reason what is your true condition? You cannot avoid one of these sects, nor adhere to one of them.

    Know then, proud man, what a paradox you are to yourself. Humble yourself, weak reason; be silent, foolish nature; learn that man infinitely transcends man, and learn from your Master your true condition, of which you are ignorant. Hear God.

    For in fact, if man had never been corrupt, he would enjoy in his innocence both truth and happiness with assurance; and if man had always been corrupt, he would have no idea of truth or bliss. But, wretched as we are, and more so than if there were no greatness in our condition, we have an idea of happiness, and cannot reach it. We perceive an image of truth, and possess only a lie. Incapable of absolute ignorance and of certain knowledge, we have thus been manifestly in a degree of perfection from which we have unhappily fallen.

    It is, however, an astonishing thing that the mystery furthest removed from our knowledge, namely, that of the transmission of sin, should be a fact without which we can have no knowledge of ourselves. For it is beyond doubt that there is nothing which more shocks our reason than to say that the sin of the first man has rendered guilty those, who, being so removed from this source, seem incapable of participation in it. This transmission does not only seem to us impossible, it seems also very unjust. For what is more contrary to the rules of our miserable justice than to damn eternally an infant incapable of will, for a sin wherein he seems to have so little a share, that it was committed six thousand years before he was in existence? Certainly nothing offends us more rudely than this doctrine; and yet, without this mystery, the most incomprehensible of all, we are incomprehensible to ourselves. The knot of our condition takes its twists and turns in this abyss, so that man is more inconceivable without this mystery than this mystery is inconceivable to man

  2. A summary: Humans recognize the good, and also recognize we are incapable of being good. We recognize that we can’t know the truth, but we recognize that there is always truth beyond what we can know. These contradictions make us unhappy, restless, stuck diverting ourselves from our unhappiness, even when we live in opulence.

    His method is to lead men to understand their own despair and wait for God to give inspiration to relieve despair. He has integrity because he admits that proof of God or our wretchedness cannot come from reason.

    Nietzsche commented:

    “The despairing.– Christianity possesses the hunters instinct for all those who can by one means or another be brought to despair – of which only a portion of mankind is capable. It is constantly on their track, it lies in wait for them. Pascal attempted the experiment of seeing whether, with the aid of the most incisive knowledge, everyone could not be brought to despair: the experiment miscarried, to his twofold despair.”

  3. Yeah, it seems to me that philosophers like Pascal, Nietzsche, Kierkegaard and a few others (pretty much anyone who has written extensively on despair etc.,) may be generalizing their own psychological hangups.

    I mean, maybe I’m just “diverting myself from my own unhappiness”, but I feel pretty good generally. I certainly don’t feel wretched.

  4. When Christ shows up…and we recognize Him as such…we see our wretchedness.

    It happened when the disciples encountered Jesus, the Living God. “Depart from me I am a sinner.” They said to Jesus.

    Same with us…from time to time.

  5. I mean, maybe I’m just “diverting myself from my own unhappiness”, but I feel pretty good generally. I certainly don’t feel wretched.

    Pascal had some great insight into human nature: especially on diversion and boredom. Worth reading regardless of your religious stripe. http://www.ccel.org/ccel/pascal/pensees.iii.html (See thought 139 on.)

    Nietzsche and others saw his Christianity as a weakness, a cop out, a refusal to surpass one’s humanity through genius. A laughable condition. I have a sympathy with that idea. He was brave in a way not to “succumb” to Christianity, despite his being racked with pain and discomfort most of his life.

    I am not a typical Christian, some would deny that I am a Christian at all, but I see what Nietzsche was saying that the religion “has a hunters instinct for all those who can by one means or another be brought to despair.” It turns out that I am one of those people that can be brought to despair, and in my irrational despair something opened up to irrational joy. I don’t know why, and I have no mystical answer, or even spiritual knowledge about it, but it was undeniable. It was brought on only by my thoughts, not my prayers, and still trying to sort out what it is, but it seems to keep hanging around.

    The psychological advantages to allow us to recognize and admit the guilt we feel, the striving to please the world that drives us of being in Christ are unmistakable. I think it could change the world if more people could grasp them. But it does seem like there is a psychological cost to maintaining this advantage, still trying to count that.

  6. Christianity is a tough religion on a number of levels. Frankly, while I love philosophy, I also hate it. Getting into the nitty gritty of what we think and why is exceedingly frustrating, but yet I am drawn to it.

    What I find frustrating is that it all seems superfluous and not practical. We each live in the here and now and all we generally want is a better life– its really that simple. Why I am drawn to it is because its really not that simple. Every thought and idea has a genesis from some combination of previous concepts. We try to merge our realities into tangible thoughts and ideas that help us get that better life, however we see it.

    But here’s the thing regarding my faith: I do believe there is a single, ultimate truth. God is that single, ultimate truth. How do I get there? It is almost universal, apart from a few extremes and even they respect this area) that life has value. We all laugh and cry, and we all strive for something better. Life has some sort of meaning inside all of us. We all strive for something.

    Is this biology? A product of evolution? I’ll be honest and say that it might be, but I also have to say that I see evolution as much more harsh than we are as people. Wouldn’t it be easier to kill anyone opposed to us? Even those who are less likely to respect life don’t go quite that far. Isn’t killing anyone opposed to our benefit and doesn’t it make it more likely we will survive?

    I also realize that cooperation is also to our collective benefit, but then you add in things like emotion, love, hate, despair, joy, fun, frustration, etc. All of these seem relatively universal items, even if the source of those emotions are different. We all experience some sort of emotion. We share something as a human race that

    Now, you, Jared, brought up that evolutionary biology teaches us that it is human nature to be evil. I am not sure evolutionary biology puts qualitative labels on things. Evolutionary biology just describes the way things are perceived to be by those who believe it. But Christianity does add that label to our nature.

    To the extent that Mormonism denies an evil core, evolutionary biology does seem to teach that we have a prideful nature that seeks first to preserve ourselves. By that we are apt to kill, lie, cheat, compare, and using Christian parlance, sin. And that basic belief is one of the foundational beliefs of Christianity, our fundamentally evil core that seeks to rebel against God at every step.

  7. From reading those pensees/thoughts, it seems most overwhelmingly to me that Pascal literally could not imagine introverts. That being said, I think there were some good thoughts there. But they don’t make me feel wretched.

  8. @andrew s.

    I see that, I think that is why Nietzsche, an introvert himself, rejected Pascal and sought a “Gay Science”, rather than a religion of despair. He recognized that we are all different types and that these different types have always been crucial to our survival of our species. He rejected Christianity because he believed it led to nihilism – if everything we do is sin, there is nothing to stand for in life, and we end up walking away from God because God becomes irrelevant.

    My favorite passage of his on the purpose of existence: http://www.lexido.com/EBOOK_TEXTS/THE_GAY_SCIENCE_FIRST_BOOK_.aspx?S=1

  9. I think Pascal aptly points out our obsession with technological distraction is related to our inability to be settled and happy, even if this is not quite “wretchedness”.

  10. Is this biology? A product of evolution? I’ll be honest and say that it might be, but I also have to say that I see evolution as much more harsh than we are as people. Wouldn’t it be easier to kill anyone opposed to us? Even those who are less likely to respect life don’t go quite that far. Isn’t killing anyone opposed to our benefit and doesn’t it make it more likely we will survive?

    I think part our human occupation with murder and genocide is because we are a strange herd of predators. Gorillas are extremely peaceful compared to humans. Technology has given us teeth without giving us the instincts to control ourselves with teeth. Wolves will not murder their families under stress in ways that roe deer will. Mankind is a strange aberration in nature. Our language has made us into a monstrosity compared to most animals, we have instincts not to kill and drives that make us kill, we kill without guilt for our herds, but feel guilty when our herd does not approve of the killing.

    “What a chimera then is man! What a novelty! What a monster, what a chaos, what a contradiction, what a prodigy!”

    We commit genocide and murder not because of some outside source that drives us, it is our nature to do so, it is our nature to feel guilty about it, and it is in our nature to hide our guilt.

  11. Jared,

    So you would say that Nietzsche thinks that Christianity itself leads to nihilism? Because I thought that was instead that, given the scientific revolution/industrialization/associated rationalist thought process, that Christianity lost its “power” and in its stead, nothing could really replace it (because Christianity already kinda asserted itself as the biggest thing there could be.)

  12. If you read the Antichrist, Nietzsche’s argument against Christianity is that it makes the lowliest of value the highest. Christianity, as the religion of suffering, turns into a religion of pity, and pity, in his mind, is a disease that champions what should not be championed and multiplies suffering in the individual.

    “Christianity is called the religion of pity.—Pity stands in opposition to all the tonic passions that augment the energy of the feeling of aliveness: it is a depressant. A man loses power when he pities. Through pity that drain upon strength which suffering works is multiplied a thousandfold. Suffering is made contagious by pity; under certain circumstances it may lead to a total sacrifice of life and living energy—a loss out of all proportion to the magnitude of the cause (—the case of the death of the Nazarene).. . . Pity thwarts the whole law of evolution, which is the law of natural selection. It preserves whatever is ripe for destruction; it fights on the side of those disinherited and condemned by life; by maintaining life in so many of the botched of all kinds, it gives life itself a gloomy and dubious aspect. Mankind has ventured to call pity a virtue (—in every superior moral system it appears as a weakness—); going still further, it has been called the virtue, the source and foundation of all other virtues—but let us always bear in mind that this was from the standpoint of a philosophy that was nihilistic, and upon whose shield the denial of life was inscribed. Schopenhauer was right in this: that by means of pity life is denied, and made worthy of denial—pity is the technic of nihilism.

    Let me repeat: this depressing and contagious instinct stands against all those instincts which work for the preservation and enhancement of life: in the rôle of protector of the miserable, it is a prime agent in the promotion of décadence—pity persuades to extinction…. Of course, one doesn’t say “extinction”: one says “the other world,” or “God,” or “the true life,” or Nirvana, salvation, blessedness…. This innocent rhetoric, from the realm of religious-ethical balderdash, appears a good deal less innocent when one reflects upon the tendency that it conceals beneath sublime words: the tendency to destroy life. Schopenhauer was hostile to life: that is why pity appeared to him as a virtue…. Aristotle, as every one knows, saw in pity a sickly and dangerous state of mind, the remedy for which was an occasional purgative: he regarded tragedy as that purgative. The instinct of life should prompt us to seek some means of puncturing any such pathological and dangerous accumulation of pity as that appearing in Schopenhauer’s case (and also, alack, in that of our whole literary décadence, from St. Petersburg to Paris, from Tolstoi to Wagner), that it may burst and be discharged…. Nothing is more unhealthy, amid all our unhealthy modernism, than Christian pity. To be the doctors here, to be unmerciful here, to wield the knife here—all this is our business, all this is our sort of humanity, by this sign we are philosophers, we Hyperboreans!—”

  13. I happen to think that in Christ we can escape pity through joy. But I see Nietzsche’s point.

    I think that Nietzsche did not understand Christian freedom and how in this freedom, life and strength can flourish. But I’d admit that most Christians are on a razor’s edge here, Christianity is very unstable in that depths of despair lie on the other side of freedom and joy. Maintaining a posture that continually faces the bright side is not natural.

  14. All of this is why I think Christianity can be a very difficult thing to accept. Letting go of our attempts to do right and allowing God to take control is exceedingly difficult. We want to take control, and when we take control, our focus veers off of that joy and into areas that lead to despair.

    Now some don’t see the despair out there. That’s fine. There’s much joy out there to be seen, especially when one does not accept the standard of God. Yes, God has standards– you could argue he is the standard, and if there is no God, the standards go out, too. There’s nothing negative to compare with except our own creations and our own accepted standards, mutual or not. I don’t know if this latter way is easier or not. I don’t know if it is even better or worse.

    I think the existence of God is something we have to accept or reject. I accept God, as I see him all around me, and I see that the human experience dictates it. Why the Christian God? Because I find it the most complete and consistent of faiths. I find the story of creation with that of the human condition as recorded in the Bible the most compatible with what I see around us.

  15. Jared, I don’t like to do this, but I’m having a difficult time with your initial premise. The average American Mormon I’ve come across don’t really have much of a stand at all with evolution. There may be bold positions within LDS-specific texts about the age of the earth etc. But, its more often that I find Mormons not really struggling with evolution and creation. They view it as a big threat. They will usually say something like, “its not relevant to my day to day.” Also note, BYU has an evolutionary biology department. This is does not mean that the average Mormon believes in evolution, but can you imagine this happening at Regent of Liberty? Does Biola teach evolution?You also don’t see Mormons building Creation Museums and the like. Its WAY down on the list of hills they’re willing to die on.

    Also, where do you get the idea that only the fundamentalist version of Christianity discounts evolution? Pew and my own experience tells me this is not true at all.


  16. Also Jared,

    Mormon teaching on original sin is well established (article2). But they also have “natural man” language that is easily employed. You could also say that the Mormon view of sin for believers is more severe than much of Evangelicalism – there is a clear teaching that perpetual sanctification is necessary in this life. theoldadam’s of the world would say that sin is incredibly severe, until you decide to believe. Then, its just dust under the feet of Jesus.

  17. You could also say that the Mormon view of sin for believers is more severe than much of Evangelicalism – there is a clear teaching that perpetual sanctification is necessary in this life. theoldadam’s of the world would say that sin is incredibly severe, until you decide to believe. Then, its just dust under the feet of Jesus.

    Well, I don’t know about that. I think you’re getting a blurry picture by conflating too many things, and by leaving too many other things out.

    To an Evangelical, the severity of sin for humanity is magnitudes greater than in Mormonism. To the Evangelical, fallen man is born absolutely dead and damned and totally in thralldom to sin–and we’re talking about not only all of the personal sins an individual commits but also his natural born propensity to sin as well as his complicit guilt in Adam’s sin. As RC Sproul says all the time, sin is cosmic treason. And worst, fallen man is totally incapable of doing anything about it on his own. And the penalty for sin is an eternity of God’s holy, unbearable wrath.

    This is much worse than sin in Mormonism, where sin includes only an individual’s personal sins (and then only after age 8), and where individuals are born free and capable to resist temptation and not sin. And the penalty for sin is doing time in spirit prison, which may be bad but at least it’s finite, and maybe forfeiting exaltation, but at the end of the day, even sinners inherit a degree of glory.

    It’s also not accurate to suggest that Mormonis believe that perpetual obedience is required and Evangelicals do not. Evangelicals definitely believe that perpetual obedience is required. But it’s worse because you have already failed, you can’t do anything but fail, and you can’t make it up, ever.

    So it’s not that Evangelicals believe that sin is less severe–because they believe that sin is much more severe and much more pervasive–but Evangelicals believe that the Cross is much more powerful. Powerful enough to go much deeper, and to cover sin of a much greater magnitude.

  18. Kullervo, I’d add that this is the Good News, that Christ died on the Cross and rose again to save us from that sin. Our salvation is not in that we are free to sin but that we are free to rest comfortably in Christ. We are dead in sin but alive in Christ.

  19. Sure, but the question was whether Mormonism has a more severe view of sin than Evangelical Protestantism does, and my point is that saying “sin’s no big deal in Evangelical Protestantism because Jesus just takes care of it” is disastrously distorted. Sin is a much bigger problem in Evangelical Protestantism because God is much bigger in Evangelical Protestantism. And that’s exactly why God Himself is the only solution to the problem.

  20. Kullervo, I absolutely, 100% agree. Frankly, this is an area of gross misunderstanding from Mormons concerning the Christian faith. Christians don’t merely dust sin at Christ’s feet. We fully recognize its destructive power, both in the afterlife and in this present life.

    My point in my above post was to show how Christ gives us life, and how there is a way out of the rat-race of beating sin. That, as you say, is only and directly through Christ. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, we can do beat sin except to trust in Christ to cover our sin before God. Again, for emphasis, this is not license to sin but to align our lives with Christ.

    However, when we align our lives with Christ we are alive and free from the burdens of sin before God.

  21. Again, for emphasis, this is not license to sin but to align our lives with Christ.

    Right, and as a practical matter, it doesn’t work its way out as a license to sin, either. The Mormon/Catholic criticism that Evangelicals believe that “if I accept Jesus and then sin with impunity, I’m still going to heaven, right?” is a miss, because nobody can accept Jesus without being regenerated by the Holy Spirit, and nobody who is regenerated by the Holy Spirit sins with impunity, because regeneration begins the process of conforming the believer to Christ’s image.

    We shouldn’t even be discussing the hypothetical possibility that someone is converted to Christ jesus and then sins with impunity because no such person can exist. We still continue to sin, sure–we’re not fully conformed to Christ’s image until after we die and are glorified–but with impunity? Never. Regeneration and sin with impunity are actually mutually exclusive, and that’s what James means when he says that faith without works is dead. Only living faith leads to salvation, and living faith always brings the fruit of good works. And when we do inevitably continue to sin, it’s already forgiven, but that doesn’t obviate the need, or more importantly the inevitability, of repentance and obedience.

    But the hypothetical, what if I’m regenerated by the Holy Spirit and justified by faith alone in Christ alone and I turn around and kill a bunch of people? It’s an impossible hypothetical. Nobody who is regenerated by the Holy Spirit and justified by faith alone in Christ is able to sin with impunity, because the one precludes the other completely.

  22. kullervo, you filled in the blanks nicely. The point about the eternal state of non-believers is well taken, and actually one of my biggest concerns with traditional Christianity. My convoluted point is more along the lines of – Mormons do in fact believe in an inherent human frailty and error – and accept that Jesus is the key to freedom from sin. You could call the concept very different than the total depravity taught in Protestantism and Catholicism, but Jared talks as if Mormons are Buddhists or Muslim or something entirely different from concepts of sin and redemption.

  23. Right. As much as Jared C desperately wants to be able to say that Mormonism is some totally unique thing, the Mormon view of sin and salvation is essentially the same as that of the Pelagians, and so the differences between Mormons and orthodox Christians on issues of sin and salvation are really just a re-hashing of Pelagius vs. Augustine. There’s nothing ne wunder the sun, after all.

    I still think that the error–of both Pelagians and Mormons–is rooted in a deficient view of God, which leads to a deficient view of sin.

  24. I guess we’ve come to the point where we discuss “effort”. Because how do you vigorously turn away from your sins without it being labeled “the rat-race of beating sin”? In the real world, turning away from addiction and compulsive behavior or illness is not a prayer you say to Jesus. It takes faith and an acceptance of the work of Jesus, but it takes an act of turning away. And if that’s something that haunts me my entire life even after I’ve chosen to believe, you could very easily conclude that that re-birth that happened some 30 years ago didn’t really take. Because, at the end of the day, I’m not that different than the heathen.

  25. @kullervo,

    I think Mormonism is unique, even though it bears resemblance to all kinds of theology and philosophy, I don’t think this is really disputable. It says nothing about the value or merit of the religion.

    Also not in dispute is that Mormonism is absolutely riddled with heresy from an orthodox point of view. Most heresies are a species of one another. But, what I am recognizing is that merely being able to label Mormons as Pelagians doesn’t help them at all. Understanding the heresy is only useful to the extent that it helps us understand how to apprise Mormons of the fact of Christ and the narrow way of the Gospel.

    We don’t have the inquisition to break heresy anymore to reach Mormons; I think we have to use the Mormon way.

  26. Well, Christian, this is the thing you need to recognize: the addict certainly has to work to keep from falling back in an earthly way, but his eternal salvation is assured. Sinning as a Christian is not tolerated, as has been discussed, but Christ still saves. When Christians sin they are not free from earthly consequence, either.

    The addict will still have a propensity to sin, just as everyone else. That does not change or go away. The difference is the desire to sin. I think of Paul who said that he continued to do what he hated to do and as much as he tried to rid himself of sin he struggled all the more. And that leads to this concept:surrendering our all to Christ, even our own efforts to beat sin.

  27. In the real world, turning away from addiction and compulsive behavior or illness is not a prayer you say to Jesus. It takes faith and an acceptance of the work of Jesus, but it takes an act of turning away.

    I think it takes opening our eyes to Christ. We are not going to get well.

    I think Pascal points out that the deepest roots of compulsions and our wretchedness is our unhappiness. Fully understanding the love of God brings joy that fills the voids we seek to fill with our compulsive behavior. I think that Christian joy will transform the world and our lives faster than fighting against our guilt.

  28. “the addict certainly has to work to keep from falling back in an earthly way, but his eternal salvation is assured.”

    That looks like the definition of impunity to me.

  29. I guess we’ve come to the point where we discuss “effort. Because how do you vigorously turn away from your sins without it being labeled “the rat-race of beating sin”? In the real world, turning away from addiction and compulsive behavior or illness is not a prayer you say to Jesus. It takes faith and an acceptance of the work of Jesus, but it takes an act of turning away. And if that’s something that haunts me my entire life even after I’ve chosen to believe, you could very easily conclude that that re-birth that happened some 30 years ago didn’t really take. Because, at the end of the day, I’m not that different than the heathen.

    When you repent and put your trust in the saving work of Jesus, you’re legally declared sinless and righteous right now. Your salvation is assured, today, on Jesus’s merits. There is absolutely nothing for you to do to secure your salvation. It is finished. In that sense, the “rat-race of beating sin” is over. You’re declared a winner right now, in the middle of the race, because Jesus already ran it for you and won.

    In addition, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit results in the beginning of sanctification as you are gradually conformed to Christ’s image. This is a cooperative work in one sense, because you work together with the Holy Spirit to put sin to death. But in another sense it’s really all God’s doing anyway, because your ability and desire to cooperate with the Spirit are themselves unmerited gifts from God. Without God’s grace, you wouldn’t want to cooperate in the first place, and even if you did, you would not have the ability to do so.

    So in that sense, you’re still in the race of beating sin, but you’re not in it alone, and your victory is inevitable because your racing partner is undefeated and undefeatable. And yes, as a practical matter, you still feel the struggle. But you are empowered to struggle, and you’re able to be patient in your struggle, because it’s God struggling for you, and the outcome is already certain.

  30. That looks like the definition of impunity to me.

    No, impunity would be continuing to sin willfully, deliberately and without concern.

  31. Also, “pray away the gay” comes to mind here. Or other attempts to just keep “turning over” your sins to Jesus, with no thought of self correction. I just know personally too many Christians who were once filled with Jesus, then turned away completely. To say, “they weren’t re-born in the first place” seems to ignore what is in front of one’s face. If their turning away is used as exhibit A for why they were not genuine Christians, then what were they doing for the previous decades? They looked just as regenerated as the next guy. Until they weren’t.

  32. impunity is exemption from punishment. If you want to throw intention into the mix, then so be it. This is the first I’ve heard of it on this thread.

  33. This is the first I’ve heard of it on this thread.

    Well, I was the one who brought “impunity” into the discussion, so I’m pretty sure I know what I meant by it, and “without fear of punishment” was not it.

  34. Christian, no, the converted addict will hate his addiction, not embrace it and ‘flip off’ God with it. The converted addict knows the consequences of his addiction and fights them but struggles with the addiction. He hates his condition now. He does not continue with his addiction, shrugging his shoulders, saying, “Well, God will forgive me because I am addicted so I don’t care.”

    No, the addict pleads with God to free him from the burden of his addiction.

    See the difference?

  35. *Also, “pray away the gay” comes to mind here.*

    I think evolutionary theory and biology tells us that we should not be as interested in people “praying away the gay”, i.e. praying away our biological nature seems like folly. I think we should first give people the hope of “praying away the azzhole”.

  36. Cowboy, I see the difference. And I’ve heard all of this before, but I thank you for patiently engaging. Seriously. The crux for me is: the believing addict may not be able to discontinue his addiction. He may be both deeply sincere and deeply sinful. So is sin just a matter of your intentions, or do your sinful acts mean anything eternally?

  37. The believing addict very well may not ever conquer his addiction in this life. He certainly won’t conquer all sin in this life, because nobody does. But the believing addict can be absolutely assured of not only his salvation (because he has already been declared free from sin and perfectly righteous), but of his eventual actual freedom from sin (because he will eventually be conformed to Christ’s image).

  38. Sin is both action and heart. In its most basic definition, sin is being separated from God. I won’t pretend to know exactly what God will judge us on, but the Bible has more than enough references to salvation by faith alone to know that it is faith that saves, not our acts. Whose to say the troubled alcoholic does not have his heart set on God? Ultimately, I can’t judge his heart. Can you?

  39. Someone who is saved by grace is assured of salvation and eventual glorification, but will nevertheless continue to sin. So to your question, do those sins carry eternal consequences, my answer is absolutely, but Jesus Christ has already paid for them in full.

    So why doesn’t the saved addict who can’t kick his habit just give up and stop trying? Because his heart has actually been changed. And that means he won;t.

  40. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has not discounted the theory of evolution or taught its members to avoid learning it. I he no conflict with evolution. God has not revealed that evolution is wrong or that it was not the way things cam to be.

  41. K, cowboy, Tim – I appreciate your responses. I’ll say again that I’m familiar with these answers, I’ve been hearing them for much of the past 2 decades from Evangelicals. And I will say that you all are at least consistent and thoughtful. Some hurdles still remain for me:

    I have often been skeptical of Luther and the Reformer’s view of Paul, particularly Galatians and Romans. I think it starts with a misunderstanding of the Judaism of the time and what problems Paul was attacking. Its true that I’ve found a lot of the language behind my concern from Wright’s “Paul in fresh Perspective” and “Justification”. But, the beginnings were actually in a simple reading of the Gospels, particularly the words of Jesus. In fact, I think its an oversimplification to say that the Judaism of the time was “works based salvation”. Becoming a member of God’s covenant people by just being born physically into it, is as grace appointed as I can think of. Living out the law as a sign of that graceful beginning is not really as simple as “earning”.

    And Mormonism is not too different in the order of operations, even if the language is clumsy. In Mormonsim all humans enter this life with implicit grace and salvation even, Christian or not. Baptized or not. And for Mormon believers, baptism is not really a gate you enter with works, but willingness to follow and believe. Baptism in Mormonism is essentially entering into Justification or right relationship with God and there is implicit grace in that decision. I’m not trying to minimize differences, but just trying to point out the oversimplifications that past and present day Protestants pin on Judaism, Catholicism and Mormonism. Biblical interpretation is not settled IMO and should be reviewed in light of new information.

  42. Christian, I think you miss the point. Jesus never condemned Jews for being Jews. That was never the issue. Paul never did the same. The criticism from both was that people, Jews and Gentiles, try to work for their salvation. Circumcision is a popular one of Paul’s which he did because it was an outward way of proving one’s religious faith. Its always about the heart. Baptism as an outward way to show a willingness to follow is precisely within their criticism. Baptism to enter into a relationship infers that if a person is not baptized, they cannot be in right relationship, is also precisely within their criticism.

  43. slowcowboy, I could easily make the point that saying the sinner’s prayer is as much a “work” or “earning of salvation” as baptism. Lots of people just say the prayer or alter call without really meaning it. Lots of other people enter baptism with an eye single to the glory of God. If intent is the real difference, then you can achieve it (or not) with both. Or any number of symbolic gestures. Mormons don’t believe that the water does the real work of cleansing after all.

  44. “slowcowboy, I could easily make the point that saying the sinner’s prayer is as much a “work” or “earning of salvation” as baptism.”

    Sure, you can. But can you tell me you can be exalted within Mormonism without baptism? Because I can tell you that you don’t need to say the sinner’s prayer to be saved in Christianity; no specific words matter.

  45. slow, even if you believe in predestination (not all Protestants do obviously) then you believe that God predestined you to do *something* to accept Jesus. Amirite? Even the changing of posture, is something.

  46. Also,

    Paul was railing against the Jewish law or thing that separate Jewish Christians from non-Jewish Christians.

  47. Christian, that’s a pretty weak argument that really has nothing to do with works. You take such a broad view of works so as to make it useless. Paul was railing against the law when folks use it as a way to justify their own worthiness for salvation.

    Which leads me to say you never answered my question regarding baptism and exaltation…

  48. Christian J,

    “In Mormonsim all humans enter this life with implicit grace and salvation even, Christian or not. Baptized or not.”


    Mormonism’s soteriology doesn’t fit the traditional Roman Catholic Protestant works/grace debate. Trying to insert Semipelagianism ignores the fundamental universalism of Mormonism.

  49. gundek, I was toying around with the idea that Mormons are Semipelagian. I agree that it doesn’t quite fit.

    Cowboy, my broad use of works is to suggest that even the word, “accept” or “follow” or “look toward” are actions. Its not the same as Mormonism requiring baptism (which they certainly do)of course, but its not doing nothing either. Even walking out of ones house to face the sun takes a few steps. Its not nothing.

    I still maintain that Paul was specifically speaking to non Jewish Christians about the unnecessity of living the Jewish law (like the most of the worlds Christians were doing – they being Jewish Christians). Of course I agree that the central theme of the gospel of Jesus is that we are not good enough on our own, we are sinful and will all rebel against God. And, I don’t think its a stretch (even for Mormons) to say that our joy in this life and eternal salvation in the next is in the hands of Jesus and that trusting in his blood does the real work of making us worthy.

    I think where I still am perplexed is the idea that one cannot lose salvation through sin, once accepting Jesus. One area specifically, is the diversity of interpretation around what is sin. For example, I know and know of many individuals who have accepted the traditional Jesus of the Trinity, then at a certain point came out as gay – BUT maintained their faith in Jesus and identified as Christians still. Some even became ordained in a Christian tradition that accepts homosexuality. Of course, they’re in sin according to most Christians in the world. Have they lost they’re salvation if they refuse to believe that homosexuality is a sin, while still devout in their faith and devotion to Jesus? I think I asked Tim this once and his answer was enlightening. I wondering what you would say to this.

    I was also thinking of Mark Driscoll recently. If even a quarter of the reports are true, the man did some serious damage to many people, spiritually and emotionally as well as other serious accusations. And by the looks of it (I don’t pretend to know his heart) he has not reached out to reconcile with those people he harmed. If we continues the rest of his life without doing so, is it fair to say that he never was a Christian in the first place?

    I’m interested in the varying degrees and interpretations of sin. It really doesn’t look terribly straightforward to me.

  50. Christian,

    You are going to get different answers about not losing salvation from different traditions in Protestantism and evangelicalism. From my tradition perseverance is rooted in the person of Christ not in accepting Christ. Through Christ’s intercession He becomes our beauty, His merit becomes our righteousness, His death and resurrection becomes our new life.

    I don’t know if Mark Driscoll is saved. Being honest, I’m not his biggest fan and I think it is obvious that he doesn’t have the qualification to be a leader in the Church. BUT, I want to be seen through the lens of the perfect obedience of Christ and I believe that Christ’s intercession is sufficient to make anyone beautiful. Seeing Christ’s beauty in the sinner isn’t easy, we can tangibly see the damage that sin, pride, arrogance and corruption causes.

    I see the damage sin has caused, naturally I want justice, I want visible signs of contrition, I want good works to justify a person’s claim to the name of Christ, but really that misses the point of the cross. Christ died for sinners. Homosexual sinners, straight sinners, bad pastor sinners, sarcastic internet posting sinners.

    I’m sure it sounds like a dodge, but I try to combine discernment regarding the propriety of a person’s actions with a hope for the beauty of Christ and hold fast to the cross.

  51. Christian, just saw your post to me here. I agree with Gundek– you will get some disagreement on the topic of losing salvation. What seems to make most sense to me is that a true believer will not lose his salvation. Doesn’t mean he won’t sin, mind you. If one rejects or flaunts sin, that raises question as to true belief.

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