Three Mormon Reactions to “The Gift of Grace”

LDS President Dieter Uchtdorf delivered a talk on Easter morning that I found to be different than the way Mormons typically discuss grace.  I reached out to a number of Mormon friends and message boards to gain an understanding out how they viewed his talk.  I’ve come away with four general reactions

1) At Last

This is the reaction of those who have become convinced by the writings of Stephen Robinson and Robert Millet or have appreciation for a talk by Brad Wilcox.  They clearly hear a difference and are grateful to have the understanding pronounced by someone in the First Presidency at General Conference.

2) No Difference

Some hear no difference between what President Uchtdorf said and what they have always heard in Mormonism.  I would classify these respondents into two camps

A) He Offered No New Clarifications
These people heard no new clarifications.  Either they heard the word “grace” and tuned out assuming they already know everything Mormons have to say about grace or they truly did not understand the distinctions that were being made.  They assume that this talk lines up perfectly with “The Miracle of Forgiveness”.  In one instance I was directed to “The Parable of the Bicycle” to show that this is exactly how the Church has always taught on grace (in my mind Uchtdorf completely rewrote the Parable of the Bicycle if not outright contradicted it).

B) We’ve Always Been at War with Eastasia
These respondents are prone to doublespeak and claim that this has always been the doctrine on grace (perhaps it has just been clarified). This is how Mormons have always talked about grace there was no other way to speak about it.

3) Salvation and Exaltation Are Not the Same Thing

I think this view is most clearly described by this blog post on “Thoughts on Stuff and Things”.  I think this view is actually really helpful for Mormons (and those attempting to understand Mormonism).  What I find peculiar about it is that I once specifically asked Robert Millett if Mormons could see a distinction between Salvation and Exaltation and he said “No”.

As you can see from this post on “The Miracle of Forgiveness” this is a clarification I have been advocating for for quite some time.

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64 thoughts on “Three Mormon Reactions to “The Gift of Grace”

  1. As you know, Tim, I’m definitely in the first camp.

    I do agree that most of his talk, strictly speaking, was not new, as various prominent Mormons including those you mentioned as well as Elder Holland have said much of the same thing, although often (as in Holland’s case) in bits and pieces. But this is the first time such a doctrine of grace-to-salvation has been presented by a member of the First Presidency in such a clear, forceful and direct fashion. I couldn’t be more grateful.

    I have to disagree with “Thinker of Thoughts.” I think there is some extent to which Uchtdorf did distinguish between salvation (the gates of heaven are unlocked) and exaltation (the windows of heaven are open) — but he said that both begin and end with grace.

    I found it to be quite a Wesleyan approach (which isn’t the same as the Calvinism lite popular with many evangelcals) — free will (what Mormons call agency) is a given, and grace is what saves and propels us. Works remain an essential component for sanctification or exaltation, but paradoxically the reason we do good isn’t to obtain that blessing but as a response to the grace given us and to the love we have for our Saviour.

    Or to use your words, grace is the path, not the prize.

  2. I think the reaction is indicative of the lack of a good way of explaining doctrinal changes within the Church. Uchtdorf didn’t say that he was correcting anyone, and many people don’t think enough about what is said in conference to understand the newness of his message.

  3. Many people would tell you that vague Arminianism is basically the default position of the overwhelming majority of American Evangelicals.

  4. Its a question of control and sovereignty contrasted with the love of God and our very real recognition that we make choices in the world.

    I don’t know if there is an adequate label, but I probably fall into that camp.

    God is sovereign, but I make choices, and I think God loves us all. I believe God could, and does, actively work in the people’s lives to bring them to Him, and just the same, he can push people away to suit his purposes.

    I don’t know if there is a good answer to the question of election, and I don’t think it does us much good to judge who is and who is not ultimately saved. All we can do is guess based upon one’s fruits, but final knowledge won’t occur until judgment.

  5. I don’t know if there is a good answer to the question of election, and I don’t think it does us much good to judge who is and who is not ultimately saved.

    These don’t have anything to do with each other.

  6. No, I mean that the answer to the doctrine of election has nothing to do with us judging whether any given individual is saved.

  7. If they have nothing to do with each other, why make the distinction? If we talk about election, it is inescapable to discuss who is elect and who is not.

    But let me put my position this way: am I saved? I am, because I have put my faith in Christ to fully save me. Did I choose to do this? I have no idea. Did God pull me to Him, of course, but what role, if any, did my choice play in my acceptance of Christ? I don’t know, and I don’t think it does any good to fret over whether it was my choice or not. I just know that I put everything in God’s hands (OK, not as much as I should, but I am getting better– I know too well how I mess things up and he doesn’t). Are you saved? I have every reason to think so. Did you make the choice? What about a non-believer? Do they choose not to believe? If not, why does God choose that person to not believe?

    These questions provide answers that are not helpful. Really, telling an unbeliever that God left them out, and yeah, maybe they are still yet chosen but we don’t know yet, is a really unsatisfying answer.Just the same, denying the sovereignty of God to do exactly that is simply wrong.

    If I completely misunderstand your point, please point me in the right direction, but I fully do see election as inevitably linked to judging who and who is not elected, and why.

  8. I agree, which is why I think it is fruitless to put too much into the discussion of election.

    This is not to say it does not have importance within the Christian framework, as it gets into the nature of God and his relationship with us.

    However, the importance of whether God pulled me in (for instance) or I chose is secondary to my recognition that God is King, not me, and conforming my life to his will. I would argue that for all believers it is the same, and getting upset about whether they chose or not is missing the joys God has waiting for them.

    By the way, I think most believers now do feel this way, but there has been a lot of strife between Arminians and Calvinists through the years. Its easy to get prideful on doctrinal issues, and many have in the past. My point is that getting trapped into a right/wrong position concerning something we don’t know with certainty serves no one any good.

  9. Also, your assertion that us not being able to know who is elected means that “it is fruitless to put too much into the discussion of election” is a complete non-sequitur.

  10. If y’all wish to argue further. Have at it. I don’t take a strong position in election for the reasons I provided. I don’t think differences in opinion on this issue should divide. Do you?

    If we are in Christ, who cares?

  11. Nothing in what I have said diminishes the truth about God. I merely propose that it is irrelevant to my salvation whether I participated in my coming to God. I am in God, and is more important than that?

  12. Gundek, have you ever had a conversation about election without the phrase or something like it: “we can never know who is elect”?

  13. Certainly, the judgement of who is generally not the topic at hand when election is written about in the Bible.

  14. Gundek, is there anything more important than being in Christ? Are you going to tell me I am not a Christian because I say I don’t care if I participated in my coming into Christ?

    Now if there is something specific you don’t understand, ask.

  15. Yes, but the authors do not compel us to presume knowlege of things not revealed by God. They refer to the elect for a reason, generally to heighten assurance and reliance on God.

    “Gundek, is there anything more important than being in Christ?”

    Yes, the glory of God.

    “Are you going to tell me I am not a Christian because I say I don’t care if I participated in my coming into Christ?”

    No, but really that is besides the point. People of good intent can disagree on exactly what is meant by election in the NT without dismissing the importance of the idea.

  16. I will back up on my prior statement. We are not in a position to perceive whether or not other individuals are elect. But we can certainly know if we ourselves are elect. And we can also certainly see God’s election of people in the Bible.

  17. Gundek,

    You are right to say that God’s glory is more important. I guess I had assumed that was a given here. Nothing is more important than that. In terms of our eternal destiny and relationship, that we end up in God is more important than the how, if you ask me. I certainly don’t know for sure how and why election may occur, and I certainly think strong arguments can be made for a system involving free will.

    In the end, I am not convinced either exists in isolation of the other. I gave my opinion from comments earlier describing Evangelicals as being vague Armenians and Calvin-lite. I have described my view on the issue, and if the description is either of those descriptions, fine.

    And you’re last paragraph is precisely my point: people of good intent CAN disagree without dismissing the importance of the idea. And I do state that it is an important discussion. You’ll see that I posted above that it is an important discussion but that I don’t think it does much good to get into too much disagreement because a right/wrong discussion brings us to miss the glory of God, which you rightly point out is most important.

    Election is an important doctrine, but it is not as important to recognizing the glory of God and the joy we should have in that we can spend eternity with him upon belief.

    Hope that makes more sense.

  18. Kullervoo, I agree that we know our position in God. I agree we see the fruits of those who are in God. I agree the Bible speaks of an elect. But I have to point out that Jesus also says that those who believe him will be saved. Its not a clear case that individual belief plays no part in election. I am not willing to engage in a contentious discussion that election is right or wrong. Its a side issue, as far as I am concerned. What matters is that we find ourselves in Jesus, who is king, and help others find their way there, too.

    If I have struck a cord, forgive me (twice in one day!). My intent in beginning this was to provide what I think is the Evangelical point of view.

  19. Slowcowboy,

    Honestly I am having a hard time following you. I really just wanted to understand why you think,“If we talk about election, it is inescapable to discuss who is elect and who is not.”

  20. Gundek, why has that held you up from getting my bigger point? Just curious, and if I am communicating something poorly, I’d like to improve upon that. I’m a little confused as to what is controversial in my comments, and perhaps we are talking past each other to a large degree, but its also entirely possible I have not communicated my position well.

    I’ll add that logically, there is no reason not to think separating election and who gets elected can be discussed separately. However, just the same, in my experience someone inevitably says something akin to “We can never know who is elect.” That experience drives that comment you asked about.

    My bigger point in this post, though, is to simply seek feedback on what is confusing so that I can explain myself better or improve the delivery, so as to avoid such problems moving forward.

  21. This:

    You are right to say that God’s glory is more important. I guess I had assumed that was a given here. Nothing is more important than that.

    directly contradicts this:

    In terms of our eternal destiny and relationship, that we end up in God is more important than the how, if you ask me.

  22. But I don’t see it that way. If God cedes his power to us to choose, but retains his power to bring us to him directly or push us away, God still retains his glory and his power. It would be a gift to us if it is our free will, and not something we should assume gives us more power than God. We still would be subservient to God in this scenario, as God can a) revoke our free will and b) intervene at any point God wants. We have no more power of God here than does a prisoner granted freedom in a prison to, I dunno, get more time outside for good behavior. The prison can revoke that additional time at its whim.

    Does this idea make sense to you? (Honestly asking, not trying to be condescending at all.)

  23. If God’s glory is the most important thing, and the how of your salvation is a matter of God’s glory, then how can the fact of your salvation be more important?

    Not to throw out old Calvinist canards, but it sure seems like you’re putting the focus on us (Hooray; I’m saved! This is the most important thing!), not on God (Hooray! God is sovereign and holy and is working out a wonderful thing in creation!). If your gospel is first and foremost about your salvation, then I’m afraid you’ve got a false, man-centered gospel.

  24. Perhaps you misunderstand my statement Gundek was right to state that God’s glory is most important, and it is, and I will never dispute that. I meant exactly what I said.

    My statement that that we are in God upon salvation as most important is from the vantage point of a very practical level to us as believers. That we are saved is more important than the how, ie, whether God ceded us the power to choose or God retained it and pulled us in. That we are saved, however, does not trump God’s glory, which is bigger than anything we can ever do or any place we can ever find ourselves in.

    I would say, following your leads on the “Hoorays”: “Hooray, I am blessed and grateful to be a part of God’s sovereign and holy plan, to which I am totally and fully subservient.”

    Is that too much of a man-centered gospel? I don’t think so. If we’re not thankful to be adopted into Christ’s family, or feel blessed and joyful by it, there’s something wrong.

  25. Kullervo, I don’t know with certainty. I’d like to think so, but God is bigger than me and it may well be God who has drawn me to him. If it was me, I am grateful God gave me the power to choose, and if it was not, then I am grateful God pulled me to him. Either way, God’s sovereignty has allowed me to be a part of his family, and I am not going to worry about the how of that result. God is sovereign either way, and I am grateful for his grace.

  26. So yeah, slowcowboy, yuou’re definitely espousing the “vague Arminianism” that Gunkek and I were discussing upthread, except really it’s vague Pelagianism.

    PS, Pelagianism is a heresy. We basically resolved that over 1500 years ago.

  27. Except that its not Pelagianism, which espouses:

    “Pelagius taught that human beings were born innocent, without the stain of original or inherited sin. He believed that God created every human soul directly and therefore every human soul was originally free from sin. Pelagius believed that Adam’s sin did not affect future generations of humanity. This view became known as Pelagianism.” (from Gotquestion.org)

    Another quote on Pelgianism: “With regards to salvation, it teaches that man has the ability in and of himself (apart from divine aid) to obey God and earn eternal salvation.”

    Our free will is through the grace of God, and not out of anything else. We hold no power that God did not give us, if we hold it at all.

    I found this quote, in Wikipedia, about Arminiansim: In short, the difference [between Calvinism and Arminianism] can be seen ultimately by whether God allows His desire to save all to be resisted by an individual’s will (in the Arminian doctrine) or if God’s grace is irresistible and limited to only some (in Calvinism). Put another way, is God’s sovereignty shown, in part, through His allowance of free decisions?

    I am stating that I don’t hold a strong view either way, ie whether God allows his desire to save all to be resisted by an individuals will or if God’s grace is irresistible. I see God’s grace commanding both scenarios.

    See, I do believe in original sin and that man is doomed without God’s grace and I don’t think we have full ability and of ourselves to obey God or that we can earn salvation for ourselves. All of that comes from God, whether or God cedes us will (that he can revoke at any time) to choose God or not.

    Now, if you think me being honest and stating that I don’t know with certainty whether I chose God (which may be allowed through God’s grace) or God chose me puts me in a position of being a Pelagian, so be it. I can’t emphasize enough that it is through God’s grace, not my goodness, that I am allowed to be God.

    I’ll end with a statement that I think exemplifies my position: in either scenario I have presented, if God did not want me, I could not overcome his will to choose him and be with him. God is in control. I am not. Pelagianism allows for my control, which I deny.

  28. Slowcowboy,

    I don’t know what the bigger point you are trying to make is, I was just curious why you think it is inescapable to discuss election without trying to determine who is elect.

    Election, in my tradition, is a doctrine that excludes any of our actions as meritorious in salvation, not a means to determine the state of anyone’s soul.

  29. Election, in my tradition, is a doctrine that excludes any of our actions as meritorious in salvation, not a means to determine the state of anyone’s soul.

    Mine too, btw–as I am now OFFICIALLY A PRESBYTERIAN.

  30. K. We see election differently, though I agree with the sentiment you provide now. I agree with Paul that our works, all of them, are but filthy rags to God. However, at the risk of continuing a debate but for the sake of clarity, I think you leave out that God chooses who is saved and who is not under the doctrine of election. Yes, it includes that merit means nothing, but it also includes that God chooses who gets saved. Is that accurate?

  31. An LDS response to my insinuation that Uchtdorf was being at all innovative:

    “You’re woefully wrong regarding grace here. Elder Utchdorf taught it precisely as the scriptures do and every prophet since Adam has.”

    “That includes Kimball, and McConkie”

  32. I think you leave out that God chooses who is saved and who is not under the doctrine of election. Yes, it includes that merit means nothing, but it also includes that God chooses who gets saved. Is that accurate?

    What?

  33. Precisely.

    So, Gundek’s statement that election “…is a doctrine that excludes any of our actions as meritorious in salvation, not a means to determine the state of anyone’s soul,” is not entirely complete, arguably even not accurate. If election means that God chooses who is saved, then God is the means to determine the state of souls.

    As to the idea that our actions are not meritorious in salvation, this is a true statement concerning election, but not complete, because election also states that God chooses who is saved (which is why merit is not considered).

  34. Now, I have stated, and maintain, that I do not take a strong position concerning election v. free will. I don’t because I see room on either side of the discussion for God’s sovereignty to reign. I further don’t see that it ultimately matters, because God is supreme, and we ought not lose sight of that truth. Outright rejecting the other opinion on a doctrine that could have truth on either side and does not affect the sovereignty of Jesus, to me, seems foolish.

    We are united in Jesus, not in the idea of election. I won’t dismiss another because they disagree with me on this issue because our King is Jesus, the one true Jesus.

    This is where I see Mormonism falling away from us, its Jesus is decidedly different. However, because we share the same Jesus, I think there is room for disagreement, and won’t engage in a discussion that pushes us apart. You can call me a heretic for granting the possibility that God gave us, but can take away, our ability to choose or choose otherwise when it comes to our salvation, but that is your position, and I won’t return the accusation. I see us united in Christ, though we may disagree on some items.

    Jesus is my King, and he can do whatever he wants despite my opinion. My aim is to abide in his will (though I fail daily, and can do nothing to warrant his favor), and am grateful, and joyous, for that opportunity.

  35. Outright rejecting the other opinion on a doctrine that could have truth on either side and does not affect the sovereignty of Jesus, to me, seems foolish.

    Depending on what you mean by “the sovereignty of Jesus” this seems to mean that you want to seriously discussion most theology except the idea of the sovereignty of Jesus.

  36. “Depending on what you mean by “the sovereignty of Jesus” this seems to mean that you want to seriously discussion most theology except the idea of the sovereignty of Jesus.”

    I think I know what you mean, but “seriously discussion” is not clear. But let me break this down:

    Outright rejecting: stating one is completely wrong, dismissing any chance of being correct, and stopping any conversation concerning…

    The other opinion: the other side, one opposed to your own…

    On a doctrine: a topic/doctrine of the church, likely to be the subject of a conversation

    That could have truth: that a reasonable person might find has merit

    On either side: there are at least two positions that a reasonable person might find has merit

    And does not affect the sovereignty of Jesus: as long as Jesus is held up as King, and is not diminished, and of course, the correct Jesus as accepted by orthodox Christians since the beginning

    To me seems foolish: I think it is unwise to outright reject other opinions that don’t affect the sovereignty and identity of Jesus.

    So, I think it is dumb to allow different interpretations of doctrines that do not affect the ultimate power and identity of Jesus to divide us.

    Sure, we can discuss. Its important to discuss, but divide, no. My pride is less important than acknowledging the power and identity of Christ. The list of such things that do not affect that is way too long and encompasses most issues within orthodox Christianity.

    If we are to talk about a unified body of Christ in Jesus, we need to be serious about acknowledging that not everyone will agree and not label everyone who disagrees as a heretic.

  37. No, I am happy to seriously discuss, but I won’t label someone a heretic just for disagreeing. This is why I used the wording “Outright rejecting” and “seems foolish”. There IS room for diverging opinions, and we are better served conversing rather than shutting the other side down.

  38. Slowcowboy,

    I think that Kullervo and Gundek believe that many of the questions that you are indifferent to have real answers that can be derived from scripture and that these answers matter to our lives. This is what I meant by talking “seriously” about them, talking about the doctrines as if the answers we come up with matter to the world and to us. This is not to say that there will not be diverging opinions, but simply not ignoring that there may be a single answer to many questions.

  39. Sure, we can discuss. Its important to discuss, but divide, no.

    Unfortunately, Jesus brought a sword with him. I still struggle with the nature of the divide that he created.

  40. Yet I have discussed. Have I not?

    I just won’t condemn another Christian for disagreement on this issue as there are scriptural answers that contradict their view.

    I don’t take a strong view on election. I think it is Biblical but how it works is above my pay grade. And because the existence of statements that there may be some free will on our part, I won’t take a strong stand on something that either way yields the same results.

  41. Just saying, I have read the Miracle of Forgiveness. While it has been a while, I don’t recall anything in it that contradicted what President Uchtdorf said in his talk.

  42. “So, Gundek’s statement that election “…is a doctrine that excludes any of our actions as meritorious in salvation, not a means to determine the state of anyone’s soul,” is not entirely complete, arguably even not accurate. If election means that God chooses who is saved, then God is the means to determine the state of souls.”

    We are not God.

  43. No. We are not God. I won’t presume to state with finality that God did not grant us some amount of choice. That’s all I’ve been saying. And I don’t know and personally don’t care whether I had a choice or not.

    Why not? Because I am not God and bow down before Him in humbleness by accepting His ways and wisdom. Of He granted me a choice, great, so be it. If not, great, so be it.

  44. Indeed it is. But there’s also enough to suggest a choice in our part, I think. So, I personally don’t take a strong position on it. God’s got it, either way.

    Fair enough?

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