Justice that Restores

Breakpoint This Week recently hosted a conversation with the head of Prison Fellowship, Jim Liske. They discussed the Christian view of restoration within the context of prison. Prison Fellowship has had some excellent results in their efforts. While the general prison population has a recidivism rate of 50% within 3 years, Prison Fellowship has been able to lower that rate to 10%. At the heart of their efforts is an understanding of grace.

In light of some recent conversations here regarding the role of obedience and grace in transforming a believer’s life, I thought this was an excellent example of how Evangelicals see grace transforming even hardened criminals. In fact the conversation quite pointedly rejects the idea that a person’s life can be changed through merely following rules.

Download here [25 minutes]

You are FORGIVEN! – What Evangelicals have that Mormons don’t. (Part 1)

Universal sin is, perhaps, the fundamental building block of the Christian Religion.  Without sin, there is no need for the atonement of Jesus, the central focus of both Mormons and Evangelicals.

C.S. Lewis, in accord with other heavy hitters of Christian apologetics, contend that the most incontrovertible tenant of Christianity is original sin.  (However, my favorite exposition of this doctrine is, of course, found here.) Indeed, most all people have an internal moral compass, a conscience, that tells them that they fall short of perfection.  Those people incapable of feeling guilt are considered the most dangerous and potentially monstrous of all humans.  While I am not convinced that universal sin is “proven” by the facts, it is clear that most of the people we call good or conscientious would agree that falling short of internal and external aspirations is a common part of life.  Falling short is part of life not simply because we are defective, it seems to be an ingrained part of being a human to recognize that we do not live up to what our consciences aspire to.  Even those that are often completely blind to their own faults can usually point out the faults of others.   This brings guilt, perhaps one of the most important defenses against barbarism, yet it also one of those things that invariably saps happiness and joy from life.

What Christianity brings to the table is forgiveness. Evangelists tells us: “In Christ you will be saved and forgiven, white as snow.”  Where Evangelicalism and Mormonism diverge is how they dish up the meaty meal of forgiveness to the believer. (To be specific: I am talking about how the forgiveness of is felt and experienced, not about whether or not either approach is justified by scripture, revelation or theology.)

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The disaffected Mormon problem. My 2¢.

There is a recurring question posed on this blog– What can be done about disaffected Mormons who leave Christianity?

I was first attracted to this Blog about five years ago by this post on the subject: We Push Them Into What? followed up with “Challenged by Jesus” among many others.  And it comes up routinely ever since. David Clark had recent suggestions regarding the problem in  “The C & E Problem“, “Be Positive, Be Christian“, “Consider Christianity(Forgive me if I don’t have any other blogosphere references to this topic  but strangely enough, this blog is the only one I read or comment on with any regularity besides cagepotato.com.)

Tim’s most recent thoughts on the problem are found in “More Than a Bible” I thought I would post my thoughts separately because I wanted to propose an alternative view of the nature of the problem from a post-Mormon, not-at-all-traditional follower of Jesus.  (Plus my comment was just way too long.)

In “More than a Bible” Tim pointed out that statistics show that only 11% of former Mormons identify as some other type of Christian.

I can appreciate the problem that these statistics raise for Evangelicals.  Here  you have a stream of Bible educated one-time very faithful people leaving Mormonism and NOT choosing the real Jesus. This seems like a big failure and lost opportunity for Evangelicals.

Tim suggests more pro-bible apologetics and less anti-bible rhetoric is a solution. The argument seems to be that if those leaving Mormonism believed in the Bible more, then they would still believe in Jesus when they leave Mormonism. Thus, the problem is being laid at the feet of the Church, who claims to want to be part of “regular” Christianity, but consistently undermines the sole source of authority of Protestantism.

First, I don’t think most Mormons believe that the Bible has a hard time standing on its own. Although Mormons talk about inconsistencies and problems with the Bible, they rarely do anything other than read it very closely and as authoritative.  (Surprisingly similar to how they view Church leadership.) Mormons hold very reverential, sometimes literal, and sometimes even fundamentalist interpretations of the Bible. I think most Mormons think the Bible is true and reliable in all matters of faith, essentially infalliable. The big problem for Mormons is not what is in the, but what is not.

Even if rhetoric that undermined Biblical validity was common, I can make these observations that may explain the phenomena better:

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Just Not Enough

A friend of mine posted this comment on another post and I felt saddened by it

. . .Being a Mormon, I felt i could never do enough to earn my way to heaven. It’s been over 30 years since I left the Mormon church but I know this sentiment still exists as my brother (a Mormon) said to me once ‘I know I’m not going to heaven, I haven’t done enough good things’. This broke my heart and allowed me to tell him about God’s grace and mercy. He’s still a Mormon, but I know he sees Christ in me, and I know he longs for that same peace (he’s told me this). . .

If an Evangelical had said the same thing to me as her brother I would assure him that he’s right, he hasn’t done enough good things. I’d then show him how Christ has done the work for him and that there is no work necessary for a free gift from God. If there are “good things” done by us they are done out of an expression of how this free gift has changed us.

I’m curious, if you’re a Mormon, what counsel you would provide a fellow Mormon if he felt the same way, that he hadn’t done enough to be in heaven? Does he have the right frame of mind, that he should be doing more or would you challenge his approach to the dilemma? How would you encourage him?

Salvation or Exaltation

This is Part 2 of a review of Spencer W. Kimball’s “The Miracle of Forgiveness” Part 1 can be found here.

One of the most fallacious doctrines originated by Satan and propounded by man is that man is saved alone by the grace of God; that belief in Jesus Christ alone is all that is needed for salvation. Along with all the other works necessary for man’s exaltation in the kingdom of God this could rule out the need for repentance. It could give license for sin and, since it does not require man to work out his salvation, could accept instead lip service, death-bed “repentance,” and shallow, meaningless confession of sin. [page 206]

The above quote would have most Evangelicals barring the doors and rejecting Mormonism in total. I noticed something in it though that may indicate how Kimball could so utterly reject the plain words of Paul. Indeed Kimball seemed to recognize the tension himself and acknowledges:

Of course we need to understand terms. If by the word “salvation” is meant the mere salvation or redemption from the grave, the “grace of God” is sufficient. But if the term “salvation” means returning to the presence of God with eternal progression, eternal increase, and eventual godhood, for this one certainly must have the “grace of God,” as it is generally defined, plus personal purity, overcoming of evil, and the good “works” made so important in the exhortations of the Savior and his prophets and apostles. [page 207]

I wonder how Kimball was taught that the word “salvation” could be synonymous with the word “exaltation”. It seems a considerable amount of confusion would be cleared up if he recognized that the words mean different things. In fact he agrees that the “grace of God” (as people call it) IS enough for salvation. But then he adds a number of rewards to it as if there is “Salvation Jr.” and “Real Salvation.” This conversation has come up in this space before and now more than ever I’m curious where this started in Mormon thought. Kimball quickly departs from this “mere salvation” and consistently uses the word “salvation” to mean “exaltation” in the rest of the book.

I think he does this to the detremint of his own understanding of Mormonism. Late in the book he struggles to help a woman who had committed adultery and has given up hope for salvation because of something Joseph Smith stated in the disciplinary council against Harrison Sagers. Smith stated:

If a man commit adultery he cannot receive the celestial kingdom of God. Even if he is saved in any kingdom, it cannot be the celestial kingdom.

Kimball clearly wrestles with this himself and presents over a dozen Mormon scriptures that indicate that adultery can be forgiven. He asserts that words should be inserted into the quote so that it insteads says:

If a man commit adultery (and remain unrepentant) he cannot receive the celestial kingdom of God. Even if he is saved in any kingdom, it cannot be the celestial kingdom.

But this is clearly not what Joseph Smith stated. He was in no way saying adultery can’t be forgiven and salvation is lost for any who sin in this way. He was quite clearly differentiating between salvation and exaltation. Kimball puts a fog over his own understanding of Mormonism by equating the two.

D&C 76:103 agrees with Smith in his condemnation of adultery and his pronouncement that adulterers will not enter the Celestial Kingdom.

This is not the first time I’ve encountered this confusion. Does anyone know or understand when “salvation” and “exaltation” began to mean the same thing for Mormons?

You can read part 3 of my review of “The Miracle of Forgiveness” here.

An Evangelical Review of “The Miracle of Forgiveness” — Part 1

The Mormon classic “The Miracle of Forgiveness” outlines the need for repentance and how a person can go about obtaining forgiveness from God. It had previously been suggested that the book was written for the most serious and unrepentant of sinners and thus its tone should be considered in light of those kinds of readers. After reading the book it was clear that the author wrote the book after an assignment in dealing with very serious sin, but I saw no indication that the book was intended solely for such people. The suggested pattern for obtaining forgiveness is the same for serious sins such a murder and adultery as well as “sins of ommission” such as failure to home teach, pay tithing, get married, have children and fast.

Early in the book Kimball suggests that the LDS church program for repentance and forgiveness is as follows

  1. The Malady: Mental and physical sin
  2. The Vehicle: The Church and its agencies and programs.
  3. The Medication: The gospel of Jesus Christ with its purity, beauty and rich promises
  4. The Cure: Proper attitudes and self-mastery through activity and good works

As a general description I don’t really take issue with the formula as outlined here. I’d want to find out more about the differences between the words “medication” and “cure”, but aside from that I understand what Kimball is directing people towards in order to find the forgiveness of Christ.

Sadly, Kimball seems to break from the outline pretty quickly and switches the order of #3 with #4. I was shocked to read:

The Lord cannot save men in their sins but only from their sins, and that only when they have show true repentance.

. . . .The world should know that since the Lord himself cannot save men in their sins, no man on earth can administer any sacrament which will do that impossible thing. [page 166-167]

The key piece of Kimball’s remedy for sin that diverges from my one is that a sinner must completely turn away from his own sins and be free of all of them before Jesus can save them. Jesus has no power to forgive anyone who demonstrates any amount of sin in his life or in his heart. A man must be FULLY repentant and that means no longer sinning in any way.

Repentance must involve an all-out total surrender to the program of the Lord. That transgressor is not fully repentant who neglects his tithing, misses his meetings, breaks the Sabbath, fails in his family prayers, does not sustain the authorities of the Church, breaks the Word of Wisdom, does not love the Lord nor his fellowmen [page 203]

This view of repentance seems to be inspired by three unique Mormons Scriptures:

Doctrine & Covenants 1:32
Nevertheless, he that repents and does the commandments of the Lord shall be forgiven.

Helaman 5:10-11
. . . He said unto him that the Lord surely should come to redeem his people, but that he should not come to redeem them in their sins, but to redeem them from their sins. And hath power given unto him from the Father to redeem them from their sins because of repentance.

Alma 11:37
. . . Ye cannot be saved in your sins.

I’ve always considered “repentance” to be the acknowledgement of sin and the desire to turn away from it. Not the total and complete freedom from sin. It’s been my experience that I need the grace and forgiveness of Jesus to begin the process of “dying to self”. I can’t imagine accomplishing that task on my own. Kimball says that Jesus told the woman caught in adultery to transform herself, that it would take time and only afterwards would she receive his forgiveness. It seems that according to Kimball “no unclean thing” can enter into forgiveness much less the Kingdom of God. Is this your view of repentance? Does Kimball reflect the Mormon understanding accurately?

Part 2 of my review can be read here.