The good fight

First of all, I have been very busy lately with a variety of silly issues developing with my beginning a new semester. These are starting to smooth out and therefore I should be more able to post and comment in the future. This is a fundamental difference between me and Ronan; he posts more during the semester and I less.

Geoff J has a post over at his blog asking why people don’t discuss doctrinal issues more. I should post a comment there, and will, but I fall along those who don’t feel like they have done enough research to explain my take adequately (read: convincingly). I don’t know enough Mormonalia (pithy mission statements aside) to really feel like I can comment on what Heber C. Kimball or Joseph Smith may have said as an aside in a discussion written down in someone’s journal some years later. Or the journal of discourses.

For that matter, I am reluctant to dismiss arguments regarding other people’s positions if I haven’t had time to really consider them. For instance, there are several things in Jeffrey Gilliam’s development of Mormon theology that I find objectionable, but having only taken the time to read about have his posts on the subject, I am consumed with the fear that he has answered my concerns elsewhere. Moreso, I think that I will find more of the same in his other posts and still be left with only a vague uneasiness defining my skepticism.

That said, there have been a rash of posts recently that deal with issues that are central to me and my understanding of the doctrine. I am certain that I fundamentally differ with J. about the meaning of the atonement. I know that I disagree with Jeffrey G. about the usefulness of evolution as a model for spiritual development, the importance of the inspiration/revelation distinction, and the pervasiveness of Adam-God. I think the parable of the mortgage vastly overestimates the importance of works and underestimates the power of grace. I respect all of these men, don’t think that they are apostate, appreciate that they are good thinkers, and, nonetheless, believe that they are all wrong. Just plain wrong.

In part, this is because I am a fairly orthodox guy. I actually believe that the “common” understanding of the scriptures is, in many cases, the best one. This, in turn, makes it hard for me to defend my position because it makes it hard for state clearly what it is. As Davis Bell has commented elsewhere, the “common” understanding of the gospel is a witch’s brew of innuendo, speculation, offhand remarks from general authorities, and occasional scripture. I have commented on this before.

That said, I am deeply interested in the Atonement. Many times I am impressed with the level of speculation that takes place here in the ‘Naccle. But I feel like, in some ways, J., Geoff, and Jeff are creating issues out of thin air; creating confusion where the doctrine was fairly clear. I believe all three men (and others like them) to be sincere. So the confusion must be genuine. But it fails to make sense to me because I have a hard time understanding why the non-sense of previous theories needs rectification. The Atonement is inherently irrational. There is no need to create a theological foundation for it (and it is possibly backward to do so).

Nonetheless, with the discussion thusfar, and with my conscience growing guiltier every time I fail to comment on one of their interesting posts, I have decided to put forward what I mean by the “common” understanding of the gospel. I know that I am idiosyncratic (I let far more people into the Celestial Kingdom than might normally be considered doctrinally possible), but I feel like, in general, it is sound doctrine (I may even cite scripture to make my point).

First of all, the reason that we are sent here is to submit our will entirely to God in a manner whereby we do it rationally, devotionally, and willingly. God cannot make us do this, but he is not above engineering things so that this is the most likely outcome. We are sent to the mortal realm to experience failure, sin, pain, sorrow and a whole host of other things that are simply impossible for us to experience unless we are separated from God, which can only happen if we choose it and we have a mortal, fallible body. At least in part, we undergo this to develop compassion for our eventual wayward children. Additionally, we do this so that we can develop the faith necessary to take upon ourselves the name of Christ and, thereby, become joint-heirs with him.

The role of Christ is that of the Redeemer. Though necessarily sinless in order to undergo the atonement, it was necessary for even him to experience and take upon himself our sins. He had to be separated from God as part of his mortal experience. His role is that of the Father to us. I am not saying that He is the Father, because The Father plays a different role and is a different being. What I am saying is that Christ is divinely endowed with the power and, to a degree, the presence of the Father in his role as Savior, Redeemer, Judge, and God of this world. Christ is the Father of our covenants; the Gospel makes us His Children. The role of the Father (meaning God, the Father) in this is mysterious. We are already His Children. However, I can say that, however we interact with the Father, it is through the mediation of His Son. As much as He may like to, God cannot save his Children without the Atonement of His Son.

We are saved when, during or after this life, we are divinely invested with the attributes of the Father through the mediation of the Son. As Christ became the Father through divine investiture, so too can we. To do so, we must do as Christ did and submit our will wholely to God, allowing Divine Grace to perfect us. All good things are gifts fro
m God and salvation is no exception. The reason that this is accomplishable in this life is because, ultimately, God isn’t demanding some arbitrary level of righteousness or obedience for us to advance to the next level. Salvation is not earned; it is given by a loving Father through the conduit of His Son. What we are asked to do is to humble ourselves sufficient to rely on God and His Grace; He really will take care of the rest. So, that’s what I think. You?

5 Replies to “The good fight”

  1. Welcome back, John. I, for one, have missed you greatly. To answer your question…I side with you. I’m lucky if I can keep my scripture citations straight…I couldn’t touch JD with a ten-foot pole. I have a select set of Joseph Smith & GA quotes stored up in my head, but, again, I am lucky if I can put the quote together with the person who said it. For the most part, the quotes I remember are the ones that have been most useful to me in my discussions with others–as a missionary & otherwise–and I really think those are the ones a person should keep. I would much rather have a small set of scriptures & GA quotes I can refer back to off the top of my head than be big into deep marginalia that I know little about. It is about depth and not breadth…to me, anyway. ~~

  2. [John, I post more during the semester because I’m a naughty, naughty boy who prefers blogging to work. During the vacations I’m boating, watching cricket etc. and so blog less.]I’m interested in your belief that the common understanding is the best one. Take that theory and apply it to your own field of expertise. Is the “common understanding” of biblical authorship, the Egyptian pyramids, or whatever else the correct one? Posted by Ronan

  3. The Atonement is inherently irrational. There is no need to create a theological foundation for it (and it is possibly backward to do so). Ha! Says you, John.You present such a neatly wrapped doctrinal package in this post that I don’t have the heart to ask you to unwrap it so see what is inside… Posted by Geoff J

  4. John C., this is an excellent and very thoughtful post. I heartily agree with your doctrinal exposition. But I also agree with Ronan…your doctrine, as outlined here, has the benifit of not being terribly detailed or explicit. I could interpret it to support all the variations in belief discussed in the ‘nacle.And thank you for not thinking I’m appostate :) Posted by J. Stapley

  5. SRA, I agree (obviously). I am just scared that I am getting complacent in my doctrinal understanding. I don’t think that God is pleased if we say that we have sufficient understanding of anything, much less Him. So, I’m actually doing this.Ronan, I think this gets to the heart of the question. I am reluctant to limit “understanding” to a specially trained elite. If I believe that the majority of those who read and ponder the Book of Mormon are theologically untrained, which I do, what do I make of that? I don’t believe that my insights into the scriptures are more significant than the 70-year-old life-long farmer that I attend Sunday School with (or, if I do, it certainly isn’t because I am training to get a degree). If we all really do have equal access to divinity, then there is no reason to dismiss the common understanding. We do not all have equal access to Hebrew, Egyptian, or ancient history; so the common understanding is farther from the source.Geoff, ask! I wouldn’t have put it up if I didn’t want that to happen. In part, I am not sure what is in there either and I would like to find out, but, being too close to the material, I can’t really. I make the irrational comments for two reasons. I don’t believe that the Gospel is based on formally rational ideas. There is precious little that is testable in an empirical sense. It simply isn’t meant to be. Therefore, providing a theological undergirding may ultimately detract from the living, pulsing irrational heart of the gospel. The second reason, already articulated, is that you’re just plain wrong.J, I put this up because I knew it was vague. That’s why I love Davis’s quote so much. My understanding of doctrine is like a rough stone rolling… Posted by John C.

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