LDS Zeal for Law

While some of my fellow bloggers here at FPR conclude their probably ecstatic SBL experience, I thought I’d make a post about a topic that I’ve been musing on for the past while. A realization that I’ve had recently is connected to just how legalistic we are with respect to the attaining of salvation, even exaltation. Just a quick perusal of our modernly revealed scriptures reinforced this idea to me: the LDS salvific model (as fluid a concept as that is) has a very strong legalistic flavor to it.

Most of you probably are already tuned into the idea I’m trying to describe. In a nutshell, the attainment of salvation (and exaltation) is often described or explained in the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants in legalistic terms, in terms of the fulfilling of a law set forth by God. Continue reading “LDS Zeal for Law”

Julian of Norwich and the Atonement

I don’t know if you have ever heard of Julian of Norwich. She’s a 14thcentury mystic, an anchoress, really, in Norwich, England. When she was thirty years old, she became so ill that her local priest came to administer the Last Rites. As she fixed her eyes on the crucifix, she experienced a series of sixteen visions (shewings), beginning with a vision of the blood running down Christ’s face as the crown of thorns was pressed home. She produced one version, called the Short Text, quite soon after her visions. Fifteen, or maybe twenty years later, she produced the Long Text, after she’d had time to think on what she’d seen and after she’d had one more visionary experience.

Her ideas about sin are, how shall we say it, unconventional, and especially so in comparison to Medieval Christianity. Where the church taught that Man was naughty and God was angry, Julian said that God was not and never had been angry and that sin was not “a deed,” that is, something that humans do, but that it was basically Man’s unawareness of God’s love and nearness. In a [hazel] nutshell, God didn’t blame Man. She knew she wasn’t in line with the church (ah yes, the Inquisition) and so she wrote in Chapter 50:

For I knew by the common teaching of Holy Church and by mine own feeling, that the blame of our sin continually hangeth upon us, from the first man unto the time that we come up unto heaven: then was this my marvel that I saw our Lord God shewing to us no more blame than if we were as clean and as holy as Angels be in heaven. And between these two contraries my reason was greatly travailed through my blindness, and could have no rest for dread that His blessed presence should pass from my sight and I be left in unknowing [of] how He beholdeth us in our sin. For either [it] behoved me to see in God that sin was all done away, or else me behoved to see in God how He seeth it, whereby I might truly know how it belongeth to me to see sin, and the manner of our blame…I cried inwardly, with all my might seeking unto God for help, saying thus: Ah! Lord Jesus, King of bliss, how shall I be eased? Who shall teach me and tell me that [thing] me needeth to know, if I may not at this time see it in Thee?

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Spontaneous Sacrament Meeting Talk

Last Sunday, before Sacrament meeting, one of the counselors approached me and my wife with a slip of paper. “We don’t think our speakers are going to show up today, and this is our backup procedure.” The paper read, “please take a few minutes to discuss a favorite scripture or two that has strengthened your faith in Christ, brought you comfort, or deepened your understanding of the Gospel.”

As it turned out, the speakers did not show up and the first three people given these slips of paper took a combined total of 15 minutes. Add the rest hymn, and I had 30 minutes of sacrament meeting, a pulpit, and any topic I wanted. 🙂

Here’s what I ended up delivering, about 15-20 minutes worth.
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The Joy of Suffering

The Gospel is a strange thing sometimes. Often, it challenges our most fundamental conceptions of truth. It forces us to question our basic assumptions about humanity. This is no more clear instance than in the value and valorization of suffering in the scriptures. For example, the Lukan Beatitutes offer a vision of salvation for those who suffer the most in this world. This overall theme is difficult to miss in Jesus’s ministry. The model of discipleship is suffering. Jesus’s instructions to departing missionaries are to take minimal provisions. The culmination of this is in Jesus’s command “If any will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me” (Luke 9:23 and par). The suffering of the cross is not imposed by an outside power, but commanded by Jesus himself. Similarly, 1 Peter 2:21-25, 2 Cor 10-12, the list goes on and on.
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He is Risen?

Many LDS scholars are more or less willing to give up on historical accuracy of the accounts of Jesus’s life, and even some of the historical details of the Passion Narrative. However, I haven’t met any that are willing to compromise the necessity of the resurrection. Indeed, some even argue that this is the ONLY thing which needs to have occurred in order for the gospel to be “true.” Presumably, the reason is because the atonement and miracle of Jesus’s resurrection are the foundation of our faith in him as the Son of God and as a demonstration of the efficacy of the gospel to effectuate eternal life. The essential truthfulness of the gospel is a great weight to hang on the shoulders of the resurrection.

Without denying the resurrection, I want to ask two questions. First, is the resurrection a sufficient cause for belief in the truthfulness of the gospel? Is this the only historical reality that needs to have occurred? Are all other truth claims contingent? Second, is the resurrection a necessary aspect of the gospel? This question is perhaps more controversial, but I think that it bears some consideration. Why is the resurrection necessary? Can the gospel still be true without it? Why or why not?

I think that the answer to both questions suggests something about what we take to be fundamental about religion. Is religion a morality system? A set of rituals? A community with shared culture and values? If it is any of these, then the resurrection does not need to be a historical reality in order for religion to have its efficacy. I think that most people would argue that religion (Mormon religion, at least) is a system of salvation, which is why the resurrection is necessary. But what is a system of salvation apart from morality, rituals, and community? Is the resurrection the true fundamental aspect of the gospel without which it all falls apart, or can there be a fully “secularized” understanding of the resurrection, as many have taken to be the case with the other miracles?

Sacrament Meeting Talk- Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus

I’ve been assigned to speak to my relatively new ward on Easter Sunday about the crucifixion and resurrection. The Bishop thoughtfully assigned me about two months ahead of time, with the side comment “I hear you’re quite the scriptorian.” I’m not sure what he’s expecting, but more importantly, what do I deliver? Clearly, something having to do with atonement, crucifixion and resurrection, but that’s no small topic. I’ve had about 15 different ideas, and I’ve just been jotting down thoughts, notes, passages, and themes. My goal is to edify, inspire, and educate.

Posters around the ‘nacle have been known to voice criticisms of SM talks in general and “inappropriate” Easter talks in particular. Here’s your opportunity, then, to tell me what to do BEFORE instead of criticizing after. All suggestions appreciated.

The Adversary, Reciprocity, and the Atonement: Part 2A, The Role of Agency

First, I must apologize for the long delay between the first and second installments of this series. I got busy and lazy simultaneously (a rather easy thing to accomplish, really) and I was stalling for time as my thoughts coalesced. Here’s hoping what we got was distilled rather than excreted.

In the first installment, we surveyed the information that we have regarding the nature of Satan’s plan. There are two points on which all theories regarding the plan of the Adversary must agree as they are repeated within the Heavenly Council pericope. Satan wished to moved against agency and that he wanted something that is variously called, power, glory, and honor that our Father in Heaven had and that he did not. The degree to which agency would be destroyed was debated in the ensuing discussion. It was a good discussion and you should check it out. I just want to add that I do think that theories involving the removal of consequences for acts (the removal of punishment or law) are actually attacks on agency itself (as, if we cannot distinguish between two choices, we cannot consciously choose).

So, agency gives us the option of choosing. But who or what do we choose? That’s the question, isn’t it.

Why Free Agency is a crock
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The Adversary, Reciprocity, and the Atonement: Part One, An attempt to recover Satan’s plan

I don’t know about you, but I’ve spent a bit of time lately thinking about one of the big imponderables in Mormon theology: the acts of the Adversary in the Garden. If we believe that the plan was laid out in the grand, heavenly council, then the Adversary had to have known that he was playing into God’s plan. Why would he do this, especially if the motivation that we always ascribe to him is to frustrate God’s plan? Let’s look at what we know.
Continue reading “The Adversary, Reciprocity, and the Atonement: Part One, An attempt to recover Satan’s plan”

The Effects of the Christ-Event: Reconciliation

Early last week a random John made a most interesting post that received no real response. Since I had been going to lead into a little series with precisely the point he made, I have taken the liberty of reproducing arJ’s comment here:

As Kevin Barney pointed out at BCC recently the at-one-ment thing really is the word origin in English. But it isn’t clear to me how this word was selected to represent Christ’s sacrifice. Do any other languages render it similarly?

Also odd is that the word only shows up once in the KJV NT. The OT usage (which is frequent) doesn’t seem to support the at-one-ment idea very well since it is often referring to the animal that was just sacrificed. I am guessing now that being at with an animal was the idea the original authors had in mind. What words at (sic) actually being used in the original languages of the OT and NT?

What arJ is probably getting at is that it is very odd that a word that shows up precisely once in the NT should hold such a prominent place in Christian discourse. Or to phrase it more positively, it appears that the authors of the NT can say quite a bit about Jesus without ever using the word “atonement.”

What’s up with that?

Continue reading “The Effects of the Christ-Event: Reconciliation”