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Saturday, May 14, 2005

Mormon Christology Q2: Salvation

More questions for my Mormon friends (apologies if I am less than coherant today). Here's what I'd like to know. How do you view salvation? How is someone saved? What are they saved from? What does Christ actually have to do in this process? Why did he have to die? And why did he have to rise from the dead?

You don't need to answer each and every item individually, but hopefully you see what I'm getting at. Mormons use very similar language to Evangelicals here - Robinson talks about being saved 'by faith' through 'Christ's merit' and 'his substitutionary atonement' (HWTD, 154). But it's seems to me that we might actually mean different things by this. But I'd like to hear how you view it. How does this salvation thing work? How do God's justice and mercy fit together?

In an attempt to make it easier to respond, I'll point out several of our distinctives (meaning those of my particular camp - I'm not claiming to represent all of Christendom here). I am not challenging you to prove me wrong here - I'm really just interested in figuring out where we are similar and where we are different.
  1. We believe that Adam played a representative role - by his one sin, all men become sinners, simply by virtue of being his descendants, his heirs (Rom 5:12-14).

  2. So because we are sinners, all men inevitably sin - in other words, we have to be in a right relationship with God before we can actually obey and please him, for whatever is not of faith is sin (Rom 14:23, Heb 11:6).

  3. So because of our sin (both Adam's and of our own own) we deserve to die - after all, there is no forgiveness of sin w/out the shedding of blood (Heb 10:22), and in our sin we are already dead to God (Eph 2:1). We are incapable of turning to God on our own (Rom 5:12, John 6:44). We're in deep do-do.

  4. Fortunately, Christ also played a representative role - by his perfect obedience he fulfills our obligation, by his death he accepts our punishment, and so he does everything Adam failed to do, resulting in life (Rom 5:18).

  5. Now because Christ is also a representative, everything he achieves is available to us - we are united w/ Christ through faith alone, and in this believing we receive his righteousness and he takes all our sinfulness - so God is both just (punishing sins) and justifier (making us righteous) (Rom 3:23-26)

  6. This faith we have is not our doing, its a gift of God (Eph 2:8-9); it is a faith that is sufficient not by its strength our quality (how faithful it is), but rather by it's object: Christ (who strengthens our faith, even helps our unbelief - Mk 9:24)

  7. So Christ did not just come to make salvation available - he actually saves sinners (Lk 19:10), not a single one is lost because Christ himself is guarding us (John 17:12), and there is nothing which can separate us from teh love of Christ (Rom 8:38-39)

  8. So we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone - but it's a faith that will never be alone, it always produces fruit - when faith is truly in Christ, we are inevitably transformed by Christ.
That's kind of long, but its also fairly specific (and it falls squarely in a Reformed / Lutheran / Calvinistic understanding of Scripture).

Maybe one of the most important questions is, what does this salvation actually look like? Does it just sort of wipe the slate clean, and then is it up to us to "stay on God's good side"? Or does this salvation actually bring with the obedience it demands? Do the benefits start now, or are they merely future?

There, that ought to give us plenty to chew on for a while... :-)

(And thank you again for your willingness to respond to this stuff - I really do appreciate it. You don't know how nice it is to talk to 'real live people' who are honest about what they think).


At 10:51 AM, May 14, 2005, Blogger Christian said...

Just one clarification here. I want to thank SilusGROK for helping me think through the feelings evoked by my using the terms 'Christian' vs. 'Mormon'. This was primarily shorthand for me, but at the same time he indicated most Mormons would lump themselves into that group. Which I disagree with, but I do understand how that would make you feel. And that's not what I want to focus on anyway. SO, I've decided instead to use the term 'Evangelical' for "my camp" (which is what Blomberg does too, now that I think about it), and he felt that was much better. I hope you will agree.

All that to say, if I missed a reference to 'Christian' somewhere, please just chalk it up to my error and mentally substitute in 'Evangelical' instead. Hope that helps...

At 4:29 AM, May 16, 2005, Blogger Mike Wilson said...


To give a referance point I consider myself devout, practicing Mormon.

I have a good friend who is Reformed Presbyterian with whom I had interesting discussions along this vein. I think that we believe a lot of the same things.

1. Yes: However, we become sinners by entering into this fallen existance brought about by Adam and by making the decisions we all make.

2. Yes

3. Yes. Specifically, if we all got what we deserved we would all be consigned to hell. That is what we "earn" here on earth.

4. Yes; However, I am unclear what you mean by "all that Adam failed to do."

5. Yes!!!

6. This may be where disagreement comes in (at least for me). Free will is so central to the LDS theology. Faith is something we chose to pursue and God grants, not out of our faithfulness (which we really don't have), but out of His love and our chosing to want Him. Free will is essential to much of many other branches of Christian thought (see C.S. Lewis as one example). I was unable to discuss free will much with my friend.

True that its strength is in its object: Christ.

7. "that not a single one is lost" seems somewhat contradictory to the Calvinistic idea of being chosen for salvation. What of those who aren't chosen? Are they lost? I am confused here.

8. Yes!!! Very important. I do think that culturally in Mormonism this point is missed often, but the doctrine is that salvation is by grace. Our works do not save us. And faith without works is dead faith as you point out. Good works always follow true faith.

My Reformed friend discussed the following point (which I think has a lot of merit and gives Mormons a lot to think about): That adherance to works, laws, etc. do not grant salvation (that comes only through Christ), but they do provide for greater blessings in heaven. Is that a common belief among Reformists?

At 10:43 AM, May 16, 2005, Anonymous Kurt said...

How do you view salvation?

When the LDS speak of "salvation" they are talking about glorification or exaltation. When Evangelicals talk about "salvation" they are talking about justification.

How is someone saved?

Justification is by grace alone, Sanctification is by the Holy Spirit and by good works, and if we endure to the end, then we are glorified/exalted. LDS people will only speak of being "saved" as ending up glorified/exalted, and not in terms of justification.

What are they saved from?

Both physical death and sin, or death and hell. These are the two things that separate us from God.

What does Christ actually have to do in this process?

Jesus enabled a universal resurrection for all of the family of Adam and forgiveness of sins for those who accept him as their Savior. Jesus is the mediator of the Atonement. Without his sacrifice all men would be damned, none could return into God's presence.

Why did he have to die?

It was necessary to bring about the resurrection, which resurrection brings fallen humans back into the presence of God the Father. When in the present of God the Father we are judged, and if Jesus accepts us as His, then we are redeemed by Him, and we are then glorified/exalted.

And why did he have to rise from the dead?

The Fall caused men to be separated from God, the resurrection undoes that. Resurrected humans enjoy that same condition Adam was in when in the Garden of Eden, he was in God's presence.

How does this salvation thing work?

Jesus is the mediator, if we accept Him and we do what he taught (i.e., be his disciples by keeping his commandments) then He will accept us at the bar of Judgement and we will be Justified in front of the Father.

How do God's justice and mercy fit together?

If we do not accept Christ's sacrifice, then we receive the full measure of Justice. If we accept Christ and he accepts us, then he has paid the price of Justice for us and we receive a full measure of Mercy.

1. Yes.

2. Yes.

3. Yes, with caveat. LDS will say we inherited our mortal and fallen condition from Adam, but not the measure of Justice from his sin. In other words, I will not personally be punished for Adam's sin, but I have inherited the result of it.

4. Yes.

5. Yes, but this is speaking very specifically of the doctrine of Justification, and only of Justification, cf. Romans 3:24, D&C 20:30. Jesus' Grace does not exempt us from the responsability to keep His teachings and go through the Sanctification process with the assistance of the Holy Spirit.

6. Yes. It is unearned. There is no quid pro quo for Grace.

7. Not sure what your point is here. It is plain there are plenty who will reject Christ and whom Christ will reject, cf. John 7:23.

8. We are Justified through Grace alone. But, Justification is only one part of the whole of "Salvation".

The Bible uses the term "saved" or "salvation" five different ways. The semantical differences in the use of these terms is the real point of disagreement between LDS and Evangelicals. Please see this article for a plain discussion.

At 1:18 PM, May 16, 2005, Anonymous J. Stapley said...

Kurt said "3. Yes, with caveat. LDS will say we inherited our mortal and fallen condition from Adam, but not the measure of Justice from his sin. In other words, I will not personally be punished for Adam's sin, but I have inherited the result of it."

I'm an active Mormon. While Kurt illustrates a tenant of our Faith, the reality is that without Christ, our "inherited" condition would result in our eternal separation from God. So, while we are not culpable for Adam's transgression, we are culpable for all our sins. Both seperate us from God. Only the former is repealed for all Men regarldless of faith.

At 6:37 PM, May 16, 2005, Blogger Clark Goble said...

1. I'd say that (1) is true, although exactly what that means is a little more up in the air do to the whole debate about evolution and pre-Adamites. i.e. there is more range for belief here than what one might expect from many mainstream LDS statements on the topic. I'd say Adam in some way makes it possible for us all to be mortal. That's a little broader way of putting it.

2. I think one might quibble with "inevitable." But in general we'd agree, so long as our free will to not sin isn't impugned.

3. We reject original sin. One also ought distinguish between spiritual death and physical death. The way you put the question makes me think you're conflating them.

4. I'm not quite sure I agree that Christ fulfilling the law somehow automatically fulfills our obligation. We think there was more to the atonement than just obedience. Exactly what Christ had to do for the atonement and how it works is up in the air. But certainly his death was a significant part of it.

5. Once again I don't think we'd agree that Christ as a respresentation does anything for us. Rather Christ has the power to overcome what we can't.

6. I'm not sure I'd agree with your notion of faith. Lots of issues there.

7. I'd largely agree, although I think Christ makes it possible for people to judged according to their works if they don't accept God.

8. Once again it depends upon what one means by faith and grace. It's here that Evangelicals and Mormons tend to talk past one an other. Mormons are definitely closer to the Catholic view here.

At 2:18 AM, May 17, 2005, Blogger Christian said...

I just wanted to say that I found the following email one of the more thoughtful (and helpful) responses I've received. No time for comment, (test looming), but I did want to pass this along...
Hi Christian,

I meant to respond to your previous email, but I haven't had a chance yet. I may still return to it, but I wanted to make sure I didn't let this one get away. Like you, I am hesitant to speak for all of my "camp," but I think I could be relatively representative.

"How is someone saved?" There are at least a couple of different ways this question could be interpreted. You could be asking something like: "What are the mechanics of salvation? How can the sacrifice of Christ save a person from the effects of sin?" I think most Mormons would respond, as I certainly would: "I don't know." Current Mormon Apostle Boyd K. Packer said "How the Atonement was wrought, we do not know." Mormons generally view this as one of the great mysteries, as some sort of deep magic from before the dawn of time.

I assume, however, that your question is more along the lines of: "What has to happen in order for an individual to be saved?" The Mormon answer, I think, is that the person must be fundamentally changed through Christ. How is this accomplished? The person must voluntarily turn over his life to be remade; he must be born again. By putting his trust in Christ, he undergoes a change of heart and is no longer the same person.

Translate this into reality: Mr. Jones is a businessman who travels frequently. He is completely self-centered, treating flight attendants, hotel clerks, and taxi drivers as if they existed for his benefit, and venting his rage on them if something goes awry. He is also avaricious, willing to sacrifice his integrity in order to climb the ladder of success. He'll bend the truth to win new clients, knowing that his commission will already be secured when the client's expectations remain unmet. He also has a weakness for the adult movies available in his hotel rooms, knowing that his wife would be devastated if she knew.

Then Mr. Jones finds Christ, and chooses to place his trust in Christ's power. He becomes a new man: he recognizes the people he encounters in his travels as brothers and sisters, and begins to treat them accordingly. He tells his clients the truth, even when he knows that the truth will result in a lost sale. And he avoids the temptation of pornography by setting a schedule to call his wife each evening for a full discussion of each other's day. Mr. Jones also starts to tell others in his life about his experience, witnessing to them about the power of Christ.

So far, so good. I have seen this general pattern in numerous individuals who have come to Christ in a Mormon setting, and I'm confident you've seen it as well in an Evangelical setting. It is the most gratifying thing in the world. The difficult question arises, though, when Mr. Jones slips back into his old ways after a month, a year, or a decade of Christian devotion. His numbers are slipping at work, and he comes under great pressure to improve his performance. He knows that he has to land a big client to keep his job, and he bends the truth about the product specifications. Not only does he land the client, he gets a promotion to oversee several salesmen in his region. Now he gets the credit and blame, not only for his own work, but for that of the others beneath him, and he begins again to treat them as pawns, manipulating them to his own ends, and berating them mercilessly when they fail to meet his high quotas. The stress also drives him back to his erotic fantasies, and he soon routinely indulges in whatever smut is available in his hotel. He stops worshipping with the church he had joined, citing his increased workload, but actually because he feels more and more out of place. If he's asked by a stranger about his religion, he changes the subject, claims to have none, or occasionally admits to being a "lapsed Christian." He doubts in the reality of God, Christ, and an afterlife, and is embarrassed if somebody brings up his previous zeal.

Is Mr. Jones saved? Was he ever saved? What happened? Clearly, at the beginning of the story, Mr. Jones was a sinner. Mormons and Evangelicals will always agree that everyone is a sinner, and this case is no exception. There are a few possibilities: 1) Jones never REALLY turned his life over to Christ to begin with. If he had, Christ would have made him a new creature, and he wouldn't have fallen back into his old ways. He was, and remains, unsaved. 2) Jones's initial act of confession of faith in Christ was sufficient for his salvation. Once saved, always saved. Nothing he can do can cause him to fall from grace. 3) Jones had accepted Christ and was saved from sin. Unfortunately, he turned away from the free gift he had been given, and consequently he reverted to an unsaved condition. 4) Jones (and anybody else) cannot truly be saved until completing a lifetime of obedience to God. Jones was on the path toward being saved, but he couldn't cut it.

Much of Mormon writing on salvation is an attempt to distance our position from (2) above. That is, we reject the notion that a lip confession of faith in Christ without anything further does not effect salvation. I think that (2) is probably an inaccurate statement of the Evangelical position, but Mormons tend to use it as a straw man to distinguish us. I think that Evangelicals use (4) as a straw man for the Mormon position. Mormons emphatically do not believe that good works are sufficient for salvation, or that there is some salvific effect in such works. However, I do think we diverge from Evangelicals in the following way.

Luther wrote something along the lines of: "Good works do not create a good man. Rather, a good man brings forth good works." In other words, the works are solely the fruit of the change Christ makes in the man. Mormons certainly agree that being born again causes a man to bring forth good works. But I think we also find that doing the works can create a change. Often we cite John 7:17 for this proposition: "If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself." In other words, faith leads to obedience, and obedience strengthens faith, which leads to greater obedience, etc. A recurring motiv in Mormon writing is that of acting on insufficient belief, and having the belief augmented to support the act. For instance, if I'm trying to bring an unbeliever to Christ, and he's hung up on the idea of praying (to a being he's not even sure exists), the key is to convince him to "take a step into the dark," to act beyond the boundaries of his belief, and if he does so, his belief can be extended to encompass what he has done. This comes up frequently in Mormon discussion of the law of tithing. A person who is fully committed to Christ will likely be willing give ten percent of his income to support God's work. But if my faith doesn't reach that far, there are two different strategies. One is for me to try to increase my faith through prayer, study and reliance on Christ. Another is for me to simply tithe, even though I don't think it's wise, even though I am not convinced God expects it, even though in my heart of hearts I'd rather not. You can call this willpower, exertion, good works, whatever you like. But a combination of the two is the solution that is likely to be successful.

I'm intrigued by some of your language in your "where we stand" series. You state: "Christ's death on the cross is the means by which we are saved; we access that salvation by repenting of our sin and putting our faith in Christ." What is involved in repenting of our sins? Any exertion, effort, willpower on our part? Do we have to stop sinning? Reduce our sinning?

You also say: "In other words, our hearts are sanctified (changed, perfected) only as we repeatedly embrace the gospel in faith." This falls in line with what I see as the cyclical idea of sanctification I talk about above (Faith begets works, which strengthen faith, which begets more works, etc.)

Clearly, we're all Mr. Jones to some extent. Even when we think we've accepted Christ into our hearts, we continue to sin. Robinson and Blomberg bat this around a bit. Robinson says we have to try our best, Blomberg says we inevitably fail to do so, Robinson says we have to try our best to try our best ... You say, "We clean ourselves up, then, not be trying harder or by doing good works, but by believing God's promises more and more." I'd be more inclined to say that we clean ourselves up both by trying harder and believing God's promises more and more.

It's 2 a.m. I don't if any of this helps. A great resource is the following site, and the links from it:



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