Welcome to the oft delayed seventh chapter of the increasingly not weekly reading club for Adam Miller’s Future Mormon. For general links related to the book along with links for all the chapter discussions please go to our overview page. Please don’t hesitate to give your thoughts on the chapter. We’re hoping for a good thoroughgoing critical engagement with the text. Such criticisms aren’t treating the text as bad or flawed so much as trying to engage with the ideas Adam brings up. Hopefully people will push back on such criticism if they disagree or even just see flaws in the logic. That’s when we tend to all learn the most.
Grace isn’t just a name for how God saves us. It’s a name for God’s global modus operandi, and this M.O. is manifest originally and fundamentally in God’s work of creation.
This chapter is primarily engaging with Elder Uchtdorf’s talk “The Gift of Grace.” Many of the themes are familiar both from prior chapters as well as Adam’s other writings. The emphasis is that grace shouldn’t be seen as a backup plan for our works. “Works only become righteous when they are the product of God’s grace” and “motivated by the pure love of Christ.” Grace can’t be a response to our actions as that’d make grace secondary rather than primary.
Adam coins the phrase “the special theory of grace” which understands grace only in terms of redemption and thus as a reaction. The more general conception of grace must be seen not as a response for redemption of the world but as his creation of the world. To Adam this means “a ‘general theory’ of grace would account for grace as a fundamental and constitutive feature of reality itself” and “as an essential and ongoing feature of everything real.”
Sin is to resist the grace God is giving. The problem with people’s perception of grace is that they are asking how to get what they want. Instead we should accept what God is giving and making us. He then gives an example of someone feeling empty, struggling in prayer and then receiving the answer “just be yourself.”
This was one of my favorite chapters. It gets at what is so right about what Adam says. However it also gets at what I have trouble with in Adam’s thought. Grace as a gift has to be more than redemption. To limit grace just to the atonement is to miss the plan of salvation. Further, it is to miss the creation that happened prior to the council in heaven where the plan of salvation was offered. All that God does for us is that gift. Just as we, as parents, want to give our kids as much as we can to help the be the best they can be, so too do our heavenly parents. Adam’s completely right to broaden the conception of grace beyond redemption and sanctification where so many people limit it.
However it’s also right here that one can over broaden it. There’s a danger that if grace is all creation that the bad parts of creation are caught up in it. This raises the traditional problem of evil in a system where everything comes from a single source of God. The problem is that within Mormonism, God isn’t the source of being. The problem with traditional Christianity, particularly after Augustine, was trying to equate the God of the Bible with the God of the platonists. However for most Mormons God is a being like us who has before gone what we have gone through. It’s hard to see how grace could be all things and all creation if God is himself embedded in creation.
More pressing though is how to deal with evil. Adam pushes a view that verges upon a kind of quietism that accepts what is given without seeking to change it. To be clear, Adam is very emphatic that he does not embrace quietism. I’m definitely not accusing him of becoming a quietist. However if we elevate and privilege accepting ourselves as we are, it’s hard to understand the drive to change. It seems like one intrinsically privileges a stance where change happens and we accept what we are. It’s hard to conceive of a cry of “lengthen your stride” in such a scheme.
I suspect what Adam wants is to accept the good us and reject the bad us. But what is the good us? What is the good? The danger in seeing grace as all creation is in seeing all creation as good. But it clearly isn’t. If we start appreciating the holocaust, for instance, then something is wrong. Not all creation is good. Some creation must be resisted. Further, some of creation seems to be our creation and not God’s creation except to the degree God gave us the pieces and the freedom to construct them how we would.
It’s that aspect of creation (both as verb and as noun) that I think Adam’s grace doesn’t deal well with, even if over all I am very sympathetic to the stance he takes.
- Platonism is the obvious example of this. Their solution, especially by the time of neoplatonism with Plotinus and others was the idea that evil was privation. Adam hints at that in this chapter as too does D&C 93:23-26. To reject the outflowing of the One in platonism creates emptiness which is evil. It’s the absence of the good as this outflowing creative power.
- I should note that not all Mormon thinkers agree with the traditional. Blake Ostler rejects the endless regress of gods that most people read into the King Follet Discourse and Sermon in the Grove and that Brigham Young taught in Utah. I’m here more speaking of common Mormon belief. There have also been attempts to reconcile the view from late Nauvoo with a somewhat platonic sense of God and grace. Arguably Orson Pratt’s view of a divine aether as the attributes of godliness is one such attempt.