Faith-Promoting Rumor

Dedicated to oddments and marginalia in Mormondom and, failing that, deep doctrinal discussion

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Grace/Salvation/Atonement as a process or as an event

Elsewhere, Clark Goble has publically agreed with Dr. Millet's assessment of salvation as a process. In a slightly different context, Mssrs Goble, Greenwood, and Johnston have all admitted that, while they think it is possible for people to hold the idea that humans are "instantly transformed" at judgment, they are uncertain as to why anyone would (see here and following comments). I am one of those who do believe in "instant transformation", but I object to that characterization and actually believe that the distinction between process and event is actually not all that helpful. These notions are tied together; please allow me to explain.

I tend to view salvation/justification/sanctification as a process consisting of a series of saving events, each of which should be termed as a gift or a grace. I, therefore, dislike Dr. Millet's distinction because it seems to separate out two ideas that I find are intertwined. We are "instantly transformed" in a thousand, thousand small ways as part of the life-long process of repentance. All good things (including faith, grace, love, hope, patience, intelligence, light, and so forth) are gifts from God and, as such, are not earned. There is no way for us to earn them. They are given in God's own time and in His own wisdom. Even if we make the central covenants of the gospel, there is no gaurantee of the instant receipt of those gifts, just the promise that, as we abide in the covenant, we will receive...eventually.

Now some may argue that abiding in the covenant constitutes "work." I disagree, because those qualities that we use to abide in the covenant are themselves inherently gifts from God. It is a bit recursive, admittedly, but the idea that we can do anything of ourselves is, I believe, contrary to one of the central messages of the gospel: our need for complete submission to the will of God.

In fact, this is the central trial that Christ faced on earth. There is real pain, suffering, and work behind his concession in Gethsemene that God's will be done. My argument is that, fundamentally, this is what God is asking each of us to do. None of us will be as good at it as Christ, which is why the atonement is in place, but if we do what we are able (which, by the way, ain't much), then God considers us in fulfillment of this covenant in the same way His Son was (which is why we can be joint-heirs).

So, ultimately, all God asks of us is to submit to his will. He makes up for our lacks by a process of instantaneous transformations that slowly make us better. However, with that as an understanding of the atonement, I find no reason to object to the idea that transformations can be more overarching at the time of the judgement. I do believe that God can and will make us Celestial (so long as that is what we want), by means of instantaneous transformation (if that is what it takes).