Future Mormon Reading Chapter 1

Water Flows from Bucket to Bucket

This is the inaugural reading club for Adam Miller’s Future Mormon. For general links related to the book along with links to each reading chapter please go to our overview page.  We’ll try roughly each week to deal with a new chapter. The first part will be a brief summary of the arguments and assumptions. The second part will be a critical engagement with an emphasis of bringing out the issues of the chapter. Please don’t take the criticism as my treating the text as bad. It’s much more intended to be productive criticism to try and bring into clarity the issues. Hopefully people will push back on the criticism and also offer different criticisms.

Future Mormon Chapter 1: A General Theory of Grace

Grace is primal and sin is a suppression of what has already been given. We don’t have to work our way into grace; we have to stop working so hard to pretend we aren’t already in it


Adam starts by breaking grace off from being only or even primarily about Christ’s atonement and salvation. He sees atonement as one mode of creation. God’s grace is his willingness to freely give all of creation both to creation and particularly to us. He sees the fundamental problem as our rejecting or suppressing this grace as the giving of creation. Sin is rejecting this already given grace. The fall is the suppression of grace. Because grace is a type of giving this entails change which entails a taking of what was previously given.

The flip side of grace is our nothingness. I think he means something like Buddhist impermanence as nothingness. That is grace entails change and therefore a lack of permanence. But he also means it as a lack of control. I think that is because he sees grace as something already given we either accept or reject but not something we master. This nothingness is itself a gift and thus grace. Our unwillingness to accept our passive place takes grace as a debt rather than a gift. (He appeals to Mosiah 2 for that) Because of the suppression of grace as gift, it’s seen as debt and therefore rejected so as to not fall into debt and lose more control. Most religion is the attempt to put God into our debt and thereby restore our power

The next part is about law which he introduces by first introducing obedience. The goal of law is love but obedience can’t achieve this. (This is argued for via scripture – primarily Matt 22 & Romans) The atonement doesn’t redeem us by complying with the law for us but rather he fulfills the law (which was love) by excepting himself from the law. Christ’s sacrifice isn’t providing a supplementary grace that was lacking but saves us from our suppression of grace by displaying the thing we were trying to suppress. It’s giving again the grace that was already given.

The conclusion is perfection. To live in a fashion that fulfills the law without being subject to the law is simply to receive grace with graciousness. To do this is to love in an undivided fashion.


I confess I really like this chapter because it gets at a tension I always saw in a lot of Adam’s earlier work where the notion of grace in Christ’s atonement and grace as the ongoing process of creation seemed in tension. The chapter really isn’t so much a set of arguments so much as a set of positions. In a way it defines the ideas that will be analyzed over the following chapters. That said though, while I appreciate what Adam wants to do I’m not sure he’s fully able to remove the tensions between grace in general and grace via the atonement. (Hopefully some of you can chime in on this point – although these tensions will come out further as we go through the book)

More or less what Adam does is make love and grace into basic elements of ontology. Now he’s not the first to do this of course. It’s hard to read through especially the early part of this chapter without hearing an echo of the platonists of late antiquity. In particular Adam’s treatment of sin as the rejection of the overflowing of grace is structurally similar to evil as the privation of good. In God proper there is always this overflowing or emanation. Existence for the platonists thus is various types of privation from God as the One. In traditional platonism this is a set of emanations such that all things flow from the One and in a sense are part of it already.

The problem for Augustine was attempting to reconcile the platonic One with God – the unifying of the God of the Hebrews with the God of the philosophers. In making that unification he creates an absolute ontological gap between God and creation which we term creation ex nihilo (creation out of nothing). Now it might appear that Adam doesn’t have that problem since later in the book he emphasizes plurality rather than unity. Yet if grace is akin to the outflowing of the Good in platonism, there are I think more similarities than Adam might be comfortable with.

Now despite the similarities with some aspects of platonism I don’t want to say Adam is quite embracing platonism. Indeed later in the book Adam argues emphatically against platonism. I raise it primarily to point two things out. First this idea of the flowing of grace is a very traditional platonic conception, especially in the more theurgical type of platonism such as with Iamblichus. Second to note that the sense of us as nothing is very much the old platonic idea of the soul as a substance flowing from a divine fountain. In some traditions we are a receptical that receives this light but are nothing but place for it. To become enlightened is to turn back to that source. That turning to the One is often equated with love.

Again I want to be careful that I don’t turn Adam into Plato and then begin discussing Plato’s conception of love (eros, philia, agape). Yet I think by bringing up Plato we can see a problematic element in Adam’s thought that I think even Augustine and others struggled with. What is the relationship between grace and God? Is our love ultimately not of anything but grace? Thus in loving grace we manifest love? But what is God and what is the relationship between God and grace?

This tension isn’t new to Mormonism. Arguably Orson Pratt dealt with it nearly 170 years ago. Pratt came up with a materialist conception of God closely related to certain structures of platonism. The problem became that to explain the nature of God he postulated an interpenetrating fluid. This fluid gave God his power and his attributes. It was Spirit or a kind pure creative power. It fulfilled a place akin to the Nous, Intelligence or universal mind within many forms of platonism. While Adam doesn’t have a substance based ontology, grace has a pretty similar place for him that Spirit did for Pratt. The criticism many (especially Brigham Young) made of Pratt was that Pratt had transformed the love and worship of God for a worshipping of the divine attributes. The danger for Adam is that he transforms the love of God into grace that is independent of God and prior to God ontologically. Grace as love of grace, reception of grace, and grace as creative change, replaces God in the divine hierarchy. Grace becomes the God behind God.

Now let me say up front that this claim is clearly hyperbolic. I don’t think Adam really thinks that. Indeed we’ll see in Chapter 9 how he argues against platonism. I make the claims in this exaggerated way with platonism lurking in the background precisely to highlight this tension. To use Adam’s rhetoric of grace, it is an element of his thought that I think is often surpressed and thereby hiding in the margins. There are of course solutions to this problem. Indeed much of the theology of the trinity in terms of the relationship between the ousia and the hypostasis ends up being this very question.  The pagan platonists had their own solutions. What I want to bring out is the question so in the chapters that come we can see it lurking in the background (or foreground).

32 comments for “Future Mormon Reading Chapter 1

  1. Not having read the book, I hope I’m don’t misspeak too much, but….

    Its not clear to me how this model of grace is supposed to benefit us in any way. It seems like its making up all sorts of metaphysical states (nothingness) from which to save us.

    I guess I just don’t see how the metaphysical rubber hits the everyday road of concrete practice.

  2. Well I’d read the book Jeff. It’s hard to say much from the first chapter since it’s really just presenting Adam’s basic position.

    I think it does have a lot of implications. One is that it forms a common ground between many aspects of Mormonism and Buddhism. That in turn I think has implications for how one looks at the earth and so forth. It might also have implications for what it means to live in the spirit. (Say in light of John 3:8) I suspect as those elements come up in the reading we’ll engage them more. Often when we see these parallels it enables a framework to examine tensions or unanalyzed aspects of our own tradition. Further as we critique those other traditions it can highlight differences. So I think it has a very productive philosophical function in that regard alone.

    I think these moves to fundamental ontology, whether Buddhist, Platonic, or Stoic, all have implications with how we relate to the world. Now Adam pulls away from what he sees as the undue focus on unity in many of these movements – especially the western mystic tradition. He embraces a kind of pluralism that has more in common with existentialism in many ways I think – although parts of that is also in common with Buddhism.

    Ultimately though I think your question is the one Brigham Young made to Orson Pratt. Why worry about these fundamental issues? Stick with more pragmatic concerns of how God practically interacts with us. While I’m very sympathetic to that critique – a kind of anti-metaphysical practical stance one might find in Rorty – I also think that the question of being is always at play. That is, I’d follow Peirce and say that when you attempt to avoid metaphysics it is still functioning in your reasoning just in a hidden uncontrolled fashion. So at minimum we should ask the questions to see what our hidden assumptions actually are (we may not know) and so we can pay attention to how they affect our conclusions.

    As for how Adam’s conception of grace acts practically, a rather strange place to look for that is actually in Orson Scott Card’s early writings. The same idea that Adam makes use of plays a huge role in Scott’s early novels – especially the first three volumes of the Alvin Maker series. There creation is the fundamental process behind Alvin Maker’s power and the devil-character is about unmaking or blocking this creative drive. Effectively it is grace as creation. Again I don’t want to get ahead too much since many of Adam’s chapters get at the practical issues even if only indirectly. But I think Card’s early works really are a great way to see Adam’s view in play in a practical fashion.

    That said, I think there is a basic practical question for Adam. If everything is grace, what on earth does it mean to accept or reject grace? There’s a danger of a certain quietism such as one finds in certain mystic traditions in both the east and the west. Adam’s way out is to tie love to this. That is accepting grace is to act in love.

  3. My experience with Adam’s writing and in particular with this first chapter are quite different from Jeff’s. There are three related points that I get from Adam’s writing that I think have direct rubber to road implications:

    1. Creation is grace – traditionally I have seen creation as something that is fallen and needs to be “fixed” through atonement. But here Adam challenges that view and suggests that creation is happening now and is a form of grace. Here my role is not so much to repair creation as it emerges but rather to be redeemed by it, to trust it. For example, under the traditional view of creation my clamoring family at FHE is something that is fallen, broken and needs my repair in order to get one that looks like the church videos (and with the enabling power of the atonement I can get this under control). However under Adam’s view my rambucious children are a grace in the form of creation that is divinely imposing itself on me. “Yonder is matter unorganized”. By viewing this creation as a grace I am able to work within it, even be shaped it and thereby be saved. It is not just my fixing this creation and having greater power to control it that is saving, but rather my surrendering to it, believing that although the creation is undexpected it is divine that is saving.
    2. Another way to look at this shift is based on what Adam argues in “Letters”. Here he speaks a little of the young mormon path of merit badges, college, mission, marraige and it is our job to get our lives to measure up to the prescribed map. He goes on to argue that maps don’t do the work of real roads. Previously I thought my job was to minimize the gap between the well intentioned map and my own life. Now I realize that the rugged trail at my feet can be as redeeming as whether or not my life looks anything like the map. To see creation that may not fit the institutionalized expectation as grace is quite useful. It shifts my mind to seeing how God could be working in the detour rather than seeing myself a God and fixing it.
    3. Finally, in a related view this general theory of grace can have implications for how we seek to understand our lives. Humans are meaning making machines. When we seek to interpret our lives we often have a theory or plotline that we think it will follow. Under the previous view we engage with the divine generally when our lives have good endings. It is our job to make sure that whatever the messiness of our lives it is divinely guided as long as there is some underlying form of redemption all will be well. Thus grace only comes in atonement. But under Adam’s view we fundamentally surrender our own stories. We believe that our lives might be bigger, broader or different from our own understandings of them. Here again God’s grace is working in and through areas that we cannot anticipate, control or comprehend. It sounds trite, but to believe that our lives are more than our understandings of them can be bracing. What does that mean in daily practice? That the unpleasent parts of my life are not things I need God’s power to fix. Rather they are the grace of God working to redeem me.

  4. I think there’s a sense that if we take creation as a first grace, then it follows naturally that we will consider our relation to others in a more grace-filled way also (that is, we’ll be less inclined to see their weaknesses, or parts of them that “grate” against us, as problems).

    Re God, I think the idea is that (1) we think of God as our creator, and (2) b/c God is like us, we are more inclined to narrow the gap between the way we see our grace-filled relationship to Creation and to God and to others–all of these relationships become opportunities to interact with what is around us in a loving and clear-eyed way, and in a way that sufficiently “ordinary” to become common and prevalent, rather than something that is exceptional and rare.

  5. Clark,

    The concept of a transactional relationship with God, that where we are striving to reduce our debt and restore our control in the relationship, seems to be almost impossible to ignore in the way that Mormons see our relationship to ordinances and obedience to laws. I agree with Adam’s premise, accepting grace as givenness rather than original sin as foundational, is the only one that removes the crushing burden of perfection by works. The question I have is a little more practical in how one would read D&C 130:20-21 using Adam’s lens:

    “There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated—And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.”

  6. Skwmsg, I think the situation in Mormon theology is more complex than you suggest. For a variety of reasons. First I think Mormons have long rejected “grace” talk to differentiate from Evangelicals and the specter of cheap grace. That appeal to cheap grace was often a bit unfair even if a real problem. However I think that just as Mormons rejected the symbol of the cross due to the perception that it was abused as a sign, Mormons came up with many other symbols of Christ. Some of these like the sacrament of the last supper were held in common with other Christians. Others, such as in the endowment, were not. Finally and key though, I think spirit-talk became a substitute for grace-talk with a lot of the same functionality. I’ll not get into that now, but I suspect it’ll pop up in future readings. But when Mormons talk about being in tune with the spirit, which is a major component of our rhetoric, it’s extremely similar to being receptive to grace.

    The problem of transactional conceptions also is more complex in Mormon theology when one looks carefully at the examples. That’s not to deny the bicycle analogy wasn’t overplayed at times and certainly was misleading or at least incomplete. But take say Chauncey Riddle’s two covenant theory which was reasonably influential. There the first covenant in the plan of salvation given in Abraham 3 is to see if we’ll obey God in all things knowing we wouldn’t. The second covenant is thereby to bind ourselves to Christ in order to fulfill the first. Now that’s a difference of a sort from Adam, yet in both cases there’s a sense in which Christ is outside the law. The main point of difference is whether Christ enables us to fulfill the law, as Riddle and many others put it, or if the law is completely dead, for Adam. This is not a small matter of course.

    Speaking just of this chapter, Adam’s approach to this is to say that fulfilling the law is to fulfill it’s end or telos. So if you fulfill that it doesn’t matter whether you break the details of the law. Riddle (and many others) by contrast see the issue as fundamentally enabling us to be obedient to God. So Riddle emphasizes repentance whereas Adam emphasizes grace. This also highlight the danger of cheap grace since the question then becomes what is it to receive grace? Riddle ends up appealing to grace for his answer even though he doesn’t call it that. It becomes learning to recognize and utilize the spirit through the process of sanctification as well as trying to live the commands that come through personal revelation and through the scriptures and process. But all of that is a focus on the givenness of God which is really just a different term for grace. So to repent is to turn oneself to Christ and what he gives. That’s very similar to Adam yet there are still some key differences.

    Quoting Adam:

    Given that the end of the law is love, the law can only be fulfilled by becoming an exception to the law. (Kindle Locations 255-256)

    To me the real question becomes what we mean by law as well as what is meant by ends. Since Adam is just setting up his position here most of these things are left for later.

  7. Robert the main problem though is that if all creation is grace, then evil things are also grace. So the problem ends up being similar to ones people raised against both Buddhism and Stoicism. To what degree are we supposed to resist the state of affairs if that state of affairs is itself given? Both the Stoics and Buddhists have answers for this of course.

  8. My copy of the book just came in today. I look foreword to reading it. I think you know, Clark, that I have some very strong feelings about grace and its place in the Church. I will do my best to keep my mouth shut and just follow along and learn from others. Past experience has taught me that I probably will not be able to do that. One would think that the dumbass in the conversation would be content to just watch, listen and learn. But, if I could do that, I would not be the dumbass. :)

  9. I enjoy all comments – especially the ones that I disagree with. Although as I recall we didn’t really disagree over much beyond rhetoric.

  10. Grace has never been complicated to me.  This discussion is much more complicated than I wish it was, but that is okay.  I have learned, by sad experience, to explain my understanding of the word, grace.  When I speak of grace, 95 percent of the time, I am referring to being kind, loving and forgiving.  Not about being saved by grace.  It took me way too long to understand that.
    I would strongly recommend to anyone that wants to better understand grace to read two books.  “What’s So Amazing About Grace”  by Philip Yancey.  Yancey’s book is the gold standard of all books about grace.  And, “Bonds That Make Us Free”  by Terry Warner.  I have made the claim for years, that Warner’s book is all about grace.  That is, it is all about being kind, loving and forgiving.  I wish to expound on that claim here.  Warner’s book is all about prevenient grace.  Terry makes the claim that until a light comes into ones life that changed the heart of that person, they are unable to do the right thing for the right reason.  If I am being kind to my wife because I want her to be kind to me, then I am being kind for the wrong reason.  The right reason to be kind, loving and forgiving is because it is the right thing to do and expect nothing in return.  Warner does not say what he thinks the light is, but to me, if it is not grace, I have no idea what has the power to chance ones heart like he talks about.

  11. I had to shorten the above post, because any longer than the above, I couldn’t see the post comment button. Not sure why. But, the above gives an idea of how I feel about grace.

  12. I’m loving this, everyone. Speaking of simply opening yourself up to preexisting grace, thank you so much for the generosity of your thoughts. But I’m a little behind thanks to life and work and (compulsively?) responding too much on another thread (and making Clark’s life more difficult thereby… sorry…) I hope you all, and especially Clark, will bend back around to this thread as I get to writing a response.

    (Clark, I’m reading Agamben’s State of Exception for an unrelated legal writing project, and I’ve got a lot to sort out here before I can say it intelligently, but I think with your depth of knowledge of the philosophical field you can help me from misunderstanding the way Adam is using some of those principles here.)

  13. jstricklan, I’m really not well versed on Agamben. I know just enough to be dangerous although usually I can figure out how Adam is using him. Don’t worry about comment. I enjoy discussion a ton and I always learn something as I think through people’s objections.

    Charlie, I think it’s a bug in the theme. Long comments lose the button. I’d also say that most of the time when I use the word grace I am also talking about being kind and loving. I think that effectively Adam gets at that with his views of how we respond to grace by fulfilling the law through grace. That is we then pour out grace on others. The image with this post of water flowing into a bucket and then into other buckets was supposed to get at that aspect of grace. It’s the common platonic image of goodness flowing through containers that can’t hold it all and poor it down. A similar image is in D&C 93 which I think Adam is making us of in his conception of grace.

  14. Thanks, Clark! You have always been kind and patient with me. The only quibble I have with Adam and his writings/books, is that they are so not, orthodox. His introduction was fascinating to me. Way out there, but I have gotten to be okay with that. I would guess, that Adam cannot speak much in any Church meeting without getting called into the Bishops office. Having been there done that, it is not fun.
    But, I really do enjoy being able to be a part of these discussions. They are very cathartic for me. Thanks again. I will probable have more to say later. :)

  15. Charlie, I have a few qualms with Adam’s rhetoric in some of his books. That said, I don’t think I can think of places where he’s not orthodox. I’m open to being wrong on that regard.

    I think the one place one might have pointed a finger was interestingly on grace which in many ways this books attempts to deal with. So to me a complaint I often had with Adam in our discussions and in my readings is emphasizing this secular grace beyond Christ’s grace. Also I think I still have a problem with how he applies Romans in this discussion. But we’ll get to that in future chapters I suspect.

    I think more or less part of Adam’s goal is to make the familiar unfamiliar so that we can appreciate it better. That is we’re so used to talking about things that they cease to be meaningful. We turn our mind off in a sense and go through the motions of speaking about it. That’s more or less why he marshals the philosopher Agamben. It’s similar as well to the Heideggarian notion of authentic or inauthentic encounters. Now where I disagree with him is that I think the number of people that works with is pretty small due to the way he talks about them. Although to be fair I suspect people could say the same of me. It’s just that I think both our focuses is primarily on philosophically thinking about these issues. So the goal isn’t to engage the general body of people who might think about these things. Rather it’s to deal with a fairly narrow and critical group.

  16. RE: Orthodoxy — most of my quibbles with Adam’s writing in “Future Mormon” have to do with where he lets concerns about “so-called orthodoxy” get in the way of the natural conclusions his argument! Isn’t it funny how we all see these things so differently? :D

  17. Yeah there are a few places where Adam’s argument seems in tension with where he wants to go. But I’ll address those when we get to them.

  18. Thanks to everyone for having this conversation. I’ve been dying to go over Future Mormon with smart people for months and being able to share these thoughts with you is very exciting. I might even say it’s a demonstration of grace.

    1. Grace as primal: I buy Adam’s argument here, although I agree with Clark’s flagging of some problems with ironically Platonistic implications.

    First, the good: I think that grace as primal and sin as us getting in our own way makes sense. I also think it fits together well with Book of Mormon descriptions of what death and sin and hell are. I think it describes a believable version of a loving God that doesn’t deny any of the data points. I like Charlie’s statement on this: “The right reason to be kind, loving and forgiving is because it is the right thing to do and expect nothing in return,” a more than halfway decent definition of grace, and even if we don’t call it grace, “I have no idea what [else] has the power to change one’s heart.”

    Furthermore, the reminder to focus on grace gives us a chance to feel what Robert C. mentioned, making grace “common and prevalent,” which is important as soon as we understand that we’re raising the floor, not lowering the ceiling.

    I feel like all of this is an important corrective to a strongly Calvinist-influenced version of Mormonism that focuses on our ability to “earn” salvation, with all the attendant problems related to that construction of Atonement.

    Next, the criticism: Adam’s focus on grace as primal seems to depend on accepting all things, good and evil, as grace. This is, ins some ways, quite beautiful, and I think that Daniel C.’s wonderful application of it shows how powerfully it can work: it seems potent to believe that “the unpleasent parts of my life are not things I need God’s power to fix. Rather they are the grace of God working to redeem me.”

    But as Clark points out, there are some weird implications to that kind of passive reception of all things as grace, one of which is the problem of omnipotence and the source of evil. Early Christian theologians struggled with on the nature of evil coming from an omnipotent and omni-loving God, as did the Stoics and Buddhists, and frankly, I hope Clark will bring this back up as we go along because I don’t know what their solutions were (let alone if they are satisfying to me.)

    Another problem is agency contrasted with the passivity implied by Adam’s conception of grace. The idea of people being insufficient receptors of grace really makes us as agents somewhat irrelevant, and it suggests that we misunderstand everything from causality to culpability. Grappling with this problem is what gave us such painful doctrines as predestination.

    In my own limited understanding, I think a serious treatment of agency takes us out of these cul-de-sacs. For me, the most likely solution is that God is not omnipotent in the platonic sense due to an irreducible agency in human beings (at least in human beings.) Then, perhaps relying on something like the repentance in Riddle (which haven’t read yet, but Clark, it looks promising here) it becomes possible for grace to be primal AND for God not to be responsible for the fact that I haven’t received it yet. But I don’t see that in this chapter, and I wonder if there are things about that assumption that might mess with his project on levels I don’t understand.

    2. Exception to the law: The proper framing of the law and its purposes is perhaps the most useful (for me) development in this chapter. If law is about compulsion, then law cannot bring us to love; if the point of the law is to bring us to love, then at some point it must be transcended; if God gave us the law, however, we must still fulfill it, but willingly, not being compelled. Therefore, obedience is never going to fulfill the law.

    I buy this completely. Clark, you mentioned you find Adam’s reading of Romans somewhat problematic, and I hope you’ll bring up those points going forward, because I think it explains it very, very well. Personally, I have never viewed the law as about obedience anyway but as a kind of training regimen for righteousness – which, here, would be defined as grace and love. Since an obsession with the law brings us nowhere, but because the law is a method of assisting us to learn love, it is (as Adam so effectively quotes Nephi) “dead” to us, though we fulfill it, looking forward to Christ.

    Take, for example, Adam’s chart on being subject to the law and on fulfilling the law. Paul describes the Christian position perfectly and also gets upset at those who try to be exceptions to the law without fulfilling it. [1] skwmsg’s observation about D&C 130 is therefore resolved, because the law (irrevocable or not) is still an instrument built toward love. [2]

    Clark, you mentioned that you see some problems with this structure; I hope you’ll engage with it directly going forward.

    3. Grace as (re)creation and atonement: Clark, I hope you could help me understand what concerns you here. I thought the opening with McConkie’s pillars of eternity showed how he was tying this all together, but I might be missing something problematic. [3]

    4. Grace independent of (and prior to?) God, ontologically (and maybe metaphysically): This is largely in response to Clark’s critique as I understood it. I’m going to go out on a limb here and way out of my league — I know that Clark has done a lot a work on this and I haven’t, but here it goes anyway…

    Not every Mormon likes this, but Mormon theology has ways of dealing with the idea that the being that we worship as God the Father isn’t quite the sum of God-ness. I don’t think we need to, in fact, because the Christian obsession with this issue has to do with Platonism – which, as both Clark and Adam point out, we don’t need to subscribe to. Not only do we believe that we can somehow remain ourselves and participate in God-ness, as suggested by the Endowment and modern scripture, but of course there’s that old contention about perhaps God not always having been God, with all its hairy incarnations and implications. Even excluding those (which I don’t, personally), Mormonism inherently resists the Platonic monotheism of traditional Christianity – for example, by refusing to explicitly collapse the Godhead into one God. Yes, this gets messy and makes traditional theologians very uncomfortable; yes, if we start pointing at something else other than God as a defining feature of God-ness, we are wandering off into very speculative theologies. But it’s not that such things are disallowed by (at least some versions of) Mormon theology.

    So is grace more important than the person God? Probably not, but then, without grace, would God “cease to be God”? Mormon theology is unusually prepared to engage with such questions. “God is love,” said the author of John, and maybe in some sense he actually is.

    Probably irrelevant notes quarantined for everyone’s safety:

    [1] The analogy to the antimodian in Agamben is the way that modern governments are using states of emergency to define exceptions to the law – which then become the rule – and therefore become “laws unto themselves,” utilizing the force of law without any of its constraints. I thought about developing a long-winded explanation of what I’ve found out about where Adam is getting some of these ideas, particularly in Agamben’s “State of Exception,” which developed from Walter Benjamin’s ideas, but I realized that it was not directly applicable yet and I need to do a little more homework first before I can do it justice. I’ll try to come back to it.

    [2] Although I think this works, it would require a more rigorous defense to stand on its own, which I’m skipping for now unless someone wants to take it up as a debate. The issue about whether the law can be subordinated to love in the way Adam suggests is going to repeat throughout Future Mormon and not everyone is going to buy it right away, I think.

    [3] I actually think of Atonement very differently, based on a mutual conciliation between Creator and Created, and on a Book-of-Mormon-centric reading of the inversion of the demands of justice and the law. While I don’t necessarily buy all in on (re)creation, although I think (re)creation is a pretty good description of goal of the project of Atonement. But this is not the place for me to spew my (underdeveloped) ideas about Atonement, so I’ll leave it alone for now.

  19. jstricklan, I don’t understand what you mean by “Calvin-influenced version of Mormonism” in the comment below–it seems to me that Calvin is more of a “all grace, no agency” view (hence, predestination) in opposition to Pelagian or semi-Pelagian (or Arminian) views, which focus more on works. I’m guessing this was just a typo on your part, but I wanted to check in case you meant something else. (I’m still parsing the other parts of your very interesting comment–thanks!)

    “I feel like all of this is an important corrective to a strongly Calvinist-influenced version of Mormonism that focuses on our ability to “earn” salvation, with all the attendant problems related to that construction of Atonement.”

  20. Yeah, I’m not sure Calvinist is quite the right word there. I don’t like the word “earn” as I think it obscures what’s going on. But we’ll probably get to that in forthcoming chapters. Just that I really dislike the way the debate typically gets framed. The real issue is whether we can reject grace and what that means. Adam clearly is in the more Arminian camp there despite making grace primal.

    For the problem of evil, I’ll probably wait to discuss theodicy when we come to those parts. Briefly though most forms of buddhism I’m familiar with see it as a non-problem. The issue isn’t evil so much as our response to it. Stoicism has a similar tact. The first step in Stoicism is to be able to figure out what is under your control and what is no and only worry about what you can change. Both Buddhism and Stoicism tend to see most problems as the longing for difference in what we can’t change. For the Stoics evil usually was the result of irrationality or being unwise. So all of us are evil which cause us not to follow the Logos which is similar to Adam’s sense of grace but with more rationality tied in with it. Buddhism has some similar ideas although obviously there are important differences. The Stoics considered the entire universe a single organism with each of us being parts. We need to figure out our roles in the whole and rationally do them so that the creature as a whole functions properly. (Paul makes use of this idea with the metaphor of the body of Christ) A consequence of this is often the idea that what’s good for the whole can be bad for parts. The idea for instance that rain that benefits the whole country might be bad if it floods your basement. That then gets extended into the more metaphysical notion of privation.

    I’m not sure I buy Adam on the law. I know that’s the typical more Lutheran take, but I confess that’s a place where I have a lot of problems with Adam. In particular we have to distinguish between law as the Law of Moses, law as particular laws, and law as any enforced norm in general. There’s a lot to this though. Derrida’s “Force of Law” is probably lurking in the background for how both Adam and I think about this.

    My problem with Adam on the atonement is that it’s not all all clear under his conception why Jesus had to be born, suffer and so forth for the atonement to work. If it’s merely recreation why can’t God just do that without Jesus? In other words the key problem is gethsemane for those Mormons who focus on that and the cross. Otherwise it seems like all we need is a way to be resurrected. But that seems to minimize Christ’s role. Again though it’s not fair to really discuss that on the basis of this chapter since it’s just an overview.

    The point on the tension between the attributes or essence of God and his persons was key to Brigham and Orson’s debate. We can say that while the attributes are important they aren’t key, but the question then becomes whether Adam is successfully doing that. It seems to me the persons tend to become less important for Adam in certain ways. But there’s definitely a tension there in his thought. My point was largely just to point out this is a long standing tension in Mormon thought.

  21. No Robert, it’s just my ignorance showing. :) I think I was sloppy here and should have said “works-based salvation.” In other places, I more properly identified actual Calvinist doctrine, I hope. Thanks for that correction.

  22. “There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated—And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.”

    This scripture has never made sense to me. So, today, I am going to say something I have never put in print before. I welcome any and all constructive criticism. That’s how I learn. :)

    It sounds like we are to be obedient to the law of obedience. Not sure just what that means. Here is my take. The law of the universe is the law of attraction as explained in the book, “The Secret.” “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.” And, “for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.” I read a book over 30 years ago that made the claim that Job, in the OT, received what he got, because it was what he feared the most.

    This will have to be in two post.

  23. I tend to see that verse through the idea of covenants rather than law in general or a set of fixed laws. That is God keeps his word. So if he says he’ll do something if you do something he’ll do that.

  24. To me, the law we are to live by, is the (law) if we can call it that, of grace. If we receive anything from God, it is by His grace and once we accept His grace and receive a mighty change of heart, everything we do is done for the right reason, and therefore we are returning grace for grace. That is how we grow and become sanctified and become heirs of the Celestial Kingdom. We don’t really earn anything. That really would be a wonderful community to of saints to live in. I would hope all of God’s children will eventually get there. Given how long eternity is, (I have seen it) time is on everyone’s side. Of course, we do have the son’s of perdition. Not sure just how they will fit into all of this. We do have freewill…

  25. Clark, I think your way, is probably a better way of interpreting that scripture, but I have never seen anyone explain it that way. But, I do like it.

  26. I think I mentioned in the OP Chauncey Riddle’s theory of the two covenants. It’s just a theory, but he sees some type of covenant in the council in heaven suggested by Abr 3. We don’t know the specifics but Riddle takes it as a strict obedience covenant. I’m not so sure about that – I suspect that had we a better description rather than two short vague verses we’d see it as more complex. However the thrust of Riddle’s view is that none of us can fulfill that covenant. So the second covenant is with Christ which enables us to fulfill the first covenant. If one buys into that the question then becomes how that happens.

    Adam’s theory is much more a “beyond law” theory. The problem I have with that is that it’s hard to distinguish from a “law unto ourselves” model. Adam attempts to avoid that by saying what counts is whether we accept grace. But the problem there is that logically that transforms grace into something very similar to the obedience model. All that’s changed is that instead of saying “obey” and then blessings we say “receive grace” and then blessings. But structurally they seem the same.

  27. “Finally and key though, I think spirit-talk became a substitute for grace-talk with a lot of the same functionality. I’ll not get into that now, but I suspect it’ll pop up in future readings. But when Mormons talk about being in tune with the spirit, which is a major component of our rhetoric, it’s extremely similar to being receptive to grace.”

    That hits the nail on the head.

    Clark, please indulge me and discuss the nexus between the grace of Christianity and the “grace of Buddhism.” Are you speaking of the Bhoddhisatva stream of Buddhism? Or are speaking of a more fundamental idea inherent in the awakening of consciousness that is the object of Buddhist thought? Or what?

  28. I’m more speaking of Adam’s views from discussions with him. I know just enough Buddhism to be dangerous – mainly the Japanese style of Zen.

    That’s a complex question and I’m not sure I’m the best suited to answer it. So I’ll give the short superficial answer. I think the notion of transitoriness and nothingness in Buddhism is akin to how Adam perceives secular grace or the creation of each moment of time as an event. So I think Adam is just appropriating elements of Buddhism rather than the whole kit and caboodle.

    I should also note that within Future Mormon Adam doesn’t really address Buddhism at all even though in some ways it’s there lurking in the margins. Back around 2010 Adam and I had a bunch of discussions of Buddhism on LDS-herm. Adam clarified then that most of what he is interested in isn’t Buddhist religion parallels with Mormon though but rather a kind of phenomenological aspect of Buddhism as a more general philosophical way of looking at things. I don’t know if that’s still his view.

    The main attraction back then to Buddhism seemed to be it’s focus on pluralism and multiplicity. Even though that won’t be discussed in this reading club, the topic independent of Buddhism relative to platonism is the theme of several chapters. I’m sure I’ll discuss it a lot then.

  29. “I think the notion of transitoriness and nothingness in Buddhism is akin to how Adam perceives secular grace or the creation of each moment of time as an event. So I think Adam is just appropriating elements of Buddhism rather than the whole kit and caboodle.”

    I guess this is what I am not understanding. Is secular grace the creation of a moment of time? I guess I do not know Adam’s view of secular grace. In Buddhism one seeks to empty themselves of all content–Dhyana or “no-mind” where one has become detached from all worldly concerns, and in this sense one exists outside of time and seeks “nothingness.” But I do not think that is what you are saying.

    I know this thread isn’t about Buddhism, but you brought up the parallels and I am just trying to understand those parallels. Comment or not.

  30. Well I don’t feel comfortable quoting Adam from LDS-Herm. However you can join the list and then search the archives and find the posts he commented on such things. While Adam is no longer on the list I think there are others who have more background in Buddhism than I do. The list hasn’t had a lot of activity of late but I would love to have more blood and have more active discussions there.

    While I’ve experience with the practice in no-mind from my youth when I used to do a lot of Aikido, I’m not sure how much it has to do with Adam’s project. He’s said in the past the parallels to what he is talking about is less Zen (which I’m familiar with) and more the early stages of the Indian tradition and Theravada. Although others back in 2009 noted parallels between Adam’s project and Vipassana practices. That is no-mind as a kind of openness. To me at least in my practice no-mind was something I usually interpreted as over learning so that your brain did things automatically without conscious thinking and rationality. So I’ll be the first to confess that I interpret most of the practices in decidedly non-mystical ways.

    This is in some ways more a question about quietism in both Mormonism as well as philosophical phenomenology. I confess a lot of skepticism of quietism although as I recall the discussion there was more of Heidegger, Marion, Derrida and company rather than Buddhism. Adam appeared to not agree with quietism either, although again I don’t feel comfortable quoting from LDS-herm here.

  31. As someone who believes in Buddhism and Mormonism, Adam’s theory on grace is like the grand unifying theory that physicists are looking for to harmonize quantum physics with newtonian physics. It’s eliminated any cognitive dissonance I used to have trying to harmonize the gospel and the dharma.

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