Reviewing McMurrin’s Theological Foundations: Part 3

I now move on to part three. As with parts one and two, I will only focus on the theological explanations McMurrin gives of Mormonism. The topics in this part (the concept on man) seem much more difficult to me, and it will be a challenge for me to write this review.

Section 12 addresses the self as a necessary existent. An important aspect of Mormonism is its denial that man is totally the creation of God. To Mormons man is an essential being and is uncreated in his ultimate origins. The Mormon view of man is oriented toward the affirmative spirit of the Hebrew prophets and Jesus. It celebrates a relative independence and power of the human spirit. There is no sense of ‘otherness’ of God and therefore is not conscious of the ‘creatureliness’ of man that generates guilt attached to existence itself. Rather there is a sense of familial community with God and Christ that encourages a belief in the ultimate worth of the individual.

Section 13 is about Original Sin. For Mormonism, Adam’s sin can and does have consequences for man, namely mortality and spiritual death. But there is no state of culpable sinfulness for mankind. The only sin for man is actual sin that a man commits, not in some mystical sense as a participant in Adam’s sin, but in his own freedom and determination. This is expressed in the second article of faith which reads, ‘We believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam’s transgression.’ In this way Mormonism is a rebellion against much of the dogma of original sin and the negativism implied by it to the nature and life of man.

Section 14 is on Salvation by Grace. Mormonism’s concept of grace is consistent with it’s denial of original sin, the affirmative view of mankind, and the merit involved in one’s degree of salvation. Mormon doctrine takes the orthodox position that there is no salvation except through the atonement of Christ. But the atonement, though necessary, is not sufficient for a fulness of salvation (except those judged not to be morally accountable). The meaning of the atonement is that through the grace of God, through Christ, it is made possible for man to merit his salvation by free obedience to the law. It should probably be mentioned here that the Mormon view of the fall is a positive one. Mormons believe that the fall itself conforms to the plan and will of God, and is ultimately a productive event. That Adam, instead of incurring the wrath of God, is a moral hero who discriminated rightly among the alternatives. And wisely brought freedom and genuine morality into the world. The dependence of the soul upon God for its salvation is taken for granted in Mormonism.

Section 15 is on the Freedom of the Will. McMurrin rightly states that nothing is more important to the theological structure of Mormonism than the freedom of the will of man. Nothing is permitted to compromise that freedom, whether human or divine. The combination of freedom and the implied moral responsibility must be accounted for at every turn. There is full free moral choice for man to either stand with or against God. Free will is so commonplace amongst Mormonism that arguments defending this attribute are virtually unknown (except of the bloggernacle!).

Section 16 addresses the Atonement. The combination of an uncreated self, and the freedom of the will, releases Mormonism from a belief in salvation by divine election. Mormonism has considerable ingenuity in constructing a doctrine of salvation around the (fortunate) fall and the atonement. The fall is according to divine will where human freedom might bring moral achievement. The sacrifice of Christ immediately compensates for the act of Adam, and mankind is free of its negative consequences. Every soul is guaranteed immortality, and is released from the condition of spiritual death. Baptism follows faith and repentance and relates to the actual sins of the individual. God then forgives, but requires repentance. Mormonism theories on the atonement run the gamut of substitution, ransom, satisfaction and moral. But there are two important statements McMurrin references that give some clarity. One is the fourth article of faith that states ‘We believe that, through the atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel.’ Here it is clear that the atonement is necessary, but salvation is earned. Salvation is a matter of degree, and the degree earned is a consequence of merit. The second statement come from the Book of Mormon and states,’that all mankind were fallen, and they were in the grasp of justice; yea the justice of God, which consigned them forever to be cut off from his presence. And now, the plan of mercy could not be brought about except an atonement should be made; therefore God himself atoneth for the sins of the world, to bring about the plan of mercy, to appease the demands of justice, that God might be a perfect, just God, and a merciful God also.’ Here there is no ransom to the devil, and no sacrificial rite.

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2 Responses to “Reviewing McMurrin’s Theological Foundations: Part 3”


  1. 1 ji August 16, 2008 at 5:57 pm

    “That Adam, instead of incurring the wrath of God, is a moral hero who discriminated rightly among the alternatives. And wisely brought freedom and genuine morality into the world.”

    Let’s remember Adam was like a child, not knowing good from evil. That the fall was a “success” in the eyes of Latter-day Saints is much more to the credit of God and his foreknowledge than to Adam’s heroism. In saying this, I do not want to diminish or disparage Adam, but I wonder if we sometimes err by making too much of Adam’s (and Eve’s) decision to disobey God. Did God give the command with a wink and with crossed fingers? No. God commanded, and Adam transgressed. All credit for the success of the plan goes to God, with many thanks to Adam for his sunsequent faithfulness.

  2. 2 Eric Nielson August 18, 2008 at 8:54 am

    The point is that the fall was part of God’s plan all along, and that Mormonism rejects much of the typical Christian dogma about the fall and original sin. Maybe McMurrin was a touch hyperbolic about calling Adam a moral hero because of this, but the point still holds. Rejection of typical original sin doctrines is an important part of understanding Mormon theology.


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