I served a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Georgia. While I was there, I came across many conservative, fundamentalist, Southern Baptists. These folks appeared to be heavily influenced by Calvinist theology. I learned to love the people, but I hated the theology. Perhaps missionaries who serve in the southern U.S. should receive some type of therapy upon the completion of their mission, because I still get a little grouchy whenever I hear the term ‘grace’.
But why should this be? Grace is good isn’t it? Why would one bother to worship a God who either did not, or could not, do anything for mankind?
To understand my reaction to the term ‘grace’, one must understand that every time I hear the word ‘grace’, what I hear is ‘grace alone’. I have heard many evangelical, anti-Mormon types say that any gift that has any strings attached is not a gift at all. And they try to make the point that for ‘grace’ to be ‘grace’, it must be ‘grace alone’.
What bothers me about ‘grace alone’ is that it makes God into a being who acts arbitrarily and randomly. If the gospel of Jesus Christ comes down to God choosing who will be saved, and who will spend an eternity suffering in Hell, based not at all on any merit of the souls involved, but instead based entirely on the random picking of ‘grace alone’, then I would want nothing to do with it.
It is for these reasons that I get rather nervous with the use of the word ‘grace’, even in Mormon circles, without the distinction between ‘grace’ and ‘grace alone’. Given the historical Christian debates over ‘grace alone’, and that many in the Christian world mean ‘grace alone’ when they used the word ‘grace’, we ought to make this distinction clearly in my view.
There may be some who would worry about creating an impression of Mormonism preaching a gospel of ‘works alone’. I currently fail to see the force of such a worry. This seems like something of a hypothetical straw-man to me, as I have not come across any who would even approach that view. It again makes me ask why anyone would bother worshiping a being who either could not, or would not, do anything for us.
I believe that grace can be grace without being ‘grace alone’. An example of this would be obtaining a forgiveness of sins. Christ graciously offers us, through the atonement, a forgiveness of sins. Yet, to fully realize the benefits of this offer of grace, we must have faith in Christ, repent of our sins, and be baptized. Thus, this grace is not ‘grace alone’. This is why I believe many Mormons will speak of ‘covenants’, graciously offered, rather than ‘grace alone’.