There are 12 thoughts on “Beyond Agency as Idolatry”.

  1. Ralph Hancock,
    I don’t think the complaint against Miller and your review is that you didn’t “leave philosophy alone.” Having minored in philosophy, I love playing with ideas, especially gospel ideas. For example, as I have pondered about the atonement, a question occurred to me about the Savior that had never occurred to me before. What is that question? The question is:
    When in mortality did Jesus know that He was going to have to suffer for the sins of the world?
    I personally believe that Jesus had this knowledge at least by the time he was 12 and was teaching the elders in the temple. The reason why I pondered about this question (When in mortality did Jesus know that He was going to have to suffer for the sins of the world?) was that it must have been a horrifying experience to live with the knowledge of the pain that He was going to have to endure. How would you feel if you knew you were going to be tortured in a hour, tomorrow, next week, or next year? How would the anticipation of that torture affect your every day thinking and doing? I confess that I would probably be obsessed with that anticipation. Thus, as I pondered, I realized that the Savior did even more than suffer in Gethsemane; He had to live with the anticipation of experiencing the worst suffering in history, suffering that would make Him bleed from every pore.
    Then my thoughts went to Jesus in premortality. What must have it been like for Jesus to stand in the midst of billions and billions of future sinners, and accept the calling to suffer for their sins? I cannot imagine how anyone could live with the anticipation of experiencing such suffering. What would it feel like if you or I were told that we would suffer for someone else tomorrow, next week, next month, next year? And Jesus had to anticipate suffering for billions and billions of future sinners.
    We know that Jesus sought an alternative in the greatest prayer ever offered: Let this cup pass from me, but thy will, not mine, be done. Oh, my, it makes me gasp to think of Jesus’ having to live even in premortality with that anticipation of such suffering.
    This kind of philosophizing does NOT detract from the simple, glorious truths of the Gospel but invites a deeper appreciation of those simple, glorious truths.

  2. It is bemusing, and I suppose should be amusing, to be read as giving a “glowing report” of Miller’s book. Maybe there is some difference between the reader and me in our experience of the rhetoric of academic reviews. The response is a little ironic, because I’m used to being accused of performing “hit jobs.” Well, consider what I wrote:
    Rather than defending Mormonism as most Mormons, including Church authorities, now understand it against the known challenges, historical, theological and ideological, it now faces, he offers this book, “a future tense apologetics meant for future Mormons.” asand “a modest contribution” (xii) to strengthening a radically different Mormonism of the future. Such a contribution of course presupposes that the author can already discern at least the contours of this emergent new Mormonism sufficiently to provide the coming generation “the tools, the raw materials and the room” (xii) for them to undertake this top to bottom re-appropriation.
    It’s true I leave it to the reader to judge what my opinion might be of such an ambition for “top to bottom re-appropriation.” But I didn’t think I had really made it all that hard.
    As for readers who wish that Miller and I would just state the simple truths of the gospel and leave philosophy alone: the point is at least arguable. But I was asked to review a very philosophical book, and I did my best to engage it philosophically. If that’s not to your taste, well then, we really don’t have any quarrel — except perhaps with the editor who asked for the review.

    • I just wanted a “lay of the land” on the book and thought you provided it. I also left a comment of how his description of the Savior’s all-encompassing Grace reminded me of Daoism, but that apparently trespassed some sort of threshold of civility because it was soon deleted.

  3. To hope for a better world is to sin against grace? My ancestors froze on the plains because they hoped for a better world–a Zion–for themselves and their children. In the world we live in today, I long for a better world too. If that is sin, so be it, but in God’s grace I hope to endure and have trust in God that it will be so.

    • Brett
      You and David Richards expressed my sentiments exactly. Thanks you for your comments. I am surprised that both reviewers gave such glowing reports of the book’s contents. I visibly cringed (as my wife can attest) with some things that I read. Maybe my bottle is too old for such new wine.

      • Ralph Hancock is a former student of mine and long ago replaced me. I think I know him well. I do not read his review of Adam Miller’s book as a “glowing report of the book’s content,” but as a very cautiously worded, setting out of problems in trying to fashion a presumably new and better “theology” to replace what is clearly taught in our scriptures.
        Instead of drawing upon contemporary French philosophers in an effort to fashion a future “Mormonism,” we should be seeking the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit and hence actually becoming genuine Saints, who both long for a Zion here and now, and expect a glorious world in our own life after life.
        My own complaint about Adam Miller’s book is that it seems to me to be Protestant. What I mean is simply that what gets labeled as “Pauline” is not the Paul of someone like N. T. Wright, but the gargled Paul of Luther and Calvin. Put bluntly, we should be striving to understand what is taught in our scriptures and not be busy trying to improve upon them by drawing on some currently fashionable, highly subtle philosophy.

      • Both Adam S. Miller (in his book “Future Mormons: Essays in Mormon Theology” [Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2016) and the reviewer Ralph C. Hancock have complicated the marvelous simplicity of the Gospel. Moses 1:39 states in marvelous simplicity:
        39 For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.
        As John said, God is love. To gain eternal life or exaltation, we must become Christlike, godlike in our nature. All exalted beings – like God – are beings of love, perfect love. That is the ultimate goal of life. Don’t complicate it. It’s that simple.
        How we may achieve that Christlike, godlike nature is also explained in marvelous simplicity:
        Being inherently imperfect BEFORE the Fall and especially after the Fall, we needed an atonement to enable God to be just in giving us the opportunity to become like Him. We needed to be in a fallen world in order to have the freedom to become like God, or to become like Satan, or to become anything in between. Our fallen world with the atonement and other of God’s gifts enables us to have the full array of choices. It’s just that simple. That fact tell us how much God treasures our free agency.
        I agree with the reviewer and the author that the concept of grace is often misunderstood by members of the Church, but again the reviewer and the author both complicate what grace is. Miller is right about our “nothingness” in the atonement. Jesus did ALL of the suffering. We did none of the suffering; we did NOTHING to achieve the atonement. Jesus suffered the greatest injustice in history: He suffered for my sins and yours, and for all of our pains even though He did NOTHING wrong, NOT ONE THING wrong both in premortality and mortality. And Jesus suffered this greatest injustice of all, in order to fulfill the will of the Father: to bring to pass the immortality (resurrection) and eternal life (exaltation) of man. That’s grace. That’s perfect love. It’s that marvelously simple.
        However, the 4th Article of Faith also makes it marvelously clear and simple that we need at least one other Gift from God to achieve God’s purpose for us (eternal life or exaltation): the Gift of the Holy Ghost, the constant companionship of a god – which companionship guides us, comforts us, and, most of all, purifies and sanctifies us, thus making us godlike, Christlike in our nature, making us one with God. With the constant companionship of a god, we can learn to think like a god, talk like a god, and act like a god. That’s why the sacrament is considered so sacred and important: we remember the atonement, renew our covenants, and receive the Spirit.
        Having majored in English and minored in philosophy in both my B.A. and M.A. degrees, I read much philosophizing that overcomplicated simple truths and often distorted those simple truths. I’m afraid that both Miller and Hancock have been guilty of this.

  4. Fantastic review. Now I have a sense as to what Future Mormons is about. Miller’s description of Grace sounds similar to Daoism – in that the Grace of the Savior’s Atonement is the very life-force (qi) that Daoists seek to be in harmonious alignment with.
    Personally, I agree with this perspective and share the belief.
    But I’m probably reading to much into this review. I’ll get Miller’s book and read it for myself.

    • Jason
      Several years ago I attended an “emotional healing” session conducted by a relative who had served a mission in Taiwan. He charged people to draw down the power of qi to heal them of their emotional afflictions. During this session that I attended he placed his left hand on the person’s head while raising his right arm to channel the qi into the person. A few years later, after rejecting counsel from his stake presidency to stop the practice, he was excommunicated for practicing priestcraft. His pride has kept him out of the church and he still practices the emotional healing through the power of qi.
      I am not inferring that you are headed down that path. I just find the story interesting and sad. This relative of mine has headed down one of the forbidden paths in Lehi’s dream. Hopefully he will find his way back to the tree.

  5. I was particularly struck by this passage from the review:

    Thus, while he reasonably criticizes an understanding of agency as a “simple and internal” “freedom from outside influence” (53–54)…

    I don’t have a copy of Miller’s book, so I can’t check for myself whether I’m understanding the point correctly, but if Miller is arguing against the idea that agency means (or at least requires) freedom from outside influence, then I’m not sure whom it is that he’s arguing against. Certainly not against traditional LDS teaching, which (it seems to me) could hardly be clearer: not only does agency not mean freedom from outside influence, but on the contrary, agency is positively dependent on the existence and impingement of outside influence. We can be agents only if we a) know good from evil (Moses 6:56) and b) are subject to temptation (D/C 29:39). If nothing outside of us could influence us, how could we exercise agency? This principle has been taught as recently as the April 2016 general conference, by Elder Oaks.
    Again, though, it’s very possible that I’m understanding Miller’s point less than perfectly.

  6. “and to look for any higher end, to hope for a better world, is to sin against grace”
    It is perhaps this section that leaps out at me. I really hope that isn’t Miller’s position.
    “Wherefore, whoso believeth in God might with surety hope for a better world, yea, even a place at the right hand of God, which hope cometh of faith, maketh an anchor to the souls of men, which would make them sure and steadfast, always abounding in good works, being led to glorify God.” – Ether 12:4
    There seems to be all in this, at least from an initial impression, also little of the fall, no acknowledgement that neither the world as it presently is nor ourselves as we presently are are as God ultimately intends us. If one is speaking of risking idolatry, there seems a risk of idolatrous worship of the present world as some sort of perfect reflection of God’s will; in Pauline terms to risk worshipping “the creature more than the creator” (Romans 1:25 – and it seems really hard to separate *Paul* from hopes for a future and better world).

Add Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

 characters available

All comments are moderated to ensure respectful discourse. It is assumed that it is possible to disagree agreeably and intelligently and comments that intend to increase overall understanding are particularly encouraged. Individual authors are given the option to disallow commenting or end commenting after a certain period at their discretion.

Close this window

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This