In my opinion, the best pithy quotation from Conference weekend came from Aaron Shafovaloff over at Mormon Coffee on his Liveblogging General Conference. In a conversation during Elder Eyring's talk, Aaron pointed out that introducing prerequisite merit and worthiness into the question of how to receive eternal life and forgiveness and sanctifying help removes a vital layer of grace. He then declared,
"Jesus himself is our temple recommend, received by faith as a free and immediate gift."
Because of the LDS Church's unprecedented efforts in this new millennium to place themselves within the spectrum of views that are generally accepted as Christian, the necessity of "grace" has been emphasized in a different way than it was in nineteenth and twentieth-century Mormon teachings. Stephen L. Robinson has been in the vanguard of this redefinition, most notably in his book Believing Christ, and his atonement model The Parable of the Bicycle. Robinson claims that Mormons believe in salvation by grace and not by works. He teaches:
"We participate in our salvation as we attempt to keep the commandments of God, but we can never earn it ourselves or bring it to pass on our own merits, no matter how well we may think we are doing."
This view is subtly different than traditional Mormon teachings, as exemplified by this quote by Bruce R. McConkie:
"…one of the untrue doctrines found in modern Christendom is the concept that man can gain salvation (meaning in the kingdom of God) by grace alone and without obedience. This soul-destroying doctrine has the obvious effect of lessening the determination of an individual to conform to all of the laws and ordinances of the gospel, such conformity being essential if the sought for reward is in reality to be gained. Immortality is a free gift and comes without works or righteousness of any sort; all men will come forth in the resurrection because of the atoning sacrifice of Christ. (I Corin 15:22) In and of itself the resurrection is a form of salvation meaning that men are thereby saved from death, hell, the devil, and endless torment. (2 Ne. 9:17-27)… Salvation in the celestial kingdom of God, however, is not salvation by grace alone. Rather, it is salvation by grace coupled with obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel." (see also LDS Bible Dictionary, "Grace.")
Whereas the word "salvation" as an unmerited gift through Jesus' atonement previously referred simply to resurrection, the new Mormon evangelists are now including exaltation in their definition of salvation by grace. That Robinson is extending salvation by grace to include exaltation is made very clear at the conclusion of his parable:
"The truth is, there’s something we all want, and we want it more than any child ever wanted any bicycle. We want the kingdom of God. We want to go home to our Father in Heaven worthy and clean. At some point in that spiritual voyage, we recognize the full price of admission into that kingdom, and we also realize we cannot pay it. We’ll never have enough - - never. The tremendous price of perfect performance is hopelessly beyond our means."
In today's Mormon atonement model, we are asked to give all that we can give and that Jesus will make up the shortfall. I am wondering if this doctrinal shift is showing up in temple recommend interviews and will one day transform into a more Shafovaloff-type standard.
"Bishop, I have abstained from smoking, but I just can't seem to give up that glass of wine at dinner. But I've done all that I can do, now let the Savior make up the difference."
Or, "I just can't stop viewing porn, or sleeping with my neighbor's wife. But I am trying to repent and put all the effort I can into being a good husband and father. Jesus is my temple recommend."
Death, Embodiment, and Grace, by Clark at Mormon Metaphysics
The Problem of 2 Nephi 25:23, by J. Nelson-Seawright at By Common Consent
Why the Parable of the Bicycle is Wrong by Geoff J. at New Cool Thang
How are we Saved by Grace? by Jeff Lindsay at LDS FAQ