- 1 Prevenient grace
Outline of Ostler's argument
In Exploring Mormon Thought: The Problems of Theism and the Love of God (ISBN 1589580958; pp. 220-223), Ostler argues that, "The Book of Mormon teaches a robust sense of prevenient grace. It focuses on the gracious benefits conferred on all as a result of Christ's atonement given prior to and independently of any act of human will" (p. 220). His view is that it is God's grace is what gives us the freedom to chose: "The Book of Mormon asserts that all persons are free to choose among the alternatives of life and death and are therefore free to accept or reject God's grace, but the choice is ultimately made possible only by god's grace" (p. 222).
All overcome spiritual death
Ostler first argues that the BOM teaches all will return to God's presence to be judged.
- Alma 42:23: "[T]he resurrection of the dead bringeth back men into the presence of God; and thus they are restored into his presence."
- 2 Ne 9:13-16: "[A]ll men become incorruptible . . . [and] they must appear before the judgment seat of the Holy One of Israel."
Grace is needed to dwell in presence of God
Blake next quotes 2 Ne 2:8 saying that only "through the merits, mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah" can persons dwell in the presence of God. Personally, I think this part of the argument is a bit weak because the scriptures above say we will appear before God, not that we will dwell before God as 2 Ne 2:8 reads.
All are free to accept or reject God's grace
This, I think, is Ostler's main and strongest point (though I don't quite see how it relates to the above points...). The argument is basically that the God's grace (through the atonement) makes everyone free to choose good or evil and, in this sense, grace precedes any human action.
- 2 Ne 2:26-27 illustrates 4 points upon which the above claim is based (though I don't fully appreciate the difference or purpose of each of these points to the argument, but here are the ones Ostler writes about):
- The atonement redeems free will. "[T]he Atonement is a gift which "redeems" or restores human agency. . . . In the absence of atonement, we are captive to the devil and the desires of our flesh. Thus, free will is a gift." I think this is related to the notion of being enticed in 2 Ne 2:16 (see #3 below): In the Garden, Adam and Eve were given their agency, but were enticed to choose death. Likewise, when we are enticed to sin in our individual lives we become captive to the devil. In other words, each of us individually chooses death, but through the atonement God somehow effectively gives us a probationary time/space to choose life, rather than making our choice of death definitive.
- Knowledge is a necessary gift. "[T]he knowledge of good and evil is both necessary to the exercise of such freedom and also a gift." I don't quite see how this is relevant to the argument.
- Freedom is being able to act for ourselves. "[T]he import of this passsage is that we are free to choose to accept the gift of eternal life only b/c we can act for ourselves as self-determining beings rather than being acted upon by irresistible grace that moves our will for us." Ostler contrasts this with the Calvinist notion of irresistable grace, and compares it to the Arminian view (see the point below where he elaborates on a comparison with the Arminian view).
- Grace is necessary prior to agency. "[R]edeeming grace is necessary prior to any act of human will precisely b/c there is no free will in the absence of such grace. Thus our salvation is ultimately the result of prevenient grace—the grace that precedes every act of human will." Ostler then quotes 2 Ne 10:23-24 to support this point, though I don't quite see how these verses directly support the claim.
Salvation is not earned
Ostler emphasizes that, since free will is a gift, salvation is also effectively a gift and not earned by us (and esp. not earned by our works).
- After all we can do? If we misread 2 Ne 25:23, we might be tempted to reject the notion of prevenient grace and possibly even interpret our works as helping to earn our salvation. I don't think Ostler articulates his point here very well, but I agree with his general theological point that "we are saved by grace after all we can do b/c our very ability to choose to accept the grace offered to us is a free gift. Thus our salvation is ulitimately dependent on grace. The relationship offered to us is also a free gift, and we did nothing to earn or merit either of them." (I'm not so sure, however, that [[2 Ne 25:23] is saying all this....)
We must continually exercise our choice of life
Ostler notes, without much analysis, that "once on the path, the burden is on human agency to persist in faith by God's grace." After quoting 2 Ne 31:19, he continues, "In other words, there is no preventing or preserving grace b/c we must endure to the end (2 Ne 31:15-16)." I think the obvious issue that Ostler doesn't deal with (at least here) is the LDS notion of having one's calling and election made sure.
Similarities with the Arminian view.
After outlining the two stages of prevenient grace in the Arminian view, Ostler asserts, "A similar two-stage operation of grace is assumed in the Book of Mormon. We are made free to choose for ourselves by the Atonement. Thereafter, God grants us his grace to assist us to walk on the way that we have entered through grace."