Have Mormons misunderstood the atonement?

It's always a privilege to read and hear Terryl and Fiona Givens -- and now, we can see them on TV, thanks to a new podcast from the Faith Matters Foundation.* Click below for both parts of it, each about half an hour.

In this two-part interview with BYU professor Spencer Fluhman (who is also the executive director of the Maxwell Institute), the authors discuss some of the topics in their latest book with Deseret, The Christ Who Heals. Longtime blog readers may remember a few years ago when we did a group read-through of the Givenses' book The Crucible of Doubt; see here for the first in that series.) I'm a big fan of theirs.

At core in this book is the question of how Christ saves. Terryl and Fiona explain in the interview (especially at the beginning of Part 2, below) that they were inspired in learning that the same Greek word that's translated in English scriptures as "to save" also means "to heal." How does that change our ideas of judgment, atonement, and salvation?

I look forward to reading the book -- it's on my list for that shangri-la time after my own book is written -- but in the meantime I enjoyed the great conversation they have with Spencer about it. God, they say, is neither the exacting punisher some have imagined nor the anything-goes giving tree who asks nothing of us. There's a middle ground for Mormon theology, in which we actually believe what we say about eternal progress. "If you feel the fear" at the word "judgement," says Fiona in my favorite part, "that is not God speaking."

If you want to go further, here are some questions for discussion and reflection provided by the Faith Matters Foundation:

  • Historically, where did we get the idea of a God who sits in judgement ready to mete out justice to sinners if not for Christ’s mediation?
  • Are there clear echoes in very early Christianity of distinctly Mormon theology?
  • How is Christ’s “judgment" not about condemnation but rather a necessary and helpful “prelude to progress?”
  • We talk about Christ saving us from our sins, but would we profit from a greater focus on his role as healer of our souls and healer of a fractured humanity?
  • Is it true that we will some day be consigned eternally to whatever realm we’ve merited in this life? Or will our heavenly parents always leave the door open to their children to grow eternally and live with them?

* FYI, I'm a proud member of the Faith Matters Foundation board of advisers, as are both Terryl and Fiona.

Watch Part 1 here

Watch Part 2 here


  1. The Givens seem like quite a wonderful couple. When I hear them talk, it feels like they are talking about a different religion than Mormonism. They may be trying to push/nudge/lead the church in a new direction, but unlike those such as Denver Snuffer, the Givens stay clear of ever saying anything negative about church leadership.
    Only in my later years have I finally overcome feeling a bit like the character in “The Backslider” by Levi Peterson when he talks about viewing God as, “That SOB in the sky that is watching me through the cross hairs of his gun, just waiting for me to make a mistake so he can pull the trigger.”
    If the Givens can help change that type of Mormonism, that is great. But 9 and 10 year olds are not reading their books. I hope the adults that are teaching them do read the Givens.

  2. Or will our heavenly parents always leave the door open to their children to grow eternally and live with them?

    Would this door-opening possibility also apply to the sons of perdition?

  3. Pulling it altogether one more time:

    Putting the kibosh on all religion in less than ten seconds: Priceless !!!

    • As far as one knows or can tell, there was no Abraham i.e. the foundations of Judaism, Christianity and Islam are non-existent.

    • As far as one knows or can tell, there was no Moses i.e the pillars of Judaism, Christianity and Islam have no strength of purpose.

    • There was no Gabriel i.e. Islam fails as a religion. Christianity partially fails.

    • There was no Easter i.e. Christianity completely fails as a religion.

    • There was no Moroni i.e. Mormonism is nothing more than a business cult.

    • Sacred/revered cows, monkey gods, castes, reincarnations and therefore Hinduism fails as a religion.

    • Fat Buddhas here, skinny Buddhas there, reincarnated/reborn Buddhas everywhere makes for a no on Buddhism.

    • A constant cycle of reincarnation until enlightenment is reached and belief that various beings (angels?, tinkerbells? etc) exist that we, as mortals, cannot comprehend makes for a no on Sikhism.

    Added details available upon written request.

    A quick search will put the kibosh on any other groups calling themselves a religion.

    e.g. Taoism

    “The origins of Taoism are unclear. Traditionally, Lao-tzu who lived in the sixth century is regarded as its founder. Its early philosophic foundations and its later beliefs and rituals are two completely different ways of life. Today (1982) Taoism claims 31,286,000 followers.

    Legend says that Lao-tzu was immaculately conceived by a shooting star; carried in his mother’s womb for eighty-two years; and born a full grown wise old man. “

  4. It’s simple enough, at least in the broad outlines. Justice requires someone be held responsible for the harm we inflict on each other (including God). Jesus suffered so that he could be the one held responsible, thus making possible the covenant of baptism in which our sins are washed clean in return for our becoming people after God’s own heart. (For an understanding of what that means, the letter of James is unparalleled.) God will never violate that covenant, but we can walk away from it if we choose.

  5. Matthew 25. To rescue is a better rendering of the Hebrew word than to save.

  6. Claims that there was a Resurrection are claims. Claims that there was no Resurrection are just claims, not facts.

  7. I would like an answer to the Mormon feminist question, If God has a spouse (a Mormon belief), isn’t Mrs God a God too?

  8. Some facts from the course notes of a large Catholic university’s graduate theology class:

    “Heaven is a Spirit state (no physical bodies abide so where is the resurrected, ascended body????)

    Christ’s and Mary’s bodies are therefore not in Heaven. For one thing, Paul in 1 Cor 15 speaks of the body of the dead as transformed into a “spiritual body.” No one knows exactly what he meant by this term.

    Most believe that it to mean that the personal spiritual self that survives death is in continuity with the self we were while living on earth as an embodied person.

    The physical Resurrection (meaning a resuscitated corpse returning to life), Ascension (of Jesus’ crucified corpse), and Assumption (Mary’s corpse) into heaven did not take place.

    The Ascension symbolizes the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry and the beginning of the Church.

    Only Luke’s Gospel records it. The Assumption ties Jesus’ mission to Pentecost and missionary activity of Jesus’ followers The Assumption has
    multiple layers of symbolism, some are related to Mary’s special role as “Christ bearer” (theotokos). It does not seem fitting that Mary, the body of Jesus’ Virgin-Mother (another biblically based symbol found in Luke 1) would be derived by worms upon her death. Mary’s assumption also shows God’s positive
    regard, not only for Christ’s male body, but also for female bodies.”

    Amazing how this agrees with Professor Crossan and many other contemporary NT exegetes’ conclusions based on rigorous historic testing using attestations, archaeology and stratums.

  9. “When I hear them talk, it feels like they are talking about a different religion than Mormonism.” What they say 100% aligns with the Mormonism I grew up with.

  10. Any statement that must make its own value judgement (“Priceless !!!”) is a weak statement indeed. See, e.g., every Trump tweet.

  11. As requested, added details:


    Smith had his Moroni and Satan/Perdition/Lucifer. (As does M. Romney)

    “Latter-day Saints like M. Romney also believe that Michael the Archangel was Adam (the first man) when he was mortal, and Gabriel lived on the earth as Noah.”

    Jehovah Witnesses have their Jesus /Michael the archangel, the first angelic being
    created by God and of course Satan and his demons.

    Mohammed had his Gabriel (this “tin-kerbell” got around) and of course the

    Jesus and his family had/has Michael, Gabriel, and Satan, the latter being a modern
    day demon of the demented. (As do BO and his family)(As do Biden and Ryan)

    The Abraham-Moses myths had their Angel of Death and other “no-namers” to
    do their dirty work or other assorted duties.

    Contemporary biblical and religious scholars have relegated these “pretty
    wingie/ugly/horn-blowing thingies” to the myth pile. We should do the same
    to include deleting all references to them in our religious operating manuals.
    Doing this will eliminate the prophet/profit/prophecy status of these founders
    and put them where they belong as simple humans just like the rest of us.

    Some added references to “tink-erbells”.


    “The belief in guardian angels can be traced throughout all
    antiquity; pagans, like Menander and Plutarch (cf. Euseb., “Praep.
    Evang.”, xii), and Neo-Platonists, like Plotinus, held it. It was also the
    belief of the Babylonians and As-syrians, as their monuments testify, for a
    figure of a guardian angel now in the British Museum once decorated an
    As-syrian palace, and might well serve for a modern representation; while
    Nabopolassar, father of Nebuchadnezzar the Great, says: “He (Marduk) sent
    a tutelary deity (cherub) of grace to go at my side; in everything that I did,
    he made my work to succeed.”

    Catholic monks and Dark Age theologians also did their share of

    “TUBUAS-A member of the group of angels who were removed from
    the ranks of officially recognized celestial hierarchy in 745 by a council in
    Rome under Pope Zachary. He was joined by Uriel, Adimus, Sabaoth, Simiel, and

    And tin-ker- bells go way, way back:

    “In Zoroastrianism there are different angel like creatures.
    For example each person has a guardian angel called Fravashi. They patronize human
    being and other creatures and also manifest god’s energy. Also, the Amesha
    Spentas have often been regarded as angels, but they don’t convey messages, but
    are rather emanations of Ahura Mazda (“Wise Lord”, God); they appear
    in an abstract fashion in the religious thought of Zarathustra and then later
    (during the Achaemenid period of Zoroastrianism) became personalized,
    associated with an aspect of the divine creation (fire, plants,

    “The beginnings of the biblical belief in angels must be sought
    in very early folklore. The gods of the Hitti-tes and Canaanites had their
    supernatural messengers, and parallels to the Old Testament stories of angels
    are found in Near Eastern literature. ”

    “The ‘Magic Papyri’ contain many spells to secure just such
    help and protection of angels. From magic traditions arose the concept of the
    guardian angel. ”

    For added information see the review at:


    “The prophet Ezekiel described an incredible vision of
    cherubim angels in Ezekiel chapter 10 of the Torah and the Bible, mentioning
    that the angels’ wings were “completely full of eyes” (verse 12) and “under
    their wings was what looked like human hands” (verse 21). The angels each used
    their wings and something “like a wheel intersecting a wheel” (verse 10) that
    “sparkled like topaz” (verse 9) to move around.”

    For a rather extensive review of angel wings, see

  12. Hey Zampona – your statement makes a value judgment, thanks for letting us know how weak it was!
    (PS – before you shoot your mouth off again, perhaps a class in logic might be a good idea)

  13. Let me be clearer: any statement that must express a judgment of its own value is a weak statement indeed. Hopefully, that clears things up.

  14. When people ask me if God has a spouse, I say, “Yes she does!”

  15. Yes
    Quoting from the Gospel Topics essay (reviewed and approved by the First Presidency)

    In 1909, the First Presidency taught that “all men and women are in the similitude of the universal Father and Mother, and are literally the sons and daughters of Deity.” Susa Young Gates, a prominent leader in the Church, wrote in 1920 that Joseph Smith’s visions and teachings revealed the truth that “the divine Mother, [is] side by side with the divine Father.” And in “The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” issued in 1995, the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles declared, “Each [person] is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny.”…
    Elder Rudger Clawson wrote, “We honor woman when we acknowledge Godhood in her eternal Prototype.”


  16. At it’s core, Christianity’s DNA isn’t Grace, but violence. It’s revealed in Christianity’s beginning mythos of an innocence murder. Then to the rise of it stature of a state religion, where its priest anointed Caesar and in turn condoned the murder of the priest and priestess of the competing religions. Now, to the raise of Trump. Chrisitainity’s DNA cannot be hidden. I didn’t even talk about Christianity’s Imperialism, look what it did to the indigenous people of the Americas or to the people of Africa.

  17. Funny stuff. . . . .and relevant. Best post of the thread.

  18. We believe we all have the command to be like Jesus, to inherit the Father’s kingdom, so in a sense we are all gods if we follow Jesus Christ. God promises us that! It’s in the Bible and throughout LDS teachings. God the Father will always be our Supreme God, and Jesus next to Him.

  19. Is Levi Peterson an LDS person, or General Authority? That sounds nothing like a Mormon or his or her view or respect for God the Eternal Father.
    Glad to know you have matured faith in God and Christ in your later years.

  20. I thought the teaching is literal, not “in a sense.” Do I have this wrong? And if the Mother God is as much gog as the Father God, why aren’t women serving as Apostles of the Mormon church?

  21. We are told if we obey Jesus and become like Him, we will inherit all the Father has. But that does not take away that the God the Father is always our Father, and Jesus Christ is our spiritual father. They are Gods, and we are more “like the Gods”. I don’t fully understand it but as a Latter-day Saint I believe it is an amazing promise. They don’t lie. We get confused, but they have it straight.

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