If I cannot convince you that the book “Believing Christ” dramatically alters the doctrine that preceded it on the atonement, would you listen to other members who recognize the same thing?
In fact, I would recommend Believing Christ by Stephen Robinson in place of this book, simply because Robinson focuses on grace rather than guilt. Maybe that is the bottom line, I believe that this book is too heavy on the guilt end and not heavy enough on the forgiveness end.—
[One reviewer makes a quote from “The miracle of forgiveness” and then comments on it as shown here]:
“Our ills are usually of our own begetting. They must be corrected by ourselves…a healing process in the spirit and mind must come from within–from self-will.” For one thing, not all of our ills are our own begetting. For another, while I understand that we must put forth effort to repent and to improve ourselves, I don’t think the solution is our superhuman strength of will. I think that the healing comes from the Atonement and that we DON’T have the ability to do it alone. That is why we have the Savior. Many passages in this book are presented as if we have to make ourselves perfect and then maybe, just maybe, we will receive grace.
I found it harsh and offensive in many places.
this book emphasizes that, to show us how desperate of a situation we are in b/c we can’t ever attain the level of perfection we need to without the atonement.
At least it ends on a positive note (Matt 11:28-30). Since the first few lines of a review are usually all people see, I’ll put my overall impressions here. I must say in fairness that this did bring a positive change in my life, and the last 2 chapters are very nice and encouraged me to come to Christ more fully. HOWEVER, this book is full of statements that are theologically incomplete and would be misunderstood if taken out of context. In the second to last chapter, SWK addresses just such a quote from JS, when he stated that adulterers cannot inherit the Celestial Kingdom. SWK goes to lengths to explain that this must be reinterpreted as meaning (in the context of all of JS’s other statements) that only unrepentant adulterers would be excluded. So it is terribly ironic how often SWK makes the same mistake. The most common are: 1. statements about our supposed ability to be perfect/pure/sin-free (which must be reinterpreted as being about major sins only–SWK is urging us to avoid major sins, while recognizing that we all are sinful and need Jesus), and 2. statements about our supposed ability to perfect/sanctify/cleanse ourselves (which also must be reinterpreted as being possible only through Jesus).
This is my first time reading SWK’s classic since reading Believing Christ and Scott Burton’s manuscript (not available yet, but the working title is “Who Could Have Supposed”). They drastically altered my perspective on grace and the Atonement, and I can’t help notice as I’m reading TMOF for the fourth time, how heavily dated it is. It’s an embarassment to see how poorly it reflects our post-Benson emphasis on the Savior in the Church (I believe it was ETB’s call to read the BOM that provided us with our current, proper, emphasis on Christ). I don’t think I would recommend it to young people today, who I think would be better sent to Robinson for guidance before being told, for example, that suicides are guilty of committing a controllable offense (p. 106; SWK doesn’t acknowledge that depression can limit agency), or that we qualify for heaven’s rewards through our hard work and effort (look to other parts of the text for the rest of the equation, which SWK leaves out painfully often).
In one of the more egregious examples of atonement-ignoring passages, on p. 83 he writes, “Our ills are usually of our own begetting. They must be corrected by ourselves. Man is the master of his destiny, be it good or bad. Man has the inherent capacity to heal himself physically. A doctor may cleanse a wound, sew it up, bandage it well, but the natural power of the body must do the healing. Likewise, a healing process in the spirit and mind must come from within–from self-will. Others may help to cauterize the mound, suture it, and provide a clean, proper environment for the healing, but the body, with the aid of the Spirit, must heal itself. Accordingly, some totally conquer homosexuality in a few months, others linger on with less power and require more time to make the total comeback. The cure is as permanent as the individual makes it and, like the cure for alcoholism, is subject to continued vigilance.” As I read this, I felt a welling up of frustration for this perpetuation of bootstrap Mormonism–the brand of our religion that seems to posit that we can pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps, and that only “the weak” among us–as if that weren’t all of us!–need ask for help in the process.
Here’s another shocking example, under the heading, “Trying Is Not Sufficient” (pp. 164-165): “It is normal for children to try. They fall and get up numerous times before they can be certain of their footing. But adults, who have gone through these learning periods, must determine what they will do, they proceed to do it. To ‘try’ is weak. To ‘do the best I can’ is not strong. We must always do *better* than we can” (emphasis in original). In other words, we are not all weak–apparently most of us are superhuman and don’t make mistakes or fall short once they get past childhood–they always just put their minds to things and do them without failure.
A page earlier, he wrote, “Desire is not sufficient. In other words, it is not real repentance until one has abandoned the error of his way and started on a new path. Someone has said that there is only one way to quit a bad habit and that is to stop.” It seems that in this fantasy world where grace is an afterthought rather than the help we rely on throughout the process, we have to perfect ourselves first (stop our sin without help, because that is the “only way,” before we can show “real repentance”) before Christ will deign to ratify our worthiness with forgiveness. If that is the formula for forgiveness (self-perfection through triumphant bootstrap effort) then why would we need a savior at all? Half the time when reading this text, the reader will wonder where all the perfect people are who can supposedly follow this celestial program, and why he always seems to have such a hard time measuring up.
It is not all disheartening. I am grateful for the reminders of how important purity is, and as long as I keep that perspective that it is through Christ that I am purified, not through my own merits, I think the book shouldn’t be too discouraging 🙂
I should say that my criticism of TMOF didn’t originate with me. My institute teacher in Alabama, Scott Burton, shared a story once of a little hunched-over lady coming up to SWK at a conference once, and shaking his hand. “Oh, President Kimball,” she is reported to have said, “I just loved your book. It made me feel so BAD!” Allegedly he replied something to the effect that if it made a sweet little old lady like her feel bad, then perhaps he had overdone it.
An interesting story–it may not be true, but it is true for the true ideas it contains. Prophets in every dispensation have had a responsibility to cry repentance, and certainly I am glad that as a living prophet (even when an apostle), he answered this call. I also am quick to acknowledge that all of us are sinful, and need repentance–and Christ! Yet it seems importance where the emphasis is placed. I prefer Robinson’s approach as one that leads the sinful to Christ by emphasizing His merits and how glorious and good He is. SWK’s approach, which seems to start with how awful, horrible, and bad we are, can lead to discouragement and turn away the sinner before the process is complete. As my stake president recently told me, it is important when reading TMOF that you get all the way through, because most of it is not going to put you in a very hopeful mood.
I agree that we need a reason for Christ before we will feel our desperate need for Him, and perhaps this is the best approach with some. So, it remains a classic, and I’m certain it will continue to change lives for many decades to come.
I should add that I think it’s neat how the titles of SWK’s two classics go together to make a coherent phrase: “Faith preceeds the miracle…of forgiveness.”
While I can’t say that there are any doctrinal problems with the text, I felt that it misrepresented the gospel. The first half or so of the book is designed to help you understand that you are a worthless sinner. Really, the people who are inclined to read it are also generally inclined to recognize their guilt already. This means that the book first focuses on piercing their tender hearts with deep wounds (see Jacob 2). It was Kimball’s intent to thus prepare the reader for the second portion that witnesses the ‘good news’ of the gospel. However, I feet that it generally fails to rekindle the hope necessary for repentance (see Alma 42). It fails to help people feel or recognize God’s love. I would only recommend it to callous self-righteous jerks, and then only if they were closely connected to a kind and loving role-model and spiritual leader who can help them find God’s love.
In every single instance in which the interviewers disagreed with President Kimball’s book they displayed their ignorance and got the matter completely wrong.