November 2, 2010

"All Find What They Truly Seek" (p.5): Lewis as a Virtuous Unbeliever

The fifth and final part of “'All Find What They Truly Seek': C.S. Lewis, Latter-day Saints, and the Virtuous Unbeliever” (Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 43, no. 3 [Fall 2010]: 21–62). This one discusses Lewis's salvatory possibilities according to LDS thought. See also parts one, two, three, and four.

From an LDS standpoint, Lewis himself is viewed as a virtuous unbeliever since he was not baptized by the authority of the LDS Church. At the same time, his labors in God’s vineyard of the world have been recognized and enjoyed by many Latter-day Saints who believe that inspired words can come from those of different faith traditions.89 Many Latter-day Saints would likely include Lewis in Oaks’s description of unbaptized workers who “are like the prepared dry mix to which it is only necessary to ‘add water’—the perfecting ordinance of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost. With that addition—even in the eleventh hour—these workers are in the same state of development and qualified to receive the same reward as those who have labored long in the vineyard.”90

In the LDS view, exaltation is not out of reach for an individual like Lewis because the “eleventh hour” does not necessarily end at death.91 The “fulness of the gospel” is being preached to the dead in the spirit world (D&C 124:29–39) and required ordinances like baptism can be administered by living proxies (D&C 138) on behalf of the deceased.92 Latter-day Saints believe that individuals in the spirit world choose to accept or reject proxy ordinances performed on their behalf, thus preserving their agency.93 This doctrine mercifully expands possibilities for the virtuous unbeliever while keeping the Christian conditions ultimately the same.94 Latter-day Saints balance the necessity of Jesus Christ, the meaningful free will of humans, and the mercy and justice of God by recognizing that ultimately, in this life or after death, every person can choose to “become one” in Christ.

As described in the parable of the laborers in the vineyard, the actions and choices of virtuous unbelievers in their daily lives play a role in their ultimate destiny. God is teaching His children the lessons they need to learn even though they may not have heard specifically of Jesus Christ. For Latter-day Saints, as well as for Lewis, mortal life itself is structured to shape humans as God desires—providing opportunities to accept or reject the light. God is working with all of His children on their own levels and in various religious traditions to bring them back home. Christianity asserts that through God all men and women can be born again.

In the eternal scheme of things as understood in Mormonism, justice and mercy work together to provide all with an opportunity to receive “the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,” to use Paul’s words (Eph. 4:13). Or as Latter-day Saints might say, to receive a “celestial glory” in the hereafter, without leaving the necessary ordinances behind. But the ordinances themselves are only one part of the process of conversion in Latter-day Saint thought, and they can come at the very tail end of the process if need be. For Lewis and Latter-day Saints, conversion is a process that is difficult, if not impossible, to pin down. It is not merely instantaneous, it might not appear on the outside to follow the same set path for everyone, but it is real. “Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again,” Christ explained. “The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit” (John 3:7–8).

Remarkably long footnotes:
[89] Blair Dee Hodges, “C. S. Lewis: Crypto-Mormon? Part I: Latter-day Saints on Lewis,” posted May 5, 2009.

[90] Oaks, “The Challenge to Become.”

[91] Latter-day Saints often differentiate between “salvation” and “exaltation,” the former being granted in certain degrees to all of God’s children, the latter being predicated on accepting and living the gospel. Exaltation is granted to those in the celestial kingdom. Margaret McConkie Pope, “Exaltation,” Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 4 vols. (New York: Macmillan Publishing, 1992), 2:479.

[92] Lorenzo Snow, fifth LDS Church president, said: “Missionary work is more successful in spirit prison than on earth. A wonderful work is being accomplished in our temples in favor of the spirits in prison. I believe strongly, too, that when the gospel is preached to the spirits in prison, the success attending that preaching will be far greater than that attending the preaching of our elders in this life.” Quoted in Lorenzo Snow, The Teachings of Lorenzo Snow, edited by Clyde J. Williams (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1984), 98.

[93] Elma Fugal, “Salvation of the Dead,” Encyclopedia ofMormonism, 4 vols. (New York: Macmillan Publishing, 1992), 3:1257–59: “The performing of earthly ordinances by proxy for those who have died is as efficacious and vitalizing as if the deceased person had done them. That person, in turn, is free to accept or reject the ordinances in the spirit world.”

[941] Vatican II’s acceptance of the idea resulted in the defection of the Society of St. Paul Pius X, which called such inclusion “a very grave doctrinal error because it declares personal justification as being already realized for every man without any participation of his will or free choice and, so, without any need of his conversion, faith, baptism or works.” Society of St. Pius X, Australian District, “Errors of Vatican II,” Si Si No No, No. 52 (May 2003), (accessed March 30, 2010). The LDS view retains the necessity of ordinances and works coupled with Christ’s grace as requirements for all. Thus, the LDS position cuts through objections to Karl Rahner’s anonymous Christian concept.