The Not-so Mormon Soteriology of Glenn Beck

By Bill McKeever

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Glenn BeckGlenn Beck, an outspoken member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, caused quite a stir on his July 13, 2010 broadcast when he spent a good portion of his show explaining the difference between the Christian view of individual salvation, and the collective view of salvation proffered by proponents of Black liberation theology. He explained:

"You cannot earn your way into heaven. You can't! There is no deed, no random act of kindness, no amount of money to spread around to others that earns you a trip to heaven. It can't happen. It's earned by God's grace alone, by believing that Jesus died on the cross for you. This is what Christians believe."

Beck spoke of a necessary change of heart and then proceeded to quote James 2:20, a verse I often hear from Mormons who feel this somehow trumps the doctrine of salvation by grace through faith. However, Beck explained this passage in a very typical Protestant fashion. "What does that mean? Our works are a demonstration of our faith."

He went on to say,

"I also am wise enough to know that people will say, yeah, but Glenn Beck is a Mormon, He's not even a real Christian. You can believe what you want. I will tell you that I am a man who needed the atonement more than most people do. I appreciate the atonement. I accept Jesus as my savior. I know that I am alive today because I did give all of it to Him because I couldn’t carry it anymore."

I was intrigued when he said he spoke of talking to well-respected Southern Baptist Richard Land to make sure his definition of individual salvation was the same as mainline Christianity (I can only imagine how his monologue might have sounded had he called someone like Boyd Packer or Robert D. Hales). Beck went on to say,

"salvation is an individual relationship between the individual and God through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. . . Jesus said, John 14:6, 'I am the way, the truth, and the life.' I cannot be saved for you. I cannot save you. I can't even save myself. If you're a Christian you believe that Jesus can save you."

Beck then went to his famous chalkboards which contained a drawing of three crosses on a hill and another drawing representing an empty tomb.

"Here is traditional Christianity. Jesus died, two thieves over here. He took on the sins of the world by choice. The empty tomb represents that he conquered death. He was not a victim because he did it by choice. He's not a victim, he's a victor. He was a conqueror. He conquered death. Got it? To receive his salvation you accept his forgiveness of sin, and live your life, according to his will. That's what every Christian church in the country, in the world, believes. This is biblical."

When Beck says "You cannot earn your way into heaven,” he contradicts numerous statements from LDS leaders. For example:

“The demands of justice for broken law can be satisfied through mercy, earned by your continual repentance and obedience to the laws of God. Such repentance and obedience are absolutely essential for the Atonement to work its complete miracle in your life” (Mormon Apostle Richard G. Scott, “The Atonement Can Secure Your Peace and Happiness,” Ensign (Conference Edition), November 2006, p.42).

 “It is the celestial glory which we seek. It is in the presence of God we desire to dwell. It is a forever family in which we want membership. Such blessings must be earned” (Thomas Monson, “An Invitation to Exaltation,”  Ensign (Conference Edition), May 1988, p.56).

“Now, brethren and sisters, somebody said in this conference that the same laws apply, the same rules govern today, and it is just as necessary for us to keep the commandments of our Heavenly Father today as it was for any of the prophets of old or any of his faithful sons and daughters who have lived upon the earth, who have earned a right to a place in the celestial kingdom. We can't gain our exaltation by the good lives of our neighbors, but we can profit by their good example, and we can improve ourselves” (Eighth President George Albert Smith, Conference Reports, April 1948, pp.162-163).

“We are living eternal life, and our position hereafter will be the result of our lives here. Every man will be judged according to his works, and he will receive only that degree of glory that he has earned. (Conference Reports, April 1945, p. 139.)” (The Teachings of George Albert Smith, p.30).

“There is only one objective so far as our Father’s work is concerned, and that is that in the end when we shall have finished our work here on earth, whether after a short space of time or a long, we too shall have overcome the world and have earned the right to that place called the Celestial Kingdom” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Harold B. Lee, pp.230-231).

“Baptism into Christ’s true church by proper authority opens the doors for exaltation in the eternal kingdoms of glory, exaltation to be earned by repentance, by living righteously, keeping the commandments of the Lord, and service to one’s fellowmen” (Spencer W. Kimball, “The Stone Cut without Hands,” Ensign (Conference Edition), May 1976, p.7).

Beck seems to also understand that good works come about as a result of being forgiven, not a prerequisite in order to receive forgiveness. Again, this flies in the face of traditional Mormon teaching:

“Nevertheless, he that repents and does the commandments of the Lord shall be forgiven” (Doctrine and Covenants 1:32).

“That by keeping the commandments they might be washed and cleansed from all their sins, and receive the Holy Spirit by the laying on of the hands of him who is ordained and sealed unto this power” (Doctrine and Covenants 76:52).

“All that we can do for ourselves we are required to do. We must do our own repenting; we are required to obey every commandment and live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. If we will do this, then we are freed from the consequences of our own sins. The plan of salvation is based on this foundation. No man can be saved without complying with these laws" (Joseph Fielding Smith, The Way to Perfection, p.172).

“To be forgiven one must repent. Repentance means not only to convict yourselves of the horror of the sin, but to confess it, abandon it, and restore to all who have been damaged to the total extent possible; then spend the balance of your lives trying to live the commandments of the Lord so he can eventually pardon you and cleanse you” (Spencer W. Kimball, The Miracle of Forgiveness, p.200).

“And incomplete repentance never brought complete forgiveness” (Spencer W. Kimball, The Miracle of Forgiveness, p.212).

“Complete forgiveness is reserved for those only who turn their whole hearts to the Lord and begin to keep all of his commandments not just those commandments disobeyed in the past, but those in all fields. ‘He that repents and does the commandments of the Lord shall be forgiven’” (Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 1966, p.295).

“When you meet all of the conditions of repentance, however difficult, you may be forgiven and your transgressions will trouble your mind no more” (Boyd K. Packer, “Washed Clean,” Ensign (Conference Edition), May 1997, p.10).

“The benefits of the atonement for personal salvation arise out of our obedience to the laws and commandments of the gospel. The forgiveness of sins comes to us by this obedience to the ordinances of the gospel and by enduring to the end, walking in obedience to the commandments. (Roy W. Doxey, The Doctrine and Covenants Speaks 1:104).

I have to admit, Beck's explanation makes me wonder if his close relationships with several evangelical Christians are not having a positive effect. I have played the July 13th clip over and over (being the lousy typist I am, I had to just to transcribe it properly) and it seems apparent that Beck does not agree with traditional Mormon soteriology. And while I want to be optimistic about all of this, I admit that I have been disappointed by many Mormons who use Protestant phrases while failing to set aside the soul-damning, works oriented doctrine of Mormonism. However, at this point I don’t have any reason to believe Beck has an agenda to try and make his church look more “Christian.” I tend to believe he is trying to explain what he believes personally. Whether or not he knows he is out of harmony with his church, I cannot say, but if I understand the above correctly, he most certainly is.

How should we as Christians handle this? Because we are so used to Mormons using "Christianese" to conceal Mormonism's unique teachings, it is all too easy to assume Beck is merely doing the same. And while I often encourage a healthy dose of skepticism, I think we must also be willing to give a fair hearing to each and every Latter-day Saint in order to fully understand where they are coming from on a personal level. Unless we have reason to believe otherwise, it is imprudent to automatically assume Beck is being deceitful.

According to his testimony, the Mormon Church became a part of Beck's life at a time of great emotional need, so we should not at all be surprised if he will continue to demonstrate a level of loyalty to his church. Many who transition out of Mormonism tend to do this slowly. However, if Beck continues to publicly express theological positions that contradict his leaders, there will come a time when his church will no longer be loyal to him. If that happens, I hope he will find a warm welcome among Christians that have prayed for him during his spiritual search for truth. All I can say at this point is, let's be patient and see how this all pans out. If the Holy Spirit is really doing a work in his life, I am sure He will do an excellent job at bringing Beck into a more consistent relationship with the Father. Whether that happens sooner, later, or never, I have no intention to stop praying for him.