Here and elsewhere there is a lot of debate about the differences between Mormonism and biblical Christianity. One thing causing these differences is that they often start in different places – they begin with different presuppositions. When that happens, most of the time, you are going to end up in drastically different places.
One example of that is how each views the human race. That in itself is a broad topic so I would like to narrow it down to human potential after Adam and Eve’s Fall into sin. The Bible does not paint a very pretty picture. Immediately after their Fall, the Bible describes Abel’s murder at the hands of his brother Cain. Already in the sixth chapter of the Bible we hear this damming indictment of the human race: “And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” (Gen. 6:5) The phrases “every imagination” and “only evil continually” don’t leave any wiggle room. That clearly states that man was totally depraved.
Therefore God sent the Flood. It would seem that we could breathe a sigh of relief because now mankind can start all over. But not so fast. Immediately after the Flood, before Noah and his family did anything but sacrifice to God, we read: “And the Lord said in his heart, I will not again curse the ground any more for man’s sake; for the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth.” (Gen. 6:21) Although the Flood changed the physical world it didn’t do anything to man’s heart. Both before and after the Flood it is described as “evil”.
This theme carries throughout the rest of the Bible. One of the more common descriptions of man’s spiritual condition is that of being spiritually dead. Other descriptions include being spiritually blind and hostile to God. Taking these passages at face value, the only potential that the Bible ascribes to man after the Flood is the potential to act on the evil that resides in his heart. That is the force of “every imagination” and “only evil continually”.
Mormonism, however, begins at a different point. It teaches that man has a lot of good in them. It stresses its doctrine of agency – everybody’s ability to choose the right. (How is that reconciled with being spiritually dead and blind?) In short, Mormonism has a much more positive view of mankind. This fits well with American optimism but it doesn’t fit well with biblical teaching.
As I said before, when you start at different places, you usually end up in different places. So also here. Because of its dim outlook on man’s potential, the Bible turns people away from thinking they contribute anything to their living with God for all eternity. Salvation, according to the Bible, relies entirely on Jesus’ saving work. “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” (Romans3:24-25) According to the Bible, salvation, including living for all eternity in the Father’s mansion, is entirely God’s gift.
This even includes conversion. According to the Bible, man doesn’t need to be spiritually rehabilitated he needs to be spiritually resurrected. That is why it speaks of conversion in terms of rebirth and creation. That is why it talks about God enlightening the spiritually blind, reconciling to himself the spiritually hostile. From first to last, in the context of salvation, the Bible has God doing the work.
Because Mormonism teaches that man has much more potential, it naturally demands that people contribute to their living with heavenly Father. Salvation, according to Mormonism, is a combination of God’s grace and man’s works. Where people spend eternity is conditioned on their keeping the commandments. All of this is a logical outgrowth of where it starts – of its presupposition that there remains a lot of good in people.
You start in different places you are going to end up in different places. Many of the differences between Mormonism and biblical Christianity exist because they start in different places when it comes to their view of man after the Fall.