Jesus Christ/Atonement/LDS versus evangelical Christian view
Comparing the LDS versus the evangelical Christian views of the Atonement
Critics compare what they state are the four positions of the LDS church, which by their definition must be false.
The critics compare
Critics claim that the LDS view of the Atonement is as follows:
- The atonement "provides everyone with a general resurrection and cancellation of the consequences of Adam's transgression;"
- It "took place primarily in the Garden of Gethsemane;"
- It "was possible before Christ had died and was raised;"
- The atonement "is not complete unless the individual demonstrates total obedience."
The four positions of the Christian theory, which by definition must be correct, are:
- The atonement "provides for the salvation of only those who have faith in Christ;"
- It "took place on the cross alone;"
- It "was possible only after Christ's death;"
- It "is complete for the believer by the grace of God." 
The Latter-day Saint meaning of "salvation"
As is so frequently done, the critics here are attempting to compare apples and oranges. They are contrasting "resurrection" on the LDS side with "salvation" on the other side. They are contrasting "cross only" with "garden and cross." They are rejecting the possibility of the Israelites having any knowledge whatever of the works of the future Messiah, and therefore being saved by their faith in the future Messiah. And do they really want to contrast "obedience" to the Gospel with the "grace of God?" Does God require nothing at all of us after that grace has entered our life? The Lord had something to say about those who cry Lord, Lord, but do not what He says. The restoration of the Gospel through the Prophet Joseph Smith actually makes the two positions most compatible, at least from the perspective of the members of the Church of Jesus Christ. It is really only the critics who have a problem reconciling the two positions. The LDS position is a broader concept, based on further light and knowledge, i.e., revelation from God.
The Latter-day Saints teach a principle of exaltation, beyond the ordinary salvation mentioned by evangelical critics, which makes both systems compatible on the first point. Salvation is a free gift of grace provided for by the atoning death and resurrection of the Savior; however, the specific type of resurrection is based on one's own life activity: we will be judged according to our works; (John 5:29) Jesus Christ is the "author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him." (Hebrews 5:9) The "Great Commission" of Jesus to the Apostles at the end of Matthew says that they are "to teach them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you." (Matthew 28:20) The word 'primarily' in the second point of differences opens up the door for reconciling the two positions on the issue of Gethsemane vs. Calvary. As has been seen, there is no such issue for the Latter-day Saints: the atonement begins in the Garden (or before creation, 'before the foundations of the world were laid'), and ends on the Cross (or perhaps is still continuing, with Christ continuing to intercede for us with the Father).
The benefits of the atonement
The Latter-day Saints basically agree with the third critical position point, in the sense that until, or unless, the atonement and resurrection had actually taken place, there was no opportunity for anyone, before or after that event, to receive the benefits of it. All this really means however is that there was no resurrection prior to the resurrection of the Savior Himself, and, therefore, no possibility of anyone being brought back into the presence of God the Father. Heaven was only a dream until the atonement and resurrection made its attainment a real possibility. As for the forgiveness of sins: since it is based on the atonement by Jesus Christ, that could be accomplished, because of the foreknowledge of the Father: He knew that His Son would follow through with the Atonement, thereby redeeming all from the individual effects of the Fall. The belief in the possibility of receiving a forgiveness of one's sins prior to the birth and death of the Savior is also contingent upon the belief in Prophets being 'truly' called of God. One must believe that God can really and truly call to His service an individual and proclaim to them what will be in the future. If we believe with Paul that the "gospel was preached beforetime to Abraham," or that the "Israelites were baptized to God in a cloud," we must do so completely. If the gospel was preached to them, then we have to admit that they were, at least to some degree, taught about the future Savior and His atoning sacrifice. We must believe that, not only would He not leave their souls in hell, but that He would make a way possible for them to confess their sins and repent of them. If this is true, then a certain amount of salvation was possible before the birth of the Savior. However, it still required His atonement and resurrection to make the fullness of that salvation possible.
The fourth position point deals with the principle of grace, which Latter-day Saints accept, if understood properly. The atoning sacrifice of the Savior was an act of grace; no one forced Him to go through with it; nor did we, on the basis of anything we had done, merit its occurrence. Christ atoned for the sin of Adam, and for our individual sins, because He loved us. But we have to accept it if it is going to be meaningful in our lives. All will receive that aspect of the atonement that applies to the resurrection of the body; only those who accept Jesus Christ and follow His commandments are going to receive the fullest benefits of that sacrifice.
- [note] Bill McKeever and Eric Johnson, Mormonism 101. Examining the Religion of the Latter-day Saints (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 2000), Chapter 10. ( Index of claims )