RS/MP Lesson 4: “Freedom to Choose” (Gospel Principles Manual)

What follows is mostly ridiculous. That is not to say that the content is ridiculous (though that may be true), but that the length of the discussion of this lesson and the detail to which I ended up attending are ridiculous. As it turned out, an assignment in my ward got me studying this lesson a month in advance, and these notes materialized over the course of a couple of weeks. Having that much time to work on it, the notes grew and grew. But the length and detail of what follows can be taken as an indication of what has become my conviction that we, as Latter-day Saints, have not done a whole lot of serious thinking about the doctrine of agency. As such, what follows inevitably hovers between (1) a terribly inconclusive theological reinvestigation from the ground up of what the scripture, combined with the prophets, have presented as the “doctrine of agency” and (2) an exposition of the material in the manual, aimed at providing food for thought for those preparing to teach the lesson. My apologies for the complexity and particularly the length, but I think there is a good deal of work that needs to be done in our thinking about agency.

Preliminaries

The lesson is divided into three parts: a first part focuses on the role of agency in premortality; a second part focuses on the role of agency in mortality; and a third part explores the basic tensions at work in agency as such. This very organization of the material raises, I think, very interesting questions. Agency is one of the few aspects of the “plan of salvation” that we find it important to assign as much to the premortal as the mortal stretch of existence; and it is one of the few aspects of the same plan that we don’t particularly find it important to assign as much to the postmortal as the mortal stretch of existence. There is something curious about this.

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