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Since it was first published in 2000, The Infinite Atonement, has become an instant classic for every student of the Atonement. This new illustrated edition—filled with stunning full-color illustrations by artist James C. Christensen, Simon Dewey, Greg Olsen, Walter Rane, and many others—adds visual beauty to spiritual inspiration.
Author Tad R. Callister offers what may be the most comprehensive and yet understandable treatment of the Atonement published in our day. He thoughtfully proves the infinite scope of the "great and last sacrifice," describing its power and breadth and explaining how it redeems us all.
Using the scriptures and the words of the prophets, Elder Callister explores the Savior's divinity and the depth of His love for mankind. He discusses the blessings that flow from the Atonement and provides insight into the resurrection, repentance, and the gifts of peace, motivation, freedom, grace, and exaltation. He explains the relationship of justice and mercy and the importance of ordinances. And through his examination of the effects of the fall of Adam and our individual sins, he reminds us powerfully of the incalculable debt of gratitude we owe our Savior, Jesus Christ, for His unparalleled offering.
"An attempt to master this doctrine requires an immersion of all our senses, all our feelings, and all our intellect," Elder Callister writes. "The Atonement is not a doctrine that lends itself to some singular approach, like a universal formula. It must be felt, not just 'figured'; internalized, not just analyzed. The Atonement of Jesus Christ is the most supernal, mind-expanding, passionate doctrine this world or universe will ever know."
With clarity, testimony, and understanding, The Infinite Atonement teaches us rich and wonderful truths about this "doctrine of doctrines" and elevates our spirits as we contemplate the perfect love of Him who gave all that we might receive all.
- Size: 8 x 10
- Pages: 384
- Year Published: 2013
About the Author
Tad R. Callister was sustained October 1, 2011, as a member of the Presidency of the Seventy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Three years earlier he had been called to the Second Quorum of Seventy, having previously served as president of the Canada Toronto East Mission, as a member of the Fifth Quorum of the Seventy, and as a member of the Pacific Area Presidency. Before his call to full-time Church service, Elder Callister was a practicing attorney. He and his wife, Kathryn Saporiti Callister, are the parents of six children and grandparents of twenty-four.
Why Study the Atonement?
Knowledge Leads to Salvation
If the Atonement is the foundation of our faith (and it is), then no one should be content with a casual acquaintance of this doctrine. Instead, the Atonement should be paramount in our intellectual and spiritual pursuits. President John Taylor, who fervently pondered the complexities of the Atonement, observed: “There must be some reason why [Christ] was allowed to suffer and to endure; why it was necessary that he should give up his life a sacrifice for the sins of the world. . . . In these reasons we and all the world are intimately concerned; there is something of great importance in all this to us. The whys and wherefores of these great events are pregnant with importance to us all.”1
Lehi understood the need to both explore and teach the doctrine of the Atonement. While counseling his son Jacob he said, “How great the importance to make these things [the Atonement] known unto the inhabitants of the earth, that they may know that there is no flesh that can dwell in the presence of God, save it be through the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah” (2 Nephi 2:8). Jacob caught the vision of this counsel, for while preaching to his people he thoughtfully asked, “Why not speak of the atonement of Christ, and attain to a perfect knowledge of him . . . ?” (Jacob 4:12). The Prophet Joseph spoke of the depths we must plumb to acquire this “perfect knowledge”:
“The things of God are of deep import; and time, and experience, and careful and ponderous and solemn thoughts can only find them out. Thy mind, O man! . . . must stretch as high as the utmost heavens, and search into and contemplate the darkest abyss, and the broad expanse of eternity—thou must commune with God.”2
B. H. Roberts, one of the prominent scholars of the Church, made reference to “the difficult doctrine of atonement.”3 After intense study he wrote: “By deeper delving into the subject, my intellect also gives its full and complete assent to the soundness of the philosophy and the absolute necessity for the atonement of Jesus Christ. . . . I account it for myself a new conversion, an intellectual conversion, to the atonement of Jesus Christ; and I have been rejoicing in it of late, exceedingly.”4
For Elder Roberts, such intense study of the Atonement proved to be both a mind-expanding and soul-stretching experience. The intellectual and spiritual blended in wonderful harmony.
King Benjamin knew that our study of the Atonement was not meant solely as an intellectual exercise to satisfy our mental curiosities, nor was it a doctrine to be comprehended only by an elite few. It was critical to our salvation. His last sermon so states: “I say unto you, if ye have come to a knowledge of the goodness of God, and his matchless power, . . . and also, the atonement which has been prepared from the foundation of the world, . . . and should be diligent in keeping his commandments . . . I say, that this is the man who receiveth salvation” (Mosiah 4:6–7). There is no escaping it—our salvation is predicated upon both an understanding and acceptance of Christ’s atoning sacrifice.
A Misunderstood Doctrine
It seems paradoxical that the very doctrine that is essential to our salvation is also one of the least understood doctrines in the Christian world. The misunderstandings, confusion, and doctrinal heresies associated with this foundational doctrine and its precursor, the Fall, are rampant. The following are examples of such misconceptions taught by many in the Christian world today:5
1. Adam and Eve would have had children in the Garden of Eden if they had been allowed to remain.
2. Adam and Eve were not in a state of innocence in the Garden, but rather were experiencing unparalleled joy.
3. The Fall was not part of God’s master plan, but rather a tragic step backwards. It was a stumbling block, not a stepping stone in man’s eternal journey.
4. If Adam had not fallen, all of Adam’s children would have been born in a state of bliss, to live “happily ever after” in Edenic conditions.
5. Because of the Fall, all infants are tainted with original sin.
6. Grace alone can save (i.e., exalt) us, regardless of any works on our part.
7. The physical resurrection of the Savior was merely symbolic; we will be resurrected as spirits without the “limitations” of a physical body.
8. The Atonement does not have the power to transform us into gods; in fact, such a thought is blasphemous.
Each of the foregoing doctrinal assertions is false. They are not minor issues, but major theological points that strike at the doctrinal core of the Atonement. Without a correct understanding of them one will “end up” with many misconceptions of this central Christian teaching. Fortunately, the truth about each of these doctrinal points is taught in the Book of Mormon,6 with additional support from modern scriptures. (Each of these doctrines is discussed in detail in later chapters.)
There are also many key points of the Atonement that are not incorrectly taught by other religions—they simply are not taught at all. For example, which other religions discuss not only Christ’s taking upon himself all sins, but likewise his assumption of all pains, infirmities, and sicknesses inherent in the mortal experience? Who else preaches of the Atonement’s power to reach those who have no law or of its retroactive effect upon the saints of premeridian times? Who speaks of its power to transcend the grave and redeem spirits in the postmortal realm? Who else discusses the Atonement’s infinite implications as referred to by the Book of Mormon prophets? Ironically, the answers to these questions are not to be found in what many call “mainstream” Christianity, but rather in the restored Church of Jesus Christ. President Ezra Taft Benson taught:
“Much of the Christian world today rejects the divinity of the Savior. They question His miraculous birth, His perfect life, and the reality of His glorious resurrection. The Book of Mormon teaches in plain and unmistakable terms about the truth of all of those. It also provides the most complete explanation of the doctrine of the Atonement. Truly, this divinely inspired book is a keystone in bearing witness to the world that Jesus is the Christ.”7
Some years ago I had dinner with a retired judge. In the course of our conversation we found ourselves focusing on the Book of Mormon. At one point he made this bewildering statement: “I’ve read the Book of Mormon and there’s nothing new in it that’s not already in the Bible.” I was dumbfounded. It was obvious that he either had not read the Book of Mormon, or he did not understand it. If it were not for the Book of Mormon, we would fall victim to many of the misconceptions about the Fall and the Atonement, as discussed above, simply because the Bible, as inspired as it is, has had “many parts which are plain and most precious” deleted from its original contents. Nephi prophesied, however, that in the last days “other books” would restore “the plain and precious things which have been taken away from [the Bible]” (1 Nephi 13:39, 40). Fortunately, the Book of Mormon has come to our rescue. It clarifies certain doctrinal points that are ambiguous in the Bible, confirms others, and even more importantly, fills in many of the gaps and voids that are glaringly apparent. As Elder Jeffrey R. Holland has said: “Much of this doctrine [of the Atonement] has been lost or expunged from the biblical records. It is therefore of great consequence that the Book of Mormon prophets taught that doctrine in detail and with clarity.”8
Sometimes it is difficult for us as members of the Church to distinguish between our beliefs in the Atonement and those of the rest of the Christian world. Many of us grow up thinking that what we know and believe about this central doctrine is also what the world knows and believes, but it is not so. Without modern scriptures, particularly the Book of Mormon, it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to grasp many of the basic tenets of the Atonement. Almost two thousand years of Bible interpretation and the varied conclusions arrived at by many in the Christian world should be ample evidence of the need for additional scriptural insight.
For many, the beautiful and deep doctrine of the Atonement is summarily dismissed and placed on the back shelf with the facile response, “Just believe and be saved.” Why such an approach? Perhaps Hugh Nibley best articulates the reason:
“So cool has been the reception of the message [of the Atonement] that through the centuries, while heated controversy and debate have raged over evolution, atheism, the sacraments, the Trinity, authority, predestination, faith and works, and so on, there has been no argument or discussion at all about the meaning of the Atonement. Why were there no debates or pronouncements in the synods? People either do not care enough or do not know enough even to argue about it. For the doctrine of the Atonement is far too complicated to have the appeal of a world religion.”9
Satan has been successful in diverting much of the Christian world’s attention from the one doctrine that can save us, the Atonement of Jesus Christ, to the ancillary doctrines that have meaning only because they draw their sustenance from this redeeming event. Like a skilled magician, Satan’s every move is to divert our attention and dilute our focus from the primary object at hand, namely Christ’s atoning sacrifice, in hopes we will turn exclusively to doctrines of secondary and far lesser import. His diversionary tactics have been, and will be, of such global proportions that John tragically exclaimed, “Satan . . . deceiveth the whole world” (Revelation 12:9; see also D&C 10:63). After all the sleight of hand ceases and the smoke clears, it is still Jesus Christ, his Atonement, and our obedience to him that saves us—nothing else can do it.
A Source of Faith and Motivation
Some might wonder what difference it makes whether or not they understand the Atonement, as long as they believe and accept its consequences. Such a need is illustrated by an experience of Florence Chadwick, as shared by Sterling W. Sill. It was July 4, 1952. Chadwick, who had previously swum the English Channel, now attempted the twenty-one-mile swim from the southern California mainland to Catalina Island. The water was a freezing 48 degrees. The fog was thick and visibility almost nil. Finally, only a half mile from her destination, she became discouraged and quit. The next day reporters clamored around her asking why she had quit—had it been the cold water or the distance. It proved to be neither. She responded, “I was licked by the fog.” She then recalled a similar experience while swimming the English Channel. Evidently the fog was likewise engulfing. She was exhausted. As she was about to reach out for her father’s hand in the nearby boat, he pointed to the shore. She raised her head out of the water just long enough to see the land ahead. With that new vision, she pressed on and became the first woman to conquer the English Channel.10
That story teaches a magnificent principle: with increased vision can come increased motivation. So it is with the Atonement. As our vision of the Atonement is enhanced, our motivation to embrace its full effects is proportionately increased. President Howard W. Hunter gave this promise: “As we come to understand His mission and the atonement which He wrought, we will desire to live more like Him.”11 The divine consequences of so studying were disclosed by Elder Neal A. Maxwell: “The more we know of Jesus’ Atonement, the more we will humbly and gladly glorify Him, His Atonement, and His character.”12 Finally, Elder Bruce R. McConkie shared his testimony of the need for this spiritual pursuit in our lives:
“The atonement of Christ is the most basic and fundamental doctrine of the gospel, and it is the least understood of all our revealed truths. Many of us have a superficial knowledge and rely upon the Lord and his goodness to see us through the trials and perils of life. But if we are to have faith like that of Enoch and Elijah, we must believe what they believed, know what they knew, and live as they lived.
“May I invite you to join with me in gaining a sound and sure knowledge of the Atonement.”13
Every attempt to reflect upon the Atonement, to study it, to embrace it, to express appreciation for it, however small or feeble it may be, will kindle the fires of faith and work its miracle towards a more Christlike life. It is an inescapable consequence of so doing. We become like those things we habitually love and admire. And thus, as we study Christ’s life and live his teachings, we become more like him.
. See Smith, Religious Truths Defined, 99, 353, and 365 for a summary of various Christian misstatements on the Fall and Atonement; see also Roberts, The Truth, The Way, The Life, 345–48, 428; and Smith, Way to Perfection, 35.
First misconception: 2 Nephi 2:23; Moses 5:11
Second misconception: 2 Nephi 2:22–23
Third misconception: 2 Nephi 2; Alma 42
Fourth misconception: 2 Nephi 2:22–23
Fifth misconception: Moroni 8
Sixth misconception: 2 Nephi 25:23
Seventh misconception: Alma 40:23; 3 Nephi 11:13–17
Eighth misconception: 3 Nephi 12:48; 27:27; Moroni 10:30–33.
BEAUTIFUL and POWERFUL
by Shauna - reviewed on March 18, 2013
The Infinite Atonement by Tad R. Callister is one of the most referenced books about the atonement. It tells the how, what, and why of the atonement along with the blessings that come from the atonement. The atonement is far more reaching than most people understand, not only is it a way for the sinner to repent, but it is a power for the lonely, the depressed, the abused, the one seeking solace. Through "that suffering endured, that power displayed, and that love manifested by the Savior" we can be exalted to be like your Father in Heaven...without it we are nothing. The beautiful full-page illustrations add "visual beauty to spiritual inspiration." This book is definitely one you will want in your library.