Conversations about the religious and spiritual life on the other side of fundamentalism
039-040: Adam Miller on Grace

039-040: Adam Miller on Grace

adammiller-150x150While preparing for this interview with Adam Miller, whom Richard Bushman described as “the most original and provocative Latter-day Saint theologian practicing today,” I was delighted to have my paradigm yanked out from under me again and again to reveal a world much richer and more colorful than I had imagined. In covering his Rube Goldberg Machines, and Letters to a Young Mormon (forthcoming), we explore a range of topics like how to “care” for our bodies desires, the revelations of science, and the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves, all in the context of something Adam Miller calls “grace” which is not what you think it is. Adam shows us a new way of seeing and living life using scripture and philosophy in a way that is surprisingly and profoundly useful.


Thanks to Adam Miller for being willing to give us this interview.


Adam S. Miller is a professor of philosophy at Collin College in McKinney, Texas. He received his MA and PhD in Philosophy from Villanova University. He is the author of Badiou, Marion, and St Paul: Immanent Grace (Continuum, 2008), Rube Goldberg Machines: Essays in Mormon Theology (Kofford, 2012), and Speculative Grace: Bruno Latour and Object-Oriented Theology (Fordham University Press, 2013). He is also the editor of An Experiment on the Word: Reading Alma 32 (Salt Press, 2011), he currently serves as the director of the Mormon Theology Seminar, and he contributes to the Times and Seasons blog.



  1. Kevin

    The reference to God taking a sledge to the house of our lives sounds like C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity: “Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.” Your suggestion, Adam, that this actually is a grace is a lovely, long perspective.

    It is refreshing to hear a Mormon theological conversation that includes living in the now. Now is all we have! For additional thoughts on the now take a look at The Power of Now by Eckart Tolle.

    When your book is published, Adam, do let us know.

  2. Adam Miller

    Thanks, Kevin, for the reference. The example popped in my head early in the podcast, but I’d forgotten that it was a bit from C.S. Lewis.

    Rube Goldberg Machines is available now, but Letters to a Young Mormon is currently looking for a publishing home. I’ll pass along more when I know.

  3. Loralee Nicolay

    I had the happy advantage of being the wife of the interviewer, so I knew beforehand what this interview would likely be about. I was just now able to listen to it completely, however, and I am delighted! It has been wonderful to discuss the ideas found in Adam Miller’s books with my husband over the last couple weeks. I especially love the ideas about the stories we tell ourselves. I feel like I am beginning to wake up to my own stories, and that alone has helped.

    I also love the fact that this podcast was largely unedited! I didn’t understand David’s reasoning behind it at first, but having listened to it, I love the way it follows Adam’s advice to accept ALL that is given to us in life as a grace…..including David’s coughs and snorts. wink, wink. 🙂

    Thank you, Adam! This was fantastic!

  4. Les Blake

    So many fantastic thoughts expressed in this podcast. Thank you. I have a well marked copy of Rube Goldberg Machines sitting on my shelf at home, which I read last year. I loved it.

    I particularly loved the comment about when a hole is burnt in our religion our instinct is to throw religion away, but the burning of the hole is, in itself, religion getting underway.

    Adam, I’m curious about what you said near the end, about wanting to say the same things which have always been said, but to just say them differently, or in an original way. I’m familiar with the old claim that there are really only 7 stories. Is your thought an extension on that idea — that there are no new stories, only new ways to deliver them? Part of me bristles at the idea that you want to say what has always been said, because undoubtedly some of what has “always been said” is unhealthy or even wrong. Do you genuinely have no desire say something fundamentally original?

    1. Adam Miller

      Thanks, Les. That warms my heart. And great question. As for “only saying what we’ve always been saying,” I don’t mean anything too expansive. I mostly just wanted to forestall the suggestion that I was doing something more than trying to think clearly about Jesus’ most fundamental claims about faith, grace, repentance, works, etc. In this sense, I’m always only aiming to say something about long familiar basics. Or something like that.

  5. Fashion

    I really enjoyed this podcast and the idea about seeing life and work as grace was particularly enlightening for me. Something I really needed to understand, especially in relation to motherhood. The saying so often thrown around referring to life being “all about the journey” has not been enough to shift my paradigm. Listening to this podcast shed light on how exactly it is that we can infact enjoy the journey: view our circumstances as a Grace perfectly crafted for us.

    I was wondering how our free agency plays into all of this. I could use an example demonstrating the interchange between embracing what comes our way as a grace from God and at the same time being proactive in our lives. How do we cultivate both living by Grace and planning how to spend our time?

    1. Adam Miller

      Another good question. Thanks, Fashion. You’ve zeroed in on the question that, I think, is at the heart of what it means to live the gospel: we have to find ways (really practical, down to earth ways) to surrender our will to God while also actively taking up God’s will as our own. The gospel doesn’t requires an abandonment of will per se, but it does require that trade my will for God’s.

      Another way to say this is that we ought to greet everything that comes with charity, a charity that both (1) receives each thing just as it is, and (2) then, on the basis of this reception, cares for it as well as we’re able. If we do the first part without the second, then love has failed because we didn’t try to help. If we do the second part without the first, then love has failed because it didn’t actually care to see or understand or help the person/situation as it actually was.

  6. Salty Mormon

    I am almost finished with the first half of this podcast and am really enjoying it. I love it when Adam talks about the wall that came down for him was the wall his prom picture was on, his trophies were on. So true! The growing pains associated with with a vibrant faith can be incredibly painful, a total identity crisis. No wonder God says that we will be afraid and tremble as we work out our salvation. I love that Adam helps us understand the blessing of such growing pains and is encouraging us to embrace the demolition that has and will continue to happen in our lives as we seek God.

    I also love Adam’s theory about Grace and how our bodies are a grace from God. I have always thought being a good Latter-Day Saint meant I must overcome this body of mine that is full of so much carnal passion. I have been at war with my body ever since I joined the Church. I have hated it. I have always perceived my body as enemy #1. I have spent years on my knees, pleading and even screaming for help to overcome this body of mine. Thank God, God never answered those prayers!

    This podcast has helped me understand more fully why God does not answer those prayers. God does not want us to destroy our bodies. Indeed He tells us they are a gift from Him and that without them we cannot experience a fullness of joy. I have only thought my body was a gift because of the war it allows me to fight against it. I never realized until recently and especially while listening to this podcast that our bodies are gifts not as a means unto an end but because of the physical experience our bodies provide for our spirits. I have always thought it was my spirit that animated my body. I think Adam is suggesting the reverse, that it is our bodies that animate our spirits. SO COOL!!!!

    So many wonderful ideas are presented in this podcast. No wonder David was so excited to interview this guy! Thank you!

  7. Salty Mormon

    One more thought, I can’t help myself – listening to this podcast suggests God’s grace is not something I have to obtain but is something he has already given me! My job is to figure out how to receive his Grace which is very different than obtaining it. What a beautiful idea! All of of a sudden my work on earth becomes NOT obtaining God’s approval or proving my worthiness, two goals we LDS folk, myself included, seem obsessed with but rather learn how to allow my body, my mortality to teach me how to receive God’s grace. Again, what a beautiful idea!

  8. Anon

    This may mark a turning point for me. I have been struggling hard and couldn’t picture myself going forward in the church with integrity intact. I think I see a way now. Thank you.

  9. Sinclair

    I’ve listened to both parts of this podcast several times today, and plan on listening to it again and again and again. There’s so much to take in and has offered me a great deal of perspective.

    I’ve taken two REL courses at my University and both have highlighted the importance and the magic of story, yet during neither did I ever think of it as a personal narrative in which I relate to myself. While listening, I’ve come to see how I’ve had myself under a spell of sorts (not to mention the manner in which others have similarly bewitched me about church, doctrine, culture, or themselves) and appreciate seeing those loops for what they really are.

    Thank you for offering me another angle on story and helping me rethink my own in a way that is helpful.

    Also, I’m totally buying your books, Adam.

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