Theologically, Protestants, Catholics and members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints often have different perspectives.
So I e-mailed church officials in Salt Lake to get their perspective on atonement theology. Essentially:
Was it God’s will or plan for Jesus Christ to come to earth and die on the cross? And is this teaching peripheral doctrinal area or is this a central tenet of faith?
Here’s what I was told: The church teaches that “Heavenly Father instituted the ‘plan of salvation,’ which allows individuals to live in His presence and with their families for eternity. In fact, this is His work — to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of His sons and daughters.”
Mormons don’t believe that God ordered Jesus to go to earth. They believe that Jesus volunteered for the assignment, offering to go and die to redeem humanity before the first man and woman had even been placed on the planet.
God knew man would sin and that man would need a plan of salvation. That plan was crafted before the foundation of the world, Mormons believe.
Jesus’ sacrifice is not peripheral in Mormon belief. “The Atonement of the Only Begotten Son of God is the crucial foundation upon which all Christian doctrine rests and the greatest expression of divine love this world has ever been given,” according to Elder Jeffrey R. Holland.
Elder Holland’s complete article, titled, “The Atonement of Jesus Christ” is posted here.
It’s part of a broader series, entitled“Jesus Christ the Son of God.”
Another statement, “The Living Christ” is available here.
My thanks to Marc Stevens of the church’s public affairs department for helping me track down the correct answers.