From The Encyclopedia of Mormonism
Author: Adams, Lisa Ramsey
The principle of eternal progression cannot be precisely defined or comprehended, yet it is fundamental to the LDS worldview. The phrase "eternal progression" first occurs in the discourses of Brigham Young. It embodies many concepts taught by Joseph Smith, especially in his king follett discourse. It is based on the proposition that "there is no such thing as principle, power, wisdom, knowledge, life, position, or anything that can be imagined, that remains stationary-they must increase or decrease" (Young, JD 1:350).
Progression takes many forms. In one sense, eternal progression refers to everything that people learn and experience by their choices as they progress from premortal life, to mortality, to postmortal spirit life, and to a resurrected state in the presence of God. Personal progression is possible in each of these states, but not the same kind of progression. Progression apparently occurred in the premortal life, for most spirits there chose to follow Christ and some were noble and great, while others chose to follow Lucifer. Entering mortality affords opportunities for further progression. Obtaining a physical body is a crucial step, enabling a person to experience physical sensations of all kinds and to progress in knowledge and understanding, all of which will rise with the person in the Resurrection (D&C 130:18). Brigham Young taught that even in mortality, "We are in eternity" (JD 10:22), and the object of this existence is "to learn to enjoy more, and to increase in knowledge and experience" (JD 14:228). "When we have learned to live according to the full value of the life we now possess, we are prepared for further advancement in the scale of eternal progression-for a more glorious and exalted sphere" (JD 9:168).
Life is never static. "One must progress or retrograde. One cannot stand still. Activity is the law of growth, and growth, progress, is the law of life" (A. Bowen, in Christ's Ideals for Living, O. Tanner, ed., Salt Lake City, 1980, p. 368). A person's attitude about ""eternal progression' will largely determine his philosophy of life exalting, increasing, expanding and extending broader and broader until we can know as we are known, see as we are seen" (Young, JD 16:165).
At the Resurrection and Judgment, people will be assigned a degree of glory. Further progress is believed possible within each degree. Marriage and family life, however, continue only in the Celestial Kingdom, allowing "eternal increase" through having spirit children (see Eternal Lives, Eternal Increase). "All this and more that cannot enter into our hearts to conceive is promised to the faithful, and are but so many stages in that ceaseless progression of eternal lives" (Young, JD 10:5).
No official Church teaching attempts to specify all the ways in which God progresses in his exalted spheres; "there is no end to [His] works, neither to [His] words" (Moses 1:38). God's glory and power are enhanced as his children progress in glory and power (see Moses 1:39; Young, JD 10:5). Ideas have been advanced to explain how God might progress in knowledge and still be perfect and know all things (see Foreknowledge of God; Omnipotent God; Omnipresence of God; Omniscience of God).
The concept of eternal progression is a salient feature of the gospel of Jesus Christ, readily distinguishable from traditional Christian theology. The philosophical views of the Middle Ages were basically incompatible with such a concept, and the idea of progress that emerged in the eighteenth-century Enlightenment was that of social evolution (Bury, The Idea of Progress, London, 1932). The traditional Christian view has held that those in heaven enter "a state of eternal, inactive joy. In the presence of God they would worship him and sing praises to him eternally, but nothing more" (Widtsoe, p. 142). Latter-day Saints, however, constantly seek personal and righteous improvement not only by establishing Zion in this world, but by anticipating the continuation of progression eternally.
Widtsoe, John A. "Is Progress Eternal or Is There Progress in Heaven?" IE 54 (Mar. 1951):142; see also Evidences and Reconciliations, pp. 179-85, Salt Lake City, 1960.
LISA RAMSEY ADAMS