Talking with Mormons

Talking with Mormons - Richard MouwRichard Mouw has released a new book entitled “Talking with Mormons: An Invitation to Evangelicals“. I haven’t read the book so I don’t intend to review a book I haven’t read. I respect Richard Mouw and his influence on me is evident.

I do wish to respond to something attributed to Dr. Mouw in an article by Peggy Fletcher Stack.

Too often, Evangelicals pick up little-taught LDS beliefs — such as humans becoming gods or having their own planets — and put them at the center of Mormon theology, rather than at the periphery.

This quote isn’t directly attributed to Mouw so I don’t know if it’s something he said or if it’s Stack’s attempt to collapse a larger thought offered by Mouw. Without having read the book, I’m tenuously willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. But I find this troubling.

Mouw was correct to call out some Evangelicals for previously mischaracterizing Mormon ideas and beliefs. But I think this too is a mischaracterization of Mormon beliefs. Dr. Mouw has been meeting for many years with various Mormon scholars and thinkers. He may have been given the impression by those Mormons that Exaltation is a doctrine at the periphery of Mormon thought but it is a mistake to believe so.

In my own dealings with some Mormons (though not by any means all) I have experienced a reshaping of Mormon teachings that makes them more palatable and less offensive to Evangelical ears. In particular I have experienced this with missionaries and those more bent toward Neo-Orthodoxy. But when I listened in on “in-house” discussions of Mormonism I discovered that those teachings were not as they were originally presented to me, and in some cases were the opposite of what I was told. This has happened frequently enough that I sometimes wonder if there is an unwritten rule of Mormon culture; make the church appear to be whatever the outsider needs it to be. [Some former members have taken to writing long articles on this phenomenon]

I firmly believe that Evangelicals need to listen to Mormons and let Mormons define their own beliefs. But I do not think Evangelicals should be content with how Mormons define their beliefs to Evangelicals. To really understand Mormonism it’s important to go a step further and understand how Mormons define their beliefs to other Mormons. In some cases Evangelicals will discover something entirely different. I think that may be the case here in regards to Dr. Mouw’s understanding of Exaltation.

Exaltation is a core belief of Mormonism. The idea that humanity can become deity is emphatically a core belief. The nature of God as a human and the “plan of salvation” (in which we can become gods) are essential ideas in Mormonism. If Richard Mouw thinks that these are periphery issues, he either doesn’t understand Mormonism or he’s been woefully misinformed about Mormonism. I don’t need to reach back into the archives of 19th Century sermons to show this to be the case. I can direct him to current publications and sermons from recent General Conferences to provide evidence.

I probably advocate for much of what Dr. Mouw discusses in his new book, but this snippet from “The Salt Lake Tribune” leaves be concerned and skeptical.

————————————————————————————-
Update:
I just discovered this Catholic review of Mouw’s book.
http://www.booksandculture.com/articles/webexclusives/2012/may/talkingmormons.html?paging=off

This part is relevant to my post:

Mormons fail the Calvinist test because they believe that, as Mouw puts it, God and humans are “of the same species ontologically.” Mormonism went wrong not with the Book of Mormon but with a flawed metaphysics.

Mouw argues that a “metaphysical gap” between God and us is essential to Christian faith and that Calvinism offers the best protection against any attempt to close that gap: “Judaism and Christianity have been united in their insistence that the Creator and creation—including God’s human creatures—are divided by an unbridgeable ‘being’ gap.” Mouw means that God’s existence is so different from our own that it can be said that God is beyond being altogether. Put another way, God is so “other” that God cannot even be said “to be.”

So it appears that Mouw is indeed aware and concerned about the Mormon view of the nature of God.

About these ads

58 thoughts on “Talking with Mormons

  1. “I don’t need to reach back into the archives of 19th Century sermons to show this to be the case. I can direct him to current publications and sermons from recent General Conferences to provide evidence.”

    Such as the presently used Melchizedek Priesthood and Relief Society Sunday Curriculum manual:

    “We believe that we are here because we kept our first estate and earned the privilege of coming to this earth. We believe that our very existence is a reward for our faithfulness before we came here, and that we are enjoying on earth the fruits of our efforts in the spirit world. We also believe that we are sowing the seed today of a harvest that we will reap when we go from here. Eternal life is to us the sum of pre-existence, present existence, and the continuation of life in immortality, holding out to us the power of endless progression and increase. With that feeling and that assurance, we believe that “As man is, God once was, and as God is, man may become.” [See Lorenzo Snow, “The Grand Destiny of Man,” Deseret Evening News, July 20, 1901, 22.] Being created in the image of God, we believe that it is not improper, that it is not unrighteous, for us to hope that we may be permitted to partake of the attributes of deity and, if we are faithful, to become like unto God;… (“Teaching of Presidents of the Church: George Albert Smith”, 70-71)

  2. I bristle sometimes when evangelicals over-state the degree to which Mormonism teaches/believes certain things, but the solution is not swinging pendulum to the other side and saying something like, as Mouw once said,

    > “I have received emails in the past few days where evangelicals have said that Mormonism teaches that God was once a human being like us, and we can become gods just like God now is. Mormon leaders have specifically stated that such a teaching, while stated by past leaders, is something they don’t understand and has no functioning place in present day Mormon doctrine.”

    Here is my attempt at nuancing the issue in ways both the Richard Mouws and the Ed Deckers seem unable to:

    http://www.mrm.org/status-of-lorenzo-snow-couplet

  3. I firmly believe that Evangelicals need to listen to Mormons and let Mormons define their own beliefs. But I do not think Evangelicals should be content with how Mormons define their beliefs to Evangelicals. To really understand Mormonism it’s important to go a step further and understand how Mormons define their beliefs to other Mormons.

    That is incredibly well-said, Tim.

    I’m not trying to toot my own horn here, but I think I touched on these issues a bit with “Denial is a River in Utah.” When I was studying the church as a teenager, I had all kinds of Mormons downplaying the significance of exaltation in Mormon thought. I was uncomfortable with it, so it’s possible that they wanted to make Mormonism more palatable to me. When I wrote an article on deification for the LDS audience at Patheos, I had people guffawing at the idea that Mormons would ever downplay something so central to LDS belief.

  4. Just enjoying the interesting takes and info. on these matters.

    It seems so strange to me that people hold such a high view of humanity’s potential for it’s own righteousness (by what ‘we do’)…when the Bible (and our experience and history) clearly paint another picture.

    Thanks.

  5. This has happened frequently enough that I sometimes wonder if there is an unwritten rule of Mormon culture; make the church appear to be whatever the outsider needs it to be.

    Yes, I believe this *is* an unwritten rule of Mormon culture, Tim. I believe it stems from the same place as our worthiness narrative and reticence to repent for past wrongs: a deep group fear that we do not, and will not ever, belong.

    It seems so strange to me that people hold such a high view of humanity’s potential for it’s own righteousness (by what ‘we do’)…when the Bible (and our experience and history) clearly paint another picture.

    It seems so strange to me that people hold such a low view of humanity’s potential for righteousness when the Bible and our experience and history clearly paint another picture.

    So there’s that.

  6. First, to make one point clear: The first half of the Lorenzo Snow couplet, that God was once a man like us, is NOT a doctrine of the Church. That is so regardless of George Albert Smith quoting Lorenzo Snow and, presumably, accepting the idea himself. More importantly, that is despite the fact that Joseph Smith, in the King Follett Discourse, said that God was once a man. The fact that prophets say something, and presumably believe it themselves, does not make it a doctrine of the Church. The idea that God was once a man was not the subject of revelation and does not appear in the Standard Works (Scriptures) of the Church. The Church actually has no position, one way or the other, as to whether God was once a man. Members of the Church just have to decide that question for themselves or choose to not decide it at all.

    Of course, by leaving this question open, the Church’s doctrine differs markedly from the doctrine of Protestantism and Catholicism which, of course, is emphatically that God was never a man.

    Also, many Mormons, such as myself, subscribe pretty much across the board to the non-revelatory (non-doctrinal) teachings of Joseph Smith which, of course, includes the King Follett Discourse, and its teaching that God was once a man. It would be interesting to see a survey of Mormons about the origin of God. I have a hunch that “don’t know” would be in first place.

    Something very like the second half of the Lorenzo Snow couplet, specifically that we can become gods, is a doctrine of the Church. D&C 132:20. What exactly does that mean? That we can become “like God” as Lorenzo Snow says? That we can “be gods” as D&C 132:20 says? Actual revelation gives us only pretty limited information about Exaltation. The King Follett Discourse does not say much either. I hear many Mormons speak of Exaltation as being “more like” God which, to me, raises the questions of “how” and “how much” more like God? A good dose of humility is in order.

    The stuff about planets is absolutely not a teaching of the Church, notwithstanding manuals that include quotes from general authorities discussing the idea. In fact, the Church has publically stated that the planets idea is not a doctrine of the Church. Some people grappling with the implications of deification, including some General Authorities, thought that planets were a logical implication. That was just their opinion. Personally, I would place planets in the category of “anything is possible unless it is known to be impossible.” But then, that is just my opinion.

    Deification, in a broad sense, is not unique to Mormonism, because it is an important doctrine in Orthodox Christianity. Here is an excerpt from an Orthodox Christian’s online essay titles: “Theosis: Partaking of the Divine Nature”:

    “I said, ‘You are gods,
    “And all of you are children of the Most High.’ (Psalm 82:6)”
    “This is a verse that most Protestants do not underline in their Bibles. What on earth does it mean—“you are gods”? Doesn’t our faith teach that there is only one God, in three Persons? How can human beings be gods?”
    “In the Orthodox Church, this concept is neither new nor startling. It even has a name: theosis. Theosis is the understanding that human beings can have real union with God, and so become like God to such a degree that we participate in the divine nature. Also referred to as deification, divinization, or illumination, it is a concept derived from the New Testament regarding the goal of our relationship with the Triune God. (Theosis and deification may be used interchangeably. We will avoid the term divinization, since it could be misread for divination, which is another thing altogether!)”

    Here is the URL for the entire essay: http://www.antiochian.org/content/theosis-partaking-divine-nature

    Perhaps the best work on deification (Exaltation) is “Partakers of the Divine Nature”, which was the 1998 master’s thesis of a Dominican Monk, Joseph Vajda, at Union Theological Seminary at the U. of California, Berkley. Fr. Vajda’s work makes it clear that deification (Exaltation) did not originate with Joseph Smith or Mormonism but, instead ,was an important part of early Christianity. Here is a URL to it:

    http://maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/publications/papers/?paperID=7

    Here is an excerpt of Fr. Vajda’s conclusion:

    “Yet what was meant to be a term of ridicule [‘godmakers’] has turned out to be a term of approbation (proof), for the witness of the Greek Fathers of the Church, described in chapter two, is that they also believed that salvation meant ‘becoming a god.’ It seems that if one’s soteriology cannot accommodate a doctrine of human divinization, then it has at least implicitly, if not explicitly, rejected the heritage of the early Christian church and departed from the faith of first millennium Christianity . . . . And the supreme irony is that such persons should probably investigate the claims of the LDS Church, which proclaims that within itself is to be found the ‘restoration of all things.’ ”

    Oh! Here is a note for Tim. In 2003, five years after completing his master’s thesis, Fr. Vajda became a Mormon. So, you better watch out. Too much academic study of Mormonism, and you could slip into the clutches of the cult yourself.

    Murdock

  7. The Orthodox doctrine of Theosis is more in line with the Protestant doctrine of Glorification. To glam on to the sound of the word and think it has anything to do with the Mormon doctrine of Exaltation is to obscure the meanings of both words. Please do the Orthodox the respect of not obscuring their beliefs. I don’t see anyone saying that Protestants believe in Exaltation by pointing to Glorification. Glorification is almost entirely the same as Theosis.

    Exaltation is a unique belief. Be proud of it or reject it, but don’t say it’s something it is not.

  8. I just discovered this Catholic review of Mouw’s book.

    http://www.booksandculture.com/articles/webexclusives/2012/may/talkingmormons.html?paging=off

    This part is relevant to my post:

    Mormons fail the Calvinist test because they believe that, as Mouw puts it, God and humans are “of the same species ontologically.” Mormonism went wrong not with the Book of Mormon but with a flawed metaphysics.

    Mouw argues that a “metaphysical gap” between God and us is essential to Christian faith and that Calvinism offers the best protection against any attempt to close that gap: “Judaism and Christianity have been united in their insistence that the Creator and creation—including God’s human creatures—are divided by an unbridgeable ‘being’ gap.” Mouw means that God’s existence is so different from our own that it can be said that God is beyond being altogether. Put another way, God is so “other” that God cannot even be said “to be.”

    So it appears that Mouw indeed is aware and concerned about the Mormon view of the nature of God.

  9. Tim, I can’t stop thinking about what you said: “make the church appear to be whatever the outsider needs it to be.” It’s really astute.

    Not to be all, “oh, hey, look at this thing I wrote,” but I’ll share this. It’s a couple of introductory paragraphs to a personal essay I wrote two years ago about growing up Mormon.

    I was born in the shadows of the Everlasting Hills, rugged, unwieldy country tamed by vigilantes and renegades. In the heart of the unforgiving desert they built a civilization teeming with industry and self-reliance: Zion, they called it, a kind of outlaw haven for religious zealots – people who had lost everything once, twice, three times in the name of God. They came by the thousands, stumbling and hobbling over miles of treacherous wasteland to this place, this promised land; promised to us, perhaps, because no one else would have it.

    Here they knit their hearts together in love, and in stubborn defiance against the rest of the world. Here they proclaimed their independence from the oppression and persecution of their past. Here, where shopping malls and Wal-Marts and Starbucks and used car dealerships now spring up like stubborn prairie weeds, my forebears refused to assimilate, turning instead to their guns – to their graves – before they would give in. This is the paradox I inherited: to be apart, but still accepted. To be reviled, but still loved.

    When you have been forced out — rejected against your will — two opposite things happen, usually simultaneously.

    First, you say, “Screw you anyway,” and retreat inward.

    Second, you say, “Please oh please oh please take me back.”

    It’s not ideal. But it’s human. That’s what you’re seeing in the insider vs. outsider conversations that happen among our people. Unfortunately, until this whole “we don’t belong” thing gets healed, it’ll be tough to get mainstream Mormons to be comfortable in conversations like this. This dynamic makes it difficult to deal with tough issues internally, let alone engage in open, productive interfaith dialogue. :)

    I’ve got a lot of hope, though. I see changes happening.

  10. When we’re talking theology with out Mormon friends we should remember that we are using the same vocabulary with different dictionaries. I’m willing to give people the benefit of the doubt when they make comparisons with their exhalation and theosis. Apotheosis would be a better description. Salt Lake Mormons don’t recognize a distinction between the creator and creature, it shouldn’t be a surprise when they ignore the distinction when describing exaltation.

  11. Murdock ~ Thank you for posting the link to that thesis. I am definitely going to work through it. I just completed a paper for my John Calvin class comparing Calvin’s deification to Mormon exaltation, and I’m interested in doing some more work in this area. Are you the Dennis Murdock who is thanked in the acknowledgments?

    There has actually been considerable work amongst Protestants and Anglicans on strands of deification in different Protestant traditions or from great Protestant theologians in the past few decades. Some examples (from the bibliography of my paper, which was largely helped by the notes in Mosser and Billings’ articles and books):

    Allchin, A. M. Participation in God: A Forgotten Strand in Anglican Tradition. London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 1988

    Billings, J. Todd. Calvin, Participation and the Gift: The Activity of Believers in Union with Christ. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.

    —. “John Calvin: United to God through Christ.” In Partakers of the Divine Nature: United to God through Christ, edited by Michael J. Christensen and Jeffery A. Vittung, 201-18. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2007.

    —. “United to God through Christ: Assessing Calvin on the Question of Deification.” Harvard Theological Review 98:3 (2005): 315-34.

    Braaten, Carl E. and Robert W. Jenson, eds. Union with Christ: The New Finnish Interpretation of Luther. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1998.

    Christensen, Michael J. “Theosis and Sanctification: John Wesley’s Reformation of a Patristic Doctrine.” Wesleyan Theological Journal 31.2 (Fall 1996): 71-94.

    Mannermaa, Tuomo. “Theosis as a Subject of Finnish Luther Research.” Pro Ecclesia 4 (1995): 37-47.

    McClymond, Michael J. “Salvation as Divinization: Jonathan Edwards, Gregory Palamas and the Theological Uses of Neoplatonism.” In Jonathan Edwards: Philosophical Theologian, edited by Paul Helm and Oliver D. Carp, 139-60. Burlington, Vt.: Ashgate, 2003.

    McCormick, Steve K. “Theosis in Chrysostom and Wesley: An Eastern Paradigm on Faith and Love.” Wesleyan Theological Journal 26.1 (1991): 38-103.

    Mosser, Carl. “The Greatest Possible Blessing: Calvin and Deification.” Scottish Journal of Theology 55.1 (2002): 36-57.

    Rakestraw, Robert V. “Becoming Like God: An Evangelical Doctrine of Theosis.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 40.2 (1997): 257-69.

    I did an article on Mormon exaltation vs. more traditional deification on this blog, here, a few years ago. It became an article for Patheos, here.

    BTW, for the record, Tim doesn’t regard Mormonism as a cult.

  12. “I just completed a paper for my John Calvin class comparing Calvin’s deification to Mormon exaltation,”

    You have to send me a copy of that.

  13. Murdock, so you’ll let Church manuals and spiritual authorities teach it as truth to your children, but it’s still not official doctrine.

    Got it.

  14. In his original post, Tim raised questions about this statement attributed to Dr. Mouw:

    Too often, Evangelicals pick up little-taught LDS beliefs — such as humans becoming gods or having their own planets — and put them at the center of Mormon theology, rather than at the periphery.

    When I first read that article, that statement jumped out at me too. Clearly, the idea of us becoming gods — although we usually couch the concept in terms such as becoming like God, inheriting everything that Christ inherits, living the quality of life that God has, and the like — is central to LDS theology and soteriology. It’s not on the periphery at all, and it’s one of the things I find attractive about LDS belief.

    I’d still give Dr. Mouw the benefit of the doubt, though, and suspect that the sentence is an example of sloppy writing and/or editing. What I suspect he said was something to do with taking speculation about what it means to become a god (such as having one’s own planet or even becoming equal with God) and putting that at the center, or taking various 19th-century statements and treating them as if they’re what’s taught today. In any case, if he doesn’t see some fundamental philosophical differences between Mormonism and traditional Christianity on the nature of God and of humankind, he’s a fool, and I doubt that’s the case.

    Tim also said:

    I sometimes wonder if there is an unwritten rule of Mormon culture; make the church appear to be whatever the outsider needs it to be.

    I don’t know about that, and this is one case where I don’t know if I agree with Katie. I do think, though, that our evangelistic zeal, our relative lack of a systematic theology and our willingness (as taught by Brigham Young, among others) to see degrees of truth nearly everywhere all help make us want to find common ground with others. Or maybe there’s duplicity all around me and I just don’t see it.

  15. If there are any “core doctrines” in Mormonism, it seems to me that they are (1) follow the leader, and (2) follow your gut. Everything else changes depending who the leader is and what individual Mormons happen to feel. There is a kind of anti-intellectualism present with the church from the beginning and continuing into the present, too, but even that is not dogmatic (the way following the leader and the gut have been, historically: over the years, Mormon authorities, preachers, and apologists have been all over the map doctrinally; the only things they can agree on are that we should follow the Brethen and the Holy Spirit).

  16. Tim said, “I firmly believe that Evangelicals need to listen to Mormons and let Mormons define their own beliefs.”

    This is why I rely on LDS publications such as “Gospel Principles” and “Ensign” magazine. I think evangelicals are often afraid to read LDS publications because they are afraid of being deceived. I know I was. It’s good to be cautious but not good to be suspicious. If you are controlled by suspicion all the time, I guarantee you WILL be deceived.

    Concerning exaltation, I happened across Psalm 82:6 yesterday, where God calls wicked human rulers “gods.” If God calls wicked human rulers “gods,” then it’s certainly okay for him to call humans whom he has raised up to sit with his Son in heavenly realms (Eph. 2:6) “gods.”

    Appendix:
    Ephesians 2:6: “And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus. . . .”
    As a bonus, here’s the next verse: ” . . . in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.”
    Don’t ya love God’s bonuses? Makes you wanna shout!

  17. Tim said, “I respect Richard Mouw and his influence on me is evident.”

    I’ve been hard on Tim in the past because he doesn’t go far enough in his understanding of Mormonism. But I’m tending to think that I should have been more like Joel Osteen and encouraged him instead. Tim goes further in his understanding of Mormonism than most evangelicals do, and for this, I am thankful.

  18. Aaron Shafovaloff said:

    Here is my attempt at nuancing the issue [the first half of the Lorenzo Snow couplet] in ways both the Richard Mouws and the Ed Deckers seem unable to: http://www.mrm.org/status-of-lorenzo-snow-couplet

    I found your assessment of the couplet’s status reasonable and fair, although I obviously take issue with your final paragraph.

  19. I don’t know about that, and this is one case where I don’t know if I agree with Katie. I do think, though, that our evangelistic zeal, our relative lack of a systematic theology and our willingness (as taught by Brigham Young, among others) to see degrees of truth nearly everywhere all help make us want to find common ground with others. Or maybe there’s duplicity all around me and I just don’t see it.

    This, friends, is monumental — a rare disagreement between Eric and me. I’d like to take a moment to acknowledge that. ;)

    Eric, I don’t think what you’re seeing is deliberate duplicitousness. But certainly a reticence to speak openly about difficult history or unique doctrines that might open us up for ridicule, even when asked about them.

    Here’s a story from my mission that I think might illustrate what I mean…

    We were teaching a woman who had a baptismal commitment. One afternoon, when we came by to give her a lesson in preparation for her baptism, she appeared very agitated. We asked her what was wrong. She said that she’d been watching a game show on TV, and one of the trivia questions was, “Which religion practices polygamy?” The answer, of course, was Mormonism. She asked me, point-blank, “Is this true?”

    I remember feeling amazingly conflicted. In an instant, my mind latched onto the precise wording of the exchange: she was asking me if we practice polygamy, present-tense. I pulled out the Book of Mormon and read to her the verses in Jacob 1 where polygamy is expressly prohibited. Relief washed across her face. I quietly shut the book and sat for a moment with an extreme temptation just to leave it at that. After all, I’d answered her exact question exactly honestly. It had satisfied her. Wasn’t that enough?

    But I knew there was much more to the story. So, with some reluctance, I opened my mouth again and explained that polygamy was something we had practiced in the past, but that we no longer do.

    The concern came back into her eyes, and we were never invited back to her home. She did not go through with the baptism.

    For a really long time, I wrestled with whether or not I’d done the right thing (I am now very comfortable that I did). Other missionaries said that in similar situations, they would not have brought up the past polygamy. Answer the question, leave it at that. Don’t talk about the weird stuff if you can help it.

    You can call it evangelistic zeal, but I still remember how ashamed the entire exchange made me feel. Perhaps I’m making the mistake of universalizing my own experiences, but for me anyway, there was more going on in my hesitation to be forthright than just wanting her to be baptized. I have always been extremely morally conscientious — sometimes to a fault, if you can imagine such a thing :) — and that drove me to speak up despite my discomfort. I can imagine that many people wouldn’t have. If I hadn’t spoken up, it wouldn’t have been out of a conscious desire to deceive. It would have been out of fear and denial. It’s still ungodly and unhealthy, but it’s NOT duplicitous in a consciously manipulative kind of way. You know?

  20. Katie — So do you think that the hesitation you expressed is substantively different than what is expressed in his video? http://youtu.be/O_HC3nEAKT0

    I was raised in evangelicalism at a time when evangelicals were expected to be, well, evangelical (i.e., evangelistic). I guess I haven’t seen all that much difference in the way Mormons approach sharing the particulars of their faith in the terms of the emotions they feel or wanting to be liked or accepted or whatever than evangelicals would be if they were as adamant about seeking converts as we are.

    And, yes, as you now know, you did the right thing.

    (And I think we disagree about some of the gay issues too. But since you agree with me on most things, I value your opinion highly.)

  21. Eric, I don’t know that my experience is altogether different than the fears expressed in the video. And I want to be clear: this is not a Mormon phenomenon; this is a human phenomenon that merely expresses itself in Mormon culture in a certain way. It might be deeper with Mormons than the average evangelical, just because we’re a smaller, more “peculiar” minority and get it from all sides, but I don’t know that that’s true.

    I think “fear of not being understood” is code for “fear of being ridiculed and rejected, and thus made to wonder if one’s approach to life is acceptable.” A mentor of mine says that a hallmark of maturity is being willing to be misunderstood. I think she’s right.

    (And I value your opinion highly, too — not just because we agree a lot, which is nice, but because of the tone and spirit in which you always offer it.) :)

    Thanks, Cal. I’m comfortable that I did, too. :)

  22. Yes, Eric seems unflappable. To tell you the truth, I am often amazed at how patient Mormons typically are when condemned by outsiders. Maybe handling persecution is a gift from God that you all major in because you’ve had to handle it for so many generations.

    Katie, I’ve thought a lot about what you and your mentor said—long before I read your comments today. Very good & honest points.

  23. Murdock —

    I don’t know why Aaron has mentioned it, but he actually did a fairly good survey about Mormon attitudes about God’s former humanity in his “Did God sin”. I don’t remember exactly but I believe that Aaron found that by about 2:1 Mormons held that Heavenly father had not only been human but a sinful human. And this isn’t a minor doctrine either, exaltation is central to the entire Mormon theology. (*) Why is it wrong to have a God without parts or passions?
    (*) Why do questions like where did our souls come from have answers?
    (*) Why are families eternal?

    This entire structure collapses without exaltation. And it isn’t just in that direction, Judaism and its two children religions Christianity (Catholic and Protestant) and Islam consider this belief not only incorrect but downright blasphemous. This isn’t something held to the side, it is quite possibly the most important Mormon distinctive.

    When the LDS church publishes an official on the record systematic theology the “not official doctrine” will start to carry some weight. Until then it is a total cop out. Protestantism doesn’t have any “official doctrines” other than the 5 solas, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have fairly substantial doctrinal content which is widely believed. Sunni Islam doesn’t have any body that can declare “official doctrine” that doesn’t mean the religion doesn’t have definitive teachings.

  24. Katie —

    If I can make a comment using your story… what’s distinctive about Mormons is how defensive they are about their history. Most people in most religions wouldn’t have agonized as much they would have taken pride in this… something like:

    “The LDS church is the restored church. We want to remove all the corruptions that accredited to Christianity, including that Roman hatred of polygamy that has passed down via. Catholicism and that as I result you, I and all of American culture share. Joseph Smith and Brigham Young held a mirror up and tried to help us break thought that, but they failed and the church had to abandon polygamy in the late 19th century. There hasn’t been any in 100 years.” Or something like that.

    In other words if you think about it… what is interesting is you, and the LDS establishment are embarrassed about it. The distinctive is not that the recruit thought something was wrong with the LDS’s polygamous past but that you did, and had to have this mental conversation. Mormonism is an incredibly cool religion, I wish Mormons could see that.

  25. CD, yes, the embarrassment is the key to the whole picture.

    I agree, we have a cool religion. It gets diluted when we run around trying to pretend like we’re evangelical Christians. We should be proud of who we are.

  26. I agree that we have a cool religion. I think it gets diluted when we reduce it to paying tithing, doing home/visiting teaching and abstaining from alcohol and tobacco. I agree with all those things, but they’re not what the religion is about.

  27. Eric, good point. Your religion is about lifting up Jesus as King of Kings and Lord of lords.

    Gundek, I read (pronounced RED :-)) a book by Brother Yun called “The Heavenly Man” (copyright 2003). He was imprisoned three times and tortured for his faith in China. He experienced exhilarating victories: his faith remained intact and he won others to the faith. He experienced miraculous aid from God again and again. The book reads like the book of Acts.

    He eventually escaped China, and eventually visited America. At one point, another American minister circulated false information about him which threatened to stifle his fruitful ministry. His translator told him (pp. 308-309), “In China, Christians are persecuted with beatings and imprisonment. In the West, Christians are persecuted by the words of other Christians.” Brother Yun (pronounced like “tune”) then stated that “this new kind of persecution was no easier than physical persecution in China, just different.”

    God bless you, my man.

  28. Tim, I think Mouw’s problem is his understanding of what really offends Mormons. Its not talking about core doctrines like humans becoming *like* (not *as*) God. Its Evangelicals taking such doctrines and describing them in the most wacky way possible. Also making assumptions and drawing conclusions that no LDS would. If you listen to the way Mormons talk about God/Jesus/Deity for example, they actually sound a lot like Protestants in their respect and worship.(maybe even too formal to some EVs) No where in an insider Mormon setting have I heard cavalier language about someday supplanting God or being someday *equal* to the Worshiped. And yet, Evangelical critics often paint this very picture.

    Mormon concepts of deification may not be the same as theosis, but if you listen to the way Mormons talk about it (receiving all that the Father has to give – or – joint heirs with Christ) you may not know the difference. I say, take the broad view of Mormon concepts of Deity into consideration. That means the very fundamentals like prayer and sacrament.

    Your point about Mormons speaking differently among themselves is well taken, but I have not seen this particular doctrine as a case in point.

  29. Christian J —

    That’s absolutely a great point. Evangelicals frequently describe other religions in extremely hostile ways. This isn’t unique to Mormons though Muslims get it much worse. The main thing is unwillingness to apply the standards they hold other faiths to, to their own religion which I think is what leads to that objectionable tone. Mormons OTOH do need to answer these objections more effectively in an official way. Evangelicals may be phrasing eternal progression in a rude way, but not withstanding the questions about eternal progression beg for real answers.

    Mormons handle these debates entirely differently. on the other hand tend to be very charitable towards other religions, and not terribly confident in their own. You get to see “turn the other cheek” when it comes to their attitude towards Evangelical Christianity. I’ve tried to think about why, and I’m wondering if the Neo-Orthodox inside the LDS though do sort of create a 5th column, who I think are happy to see the sorts of attacks you mentioned. They see these Evangelical attacks are legitimizing their positions.

  30. Cal said to me:

    Your religion is about lifting up Jesus as King of Kings and Lord of lords.

    I don’t know a single Mormon who would spontaneously give that answer if asked what his/her religion is about (although we do worship Christ as King and Lord). I think most would say their religion is about returning to live with their Heavenly Father.

    If I were asked, my first answer would probably be something about it being about living the kind of life that God created me to live. In Protestant lingo, I’d say it’s about sanctification. And if I were to reflect a bit more, I’d probably say much the same thing; the most meaningful way to praise Jesus is to follow his example. (It’s not the only way, though. The activities we usually think of as praise are a good thing too.)

  31. Hi Eric. I was using a charismatic style of expression on purpose.

    If you guys pick up more of our style of expression, and we pick up some of your style of expression, I figure we’ll bridge the gap between us quicker.

    I can hear you reacting with a “Our aim is not to bridge a gap between us,” to which I would respond, “It should be.” You worship Christ as King and Lord; we worship Christ as King and Lord. That’s all the agreement we need to be called to come together.

    Let me quote 1 Corinthians 3:21-23 (NIV), interjecting my comments:
    “So then, no more boasting about men [such as Joseph Smith]! All things are yours [and mine], whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas [or Billy Graham or Joseph Smith] or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God.”

  32. CD-Host, instead of just analyzing us, why don’t you join us? We want you back in the faith!

  33. CD-Host, instead of just analyzing us, why don’t you join us? We want you back in the faith!

    Appreciate the sentiment Cal, but I lost at bingo. Just not one of the elect. Faith comes from grace, grace is irresistible so if I had it I would have faith. I lack faith, therefore I don’t have God’s grace. Since no work of mine can induces grace, there is nothing I can do to get faith. If it were up to me we could have a conservation, but talking to me about my beliefs is like talking to me about the weather outside my home, I have an equal degree of control.

    I do get where that sentiment comes from. During most of the time I was a Christian I was also a Semi-Pelagian — though when I was one, I didn’t know the term. Our experience everyday shows us that religion is a matter of will and of choice, so things like your invitation make sense, they seem so natural because they fit with the rest of our thinking and our confirmed by our experience. The problem is that this experience is understood by Christianity (non Mormon) to be an illusion, an appearance of will when election is the underlying reality.

    Being Christian is very tough work. It is a religion of belief. So it requires you to successfully twist your mind to believe those things that can neither be sensibly explained nor justified by experience. Lacking grace I am simply unable to do so.

  34. The problem is that this experience is understood by Christianity (non Mormon) to be an illusion, an appearance of will when election is the underlying reality.

    Only by Calvinist Christians, no? I’m pretty sure there are a whole lot of Christians who (implicitly or explicitly) reject Calvinism.

  35. Don’t get in the way of his masterfully crafted reason he can’t believe. He worked hard on putting it in entirely Christian terms. We’re all rejoicing over God’s sovereignty in CD-host’s life. /endsnark

  36. Only by Calvinist Christians, no? I’m pretty sure there are a whole lot of Christians who (implicitly or explicitly) reject Calvinism.

    I believe Cal is a Calvinist. I would have had a different response for Tim. I think almost all Christians are implicitly non Calvinist, it was reasonable to point out the silliness of asking one to join a religion that asserts that the criteria for membership is entirely divorced from my will. But I agree with your criticism, for the non Calvinist I couldn’t be lacking in grace I would have had to have chosen to reject the inner light.

    Anyway quick summary for any Mormon lurkers, since Mormonism happily chooses a completely rational semi-Pelagianism (except for the Neo-Orthodox) and thus doesn’t have to tie itself in knots over election so they don’t have these debates: For the Arminians everyone is potentially elect, some just choose not to answer God’s call. For Calvinists the potentially elect and the elect are the same people. In other words for a Pelagian, grace doesn’t enter into it, we choose to be righteous or unrighteous. For the semi-Pelagian we choose to desire righteousness and then God grants us that righteousness. For the Arminian God grants us righteousness and then we choose to reject or accept it. For the Calvinist we would always choose sin and unrighteousness and only by overpowering our will is the Holy Spirit able to grant us grace at all.

  37. Christian J,

    I have been meaning to respond to your comment but haven’t taken the time until now.

    I recently read an article about polemical theology where the author asks three questions; 1 what do we owe the person we disagree with? 2 What can I learn from the person I disagree with? 3 How can I cope with the person I disagree with?

    The author points out that the first question is the most important because we have an obligation to the truth and cannot in that light minimize the importance of the difference between theological positions. Therefore the first obligation to the person who differs from me is to make a serious effort to understand their view. The author says, “Rather than preparing to pounce on that person the moment he or she stops talking, we should concentrate on apprehending precisely what his or he position is.”

    Over the years I have come to the conclusion that many people who engage with Mormonism haven’t grounded themselves in their own faith with the breadth required to express the theological differences charitably. Rather than taking the time to understand the difference you see in humans becoming like God and the importance of the distinction not “as” God, or your sacramental theology they are ready to pounce, primarily because it is easier to call you a closet polygamist than learn their own beliefs.

  38. “I believe Cal is a Calvinist.” How on earth did you come to that conclusion?

    Eternal subordination. I think Cal may be the first person I’ve met who is says he is a non-Calvinist that believes in that. For that matter using Grudem’s systematic theology is rather clear cut, if you consider an openly Calvinistic (excluding the Arianism problem) theology to be authoritative that in my book makes you a Calvinist. Anyway he says he isn’t one but has said these other things and so I have no idea what he believes, but that was how I came to the conclusion.

  39. I think that eternal subordination is the default position in American evangelicalism. In other words you have to either study your way out of it or sit under teachers that did.

  40. I think that eternal subordination is the default position in American evangelicalism.

    Think about it two different ways here.

    1) How many people do you know who don’t use the ESV that are into eternal subordination? What percentage of TNIV, NIV2011, HSCB, NLT, NRSV, AMP… do you think believe in eternal subordination?

    2) IMHO eternal subordination came out of CBMW. It came from reformed theologians who wanted to argue that a doctrine of permanent submission of women in church and at home didn’t imply that women were inferior in nature just in role. That was the motivation. So if you if you think about Evangelicals on a scale: Patriarchy, Complementarianism, Egalitarianism and Feminist it is the only the 2nd on that list that needs eternal subordination. Patriarchy argues that women are inferior / submissive in nature while Egalitarians and Feminists don’t want inferiority in role.

    Grudem and Ware are influential. But they aren’t influential beyond a narrow niche.

  41. But none of that makes you a Calvinist.

    Of course it does. Grudem’s systematic theology is Calvinist. The ESV is Calvinist, though that’s subtle. However, the ESV study bible and Reformation Study Bible are explicitly Calvinist. CBMW is Reformed.

    The same way the McConkie is Mormon, the Quad is Mormon, and citing Joseph Smith’s teaching is Mormon.

  42. Nonsense. Having something in common with Calvinists doesn’t make you a Calvinist. The Old Testament is Jewish, but Tim’s belief in the Old Testament does not mean Tim is Jewish. “Eternal subordination” may be necessary to be a Calvinist (although I would say it probably isn’t), but it’s certainly not sufficient.

    Let’s say you take these two premises:

    (1) All Calvinists believe in TULIP, and
    (2) Only Calvinists believe in eternal subordination,

    And then it turns out that (3) Cal believes in eternal subordination but not TULIP.

    Then, sadly, either your observation of Cal is wrong or one of your premises is wrong.

  43. So the problem with your thesis is that subordination preexisted the reformation, there are any number of confessional Reformed theologians who have express strident reservations that fallen human relationships are to be explained by the relations in the Trinity (that seems to take a rather narrow view of the fall, not typical of reformed theology), and I am at a loss to think of a single Reformed confession, catechism, or creed that teaches eternal subordination. A Calvinist, like maybe Calvin himself, would say that Christ is autotheos (God in Himself).

  44. First off, I don’t know Cal well enough to get into the why’s of his theology. A Pentecostal who is reading Grudem and hanging out on Mormon boards may be looking for a switch. I know I don’t know. The way we got on this topic was Gundik asked me why I thought Cal was a Calvinist, and I gave several Calvinist doctrine that he was supporting. They are still Calvinist doctrines regardless of whether one Pentecostal believes them.

    I would say in response to your syllogism believing Wayne Grudem’s systematic theology is sufficient to be a Calvinist. Wayne Grudem’s systematic theology also includes TULIP incidentally. Believing in Grudem’s Eternal Subordination, from Grudem’s Systematic theology is rather good evidence that one believes Grudem. So that’s the chain of argument.

    In terms of your syllogism.

    1) All Calvinists who call themselves Calvinists in a theological sense believe in TULIP. That for example might exclude people attending reformed churches who don’t believe in the theology and might include people who don’t call themselves Calvinists in other senses.

    2) Only people influenced by CBMW a Conservative Calvinist preach Wayne Grudem / Bruce Ware’s form of Eternal Subordination. Most churches, reject Ware’s position. For example assuming you are right about Cal’s church, they hold that all 3 persons in the trinity are “equal in holiness, justice, wisdom, power, and dignity” the traditional position of full equality. Most individuals have not studied the debate.

  45. No, the problem with his thesis is that even if subordination is a thoroughly Calvinist doctrine, the mere belief in subordination is not sufficient to define one as a Calvinist, because while subordination may be a Calvinist doctrine, Calvinism is not defined solely by the doctrine of subordination.

  46. Gundek —

    I have no argument that the majority of Reformed thinkers reject Eternal Subordination, it is Arianism or at the very least Semi-Arianism proposed as a way to advance the girls have cooties crowd. I was arguing the inverse that Ware/Grudem Eternal Subordination are only spoken of by Reformed thinkers.

    Besides, weren’t you just arguing that it was the default among Evangelicals and I was the one saying it was a minority.

    And of course this doctrine was before Calvin. Arius essentially preached it. :) Ulfilas preached it explicitly, “[the Holy Spirit] subject and obedient in all things to the Son; and the Son, subject and obedient in all things to God who is his Father” etc… Ware and Grudem were able to draw upon a rich theological tradition to advance their key point that girls have cooties.

  47. No, the problem with his thesis is that even if subordination is a thoroughly Calvinist doctrine, the mere belief in subordination is not sufficient to define one as a Calvinist, because while subordination may be a Calvinist doctrine, Calvinism is not defined solely by the doctrine of subordination.

    I don’t disagree.

  48. “Besides, weren’t you just arguing that it was the default among Evangelicals…”

    Certainly, but my explanation is that most American evangelicals have only the simplest understanding of the Trinity and confuse the functional subordination in the incarnation and redemptive/mediatorial role of the Son for an eternal subordination.

  49. Certainly, but my explanation is that most American evangelicals have only the simplest understanding of the Trinity and confuse the functional subordination in the incarnation and redemptive/mediatorial role of the Son for an eternal subordination.

    Oh I see what you are saying. Let me repeat this back….

    There is Eternal Subordination = Grudem / Ware doctrine and you agree that one is CWMW.
    There is eternal subordination = sort of cultural belief in semi-Arianism which is common among Evangelicals.

    Assuming so, I’ll respond. I wish there was a fairly detailed study of where evangelicals fall on the: Orthodox trinity, Arianism, Modalism, Tri-theism, Unitarianism scale. My actual suspicion is that huge majorities of evangelicals like to play lip service to Orthodox Trinitarianism, but that belief is impossible. So whenever they are confronted with a theological dilemma they fall into one of the other 4 systems but in trying to remain orthodox oscillate between them. However the central dilemmas of 19th and 20th century Evangelicalism were mainly on the issues of sola fide: Lordship Salvation vs. Free Grace.

    In which case I’d argue:
    Free Grace leans Modalistic
    Lordship Salvation leans Arian

    And thus CBMW which is trying to mainstream Gothard, wants men saved by obedience to God and woman saved by obedience to men while still paying lip service to sola fide ends up going further in the Arian direction.

    The best example I can think of in modern America where these debates were dealt with in a mature way was the Minneapolis conference of 1888 (Seventh Day Adventists). Interesting Ellen White, who had the advantage of having led a denomination moving from explicit Arianism to Semi-Arianism to Trinitarianism (mostly after her death but because of her influence) considered the Trinity an essential for meaningfully believing in sola fide. This is the same claim that Athanasius made about his opponents.

    So that’s my $.02.

  50. “However the central dilemmas of 19th and 20th century Evangelicalism were mainly on the issues of sola fide: Lordship Salvation vs. Free Grace.”

    Really? The central dilemma?

    I don’t see the connection between free grace/Modalism and Lordship Salvation Arianism. Doesn’t mean it isn’t their just that I’m not aware of it. Gilbert Bilezikian and Kevin Giles clearly tend modalistic in their opposition to Grudem. We cannot exactly group them together with Mark Driscoll who in denying the eternal generation of the Son has his own modalistic issues, can we?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s