Teryl and Fiona Givens were recently on a tour of British ward houses giving a series of talks entitled “The Crucible of Doubt”. The point of the talk seemed to be to encourage Mormons who may be struggling with doubts. One attendee recorded the talk and shared it. Another attendee took notes on the talk and shared those notes. I’ll set aside the content of Givens’ apologetic arguments in order to focus on something he said about Protestantism.
According to those notes, Givens stated the following:
When we talk about the First Vision, we often quote what the Lord told Joseph about the creeds of man being an abomination to Him. But what creeds did He mean? Joseph recorded it, but he wasn’t talking about the Nicene Creed or the Athanasian Creed, of which he knew nothing. Later on when Joseph talks about the creeds of Christianity, he’s talking about the Westminster Confession and the Thirty-nine Articles of the Church of England. It is these ‘creeds’ that state that God is a being ‘without body, parts, or passions.’ To this day, Protestant Christianity believes in a God who is incapable of human emotions. The idea of a loving God may be all the rage among Christians, but the creeds don’t say that, and in Joseph’s day no one taught it. In fact, it was always considered that part of the joy of Heaven would be to look down upon the millions burning in hell for eternity. But Joseph Smith revealed a God who loves us, a God who weeps for us.
I’m not sure where Givens has gained the insight that God was not speaking against the Nicene Creed or Athanasian Creed, but rather the Westminster Confession. It seems an odd minority position. Joseph’s knowledge of the Nicene Creed seems hardly consequential if we are to believe these are Heavenly Father’s words and not Joseph Smith’s.
Of greater importance, I was utterly discouraged to hear Givens describing Protestantism in this way. This is an utter distortion of Protestantism and the Westminster confession. Given his academic standing and the high respect he has garnered within Mormonism I frankly expect more.
It seems that Dr. Givens is confused by the word “passions” in the Westminster Confession. A simple Google search revealed the following:
Here is the definition of “passion” from Noah Webster’s 1828 edition:
1. The impression or effect of an external agent upon a body; that which is suffered or received.
“A body at rest affords us no idea of any active power to move, and when set in motion, it is rather a passion than an action in it.”
2. Susceptibility of impressions from external agents.
To say that God is without passions is to say that God cannot be acted upon by an external agent. There is nothing in the universe powerful enough to change God from what God wants to be or from what God is by His very nature. Nor would we want there to be an external agent more powerful than God, nor would we want God to change.
Not only does Dr Givens argue that the Westminster Confession is a creed binding on all Protestants, he completely misunderstands (or misconstrues) it to be saying that God is without emotion. This kind of mistake is mind-boggling for some one of Givens stature. In addition he contradicts his own characterization in the very next sentence. Even if the creeds don’t say that God is loving; every Protestant’s favorite verse says “God so loved the world. . . “ Clearly we recognize that God has emotions, “for the Bible tells me so.” In addition to love, Protestants recognize that God is capable of wrath, anger, jealousy, delight, sorrow and a host of other emotions.
This characterization of Protestantism causes a great deal of head scratching for me. I pray that the driving premise of the Givenses’ book “The God Who Weeps” is not that only within Mormonism will you find a god who experiences emotion.