The “God” of orthodox Christianity is the “Light of Christ” of Mormon Christianity

I think one of the most important steps Mormons and Evangelicals need to make in order to have a productive dialogue is to come to terms with what appear to be radically different views of God.  The more I revisit LDS scripture on the subject, the more I am convinced that in the best understanding of Joseph Smith’s conception of the cosmos that thing which traditional Christians call “God” is actually what he termed the “Light of Christ.”

Joseph Smith envisioned God as an exalted and perfected man.  For many reasons, this vision is the foundation of the Restoration.   To Joseph, God became God through intelligent obedience to the laws of the universe, a universe which necessarily was not created by him, but organized by his manipulation of the universe through faith and righteousness. This earth was formed to provide a place for lesser spirits, humans, to do the same by agreeing to become children of God and come to earth, suffer, and die, and then be redeemed by Jesus, who volunteered to be the Christ.   According to the Book of Mormon, the law is the foundation of God’s godhood and all reality:

“And if ye shall say there is no law, ye shall also say there is no sin. If ye shall say there is no sin, ye shall also say there is no righteousness. And if there be no righteousness there be no happiness. And if there be no righteousness nor happiness there be no punishment nor misery. And if these things are not there is no God. And if there is no God we are not, neither the earth; for there could have been no creation of things, neither to act nor to be acted upon; wherefore, all things must have vanished away.”  (2 Nephi 2:11)

God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost are bound by the law,i.e. they are not the law, they are outside of the fact that is the source of the way things are.  The question remains: Why does there need to be a Christ? Why is their law in the first place?  Why is the universe the way it is?   Why is the world comprehensible at all? What is the source of God’s intelligence? These questions cannot really be answered in any intelligible or scientific way, these are the ultimate mysteries, they cannot be understood or even spoken of, because these mysteries are what allows for all order and intelligence. As Einstein said: “The most incomprehensible thing about the world is that it is comprehensible.”

For traditional Christians, these questions are answered by pointing to an God that is outside the universe, that is the incomprehensible ultimate cause of the laws of the universe, the ultimate source of the mysterious orderliness and intelligence within the way things work in the universe.   God “is infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions, immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, most wise, most holy, most free, most absolute, working all things according to the counsel of his own immutable and most righteous will.”  (Westminster Confession, chapter 2)

Joseph’s Smith rejected that this mystery was our Heavenly Father, but the religion he envisioned still had to account for the source of the law and the necessity of Christ.  There must be some other mystery that allowed our Father to be God, the fact that required that there be opposition in all things.  Protestant’s call this fact “God,” Joseph Smith called this fact the “Light of Christ”

It was revealed to him that the Light of Christ “proceedeth forth from the presence of God to fill the immensity of space.” It is “the light which is in all things, which giveth life to all things, which is the law by which all things are governed” (D&C 88:12-13; see also D&C 88:6-11).   This Light is not compound, nor is it a being, nor does it have parts or passions, it is the simple fact that allows all things to exist as they do, it is the source of the law, and the source of whatever facts that allow for salvation from the law.  To Mormons, the Light of Christ defines what it is to be God, what it is to be Christ, and the truth that the Holy Spirit testifies of.  The LDS term “Light of Christ” must be that fact that Evangelicals call “God.”

Seeing the God of the Nicene Creed of the Light of Christ might make the creed comprehensible to Mormons.  Translating the Nicene Creed into Mormon terms might look like this:

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I’m looking for a hard-headed Mormon.

I want to see if there is a way to explain the Evangelical view of salvation in terms that a Mormon would both agree with and adopt as their own.  I want a hard-headed mormon because i want to make it clear that I am not trying to convert anybody from Mormonism. I want somebody who has no fear of being converted away from the Church. (Being hard-headed myself, I don’t yet see why conversion from the LDS Church is necessary to be saved in the Evangelical sense.)

Ultimately my goal is to clearly and simply explain the Evangelical view of salvation in terms that Mormons would feel comfortable teaching their children. So, obviously,  I expect it to be more of a cooperative exercise than antagonistic to the Church in any way. It may involve vetting whatever we come up with in this forum for Evangelical feedback.  I am happy to protect the anonymity of anybody who is willing to contribute their opinions in a public way.

If you are such a hard-headed Mormon, and are at all interested, text or call me at at 8 5 8- 2 1 2-8 0 5 8. or email me at jaredcoleman100@gmail.com

Muzzling the Ox

Occasionally I see critics of the LDS Church attack the salary drawn by General Authorities and the stipend given to Mission Presidents. I think the Church is fully justified by the Bible in offering these benefits to these men. The chief passage that allows for this practice is I Corinthians 9:1-18. In it Paul defends himself from the same charges.

Paul was a “tent-maker missionary”, someone who works full time to support themselves while ministering. Apparently at some point in Corinth he had eaten from the collective meal that Christians participated in as part of the Lord’s Supper. We learn from Chapter 11 that some believers were eating private suppers and getting drunk and not allowing everyone in the congregation to get a share of the portion of the meal. This was depriving some members of the body. Paul defense seems to come in context of this local controversy. Paul is incensed by this accusation because he feels that he’s not only allowed to eat from the church pantry but that he’s even allowed to take a portion of the offerings (though he does not).

Paul offers two defenses for the practice of paying those in ministry. Both are found in the Old Testament, which should especially appeal to the Mormon idea of practicing “Old Testament Christianity.” Continue reading

A Place Without God

The first time my wife and I attended an LDS baptism a man stood up to speak and he told the young woman being baptized that the following day they would lay hands on her and give her the gift of the Holy Ghost. He counseled her to avoid all evil afterwards and to never enter a place in which the Holy Ghost could not follow. My wife and I were stunned. This might have been the thing that stunned and offended our sensibilities more than anything we had heard in Mormonism to that point.

As we discussed it later we couldn’t imagine living a faith where the possibility existed that the Holy Spirit could not bear his presence. Our own journeys and the faith we had grown up in taught us that even in the deepest darkest places the Holy Spirit was at work convicting, counseling and comforting. Though the distractions around us may make it difficult to hear him, we believed that he always had to power to reveal himself. As God, He could always overcome the situations or atmosphere of those he wished to guide.

Jared recently directed me to an article written by Boyd K Packer on “the light of Christ” and I was encouraged to see that this concept was not absent in Mormonism, it was just renamed and attributed to the “light of Christ” rather than the Holy Spirit. The article states:
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Is Peniel ground zero for theology?

The fundamental divide between Mormon theology and traditional Christian theology may stem from their starting point.  Moses tells us of how Jacob wrestled with God in the desert in a place he called Peniel – where he saw God face to face. To Mormons, this is the starting point for all theology i.e. the words received face to face with God.  Put simply, the state of being before face of God is considered the only place where the simple Truth can be found. If anything is, this concept is the beating heart of Mormonism.

Joseph Smith’s peniel approach to truth is elegantly simple- and extremely powerful in its simplicity. It slashes through theological argument, making irrelevant entire worldviews. The approach depends on two important moves.  First, Joseph affirms as a simple fact that seeing something with spiritual eyes is equivalent to seeing something with actual eyes, i.e. a person’s vision of reality is the same in character as that person’s real vision. Seeing an angel “in the spirit” is no less trustworthy than seeing the angel with actual eyes. This point is most simply made in Joseph’s statement that spiritual things were also physical- i.e. as much a part of the world as earth, wind, and fire.  This would come naturally to someone who understood the world in a magical way.  Joseph taught that empirical experiences of the prophets, combined with his own, could more clearly explain the magic that was in the world.

This idea is – as Mormons might put it – very strong doctrine. It’s salience comes in its simplicity, it does not distinguish between classes of experience that are often indistinguishable to the person experiencing them. Joseph was in good company in making this move.  In a sense, this was the key intuition founding Descartes’ philosophy that paved the way for clarity in science.

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The simple fact is: God.

Having been thoroughly terrified after watching the Sunset Limited based on Cormac McCarthy’s novel,  I thought I should try to actually do a little philosophy in order to (at least?) believe in God again. I do it here in an attempt to keep myself honest in the company of those that do believe. If this doesn’t make much sense, please keep in mind my lingering view of philosophy, and consider this an apologia and a confession.


Some thoughts to set the stage:

“I am not a religious man but I cannot help seeing every problem from a religious point of view”. — Ludwig Wittgenstein, noted philosopher.

“But theology is the function of the Church. The church confesses God as it talks about God… But in so doing it recognizes and takes up as an active Church the further human task of criticizing and revising its speech about God” — Karl Barthnoted theologianChurch Dogmatics, 1.1, p. 3.

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Mormon Doctrine as Positive Law

Gundek suggested I lay out my thinking regarding Mormonism as a system of positive laws. Here goes:

The LDS Church is structured in the doctrine of unity. To them, Christ  himself decreed: “Be one; and if ye are not one ye are not mine” (D&C 38:27.)  This command is still at the very root of the way the Church is run today.  This unity is also at the heart of the project of the Church, which is to bring about Zion.  To the LDS, the concept of Zion was simply defined by Jehovah who applied that name to the city established by the antediluvian Enoch “because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them.” (Moses 7:18.) Zion is a sort of heaven on earth, so much so that, in theory, when people approach Zion in practice, they are translated, i.e. taken to heaven to await the final establishment of Zion.

Unity of heart and mind is generally considered a celestial standard by the LDS, which generally means that it is part of the higher law, the political goal striven for in this life, but ultimately reached after the Second Coming of Christ.  In theory, the Church was designed as the human vehicle for establishment of Zion on earth. As a Mormon, I saw most of the law throughout Biblical and LDS church as human groping with the Spirit to form a Zion society.  The law differed from time-to-time based on what was needed to move toward Zion. The differences were based what the culture and temperament of the people that followed God could sustain.  The doctrines and practices are contingent and transitory steps to produce Zion rather than dogmatic principles of theology.

What this has meant, in practice, is that the political unity of the Church is the paramount priority over the perfection of its theology or practice. Getting the right answer on they way the church has run is less important than getting behind the leadership.  Most theological questions are intentionally left unanswered. In rough terms, this is a system where the policy of the Church is considered correct, not because of its intellectual justification, but fact that the First Presidency, the Quorum of the Twelve, and the Membership have ratified it. The ultimate basis for the authority of the ratification comes from the conscience of the Church as it listens to the spirit. Thus, apostasy has little to do with theology or even argument, but a rejection of the structure that controls the ordinances of the Gospel.

In this way, most of the policies of the church are properly considered posited– i.e.  not directly derived from scripture, reason, or nature but established by proposition by the leadership and ratification by the membership. Unlike with Protestantism, Church doctrine and practice is not derived by interpretation of scripture through some hermeneutic principle. Church doctrine, including the content of Church covenants, is dependent on institutional facts, not the merits of a particular scriptural interpretation or philosophical argument.  This view was helpful to me as a Mormon in explaining the sweeping changes that have been made in the rules and practices and even the ordinances of the Church.  It also explains the pragmatic approach taken by the Church in policy over the years.