Why It Matters That Jesus Is “My God”

I’m beginning a new post because the comments in my last post got off on a number of diversions. Among those comments were these:

Jared said:
What does Thomas’ opinion (as reported by John) matter, in the original Greek or otherwise?

Seth said:
. . .But like Jared, I wonder why Thomas’s opinion has much weight for our purposes.

Kullervo also made a number of good points questioning the historicity of John that are important to discuss and I don’t wish to dismiss them. But in the realm of Mormon and Evangelical conversations it’s not an issue. Both Mormons and Evangelicals have come to agree that they are Thomas’ words and that the Gospel of John accurately records them. We also agree that those words are authoritatively canonized and should be viewed as scripture.

So why does it matter that Thomas called Jesus “my God”? (John 20:28) It matters because it tells us, as disciples of Jesus, what kind of view WE should have of Jesus. It gives us an indication of what we should think when we encounter a risen Jesus. Thomas was not chastised by Jesus for declaring him to be his God. Instead Jesus acknowledges his belief and says others will be blessed for having the same belief without the benefit of sight.

Compare this to John falling at the feet of Jesus in Revelation 1 (a correct response) and to John falling at the feet of an angel in Revelation 19 (an incorrect response). Jesus apparently expects his followers to fall at his feet and worship him as their God. It matters because it is what is due to Jesus. Denying God the worship he deserves has consequences.

The Book of Mormon and sermons by Joseph Smith both indicate that this should be our posture to Jesus as well. The “Joseph Smith Translation” doesn’t even scratch this portion of John. If, as a Christian, you don’t think Jesus should be worshiped as your God I’d like to know why and what your opinion is of Thomas and John’s example.

Random thought about this passage
———————————————————————————————————-

It struck me in church today that in John’s Gospel, the stories after the resurrection seem to be cleaning some loose ends from before the crucifixion. Similar to Jesus asking Peter three times if he loved him I think this story about Thomas has some relevance to a conversation Thomas and Jesus had at the Last Supper.

John 14: 5-7

Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”

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92 thoughts on “Why It Matters That Jesus Is “My God”

  1. Kullervo also made a number of good points questioning the historicity of John that are important to discuss and I don’t wish to dismiss them. But in the realm of Mormon and Evangelical conversations it’s not an issue. Both Mormons and Evangelicals have come to agree that they are Thomas’ words and that the Gospel of John accurately records them. We also agree that those words are authoritatively canonized and should be viewed as scripture.

    Sigh. True. More and more I’m thinking that I just don;t really have a horse in this race at all.

  2. Well… yeah Kullervo. I mean… this blog IS premised on people believing the Bible to be authoritative in some manner or other. That’s obviously going to exclude non-believers to some extent.

    I do enjoy your comments though (when you aren’t calling my religion full of rubbish anyway…).

  3. I’m probably missing something, but I don’t see why this should be a problem. In the traditional LDS view, Jesus is the God of the Old Testament, so there’s no contradiction with Thomas seeing him as God. And, according to both LDS and Protestant belief (although Protestants don’t talk about it much, even though it’s clearly Biblical), Jesus was also the Creator (or at least a Creator). If that doesn’t make someone a God, I’m not sure what would.

    And, for us who are LDS, the belief that Jesus is God is also consistent with what modern prophets have said. One example that is particularly clear is the First Presidency Christmas message given by Ezra Taft Benson in 1979: “Jesus Christ: Our Savior, Our God.”

    A few excerpts:

    Because His father was God, Jesus Christ had power which no other human has had before or since. He was God in the flesh — even the Son of God. …

    Because He was God — even the Son of God — He could carry the weight and burden of other men’s sins on Himself. …

    Because He was God — even the Son of God — He alone had the power of resurrection. …

    Because Jesus Christ is God — even the Son of God — He will come again as He promised. …

    Certainly this is consistent with the words of Thomas.

  4. Tim, I really appreciate this post. I also appreciate how you describe the method of reading the scriptures in order to learn the kind of behavior that Christians should and should not take. This kind of devotional reading is important in the daily life of Christians.

    I think both Evangelicals and Mormons can appreciate this method of reading. Nephi encourages this kind of reading: “I did liken all scriptures unto us, that it might be for our profit and learning” (1 Ne. 19:23).

    We may differ as to the exact lessons we take away from any particular passage and I would like to emphasize that such differences exist at an individual level because I think devotional readings are largely personal. These readings also can change depending on our stage in life and our age. Many lessons I take away from particular passages are quite different from the lessons took away when I was younger.

    I particularly enjoy learning how other faiths read certain passages. For example, when I have read Luke 24, a favorite passage of mine, with a Catholic friend, I pointed out that Christ can expound and “open up” the scriptures to us and enlighten our understanding, even if we are already familiar with the scriptures. My Catholic friend on the other hand, pointed out that the eyes of the disciples were opened upon taking the Eucharist in verse 30. This was a different reading than I had, but I found it helpful and it allowed me to be on the look out for similar kinds of discoveries. Unfortunately, comparisons in readings between Mormons and Evangelicals can turn into a battle of exegesis, but at least I have benefited from learning about the devotional readings of friends in other faith traditions.

  5. Mormons worship Jesus as God (NOT “a” God, or “a” god, but God). The title page says the the BOM’s purpose is to convince everyone that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God.

    We pray to God the Father as Jesus taught us to in His name.

  6. Well, OK… there are two different ways to discuss Thomas’ statement. One way is the academic route like we did on the other thread where you debate what the Greek text really said, what the historical context was, and what we think really happened there or what the disciples thought. LDS-Evangelical discussions often go this route – usually when we’re trying to be argumentative with each other and score theological points.

    The other way is “Nephi’s method” if you will. “And I did liken the scriptures unto ourselves.” Which is the same method Tim seems to be suggesting. What does Thomas statement mean in your life and your experience of scripture and Christ?

    Well, in this case, the original Greek is kinda beside the point. My experience of Thomas statement is a shared sense of reverence at the risen Lord Jesus. Do I share that sense of worshipful reverence? Yes and I’m sure Tim does too.

    Now, if we are trying to shoot for an understanding of how Mormons and Evangelicals view Christ differently, we can get into philosophical debates accompanied by lots of explanations of Greek. But this risks missing the point that both camps actually do view Jesus very highly. And it does not really address the question of whether there really is a difference between the amount of reverence a Mormon holds for Jesus Christ and the amount of reverence an Evangelical holds for Him. For that, debates on Greek don’t really go anywhere.

  7. I do enjoy your comments though (when you aren’t calling my religion full of rubbish anyway…).

    Well thanks, but no promises. 😉

  8. John does not have to be an accurate first hand account to be scripture. The author of John, when it was written about 60 years later probably had Thomas say “My Lord my God” because he wanted the readers to believe that Jesus was God.

    I think it doesn’t make much sense to read the gospels in any other way than the devotional reading. Isn’t that what they were for?

    It seems a real stretch to read them as detailed documentary accounts.

    The authors took existing stories and infused ideas and doctrine that were emphasized at the time to instruct Christians on what it was to be Christian, from their point of view. Their canonization was a ratification of that point of view over others. . . right?

  9. Seth, (sorry for the double post)

    Sure, Christians believe the stuff in the Gospels happened but it simply doesn’t make sense to believe they actually happened word for word as they are written. The fact that the gospels are strikingly different in many ways should be instructive of that. You can’t do the psychology of Thomas based on what John wrote 60 years later.

    (Even in books today when you read most biographies or historical accounts the dialog is often fudged by the biographer to make it flow right. Newspaper stories are the same, nearly every time I was ever quoted they screw up the quote and I was tape recorded. )

    The reason the Gospels are powerful is not necessarily because they are “true” but because they are believed.

    We do not have proof of their veracity, especially in the details of the moments, but that doesn’t really lessen their power for the believer.

  10. I’m probably missing something, but I don’t see why this should be a problem. In the traditional LDS view, Jesus is the God of the Old Testament, so there’s no contradiction with Thomas seeing him as God. And, according to both LDS and Protestant belief (although Protestants don’t talk about it much, even though it’s clearly Biblical), Jesus was also the Creator (or at least a Creator). If that doesn’t make someone a God, I’m not sure what would.

    Eric, there is a contradiction. This event is after the resurrection. So Thomas is no longer under the old covenant. He is a Christian at this point, not a Jew. I know LDS leaders have tried to get around John’s strong view that divinity belongs to Jesus by saying that Jesus was the god of the Jews, but it doesn’t really hold up if you start applying that through systematic theology (which is part of the reason LDS don’t believe in systematic theology. LDS theology is a mess if you actually start trying to straighten it out and make sure none of it contradicts any other part. Interpretive traditions are much safer if you’re worried about getting nailed down on a particular point).

    The Gospel of John includes this specific conversation because it is instructive of how Christians should view Jesus, not because that’s what Jews thought of him. In fact it was a radical departure from Judaism to view the Messiah as God.

    It’s actually my experience that Protestants want to talk about Jesus being a Creator much more than LDS. So I guess it’s good we talk to balance our views out.

    Aquinas, I’m glad I can better explain my position to you. What’s your view? Is Jesus your God?

    For what it’s worth. I’m not simply giving a devotional understanding. And to answer Jared’s post, I don’t think the Gospels have much devotional value if they aren’t historically true. I think they’re pathetic and most likely evil. I do appreciate coming to a better understanding of your view of them though. It’s quite similar to the positions of liberal mainline denominations; which are rapidly fading into obscurity. It’s the “focus on the teachings” response which doesn’t pack a lot of punch when you stop to consider why we should focus on the teachings if they aren’t based in historical reality.

    Yes, it would be difficult to recall the facts and events as they happened so many years after the fact. But it’s not much to overcome with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. (not to mention a strong oral tradition and many many many conversations about the events that changed the world)

    There isn’t much in the Gospels that can’t be synchronized. When you account for the time that each was written, the audience each was written for and the purpose each was written for, their variations make sense. About the hardest thing to come to grips with is the differing accounts of Judas’ death, but aside from that the “problems” of the Gospels are not that great.

  11. Tim, you’re welcome. Are you driving at a distinction between saying “Jesus is God” and “Jesus is my God”? Are these identical statements in your view?

    It seems the topic of what is more important whether something is true, or whether something is edifying, has been raised. This topic probably deserves a post on its own. The common path is to view two camps, one which holds that the Gospel is edifying and instructive whether it is historically true or not, and the other which holds that the Gospel means nothing if it is not grounded in history and that edification is simply insufficient a reason for belief. My own view is that both perspectives can be corrupted.

    Conservatives suspect that the move to only speak about edification and the educative value of the Gospels is just a sneaky tactic to slowly remove metaphysical notions in Christianity such as miracles, the creation, the resurrection or heaven, etc. Liberals lament that a narrow focus which is concerned solely whether something is historically valid misses the point of the Gospel narratives. By focusing on defending historicity the goal becomes on how to harmonize the Gospels, rather than how to live them.

    It may be the case that some liberals are being sneaky and it may be the case that some conservatives are focusing on the wrong things.

    However, I think there is an alternative way of looking at the issue. It is important to stress that the Gospel is not merely an intellectual exercise, but rather it should change lives. It was said of C.S. Lewis that he would rather be an honest pagan than a dishonest Christian. What is the point of affirming historical realities if people are bankrupt spiritually, if the Gospel message has little effect on their daily life? One can hardly blame those who want to reduce Christianity to moral values when so many believers are so bent on proving their faith or harmonizing the Gospel, instead of living it. The idea is that the only way to get Christians to focus on the message itself is if you take everything else away, maybe then they will actually focus on the message. On the other hand, Christianity is a historical religion, grounded in the historical reality of the resurrection. It matters if Jesus was not resurrected. If Jesus was not resurrected, then he isn’t God, and there is no atonement and no resurrection: two core beliefs of Christianity. If Christ didn’t actually raise Lazarus from the dead and all his miracles are simply the result of either mistaken witnesses or overzealous Gospel writers, what else is inaccurate? Why choose Christianity over any other moral system?

    I believe both groups of concerns are valid and an extreme position at either end is problematic. In my conversations with others, however, I think it is important to recognize that there are sincere concerns on both sides. If you are the kind of person who sees a lot of Christians who are hypocritical and think that people simply don’t take Christ’s teachings seriously enough then you might want to focus on the teachings. If you are the kind of person who believes that unless a story is historically valid it is not worth believing, and you feel inerrancy and the historical reliability of the bible is being attacked, then you might want to focus only how the Gospel accounts are historically accurate and congruent.

  12. Tim said: “I know LDS leaders have tried to get around John’s strong view that divinity belongs to Jesus by saying that Jesus was the god of the Jews, but it doesn’t really hold up if you start applying that through systematic theology.

    I agree that there are problems with the conclusion that Jesus = Yahweh/Jehovah. At the very least, there are contradictions or paradoxes involved, depending on your point of view.

    In any case, I don’t agree that “LDS leaders have tried to get around John’s strong view that divinity belongs to Jesus.” Could you provide an example, preferably from the last 100 years, where that’s the case?

    I can’t think of a time when I’ve heard an LDS leader suggest that Jesus was anything less than divine. In fact, in the Ezra Taft Benson quote I provided above, the Prophet at the time clearly and unequivocally affirmed the divinity of Jesus as found in the Gospel of John. I just can’t see any other way of reading it.

    Tim said: “It’s actually my experience that Protestants want to talk about Jesus being a Creator much more than LDS.

    That’s interesting, because my experience is the opposite. I’ve always heard non-LDS Christians refer to the Father as the Creator, almost to the exclusion of the Son, while I’ve heard Mormons refer to Jesus Christ as the Creator, almost to the exclusion of the Father.

    I’m not sure there’s any real LDS-evangelical disagreement here, though. The Biblical testimony on the matter seems quite clear (not that that always prevents disagreement!).

  13. I would agree that the gospels are not worth much in fact if they aren’t true, however if you order your life as if they are, believing that they are then I think that can be very significant.

    However, my view, and point, is that even if you believe that the events in the gospels happened, that you can still see that the Gospels were not a word for word account of what happened but a retelling by a person trying to make particular points. Mark and John are the same basic story but the details and the tone can be strikingly different. (In Mark Jesus is abandoned by his followers in Gethsemane, in John he is totally in control.

    The “inspiration of the holy spirit” theory is essentially the same as Joseph’s Smith’s claims about being able to write down things that happened in the past accurately through the inspiration of the holy spirit. y

    I don’t think there is a strong biblical theory of where the bible comes from, and how it should be read. . . hence the problem with soli scriptura.

    As for systematic theology. . . to see the bible as some sort of systematic whole you have to be blind to so many paradoxes and problems.

    I like Aquina’s focus, i.e. understanding how a believer should live rather than focusing on the nuances of the language of the text. If you don’t believe the story of the Gospels and the overall context it doesn’t mean much, the moral message only comes with understanding the message of salvation. And that only makes sense if you believe in a savior.

  14. “He was the Great Jehovah of the Old Testament, the Messiah of the New. Under the direction of His Father, He was the creator of the earth. ‘All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made’ (John 1:3)”.

    This appears to me to be the “official” stance of the church (from The Living Christ) on the issue of Jesus as Creator.

    I’ve never heard of Jesus as “the God of the Jews” but I have heard “God of the Old Testament.” I think this is in reference to the notion that in the Hebrew Bible Jesus was the Being who, as God, communicated with the prophets. It could be that this distinction is used simply because in the New Testament, when Jesus refers to God, He is referring to His Father–therefore “God” as spoken of in the New Testament (Gospels) is the Father.

  15. Are you driving at a distinction between saying “Jesus is God” and “Jesus is my God”? Are these identical statements in your view?

    Aquinas,
    I don’t make a distinction between the two because I’m a Trinitarian, but it’s my understanding that Mormons in general do not worship Jesus as their God, but instead worship the Father alone and merely revere Jesus. If a Mormon says that they worship Jesus, you typically have to push to find out what they mean by the word “worship” and discover that it’s something different than how they “worship” the Father.

    I absolutely agree with the rest of your post. The teachings ARE the point. But my point is that the teachings quickly become irrelevant if they aren’t grounded in history.

    Eric said:
    I can’t think of a time when I’ve heard an LDS leader suggest that Jesus was anything less than divine.

    I’m not at all suggesting that LDS don’t think that Jesus is divine. The issue is that LDS think that he is not the ONLY one who is divine and perhaps most insidiously believe that they too will be divine along with him. Because LDS are not monotheist I think it’s relevant to ask which of the gods they are worshiping and if it’s not Jesus, why not.

    Have you read this: http://speeches.byu.edu/reader/reader.php?id=6843 It’s a talk by Bruce McConkie in which he clearly states:

    We do not worship the Son, and we do not worship the Holy Ghost. I know perfectly well what the scriptures say about worshiping Christ and Jehovah, but they are speaking in an entirely different sense–the sense of standing in awe and being reverentially grateful to him who has redeemed us. Worship in the true and saving sense is reserved for God the first, the Creator.

    BJH, check that link too : He is the God of Israel

  16. Jared said:

    The “inspiration of the holy spirit” theory is essentially the same as Joseph’s Smith’s claims about being able to write down things that happened in the past accurately through the inspiration of the holy spirit.

    I don’t have any problem with believing that Joseph Smith got the exact words of Moroni or Alma or Lehi written down correctly hundreds of years after they lived by the power of the Spirit. The problem is the historical record by all accounts contradicts that they even existed much less said X instead of Y.

    I don’t disagree that the outside historical record can’t confirm that Thomas said those exact words (we don’t have it on video tape.) But it does confirm that there were people exactly like him in ethnicity and belief in that area of the world at that moment in time.

  17. Which of the gods are you worshiping Tim? The Father or the Son?

    I presume you aren’t saying they’re the same person, right? So which one?

  18. Tim, so let’s say we look at a hypothetical 24-hour period in the life of a Mormon and an Evangelical. What does the Evangelical do in her worship and what does a Mormon do in her worship? What does it look like to worship the Father but not the Son? What does it look like to worship the Father and the Son? What does it look like to “worship the Father alone” and what does it look like to “merely revere Jesus”?

  19. Seth, I’m going to assume that you understand the Trinitarian view better than that, but just in case some one else wonders.

    I only worship one God. Jesus, the Father and the Holy Spirit are all one God (the only God that exist)

    Jesus, the Father and the Holy Spirit are not the same persons. They are three distinct persons. These three persons share a relationship that can be described as “God”. Each of these persons can fully be described as God as well as the whole.

    There’s nothing simple about the doctrine of the Trinity. It is complicated and difficult to understand. But that doesn’t mean that it’s not internally consistent (in fact it took a great deal of thought to find a place where it wasn’t inconsistent). If Mormons had value in systematically sitting down and working through all of the Biblical passages (perhaps the Book of Mormon as well) that describe all the attributes of God (which is the work of Theology), I’d venture to guess that they’d come up with a description of God that was very similar.

    Aquinas, the distinctions were profound at the very least to Bruce McConkie. It’s in the nature of heresy to be incorporated slowly and eventually produce something radically different.

  20. McConkie is actually a bit ambiguous on this subject. Yes, he did apparently speak out against “worshiping Christ” on some occasions.

    However, look at the Mormon hymn “I Believe in Christ” which he penned the lyrics to. And then read his famous “final sermon.” You get a much different picture. So I just don’t think we can definitively say that McConkie didn’t believe that Jesus was God.

    As for myself, I’m partial to Social Trinitarianism. But that only works logically if you are willing to abandon an insistence on ontological oneness, and instead posit that the unity of the godhead means something other than literal unity of person.

    I’m also partial to tri-theism. But that position is hard to square with several passages in the Book of Mormon, so I haven’t really gone there.

  21. Tim-

    I sensed that you were using Elder McConkie as a proof text, because he is one of a few who have delineated “worship” in the way you are describing. His hard-lined distinctions work on some levels, but I think when you are investigating the personal worship of any individual you will find a complex combination of notions considered “worship.”

    One of the levels on which Elder McConkie’s description works has to do with prayer. Mormons generally will tell you that they pray to the Father in the name of the Son, as Jesus instructed in both the New Testament and the Book of Mormon. There is an instance in the Book of Mormon in which this is not the case, though. This was when the people were actually in the presence of Jesus Himself. Jesus is recorded as praying these words to the Father:

    “Father, thou hast given them the Holy Ghost because they believe in me; and thou seest that they believe in me because thou hearest them, and they pray unto me; and they pray unto me because I am with them” (3 Nephi 19:22).

    In fact, the entire block of text in the Book of Mormon in which Jesus is visiting the people is instructive for how most Mormons would describe how they worship Jesus. The people fall down before Him, call Him their Savior, shout Hosanna, and pray to Him.

    To throw another wrench into Elder McConkie’s claims, he wrote a hymn called “I Believe in Christ” that we sing often in church that includes the line “I’ll worship Him with all my might. He is the source of truth and light.” The line is very specifically referring to Jesus.

    I have never heard anyone say that we reserve worship solely for the Father and merely revere Jesus. I have heard similar language used when referring to how we feel about Jesus as opposed to Joseph Smith (i.e. we worship Jesus as God but revere Joseph Smith as a prophet).

    Concerning Jesus being “the God of Israel,” to a Mormon that is very different than saying He is the God of the Jews. Mormons believe that they are a part of latter-day Israel, and most often consider this title to mean simply, “Jesus is my God, because I am of Israel.”

    Others who are Mormon, correct me if I’m wrong in these generalizations.

  22. Seth (#23)-

    I was posting my comment when yours posted. Otherwise I wouldn’t have repeated the thing about “I Believe in Christ.”

  23. Tim said: “I’m not at all suggesting that LDS don’t think that Jesus is divine.

    But when you say something like “I know LDS leaders have tried to get around John’s strong view that divinity belongs to Jesus,” it’s easy to understand you as stating we believe Jesus is something is than divine.

    As to Elder McConkie’s talk, I could say quite a few things. Suffice it for now is that I believe to some extent he was using hyperbole. I wouldn’t agree with his wording, but I would agree with his basic point that there are differences in how we view the Son and how we view the Father. But I worship both, and to worship one is to worship the other as well.

  24. Tim said: Jesus, the Father and the Holy Spirit are not the same persons. They are three distinct persons. These three persons share a relationship that can be described as “God”. Each of these persons can fully be described as God as well as the whole.

    That is entirely consistent with the LDS view.

    The difference is that the traditional doctrine of the Trinity also emphasizes the consubstantiality of the three Persons, which I think is the same thing that Seth R. refers to above as ontological oneness. I just don’t see where that concept is taught in the Bible.

    Tim said: If Mormons had value in systematically sitting down and working through all of the Biblical passages (perhaps the Book of Mormon as well) that describe all the attributes of God (which is the work of Theology), I’d venture to guess that they’d come up with a description of God that was very similar.

    To be blunt about it, I find that statement arrogant.

    Seth R. said: “As for myself, I’m partial to Social Trinitarianism. … I’m also partial to tri-theism.

    For what it’s worth, the critics of social trinitarianism (which also makes sense to me) have accused it of being tritheistic. I’m not sure how many of the differences between the two are semantic rather than substantial. It’s certainly a concept worthy of further study.

  25. I mangled my words in #26. I meant to say: “But when you say something like ‘I know LDS leaders have tried to get around John’s strong view that divinity belongs to Jesus,’ it’s easy to understand you as stating that we believe Jesus is something other than divine.”

    Sorry for any confusion that may have caused.

  26. Whether Jesus is God is absolutely clear in Mormon theology, He is.

    To answer Aquina’s question: I don’t see a whole lot of difference in practice between worshiping the Father through Jesus or worshiping the father and Jesus in Trinity.

    Considering the Trinity, in its very nature, is an unfathomable mystery,(i.e. how three separate persons can be one in substance) its hard to say how it really differs from the Mormon Godhead idea. Because we don’t have any way of observing these differences in practice, the distinction in belief is just words. Joseph saw a vision of Jesus at the right hand of the Father (just like Stephen did in acts). For the life of me I can’t see any real difference in practice of thinking of God as a trinity or thinking of him as three separate persons of different substance. Ultimately there is no way to explain how three persons can be of the same substance, right?

    By the same token, Mormons can’t really explain how Jesus is God and his father is God, because we only can explain very few attributes of God.

    In practice there is not much different-When we read the New Testament, we are taught to pray to the Father (not to Jesus) in the name of Jesus. (can we agree on that?) There is not a lot of description of what “worship” is other then reverence and adoration.

    An analogy of this debate could be an understanding of the Ocean. Some people could believe that the earth has several Oceans all joined together but distinct. Other groups could believe that there really is only one Ocean and that the distinctions between them are imaginary. Some groups may think the oceans contain 326,000 trillion gallons, some may think that they contain 500, trillion gallons. I practice these distinctions are so minor that there would be next to no difference in the behavior of the groups toward the Ocean(s). For everyone its a whole lot of water that really impossible to grasp.

    Tim, I think you are generally too enamored with the concept systematic theology.

    Systematic theology based on the Bible is a generally flawed endeavor in that it takes multiple texts across hundreds and thousands of years that were often written in different cultural contexts and attempts to read them as if they were philosophical tracts, and then to harmonize them in some sort of systematic philosophy. On top of that it is attempting to systematize things that admittedly cannot really be explained. So you always end up with these “mysteries” to patch over the paradoxes that arise when you attempt make everything fit together. Ultimately the system you develop is filled with things that cannot be understood and mean very little difference in practice. When you apply logical principles of regular philosophy, such as Occams razor, potentially you could whittle the whole edifice down to a core points.

    Ultimately the more you wrap concepts of God in complicated language the farther you get from any practical distinction.

    What has ultimately happened is that you have one group of Christians condemning all other groups of Christians to hell for not mouthing their creed. (A creed that contains mysteries that implies cannot be put into words or understood). Its like saying that you have to believe in the stuff that we can’t understand rather than the stuff that you cannot understand.

    On the topic of inspiration by the holy spirit in writing history:

    So you could accept that the Book of Abraham or the Book of Moses could have been written through the direction of the Holy Spirit by Joseph since there is proof that there was an Abraham and a Moses?

  27. Tim, I think you are generally too enamored with the concept systematic theology.

    Okay, well I don’t think you care enough about it. So what now?

    Actually I’m not all that in the systematic theology. It’s not like I’m a 5-point Calvinist and a hard line Reformed Presbyterian. I was generally bored and disinterested in my systematic theology classes in college. But learning about Mormonism has taught me to appreciate the work of theology a lot more. I see what happens when a false prophet starts creating his own pet doctrines and then has to make those doctrines stand up to scripture. Doctrine can start twisting all over the place. When you start to realize it you either have the grueling task of trying to fix it or just saying “we never believed in doctrine to begin with” (which is a self refuting doctrinal statement). Even the slightest bit of theological training prevents a load of heresy.

    What has ultimately happened is that you have one group of Christians condemning all other groups of Christians to hell for not mouthing their creed.

    I believe Joseph Smith picked the fight by saying that their creeds were an abomination and producing skits where pastors are pawns of Satan. I think we can all agree that we’ve both stuck our thumbs in the other groups eye from time to time.

    So you could accept that the Book of Abraham or the Book of Moses could have been written through the direction of the Holy Spirit by Joseph since there is proof that there was an Abraham and a Moses?

    I accept that they could have been. I can even accept that the Book of Mormon could have been written through the direction of the Holy Spirit. It’s just not the case for any of them. When we test them (as directed by our other scriptures) they are shown to be false so we put them aside.

  28. But learning about Mormonism has taught me to appreciate the work of theology a lot more.

    When I first began to question Mormonism, I really started to notice the lack of any real theology or theological process, and I became increasingly frustrated with it. Not only does a lack of theology lead to easily twisting doctrines, but it facilitates a hierarchical monopoly on spiritual truth.

  29. Why I don’t like theology-

    I would care quite a bit about theology if it wasn’t second rate philosophy. Theology can be used to justify whatever you want it to depending on what you take to be immovable and inerrant. (of course there is no independent basis for believing the inerrancy of the scripture that you take to be axiomatic. You have to swallow that to have any starting point for theology. The problem is, if Paul contradicts Joseph, there is no real solid basis for saying one is inerrant and the other is erroneous.

    In my mind theology attempts to put words in God’s mouth to the same extant that “heretics” like Joseph did. Except with philosophy rather than inspiration.

    “Even the slightest bit of theological training prevents loads of heresy”

    This attitude is as Eric put it, arrogant, or maybe more accurately, myopic. In the same vein I could say that the slightest bit of philosophical training prevents loads of theology. Either way the attitude presumes the right answer prior to entering the intellectual endeavor.

    On orthodoxy vs. Heresy-

    The way the LDS church deals with the problem of maintaining doctrinal control is to essentially remain officially agnostic on most subjects and preventing too open or strident positions on controversial subjects in church contexts. I personally think method can be pernicious by stifiling open discussion of some issues, but in my opinion it is much more palatable then to say that this is the only right way you can understand how God relates to Jesus and if you get that wrong you will burn in hell. I certainly could live without that heresy.

    I think Joseph’s pet doctrines stand up to scripture as well as the trinity, creation ex nilo and other “pet” doctrines of systematic theology.

    Kullervo-

    I can’t see how lack of theology facilitates a monopoly on truth, it seems like the opposite is the case, “if your belief doesn’t fit into our system you go to hell” The fact that you don’t have to believe a set creed to be a Mormon seems like it can facilitate acceptance of truth as it arises. The fact that very little of what the Church says is considered revelation from God allows for a multiplicity of beliefs.

  30. Your mistake is in assuming that having a systematic theology would mean having just one systematic theology, with no room for debate.

  31. I think what Kullervo means is that when you have a written creed and systematized theology – all in the Church are bound by it – including the leaders. Anyone in the Church may be challenged or refuted by reference to an “objective” standard.

    But when you have no such standard, then you have no basis for refuting the prophet or your bishop. You can’t point to, say… The Lectures on Faith and say “well Gordon B. Hinckley is clearly full of it.” Because there is no objective creed supposedly, the living oracles become the law in the Church.

    I think Kullervo is wrong that there is a “hierarchical monopoly” on truth. There really are a lot more checks on the hierarchy than he’s giving credit for. There is also a lot more systematic doctrine and theology in Mormonism than Tim is giving credit for.

    Living revelation is ALWAYS a messy proposition. You never know quite what it’s going to say. The only reason that Christianity has had the luxury of a predictable and static body of doctrine is because it rejects the validity of revelation. It has silenced God and told Him that He no longer has the right to speak out at the town hall meetings. His words must be confined and limited to the Bible and the “inner workings of the heart.” But He has no right to address the Church as a whole. Might mess up the painstaking theology everyone has spent so much time and effort building. Can’t have that.

  32. Aquinas asked: “Tim, so let’s say we look at a hypothetical 24-hour period in the life of a Mormon and an Evangelical. What does the Evangelical do in her worship and what does a Mormon do in her worship?

    Not much different, as far as I’ve been able to tell. Mormons do pray to the Father in the name of the Son, but so do a lot of non-LDS Christians (although not as consistently, and even the LDS hymnbook has a few songs that directly address other members of the Godhead, such as Guide Us O Thou Great Jehovah, which directly addresses both Jesus and the Holy Spirit). Aside from that, I’m not aware of how anything we’ve been discussing here affects how we live our daily lives.

    Jared C. said: “In my mind theology attempts to put words in God’s mouth to the same extant that ‘heretics’ like Joseph did. Except with philosophy rather than inspiration.

    ‘Even the slightest bit of theological training prevents loads of heresy’

    This attitude is as Eric put it, arrogant, or maybe more accurately, myopic. In the same vein I could say that the slightest bit of philosophical training prevents loads of theology. Either way the attitude presumes the right answer prior to entering the intellectual endeavor.

    Exactly. What assumptions you put in will determine what comes out. And most of those assumptions are of things unprovable.

    And the idea that there is only one way to understand the Bible, or that systematically studying the Bible will lead to one conclusion, seems odd in the light of the fact that there are literally hundreds of denominations that take a sola scriptura view. True, many of the denominational differences don’t have to do with theology, but some of them do. There are Calvinists vs. Arminians, trinitarians vs. modalists and tongues-speakers vs. tongues-disappeared-ages-ago folks, all of whom claim to have derived their beliefs solely from the Bible after considerable study.

    And, of course, I also find it interesting that sola scriptura isn’t taught in the scriptures, and furthermore that many people who take that view believe many things that aren’t in the Bible. And who’s to say that we even have the right books in the Bible? The Bible nowhere lists the books that should be in it.

    I’m not criticizing anyone for making assumptions. I make assumptions too. What I am saying is that if we don’t recognize what our assumptions are, and don’t recognize that other people may make different assumptions that objectively may have just much validity, we violate the seventh commandment of interreligious dialogue found elsewhere on this site. To say, in effect, “if you studied the scriptures as much as I have you’d see it the same way” isn’t conducive to a fruitful discussion among equals.

  33. This attitude is as Eric put it, arrogant, or maybe more accurately, myopic.

    Okay, well I think the idea that you have the only true priesthood on earth and that the local bishop has authority over me is arrogant and myopic. That isn’t going to change either of our minds though. One could be arrogant that 1+1=2, but that attitude doesn’t affect the truth or falsity of the proposition.

    The way the LDS church deals with the problem of maintaining doctrinal control is to essentially remain officially agnostic on most subjects and preventing too open or strident positions on controversial subjects in church contexts.

    . . . The fact that very little of what the Church says is considered revelation from God allows for a multiplicity of beliefs.

    I know this new Open Mormon Theology view is gaining popularity. But I don’t think it really expresses what Mormonism has historically looked like. As Seth expresses, Mormonism DOES have theology, doctrines, creeds and theologians (it just doesn’t acknowledge any of them as such). If it doesn’t what exactly is supporting your orthopraxy? Why can’t Mormons just decide that Hinckley is full of it on polygamy and start taking additional wives? Why can’t Katie say “God’s telling me that the Word of Wisdom is not for me”? Why can’t someone give their tithe to finding a cure for AIDS and not get a temple recommend?

    How exactly do you decipher who is and who is not a false prophet without the discipline of theology in even its most simple forms? Or do you not believe there are any false prophets?

    Seth,
    I think you stated Kullervo’s objection pretty well. Why is it do you think that most Mormons can finish this statement: When the Prophet speaks the thinking _______ ____ ____________. Where is the check and balance in that? And who exactly are Mormons learning that creedo from if it’s not “Mormon teaching”?

    On the Church’s agnosticism
    ———————————————————————————-
    I think the reason the LDS church is more and more taking an agnostic position is because more and more of its truth claims are being shown to be false. The identity of modern Lamanites. The location of the Book of Mormon events. Joseph’s ability to translate Eygptian Heiroglyphics. The prophet’s inability to lead the church astray. These were things the church once took a firm view on.

    The problem with a firm view is that it can be tested. Agnosticism can’t. So as a survival tactic the leaders of the church aren’t stating anything. The living prophet is not only silent on what the Lord is saying today, he’s becoming silent on what the Lord said yesterday (“I’m not sure we teach that.”).

    Eventually the church is going to be so officially agnostic on so many positions the members are going to wonder why they can’t just be officially agnostic as well.

  34. Yes, I know Kullervo. And there is no Santa Claus, and the world let me down, and life is a big bucket of monkey-dung.

    Got it.

  35. Come on Seth, give me a little more credit than that. I honestly think the Church is not what it claims to be, and I honestly think that any kind of “continuing revelation” claim is questionable.

  36. Tim said: “ Why is it do you think that most Mormons can finish this statement: When the Prophet speaks the thinking _______ ____ ____________. Where is the check and balance in that?

    The check and balance is that the statement isn’t true (unless the final three words are “has just begun”).

  37. Tim-

    I am sorry for being so confrontational on the theology issue. Its a bit of a pet peeve of mine.

    Perhaps the real reason I don’t like theological discussions is that in an interfaith context, they often end up being unenlightening to me. After my study of law and philosophy I realize that “systems” are necessarily too limited in their scope and power to be complete in their explanation and ultimately contain many unresolvable inconsistences if they approach completeness. On top of the logical limitations, systemic discussions of the nature of God are generally immune to test and experiment, unlike doctrines involving practice.

    The real question, for me, is not whether a doctrine is heretical when viewed against a particular system, but whether it has a practical effect in the life of the believer (i.e. my life). If it doesn’t make a bit of difference then it really shouldn’t matter whether the Godhead is the same “substance”. In my opinion the definition of God as one-and-three or three-united doesn’t make a whole lot of practical difference. I think Mormons understand this better than Evangelicals. (i.e. mormons understand that they believe in the same God as evangelicals, since the doctrinal differences don’t amount to much practical difference on this point.

    This is not to say that other Mormon-Evangelical differences don’t make practical differences in the lives of believers.

    I think its instructive that the Jesus of the Gospels generally did not give theological teachings but couched his teachings in indirect stories, allegory and metaphor. He seemed to be attempting to enlighten rather than correct. Ultimately the Gospels are nearly devoid of anything resembling systematic theology. As described by the Gospels, His description of who was his disciple vs. who was the heretic fundamentally involved practice.

    As John portrays Him, he instructed: “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.” The teaching appears to be that “theology” comes from following and acting not postulating and deducting from the scriptures.

    My two cents.

  38. Perhaps the real reason I don’t like theological discussions is that in an interfaith context, they often end up being unenlightening to me.

    Um, that’s a pretty narrow reason to not like theological discussions in general.

  39. Thanks for sharing those thoughts Jared.

    If it doesn’t make a bit of difference then it really shouldn’t matter whether the Godhead is the same “substance”. In my opinion the definition of God as one-and-three or three-united doesn’t make a whole lot of practical difference.

    If it really doesn’t matter, then why don’t you just reject your own orthodoxy and say that you agree with the rest of the Christian community. Why cling so hard to something that you don’t think makes a lick of difference? The fact that you won’t betrays that you do in fact think doctrinal differences matter.

    Where as I can see how tempting it is to take the Gospels by themselves, you can’t neglect books like Romans which are full of rich theology. And I’m not at all advocating Romans over Mark. But you can’t cherry pick your scriptures. You’ve got to take them all into account.

    The real question, for me, is not whether a doctrine is heretical when viewed against a particular system, but whether it has a practical effect in the life of the believer (i.e. my life). If it doesn’t make a bit of difference then it really shouldn’t matter whether the Godhead is the same “substance”.

    I think this is a fundamental difference between us (on a larger scale outside of Trinitarian debates). I don’t care what kind of practical effects a belief has on a person. I care to know the truth. Taoism has a number of practical benefits for many people. But I believe that it’s ultimately false despite those benefits. It’s not worth pursuing a lie, even if the lie makes you happy, content and generous. We are fools and to be pitied if our beliefs are not true.

  40. “It’s not worth pursuing a lie, even if the lie makes you happy, content and generous. We are fools and to be pitied if our beliefs are not true.”

    Ouch. Tim, what then do you say to the Taoist who lives a happy, content, and generous life but never accepts Jesus as his/her Savior? What if they never heard the message of Jesus? Or what if the message was taught to them by some radical unfeeling Christian who insisted that they must accept Jesus or be damned, period?

    I’ve heard the Christian message taught in that way, and there’s not much about it that entices me. When taught in a broader context of the Fall, sin, and Christ’s sacrifice (and when the teaching comes from a compassionate and understanding individual) it certainly has more weight.

    But to say we are to be pitied if our beliefs are not true in spite of a life of generosity and happiness… This is one issue where Mormonism makes a lot more sense to me than non-LDS Christianity.

  41. For example, imagine the only thing the Taoist ever heard about Jesus came from a member of the Westboro Baptist Church, and that became their impression of Christianity…

  42. But to say we are to be pitied if our beliefs are not true in spite of a life of generosity and happiness… This is one issue where Mormonism makes a lot more sense to me than non-LDS Christianity.

    That’s a funny thing to say because I was quoting Mormon scripture.
    I Corinthians 15:19
    If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.

    As to the Taoist —
    First off, let’s be clear. I have zero power to condemn anyone to hell. Nobody has any power to condemn anyone except for Christ himself. He is the only judge.

    Second, you are presenting two different issues. 1) what about someone who rejects Christ. (possibly because the delivery was bad) 2) what about someone who never has the opportunity to reject Christ.

    In either case, I believe Mormon scriptures clearly teach they would be better off living as a disciple of Christ. Their temporal and eternal lives are meant to be centered on Jesus Christ. He is the Logos, the life-centering principle of the universe. The only person who can reconcile us and our fallen world to God is Jesus.

    Without Jesus, all the benefits of Taoism, Mormonism and Protestantism are total crap. They mean nothing and they ultimately do nothing for us. That is true for everyone whether they accept it or reject it.

    How Jesus chooses to judge a person for rejecting him and his gift of eternal life is only his business.

  43. BJH said: “But to say we are to be pitied if our beliefs are not true in spite of a life of generosity and happiness… This is one issue where Mormonism makes a lot more sense to me than non-LDS Christianity.

    Amen to that.

    Probably the biggest problem I had with evangelical teaching when I was one, and that gave me some of the impetus to study Mormonism, is the belief, taught to me in church as a child, that those who had never heard of Jesus would burn in hell for eternity.

    I’m not one who is prone to label very many doctrinal positions as heresy, but that’s one of them.

    I am glad to be part of a faith that recognizes the eternal value of what we do on Earth, regardless of the religious affiliation that we have.

  44. “The only person who can reconcile us and our fallen world to God is Jesus.”

    With that, I agree wholeheartedly. Believe it or not Tim, despite details about ontology, I do actually recognize a profound and unbridgeable gulf between me and God. I do not hold much confidence in myself to make any progress in bridging that gulf. I, for one, am pretty darn grateful Jesus did what he did.

  45. Probably the biggest problem I had with evangelical teaching when I was one, and that gave me some of the impetus to study Mormonism, is the belief, taught to me in church as a child, that those who had never heard of Jesus would burn in hell for eternity.

    I’m not one who is prone to label very many doctrinal positions as heresy, but that’s one of them.

    I am glad to be part of a faith that recognizes the eternal value of what we do on Earth, regardless of the religious affiliation that we have.

    Those are two different issues. It’s not universally agreed or understood that those who never hear the message are condemned to hell. Biblically, the only answer one can give is that regardless of whether a person hears or not, Jesus is the only way to the Father. Outside of that, it’s speculation.

    As to the value of our works. . . .I find them to be pathetic compared to the work of Jesus Christ. As Seth puts it, they offer us no confidence in bridging the gulf. You might as well be bragging about what a shiny penny you found at the Fort Knox.

  46. Tim,

    I Should be clear, I don’t “cling so hard” to one theory of God. I just read through the Nicene Creed and I can live my religion precisely the same under it as I can under the Mormon Godhead doctrine. There is only one line that I see as particularly divergent from Mormon theology “[He is] of one Being with the Father”. However I believe, and theologians admit that precisely how Jesus is of one being with the father is unobservable and unexplainable. It seems to me that all this does is to allow Jesus to be God to fend off the claim of polytheism from Jews.

    As for joining with the “rest of Christianity” I don’t think most people know or care about the distinction between of the same substance or of different substance.

    (in the same vein, why don’t the Protestants just agree with the “rest of Christianity” that there is one holy catholic and apostolic church? I am sure with a little catholic theological training they could see the light.)

    The reason I agree with Joseph Smith that creeds are an “abomination” is that they have been historically used to push people out of fellowship and are essentially a method of imposing intellectual control. Joseph didn’t accept the same substance dogma because in part because he clearly saw two beings that he identified as God and Jesus. He was denounced for even saying he had a vision.

    I think Mormons are slowly developing their own creeds because they make things appear much simpler and cleaner than they actually are and because its much easier to indentify the heretics. i.e. they are the ones that don’t mouth the creed.

    “We are fools and to be pitied if our beliefs are not true.”

    If this is true, I think we are all fools to be pitied since it is our nature to delude ourselves. I don’t think we can help but believe some things that aren’t true since we have such a limited capacity to determine Truth due to our limited perspectives. I think systematic theology and most “systematic” programs generally help solidify delusions rather than dispel them.

  47. Tim, I’m certainly glad to know that you leave judgment in Christ’s hands. That doesn’t seem to be the case with a lot of people in the world (certain Mormons not excluded).

    I feel extremely fortunate to have a hope in Christ, and would indeed consider that a pitiable state if there was no hope to be had (which is what I think Paul was alluding to).

    “Their temporal and eternal lives are meant to be centered on Jesus Christ. He is the Logos, the life-centering principle of the universe. The only person who can reconcile us and our fallen world to God is Jesus.”

    I couldn’t agree more. My point was that within Mormon belief there is an understanding that each and every individual will be given opportunity at some point to accept Jesus and His grace.

  48. The reason I agree with Joseph Smith that creeds are an “abomination” is that they have been historically used to push people out of fellowship and are essentially a method of imposing intellectual control.

    Oh please. The Momon Church is awesome at doing those things.

  49. Kullervo- You are right, I don’t think Joseph Smith would be at all comfortable with the Church as it is today if he were in the pews. They certainly would not be comfortable with him.

  50. Kullervo, you almost never get nailed in the LDS Church for stuff you believe.

    Only for stuff you do.

    There’s a difference.

    Have we covered this ground before?

  51. Maybe we have covered it before, but I actually kind of don;t think so.

    What good is being able to believe whatever you want if you aren’t allowed to say what you believe? Because they will nail you for that.

    And you can’t really believe whatever you want, unless you are willing to lie about it in interviews. Otherwise you won;t be able to participate fully at least. No temple. Probably no heavy callings.

  52. I believe the recent remarks of Richard Mouw are relevant to our discussion Tim. You can read the whole thing here:

    http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2008/april/15.44.html

    He states:

    “I am passionate in my agreement with Martin Luther on justification by faith alone. But do I believe that a person can be confused about this doctrine and still be saved? Absolutely. I wish that many of my Catholic friends would subscribe unambiguously to the views about salvation by grace alone that I hold preciously. But is their failure to do so a reason for me to doubt their salvation?”

    As far as he means that word, I do not think being mistaken about the doctrine of grace is reason to doubt a person’s salvation and I think he was hinting at the same conclusion.

    I’d take it further. If Mormons are directing praise and glory toward the throne of heaven, is it a matter of damnation that they are mistaken about what that throne looks like?

  53. Jared said: As for joining with the “rest of Christianity” I don’t think most people know or care about the distinction between of the same substance or of different substance.

    (in the same vein, why don’t the Protestants just agree with the “rest of Christianity” that there is one holy catholic and apostolic church? I am sure with a little catholic theological training they could see the light.)

    I think the distinctions make a difference in practice. You basically said that they don’t add up to much difference, so that is why I suggested you “come on over.”

    Seth said: I’d take it further. If Mormons are directing praise and glory toward the throne of heaven, is it a matter of damnation that they are mistaken about what that throne looks like?

    sigh, I’m not getting into this because I think individuals who don’t understand the Trinity are going to Hell. I’ll admit over 50% of the people in my own congregation couldn’t give a theologically precise definition. What I am interested in doing is evaluating the teachings of particular institutions to see if they agree with the testimony of the Bible. Scripture tells us time and time again that there are false teachers and false teachings that should be rejected. I’m seeking to hold Mormonism up to the standard of scripture to see if it complies with what we know to be true about the nature of God and Jesus.

  54. Tim, please correct me if I have misunderstood you. It seems to me that you have already completed your evaluation of Mormonism and have concluded that Joseph Smith is a false prophet and that teachings in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are false. You have held up Mormonism to the standard of scriptures and you believe it does not comply with what you know to be true about the nature of God and Jesus. I feel that you have made your position clear about that in this thread and on other posts.

    My question is, with this understanding, what kind of communication do you hope to have with Latter-day Saints who participate on the blog?

  55. Tim said: “What I am interested in doing is evaluating the teachings of particular institutions to see if they agree with the testimony of the Bible.

    How about examining evangelicalism in that regard? Some very common evangelical doctrines that are used to claim Mormonism has false teaching — the ontological oneness of God, sola scriptura, the closed canon, creation ex nihilo — aren’t clearly taught in the Bible either.

  56. Should have made clear – I don’t get the impression that Tim is a “you’re going to hell” type Evangelical (though I’m never 100% certain). I just thought it was worth bringing up.

  57. a “you’re going to hell” type Evangelical

    That’s kind of a vague designation. I’ve put in a request for Tim to do some clarifying as to the different sects and cross-denominational movements in Protestantism, like Evangelical, Fundamentalist, Charismatic, Mainline, Emergent, etc., since I don;t think Mormons–or anyone else for that matter–are always aware of some of the fine but critical distinctions.

  58. Kullervo is right (in this case anyway).

    The differences among varieties of Protestants is huge. In fact, I would say with little hesitation that there are more differences between mainstream evangelicalism (which I would guess is where Tim would place himself, and he’ll correct me if I’m wrong) and some varieties of mainline Protestantism as there are between mainstream evangelicalism and Mormonism.

    Evangelicalism and Mormonism share some pretty fundamental doctrines, such as a belief in a literal resurrection and a literal Second Coming, and some common moral standards. Many mainliners would not hold to such doctrines, nor do all condemn certain activities that Mormons and evangelicals see as clearly sinful.

    So why do so many evangelicals get so worked up about Mormons but never say anything about mainliners? I don’t know. Maybe someone else can.

  59. Well, remember that all mainliners aren’t theological liberals. There are plenty of theological moderates and orthodox left in the mainline denominations–some more than others.

  60. Eric I’ll take a stab at that one.

    First off, the situation is so muddled in the mainline mix of Christianity that it’s hard to identify the offenders clearly. Mormonism, by contrast, is VERY easy to identify and point out. So there isn’t much confusion when a Baptist minister speaks out against the heresy of Mormonism. There is, however, quite a bit of confusion when he speaks out about the heresy of mainline Christianity. Mormons are easier to point out.

    Same goes for Protestant griping about Catholicism by the way.

    Secondly, I’ve actually been on mainline Christian blogs like Pen and Parchment and such and, actually, they ARE griping about “Prosperity Gospel,” the “emerging church” movement, liberal Christianity, watered-down Christianity, cheesy Gospel rock music, the whole shebang.

    Believe me, we aren’t the only problem on their minds. They gripe about a lot of other people too.

  61. How about examining evangelicalism in that regard? Some very common evangelical doctrines that are used to claim Mormonism has false teaching — the ontological oneness of God, sola scriptura, the closed canon, creation ex nihilo — aren’t clearly taught in the Bible either.

    Absolutely. Let’s do it. And let’s not stop there. Let’s move on to speaking in tongues, eschatology, abstinence from alcohol, birth control, church government and social justice (the list goes on). They should all be measured by scripture.

    If you’ll notice I’m not focusing on things in Mormonism that just aren’t clearly taught. I rarely mention baptism for the dead, priesthood authority, garments or temple ordinances. When I offer my unsolicited doctrinal scrutiny it’s on core doctrines which I believe contradict the Bible.

    So why do so many evangelicals get so worked up about Mormons but never say anything about mainliners? I don’t know. Maybe someone else can.

    Trust me, liberal mainline denominations can make my blood boil at times. I think some of them can be just as far askew if not more from core principles of Christianity as Mormonism. Plenty of people get worked up over them. You just don’t notice it as much because your a Mormon.

    I think Kullervo pointed out something key. They don’t really proselytize and when they do, it’s not very effective. They are dying at the same rate as their membership. Some of them really aren’t offering anything all that different than the Sierra Club (that’s not an attack of SC), except you have to exercise all the old worship forms of 19th Century Protestantism with it.

    Believe me, we aren’t the only problem on their minds. They gripe about a lot of other people too.

    In fact you’re just a blip on the radar of the overall picture. You get slightly more attention than Jehovah’s Witness, but far less than other Protestants who don’t agree with “doctrinal position X”.

  62. Secondly, I’ve actually been on mainline Christian blogs like Pen and Parchment and such and, actually, they ARE griping about “Prosperity Gospel,” the “emerging church” movement, liberal Christianity, watered-down Christianity, cheesy Gospel rock music, the whole shebang.

    Are you sure you mean “mainline” when you say that?

  63. Seth R.: “Believe me, we aren’t the only problem on their minds. They gripe about a lot of other people too.

    Actually, I’m well aware of that and was using a bit of hyperbole in suggesting we’re the only ones picked on.

    And I’ll certainly acknowledge, as Tim said, that I’m more sensitive to the anti-Mormonism out there than I am to anti-mainlinism or anti-emergentism or whatever because of who I am. And I know that within some of the more theologically liberal denominations that there are huge fights going on over where the dividing line is in defending what is acceptable. I fully expect that in my lifetime we’ll see the Episcopal Church split apart over issues such as the nature of Biblical authority and the divinity of Christ. (The media have portrayed the fight as one involving homosexuality, but it’s much, much broader than that.)

    On the other hand, I am also aware of the whisper campaign that was launched against Mitt Romney not all that long ago solely because of the fact he is Mormon. (I wasn’t a Romney supporter, for whatever that’s worth, so I know he hit opposition for other reasons as well.) I’m aware of the polls that say 30 percent or whatever of people wouldn’t vote for a president who’s Mormon.

    I’m not aware of any polls that say 30 percent of the people wouldn’t vote for a Protestant. (Actually, maybe I had better stop there or I’ll be making someone else’s point. There were plenty of people who said they wouldn’t vote for Mike Huckabee because of his religion. Certainly, prejudice against evangelicals does exist.)

    Probably what bugs me the most — and I’m not accusing Tim of this — is how there are so many anti-Mormon straw-man arguments perpetrated. Mormons believe A, and A is preposterous, therefore Mormonism is preposterous. However, in reality Mormons don’t believe A, that sort of thing. And that doesn’t come just from evangelical apologists, most of whom don’t know what they’re talking about when it comes to Mormonism.

    Basically, I get tired of being told what I believe. (Again, I’m not accusing Tim of this.) I’m tired of reading descriptions from supposedly neutral sources about what Mormon beliefs are and finding them not at all accurate. (I’m aware that the same thing can happen to evangelicals, that they are often unfairly all lumped in with the hypocritical preacher of the week.)

    So, yes, I am sensitive to the anti-Mormonism out there. So I’ll retract anything that suggested I’m anxious to play the you’re-picking-on-us card.

    Aquinas said: “ It seems to me that you have already completed your evaluation of Mormonism and have concluded that Joseph Smith is a false prophet and that teachings in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are false. … My question is, with this understanding, what kind of communication do you hope to have with Latter-day Saints who participate on the blog?

    To which Tim responded: “great question. stay tuned for a new post

    I look forward to it.

    I’m wondering how possible it is to have some sort of fruitful discussion of this type.

    One of the problems is that those who are most likely to engage in this type of discussion have pretty much made up their minds. I don’t see a lot of real inquiry into what others believe, but I do see quite a bit of people (including yours truly) defending their own positions. That’s not necessarily bad, but it’s not really what I’m looking for (and it may not be what Tim is looking for either, but it looks like we’ll find out). Actually, I’m not sure what I’m looking for, but it’s possible that whatever it is isn’t to be found in this medium.

    Of course, why should a typical evangelical, at least one outside of an area such as the Utah/Idaho corridor, really care about what Mormons believe? And why should a typical Mormon care what evangelicals, a group declining in influence, think? Maybe Tim can answer that question too.

  64. Eric, I don’t think the fact that people have “made up their minds” means that there is nothing to talk about.

  65. Oh, I agree. Like I said, I’m not sure what I’m looking for or expecting. Maybe if some intelligent evangelicals other than Tim were to chime in more often the discussion would seem to be more worthwhile. (This isn’t a slam at Tim.)

  66. It’s true, though. Tim seems generally content to fire off a post and let us talk amonst ourselves–which isn’t inherently bad–but I don’t really feel like the Evangelical position is very well-represented in the discussion.

  67. Perhaps that’s what Tim is hinting at with his remark about Mormons being a “blip on the radar.” And maybe that’s why a blog that isn’t geared for an aggressive counter-cult approach doesn’t generate much interest among evangelicals, but does generate a bit more interest among LDS?

  68. I have thought about the need for and purpose of discussions like this. I have often enjoyed the discussion on this blog because its a diversion. But often, and I have certainly engaged in this, it seems relatively fruitless in that we discuss the positions where we firmly believe we are right, and superior to the other belief. (Tim seems to be firm in believing that history and the Bible clearly dispel the authority of Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon, and Mormons are supremely confident that the doctrine of a closed canon and the protestant idea of heaven and hell are wrong and unsupported by scripture. I see Tim as trying to probe out what it would take for a Mormon to see the light with regard to Joseph. Some Mormons wonder what kind of an experience would it take for a Christian like Tim to see the gospel as a “marvelous work and a wonder” and to step away from the entrenched dogma. Non-believers like Kullervo seem to want to simply keep people’s eyes open to unsupportable positions that lead him “astray” in the past. This is just my opinion for some of the motives of participating in this discussion.

    I will give my opinion on how this discussion could be more fruitful and I will do it here since there doesn’t seem to be a limit on the length I can make this comment. #;o)

    [speaker steps up on soapbox]

    What impresses a Mormon? I would suggest its those spiritual experiences that generally form the heart of Mormon faith and practice. I am confident evangelicals can speak this language as well, even if they have “heretical” teachings as compared to LDS. Mormons believe that the Spirit will be around to testify to truth and that discerning between good and evil and will accept the Good. I really am not sure, but I do believe that evangelicals have this same understanding. I think Mormons and Evangelicals both believe that where two or three are gathered together in His name, He will also be. I don’t know that I have invited Him into the discussion.

    I was born and raised a Mormon but I have really hungered to know how God speaks to others outside Mormonism. I think the myopia of Mormons is that, believing they have heard the voice of God, they either deny or dismiss the divine voice outside of the Church. I think that the denial that God truly speaks to those outside the gospel of Jesus Christ (as we variously understand it) prevents us from really understanding God. This doctrine of exclusivity has pushed me to the edge of Christianity because it just doesn’t seem to jibe with my conception of a God of humanity. The reason I come to interfaith dialog is not to look for another “faith” because I am disaffected with Mormonism, but to open my mind to how God is revealing himself to non-LDS just as he revealed himself to Me within Mormonism.

    The practice of love is often much less viscerally appealing to the practice of resisting the “evils” of falsity and heresy. Whether resisting the “heresy” of Joseph or the “abominations” of the creeds or pointing out the “unsupportability” of the claims of Christianity, the resistance to the false, it seems to me, is a different language than that of Jesus. The “resist not evil” doctrine seems to me as one of the more generally ignored because it is one of the most unnatural, it takes a lot of effort to practice. I don’t think there is a easy formula for following this Christian doctrine in interfaith dialog, I think that if it is lacking we will wind up going in circles and never scratching the surface of how Jesus would stand beside those who seek him (despite their various delusions).

    Even though resistance is generally more entertaining, for me at least, I think we may be missing out on a greater opportunity for enlightenment.

    [speaker steps down from soapbox]

  69. He shall stand, and shall shepherd in the strength of Yahweh, In the majesty of the name of Yahweh his God: And they will live, for then he will be great to the ends of the earth. — Micah 5:4, World English Bible translation.

    The problem is that if you worship Jesus as the Most High, you are either worshiping Jesus as the God of Jesus, or you are rejecting the God of Jesus and worshiping the firstborn creature (Colossians 1:15) as the Most High. Jesus is never revealed in the scriptures as being the Most High of whom he is the son. — Genesis 14:22; Psalm 7:17; 83:18; 92:1; Luke 1:32; John 13:16.

    No, I do not believe that Jesus should be worshiped either as the Most High or as his God, but rather as the son of the Most High. Although I believe that Thomas was really applying the expression “the God of me” to the God and Father of Jesus, even if Thomas applied this expression to Jesus, in harmony with the rest of scriptures, it should be seen as an expression of the mightiness of Jesus in his exaltation by the Most High, and not as an expression that Jesus is the Most High.

    It is sad to see that the son of Yahweh, the one anointed by Yahweh (Isaiah 61:1), is exalted to the being of Yahweh who anointed him. Such an exaltation actually destroys the basis of the atoning sacrifice of Jesus as revealed in the scriptures.
    http://atonement.reslight.net

    The scriptures no where refer to Jesus as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. (Exodus 3:15) Rather, Jesus was sent by Yahweh, speaks for Yahweh, represents Yahweh, and was raised and glorified by the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Jesus never claimed to be, nor do the Biblical scriptures present Jesus as, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, whom Jesus represents and speaks for. — Deuteronomy 18:15-19; Matthew 22:32; 23:39; Mark 11:9,10; 12:26; Luke 13:35; 20:37; John 3:2,17,32-35; 4:34; 5:19,30,36,43; 6:57; 7:16,28; 8:26,28,38; 10:25; 12:49,50; 14:10; 15:15; 17:8,26; 20:17; Acts 2:22,34-36; 3:13,22; 5:30; Romans 15:6; 2 Corinthians 1:3; 8:6; 11:31; Colossians 1:3,15; 2:9-12; Hebrews 1:1-3; Revelation 1:1.

    Jesus, being the Logos of his God (John 1:1), became flesh. (John 1:14) As the Logos, Jesus was a mighty one (John 1:1) with his God and Father (the only true God — John 17:3) before the world of mankind was made. (John 17:5) John never declared the Logos of the only true God to be the only true God whom the Logos was with. However, by applying the word THEOS to the Logos, John was declaring that the Logos “was” (past tense) mighty with his God before the beginning of the world of mankind. This is in keeping with the usage of forms of the Hebrew word “EL” when used of others than Yahweh or false gods. This can be seen by how the King James Version renders forms of EL in the following verses: Genesis 23:6 (mighty); Genesis 30:8 (mighty); Genesis 31:29 (power); Deuteronomy 28:32 (might); 1 Samuel 14:15 (great); Nehemiah 5:5 (power); Psalm 8:5 (angels); Psalm 36:6 (great); Psalm 82:1 (mighty); Proverbs 3:27 (power); Psalm 29:1 (mighty); Ezekiel 32:21 (strong); Jonah 3:3 (exceeding). Likewise, in John 1:1, the Logos of God was mighty before he became flesh. He had the glory and might of celestial body (substance) that he did not have while in the days of his flesh. — John 17:5; 1 Corinthians 15:40; Hebrews 5:7.
    http://notrinity.blogspot.com/2008/08/john-112-word-was-mighty.html

  70. I hope people are still reading this, Kullervo, you obviously are. I think this is an awesome discussion.

    Before I joined the LDS Church, I “belonged” to and visited/investigated MANY other churches in an effort to find a religion I could believe wholeheartedly. Two of my biggest concerns were 1.) that all other religions I talked to said you go to hell if you never hear/accept their interpretation of “the truth,” (so babies that die go to hell?) and 2.) that I could not wrap my mind around the Trinitarian view of one God. (Does one purpose = one God???)

    These two questions, for me, were answered satisfactorily by Mormon doctrine. To maybe touch on the question that Jared had, before I knew of the Mormon church (never heard of it before 2 years ago – believe it or not!), I felt the spirit, not as strongly as now, but I KNEW what was right and wrong. I KNEW when I heard the truth. I think that, in answer to your feeling about non-Mormons and how God speaks to them, it is different for everyone due to how individuals (and if they’re ready to) really hear God.

    When I was actively searching (and praying) to know which church was true, God spoke to me through the Bible. I would ask questions of Him, pray about it, and open my Bible and there was always an answer!

    I can’t explain it, but if God wants to talk to you He finds a way. The Holy Ghost is a gift we Mormons believe we have to be given and accept – right? Well, I am of the mind that a loving Heavenly Father would not leave any of His children in this world alone without His Comforter entirely. I think it flits in and out of people’s lives to show them what they are missing – even Mormons. Even the best Mormon knows what it feels like when He leaves. If you know what to “feel” for you can better know when He’s there (and gone). I think the Godhead has to be three separate and distinct entities for this phenomenon – which I experienced as a non-Mormon – to exist.

  71. that all other religions I talked to said you go to hell if you never hear/accept their interpretation of “the truth,” (so babies that die go to hell?)

    This is a ridiculous caricature of what most religions and denominations and non-Mormon religious people actually believe.

  72. that all other religions I talked to said you go to hell if you never hear/accept their interpretation of “the truth,” (so babies that die go to hell?)

    Apart from what Kullervo said, the LDS explanation for what happens to babies when they die isn’t without problems either. If kids and babies get a free pass to the Celestial Kingdom before the age of 8, and we love our kids so much, why don’t we just kill them so that we can be sure they go there? Why not make that choice for them and take the consequences on ourselves?

  73. I was just saying that that was ONE of the reasons the LDS doctrine made sense to ME. In my experience, every other religion I have looked into has had that answer for me. I asked many members of those churches and thier leaders told me answers that didn’t work into my personal view of a loving God. I’m not saying that’s thier doctrine, that’s just what they practice. I’m not all for being around people that think that Etheopian kids that never hear thier gospel will go to hell. I’d rather surround myself with fellow worshipers that feel that children and people everywhere have a second chance than this earth life.

    As far as the discussion of killing our kids before they get the chance to choose for themselves…

    I wouldn’t want to keep my kids from experiencing the joys of this world like loving another, marriage, kids of thier own, and culturally negative things like death of a loved one, personal injury, and who-knows-what other junk. (Learning experiences!) It’s not just the bad things you’d be saving them from. The good things they’d miss… that’d be the hardest to deny your children. I also feel that one of the consequences would be that your children wouldn’t respect you in the hereafter as a mother for denying them the opportunity you got and denied them, to live your life and make your choices.

    According to Mormon doctrine, that is the flawed reason why Lucifer wasn’t allowed to be the savior. No one would have choice.

  74. I asked many members of those churches and thier leaders told me answers that didn’t work into my personal view of a loving God.

    So, can I ask, what’s more important, believing a religion that agrees with your personal sensibilities or believing a religion that is true? I’m not at all suggesting that God sends babies to hell, but I’m interested at how you determine what God’s thoughts are.

    It appears to me that everyone (atheist and agnostics included) already practice a faith that resonates with their own personal views of who God is. If that’s how we’re supposed to go about determining what faith to follow, Mormons really have no business convincing anyone to do anything other than what’s already in their own heart to do.

  75. I like that Veronica is here to say the stuff that most actual Mormons believe. I’m not being sarcastic here. One of the most significant lacking voices here is a Mormon with mainstream Mormon views.

  76. “what’s more important, believing a religion that agrees with your personal sensibilities or believing a religion that is true?”

    I think it’s a moot point Tim.

    As a practical matter, I don’t know many people who believe in stuff they don’t like. Even if they pretend otherwise.

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