Interview with Ed Decker

I didn’t want to interrupt our discussion of Romans, but while we were in the midst of that Mormon Expressions posted an interview with Ed Decker. Ed by far has been a major contributor to Evangelical views of Mormonism and has significantly colored how Evangelicals interact with Mormons.

I appreciated the interview because Decker is a controversial figure and it’s helpful to hear him in his own words. The interview helped round out my perception of him into a real person. I encourage you to go check out the interview.

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161 thoughts on “Interview with Ed Decker

  1. Well, he does come across as a sincere, well-intentioned and basically nice guy. That doesn’t make him right in either his approach or his “facts,” however.

  2. b>THE KINGDOM OF GOD IS THE CATHOLIC CHURCH!

    Why did Jesus Christ become Incarnate in the first place? Was it to leave us with a book, or to establish a Church? Well, in this verse He told us one of the reasons why:

    “But He said to them, “To the other towns also I must PROCLAIM THE KINGDOM OF GOD, FOR THIS IS WHY I HAVE BEEN SENT”.” (Luke 4:43)

    “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.” (Luke 19:10)

    And how are we, who are the lost ones, to be saved? It is through the Church which He founded.

    “Therefore, if you harken to My voice and keep My covenant, you shall be My special possession, dearer to Me than all other people, though all the earth is mine. YOU SHALL BECOME A KINGDOM OF PRIESTS, A HOLY NATION.” (Exodus 19:5-6)

    “You, however, are a chosen race, A ROYAL PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PURCHASED PEOPLE; that you may proclaim the perfections of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” (1Peter 2:9)

    The Kingdom of GOD will last forever:

    “And when your days shall be fulfilled and you shall sleep with your fathers, I will raise up your seed after you, which shall proceed out of your bowels, and I WILL ESTABLISH HIS KINGDOM. HE SHALL BUILD A HOUSE TO MY NAME, AND I WILL ESTABLISH THE THRONE OF HIS KINGDOM FOREVER…AND YOUR HOUSE SHALL BE FAITHFUL, AND YOUR KINGDOM FOREVER BEFORE YOUR FACE AND YOUR THRONE SHALL BE FIRM FOREVER.” (2Samuel

    The Catholic Church Stands Alone

  3. Random Catholic spam. Impressive.

    (Or is there something in the interview about Catholicism? I haven’t bothered listening.)

  4. Ed Decker is behind the well-known anti-Mormon book and movie titled “The God Makers,” which according to http://www.lightplanet.com/response/nccj.htm#summary “makes extensive use of ‘half-truth’, faulty generalizations, erroneous interpretations, and sensationalism,” and “is not reflective of the genuine spirit of the Mormon faith.” This review came from a panel made up of Roman Catholics, a Methodist, Presbyterians, at least 1 Disciples of Christ, about 7 Jews, and at least 1 Greek Orthodox, besides 2 Mormons.

    Why didn’t I find this while Gundek was listening?! 🙂

  5. Hi Michael Gormley,

    I just checked out your nice looking website. I’m so glad you were rescued by the grace of God from your hell. Praise God!

    I hope you’ll continue to fellowship across denominational lines. There are many non-Catholics in the kingdom of God.

    All the division in the body of Christ only proves how worldly we Christians are. First Corinthians 3:4 NLT says, “When one of you says, ‘I am a follower of Paul,’ and another says, ‘I follow Apollos,’ aren’t you acting just like people of the world?”

  6. All the division in the body of Christ only proves how worldly we Christians are. First Corinthians 3:4 NLT says, “When one of you says, ‘I am a follower of Paul,’ and another says, ‘I follow Apollos,’ aren’t you acting just like people of the world?”

    I folow Apollo.

  7. Sigh… of course he is a “real” person.

    So was John Wayne. So was Attila the Hun. So was Groucho Marx.

    So what?

  8. For the record, Mr. Gormley there repeatedly attempted to spam my blog with material he plagiarized from Catholic sites. I asked him to knock it off, he continued and then I banned him. Then he went over to the blog of one of my commentators and spammed him as well. He appears to be a Catholic propaganda spam-bot.

    After being banned, he started claiming in his comments and e-mails that my intolerance of his plagiarist spam stemmed from “daddy issues” or something.

    I wouldn’t let him hang around here if I were you, Tim, but it’s your call.

  9. Tim, I’m not moving in to be next door neighbors with him. I’m not interested in being his friend, or ministering to him.

    I deal with the things he says online.

    The caricature of himself that he himself has created online is more than sufficient for dealing with what he WRITES, which – at the end of the day – is all I really care about.

  10. I largely agree with you Seth. I’m often challenged that Mormons are more than their doctrine and more than their church membership though.

    My feelings and frustrations with Decker are on the same side of the spectrum as yours. Sincerity counts for very little with me, but it does count. At the very least I appreciated hearing where he is coming from.

  11. Cal,

    I believe that we should always try to understand the theological beliefs of a tradition as they understand and express them. It seems pointless to present a caricature of a religion. Any discussion that follows will only focus on the misrepresentations and not on clear theological distinctions. I would no more recommend Decker’s movies or material for understanding Mormonism than I would refer someone to a Jack Chick tract to understand Roman Catholicism. If we expect people to take our own theology seriously we should engage with serious expressions of any competing doctrines. Just because I don’t agree with Mormonism doesn’t mean I do not desire to be honest and charitable. If you or someone else believes that I have misrepresented Mormonism, I welcome the correction.

    Unsophisticated presentations of Mormon theology are used because some American evangelicals have a terribly unsophisticated understanding of their own theology. The pastor who would use the God Makers to educate his or her congregation should ask themselves if they have prepared their congregation to do the theological heavy lifting for understanding their own beliefs. Have they prepared their people intellectually to withstand a true challenge to the faith? Or are they simply relying on over the top claims about competing ideas as a vaccine for the flock? If people understood and were intellectually comfortable with their own doctrines before they rushed out into the world of apologetics we could have more honest and charitable conversations.

    I did find it interesting the Mr. Decker referred to being under the authority of a local church in all of his work. I don’t recall if he mentioned his denomination or particular congregation in the podcast but it would be interesting for someone to ask the elders of his congregation what they think the affect of Decker’s material has been. I think you can argue that the God Makers is such an easy target for Mormon apologists that it is held up as the typical argument against LDS doctrines. I have been told by church planters that this and other tactics of para-church organizations makes the work of the local church with individual Mormons and ex-Mormons more difficult. I cannot prove but I believe that this type of material probably keeps at least as many people out of Christian Churches as it brings in. I think it would be a good idea if all so called counter cult material came with the following note to the reader:

    “Dear Reader, Please ensure that you read 2 theologically sound books on Christian doctrine, 1 book of Church history, 1 biography, 1 Biblical commentary from both the New and the Old Testament, some form of material dating prior to the Reformation, and 1 book from outside your tradition for every counter cult book you read. Failure to follow this instruction will deprive you of the rich tradition that is Christianity. Note that any book with “spiritual warfare” or “what can God do for you” in the title does not count as a theologically sound book.

  12. Hi Gundek,

    I loved your comments, also . . . except for the last sentence.

    Don’t let what I’m about to say give you the wrong impression. I appreciate and am thankful for 99% of what you said, and that’s what’s dominating my reaction—not what I’ve written below!

    We are in a spiritual war.

    And God has done, is doing, and will do lots of wonderful, incredible stuff for us. He is love, and love is unselfish. I believe he’s consumed with passionate, watchful love for us. In the past, Jesus suffered.
    In the now, we have freedom from the destructive power of sin.
    In the future, we have a paradise.

    Just today I was reading Dale Black’s account of his time in heaven in his book “Flight to Heaven.” He said, “The best unity I have ever felt on earth did not compare with the exhilarating oneness that I experienced with my spiritual family in heaven. . . . Because of the highly expectant look on their smiling faces, it seemed as if they knew I would be given a gift and what that gift would do for me. I felt so special, you can’t believe how special. After all, all this was for me. Everyone there was for me.”

  13. Cal,

    Don’t take my sarcasm to seriously. I do believe God does all things for us. I also think spiritual conflict is a reality. I just think the average books on spiritual war leave a bit to be desired and the what can God do for you book trade has been taken over by health and wealth preaching.

  14. I won’t argue with you there.

    By the way, do you operate the gift of tongues (supernatural language)? That’s something worth looking into.

  15. Cal,

    I think I tend towards a conservative Protestantism. I’m one of those people who would be perfectly happy to only sing the Psalter in worship. I try to pay attention to the theology that informs views counter to mine. I don’t always agree, but I try to give it a fair representation.

  16. By the way, do you operate the gift of tongues (supernatural language)? That’s something worth looking into.

    Are we doing non-sequiturs now? Because I can come up with some awesome ones.

  17. Cal,

    I don’t think I am all that enlightened. I just like to understand what makes people take a position before I dismiss it.

  18. Gundek,

    Now that the rest are all occupied at the other post, we can carry on a private conversation. 😉

    Speaking of fair representations, or the lack thereof, someone on this blog asserted that the LDS denies that Jesus is God. This simply isn’t true. In fact, the Book of Mormon calls Jesus God even more explicitly than the Bible does!

    It is true that the LDS sees the Father and Jesus as two persons, but so does the Trinity!

  19. Cal,

    The issue is the being of God. Do the Father, Son and Holy Spirit share the same identical being? Is there One being, one essence that can properly be referred to as the God of the Bible?

    This does not mean a oneness of of will or purpose, as has been suggested by some, but a oneness of the very essence.

    I would not dispute that the LDS believe that Jesus is “a” God. As I understand their position Jesus Christ is not “the” God. The distinction is the difference between orthodoxy and heterodoxy.

    I don’t think we need to be rude about it but there is an orthodox definition of the Trinity. The LDS reject it. Remember people don’t hate each other because of doctrinal disagreements. They use doctrinal disagreements because they hate each other. I can hold the historical orthodox faith of the ecumenical creeds and councils without pronouncing the anathemas of the Athanasius Creed as a conversation starter with every Mormon I see.

  20. I’ve never had anyone explain the concept of “essence” in a way that made much sense or seemed to have any relevance to reality.

    So I’ve always felt free to ignore the concept entirely.

  21. Gundek said, “[there is] One being, one essence that can properly be referred to as the God of the Bible. . . .”

    This sounds almost like the theology of Oneness Christians. I don’t know if you’re familiar with them. They reject the Trinitarian three-in-one formula and say that God is just one (they use the v. in Deut. that says God is one) and that Jesus is that one. Some of them accuse Trinitarians of being polytheists!

    I understand and agree with the “one essence” concept, but the “one being”? You’ll have to explain that to me. When Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemine he prayed, “Not my will but yours be done.” Although of course he never deviated from God’s will, it appears that the potential or possibility of it was there. There were two wills.

    You might also explain your take on John 8:17-18. Hard questions, I know!

  22. Seth R., I’ve come to the conclusion after many years of study, meditation, and prayer on this topic that the essence that makes the Father and Son one is the Holy Spirit living in you and all that is contained in the Spirit—love, eternal life, perfect righteousness, truth, a power above all other powers, etc.

  23. “One Being” is only saying that the three persons Father, Son, and Holy Spirit share in the one divine nature or substance that is God. Three Persons one God or as Gregory Nazianzen said,

    “No sooner do I place before the mind the One, than I am surrounded by the splendor of the Three. No sooner do I distinguish the Three, than I am brought back to the One.”

    Jesus Christ is the God/man fully God and fully human. Begining with the incarnation He assumed a human body, mind, spirit, and will (as you pointed out). In His exaltation we understand that His humanity continues while His divinity always existed, although there is disagreement on the particulars.

    I am not sure what you are asking about John 8:17, 18? The Father sent the Son, nothing controversial about that is there?

  24. Gundek said:
    “’One Being’” is only saying that the three persons Father, Son, and Holy Spirit share in the one divine nature or substance that is God.”

    I’m relieved! I’m glad we’re in agreement on that—I was worried for a moment.

    At least once before, I had heard a Trinitarian describe Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as one being, but they usually don’t, do they? I don’t think they should—it’s quite misleading. In any case, I’ve never before heard the explanation that you gave. Thanks.

    Now, I’d like to get you to consider the possibility that the LDS sometimes uses the word “God” in a way that Trinitarians wouldn’t use it, but without any intention of removing Jesus from the Father’s nature or substance as we define “substance.”

    Trinitarians often use the word “God” like you just did—to mean the divine nature and substance that encompasses, defines, or permeates all three persons.

    I presume you were thinking of this definition when I submitted to you a quote of Joseph Smith a few weeks ago. Joseph had said “Each God in the Godhead. . . .” But let’s suppose he was using the word “God” here to mean the person of the Father, the person of the Son, and the person of the Spirit.

    (Incidentally, the New Testament often uses the word “God” this way. Some examples: “grace and peace to you from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 1:3), “the head of Christ is God” (1 Cor. 11:3), “the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all” (1 Cor. 15:28). Confer also Hebrews 1:8-9 where both the person of the Son and the person of the Father are called God.)

    In any case, let’s suppose that what Joseph meant when he said, “Each God in the Godhead. . . .” was “Each Ruler in the Godhead. . . .” In other words, suppose that what he meant was: “The Father, Ruler over everything; “Jesus, Ruler over everything except the Father; and the Holy Spirit, Ruler over darkness. . . .”

    Would you then consider his statement acceptable?

    (I’m kinda tired, so I don’t know how well I’m explaining myself.)

  25. Cal,

    Every time the Church Church confesses “I believe in One God…” they confess that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are of the same being. So yes this language is used and used often.

    I don’t understand how changing God to Ruler would affect the denial of the unity of the Holy Trinity. By using Ruler you still have three beings, but now you would also need to express the divinity of each of those beings separately. This is tri-theism.

    I think that this is ably expressed in Doctrine and Covenants 130:22, “The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s; the Son also; but the Holy Ghost has not a body of flesh and bones, but is a personage of Spirit. Were it not so, the Holy Ghost could not dwell in us.”

  26. Mr. Gundek,

    My thinking got clarified a little during church this a.m. (Do you ever have that happen?)

    I don’t need to ask you how you define “being” within the context of your description of the Trinity. You already did that. It’s the substance, essence, or nature that is God.

    The LDS definitely says Jesus has the nature of God. In my mind the essence or substance that is God is truth, the Word of God, the Spirit of God, etc. Is there something beyond that, something mysterious, that makes the Father and Son one in your mind? Is it the LDS idea that the Father has a permanent body that is evidence in your mind of a lack of unity between them?

    This is a very important and sticky topic. I hope you can hang in there for me.

  27. Cal,

    I think that the LDS teach that Christ has a divine nature, not that there is in the a single divine essence found equally and totally in each of the persons of the one God. I don’t think that the LDS understand the Persons of the Trinity to exist in the same subsistence equally contributing to and participating in the divine perfections. The whole divine essence belongs totally and equally to each of the Three persons and only to the Three.

    I understand that such distinctions can sound teribaly insignificant, except this is how the Church has deffended the confessions “there is one God, the Father is God, the Son is God, the Holy Spirit is God”.

    God has also revealed His nature in His works, for example our reconciliation with the Father comes through our union with Christ, effected by the by the presence of the Spirit. One God, one act of salvation and glorification. Our Justification comes by a faith given by the Spirit, This faith rests in the suffenciy of the objective work of Christ Jesus, and is based on the promises of the Father.

    In each example there are three persons, three distinctions, but these distinctions are not the work of a person separate from the unity.

    This is nothing new, this is the orthodox faith confessed explicitly from 325 and implicitly from the first century Old Roman Symbol.

  28. Gundek,

    I checked out the Athanasian Creed so that I’m familiar with where you’re coming from.

    I also want to express appreciation for your professionalism and apparent integrity. I’ve learned some things through our discussion. . . . And merry Christmas to you and yours.

    Wikipedia says the Athanasian Creed avoids subordinationism within the Trinity. If avoiding is denying, which it may not be, than certainly the LDS, as well as myself, would disagree with that. The Bible is clear that Jesus is subordinate to the Father and not vise versa.

    In any case, I am thoroughly convinced that the LDS recognizes that “the whole divine essence belongs totally and equally to each of the Three persons and only to the Three,” as you put it.

    Here’s a list of things Mormons believe about Jesus, taken from statements in official LDS publications:

    1. Is Creator of all things
    2. Was born of the Virgin Mary
    3. Is the Word made flesh
    4. Is Divine
    5. Is the way, the truth, and the life
    6. Is the only sinless person who has ever lived
    7. Was crucified on the cross to pay for our sins
    8. Is resurrected from the dead and now stands at the Father’s right hand
    9. Is our passover, the Lamb of God
    10. Is Savior and Mediator
    11. Is Jehovah, the Eternal One
    12. Is the I Am, the beginning and the end
    13. Is called Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace
    14. The Lord Omnipotent (meaning “all-powerful”)
    15. Above all things
    16. A person of the Godhead: God the Father, his Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost, constitute the Holy Trinity
    17. Judge of the nations at his return
    18. Is the Son of God
    19. Is the Christ (Messiah)

  29. Cal,

    I understand the reaction to subordinationism. I had the very same reaction trying to understand a distinct theological language. Subordinationism refers to an inferiority in nature or being not to the relationship of the Persons. If we we ascribe that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are of the same essence and being they by necessity cannot be subordinate because of the very thing that unites them.

    Athanasius and orthodox trinitarianism does not reject the distinctions in the relationship between the three Persons. The Athanasian Creed lays out clear relational distinctions between the three Persons. At the same time like the Creed we must embrace the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ, perfectly God and perfectly man.

    Merry Christmas to you.

  30. . . . perfectly God and perfectly man.

    I think that phrase is perfectly demonstrative of how impossible it is to say anything clear when speaking of the Trinity given how many traditional Christians talk about the relationship between God and man. That description just threw me for a complete loop, as does most explanation of the Trinity.

  31. Cal,

    I study the Trinity continually. As I understand it the Triune God is the central fact of creation, revelation, and redemption.

    Do I understand it?

    How does the finite comprehend the infinite? How does the corporeal understand the spiritual? How can the sinful understand the perfect?

    I believe the doctrines surrounding the Trinity can be deceptively simple, 1 God in 3 persons, and the ultimate mystery, perichoresis. I believe that a lifelong study, both intellectual and spiritual is a Christians obligation. It is an indictment on the American evangelical church that Trinitarian doctrines are relegated to the domain of scholars and theologians, to complicated for the laity. I think that Tim’s post on the Barna article shows this point.

    With all of that said, I don’t think that the absolute incomprehensibility of God is an excuse to ignore 2,000 years of doctrinal development and the language used to express both what we know and know we don’t know about God.

  32. The Bible is clear that Jesus is subordinate to the Father and not vise versa.

    I think not. Please see this article:

    http://www.cbeinternational.org/files/u1/free-art/new-evangelical-subordinationism.pdf

    Now, as to your long list of things that Mormons believe vis-a-vis Jesus. Yes, that list is all true. However, a Mormon is going to interpret that list so radically differently than an orthodox evangelical that the list almost certainly confuses more than it clarifies in the context of inter-faith dialogue.

    Finally, what you said just prior to the list:

    In any case, I am thoroughly convinced that the LDS recognizes that “the whole divine essence belongs totally and equally to each of the Three persons and only to the Three,” as you put it.

    On the contrary, I am thoroughly convinced that not a single Mormon would subscribe to that statement, provided you defined the terms for them. Depending on how they approach the statement they are either going to reject “the whole divine essence belongs totally and equally to each of the Three persons” either on the basis of rejecting the concept of essence altogether or on the basis of the fact that the Holy Ghost is different from the other 2 members of the Godhead because he lacks a body. If however they accept that statement, that they all have the same essence, then they will reject the latter half of the statement, “and only to the Three” because they will have to conclude that the essence that is shared by the Godhead is also shared by everyone on Earth as each person is coeternal with God and is made from the same stuff.

  33. Gundek said, “I study the Trinity continually.”

    That makes you unique. I’ve never met anyone who does that—unless you mean that rhetorically, that you study the Bible, or God, continually.

    I hope you don’t mind me challenging you. When our theology is challenged, that’s when we grow, right?
    You said, “How does the corporeal understand the spiritual?”

    I would answer: “By entering the Trinity through faith in the Lamb of God.”

    It’s funny. Many quote 1 Corinthians 2:9—“No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him”—and stop there! It’s not the end of the sentence! It continues in v. 10: “—but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit”!
    That excites me. I don’t want to put God in a box and say he can’t reveal to me what he has prepared for me.

    Also, if you try to explain something you don’t understand, aren’t you asking for trouble? I think of the verse that says not many should presume to be teachers because those who teach will be judged more strictly.

    Now, if you think you’re still qualified (:-)), tell me what needs to be changed in the following quote of Joseph Smith to make it conform to the Athanasian Creed and the Word of God:

    “Each God in the Godhead is a personage, separate and distinct from each of the others, yet they are ‘One God,’ meaning that they are united as one in the attributes of perfection. For instance, each has the fullness of truth, knowledge, charity, power, justice, judgment, mercy, and faith.”

    I’ll have to get to David Clark later. . . . Out of time.

  34. Cal,

    If the knowledge of God is understanding, and God is Trinity it is hard to understand why a lifelong study of the doctrines related to the Trinity would be neglected by any Christian. I am not trying to be smug or condescending but if our faith is to inform our life don’t we have a responsibility to inform our faith?

    I am a convert to Christianity. For years I felt behind the power curve of my contemporaries in the Church only realizing latter that many people were parroting words they didn’t understand. They used a language I didn’t fully comprehend and just like any other person entering into a new situation there was a desire to catch up and to comprehend. There is a personal responsibility to learn and understand the beliefs, piety, and practices of the religion you confess. Dismissing this as putting God in a box ignores the fact that God gave us a rational mind and the imperative to use it in contemplation and prayer.

    I work in photography, and I generally need to go out of my way to explain the language we use in our shop when talking to our customers. When teaching how to take a photograph we start with the basics, light, exposure, and composition. When applying these basics to a particular shot things become more complicated.

    I spent 20 years 2 months and 21 days in the military. There is a unique language in each of the services and another language used in the joint environment. In order to be effective a person must learn this language. I watched reservists embrace this foreign language in the necessity to communicate in particularly challenging situations.

    My brother in law has a sailboat, another example of unique language and theory. If we can be expected to apply our minds to our work and hobbies why would we exclude our minds from our religion.

    I don’t know how to revise the Smith quote. I think that it deliberately posits 3 Gods in unambiguous language. I think that this is the doctrine of the LDS Church and for the historical, ecclesiastical, and ecumenical reasons I expressed this teaching has been rejected by the catholic church.

  35. David,

    Interesting article. I would be interested to understand better what Dr. Cary means when he says “the doctrine of the Trinity, we must bear in mind, is focused on only one side of this two-sided Christology: it is about what it means to say he is truly God.”

  36. I understand that I just don’t understand how you can draw such a distinction between the incarnation and the Trinity, especially if you are trying to explain subordinationism.

  37. Gundek,

    I think it’s great that you have committed yourself to the “personal responsibility to learn and understand the beliefs, piety, and practices of the religion you confess.”

    You said, “many people were parroting words they didn’t understand.”

    Yeah, true. I think this is never more true than with the Trinity doctrine.

    I think you misunderstood my comment about putting God in a box. Oh, well.

    You illustrate very well your point about different languages. As you may know, Mormons have their own language as well.


    David Clark,
    I haven’t read the article yet but it’s on my desktop.

    You said, “as to your long list of things that Mormons believe vis-a-vis Jesus. Yes, that list is all true. However, a Mormon is going to interpret that list so radically differently than an orthodox evangelical. . . .”

    I firmly and confidently disagree that their interpretation is going to be radically different—I believe you are greatly overstating the difference. And my confidence comes from revelation from the Holy Spirit. For example, when I read their Ensign magazine, I can usually feel the Spirit of God rising up in me, or to put it another way, I feel His presence coming nearer. (I do admit that Ensign presents their best face.)
    Can you honestly say the Holy Spirit has revealed to you that the LDS is foundationally unchristian and of the devil?

    You said that “not a single Mormon would subscribe to [the] statement that “the whole divine essence belongs totally and equally to each of the Three persons and only to the Three, provided you defined the terms for them.”

    I’ll ask my very knowledgeable Mormon friend about that.

    I know you’re right about them believing the Holy Ghost is different from the other 2 members because he lacks a body. But I don’t see that that concerns a discussion of the essence. I’m not talking about a physical essence or a bodily essence. Are you? How do YOU define the essence?

    You said that they believe there is an essence of the Godhead that is shared by everyone on Earth. That’s true, but I’m not talking about that kind of essence. Some of their teachings do fuzzy the line between Christians and non-Christians. But we, and they, know that there is an essence called the Holy Ghost which has to be received, a special essence which is not possessed by every human. That’s the essence I’m talking about, a divine essence that Jesus, the Father, and the Spirit are all full of—so much so that we can say that all three of them ARE what they are full of. Jesus is love. The Father is love. Etc. Those who saw Jesus in person saw the Father because Jesus is “the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being” (Heb 1:3, NIV).

    Thanks for your correspondence, David. I don’t think I’ll have much more time to talk until after our Lord’s birthday. Have a wonderful Christmas!

  38. Cal,

    Answering your questions:

    Can you honestly say the Holy Spirit has revealed to you that the LDS is foundationally unchristian and of the devil?

    I was born and raised a Mormon, served an LDS mission, blah, blah, blah. I am now a Christian of the Methodist persuasion. I’d like to think that I had good reasons for making the change.

    I firmly and confidently disagree that their interpretation is going to be radically different—I believe you are greatly overstating the difference.

    Having been raised Mormon, having heavily studied LDS doctrine, and having put serious effort into the last 3 years to understanding orthodox Christianity and the Bible, I don’t think I’m exaggerating. But, I can assure you that for various reasons, you will have no problem finding people who will say that I am exaggerating.

    I’ll ask my very knowledgeable Mormon friend about that.

    OK, just make sure your friend understands both Mormonism and orthodox Christianity. If he or she only understands one side there is no way to appreciate the differences.

    I’m not talking about a physical essence or a bodily essence. Are you? How do YOU define the essence?

    Just to be clear, essence is a foreign concept to Mormons. Since Mormons reject the church councils there is no real reason for them to explore that concept as it is not found in the Bible or any of the other LDS scriptures.

    In my opinion, the closest thing to talking about essence will be Abraham 3:18. There it talks about spirits and intelligences. It’s never clear how the two are related, though most LDS would say that they are either the same thing or that intelligence is some sort of precursor to spirit. The points I think all would agree on are: 1) All spirits/intelligences are eternal as they were never created and can never be destroyed. 2) That God also is configured from the same stuff since at some point in the future humans can become ontologically the same as God (“As God once was, now man is. As God is now, man may become.”) 3) Because of that there is no distinction between whatever it is that makes up God and whatever it is that makes up humans. Like I said, essence is a foreign concept to Mormonism, so this is the closest you can get in my opinion. And, because of this, the statement, “the whole divine essence belongs totally and equally to each of the Three persons and only to the Three,” would be rejected by Mormons.

    And my confidence comes from revelation from the Holy Spirit. For example, when I read their Ensign magazine, I can usually feel the Spirit of God rising up in me, or to put it another way, I feel His presence coming nearer.

    Just for fun, find some Mormon missionaries and tell them that exact thing. You will witness the rare phenomenon of the non-sexual orgasm before your very eyes.

  39. I think David Clark is right that the divide on the Trinity front is wide.

    Non-Mormons theologians are highly focused on the doctrine and Mormons generally think its nonsense.

    Mormons would say that “essence” is a made up concept to make the idea of the trinity work.

    Some would conjecture it was derived from Greek philosophy.

    But to Cal’s point, whether those sentiments and thoughts alienates you from the saving power of Jesus within the evangelical paradigm still seems an open question to me.

  40. Agreed. Trying to figure out how to interpret Mormon and Trinitarian concepts of the oneness of God in such a way as to show that they are in agreement is to seriously distort both faiths’ teachings.

    That’s like the people who try to show how all religions and all concepts of God are really the same: usually they wind up cherry-picking the bits they like from different religions, misinterpreting or ignoring the others, and coming to the conclusion of a god that is not really the one that any religion worships. Instead of identifying an existing commonality, they merely invent a distinct, new religion.

    That’s no way to dop interfaith dialogue, unless that’s really your agenda: to move all religions into one new religion. That’s a sort of variation on Tim’s agenda–he is ultimately trying to talk Mormons into embracing their doctrines that are compatible with Protestantism and rejecting their doctrines that are not.

    For real dialogue that’s not heavy-handed and agenda-driven, be honest and forthright about the differences. Then discuss to what extent those differences matter. That’s the real interesting part, I think.

  41. But guys. . . the Holy Spirit TOLD Cal there’s no difference. All your book-learnin’ surely can’t trump Cal’s experiential knowledge.

    OR

    Cal, you found an emotion to match what you wanted to feel about Mormonism. It’s easy to cherry-pick quotes from Joseph Smith to get him to say whatever you want him to say. He was all over the map. But when you take into account everything he said and what Mormons chose to hold on to, it’s clear that Mormonism, from at least 1840 on, had a clear and direct effort to reject Trinitarianism.

    Just two years ago Apostle Jeffery Holland resubmitted that Mormons reject the doctrine of the Trinity because it is self-evidently false.

  42. Tim, as I’ve said before, in almost every instance where an LDS leader is “rejecting” trinitarianism – a closer contextual reading will reveal that what they are really rejecting is MODALISM – which they mistakenly equate with “trinitarianism.”

    Go ahead – take a survey at a random LDS ward. You’ll find that just about everyone there who even knows about the word “Trinity” will try to define it in modalistic terms. I think this holds true for our apostles as well. They haven’t exactly had a ton of exposure to the broader Christian world. We’ve only been coming out of isolation recently in the last few decades.

  43. When I was in undergrad at BYU, I invited all of my roommates to come to my church (most of them accepted). Some of the guys in the ward joined them, so a group of 6-8 people from the ward showed up with me that day. This was when I was attending Rock Canyon Assembly of God, which was then located on Canyon Road in Provo.

    I was hoping that my pastor would preach on something nice that they wouldn’t feel too threatened by, like “God is love.”

    When the PowerPoint for the sermon title came up, my heart went into my throat. He was preaching on the Trinity.

    During the sermon, I noticed one of my LDS friends passing a note to the woman he would later become engaged to and marry. I got a pretty clear look at it. It said something about how the whole point of the First Vision was that it disproved the Trinity since Jesus and the Father appeared as separate people.

    I was kind of irritated, because I don’t see how this disproves the Trinity at all, and while The Shack had its flaws, it did demonstrate that most evangelicals have no problem with the idea of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit even manifesting as different people. It seems that, in keeping with Seth’s observation, my friends were thinking of modalism.

    I was also irritated because passing notes refuting the sermon at a church that you’re visiting just strikes me as kind of rude. The only good use for note-passing in church is writing kinky messages to your spouse to pass the time when the service gets boring—which is what I’ll be doing in Sacrament meeting come Sunday.

  44. Point of all that being . . . I would agree that I can’t imagine a Mormon accepting the traditional doctrine of the Trinity once properly defined. The closest they could come to is accepting a social Trinity. It is an unbridgeable point of difference between us.

  45. Ah, I’m posting from Safari instead of Firefox. Firefox has been slowing to a crawl the last couple days. Something seems to be wrong with it.

  46. Seth said:

    … in almost every instance where an LDS leader is “rejecting” trinitarianism – a closer contextual reading will reveal that what they are really rejecting is MODALISM – which they mistakenly equate with “trinitarianism.”

    I agree with that.

    Jack said:

    … I can’t imagine a Mormon accepting the traditional doctrine of the Trinity once properly defined. … It is an unbridgeable point of difference between us.

    I agree with that too.

    One problem is that many evangelicals (I’m not talking about pastors here but regular folks without theological training) when asked to explain what the Trinity is will often give a modalistic explanation. So while there’s not much of an excuse for LDS leaders (who should study before they speak) to misstate evangelical views, it’s understandable why everyday LDS folks might not have a clear understanding.

  47. Seth said:

    … in almost every instance where an LDS leader is “rejecting” trinitarianism – a closer contextual reading will reveal that what they are really rejecting is MODALISM – which they mistakenly equate with “trinitarianism.”

    …if that’s really Seth at all!”

  48. I think Mormons generally mis-understand the trinity. As nearly everybody else seems to. This is probably because the precise formulation is leads to so many complexities that it has caused inordinate amounts of debate, schism, thought and study.

    When properly explained, though, I think most Mormons reject it because they don’t have to believe in it and the doctrine is, on its very face a mystery. It simply doesn’t make sense to say that there are three separate and distinct persons that are also perfectly and mysteriously one God. It doesn’t make sense because there is nothing we can sense or experience that will give us any idea what that really means. It’s like a zen koan. I reject the creed because I don’t get it just like I just don’t know what one hand clapping could possibly sound like.

    I would submit that if it was not a requirement of orthodoxy to accept the creed, you would have many many people rejecting the Trinity out of hand simply for being inscrutable.

    That is the beauty and the difficulty of creeds. I would submit that its impossible to believe in the Trinity without accepting its precise formulation in the creeds.

    The nature of a creed, which i think Joseph understood, is that it is like a massive intellectual forge that requires all ideas to submit. The mystery and ineffability of the creed prevents you from disproving it and making assent a requirement for orthodoxy forces you to bend all of your ideas to fit within its strictures.

    The beauty of the creed is that it is like some perfect number that makes the ragged equation described in the scriptures some how work out right. The bonus is that it gets everyone on the same page and gives you a rally point. The drawback is that some, like Joseph and many other heretics, felt suffocated by it. It certainly isn’t the ONLY reasonable interpretation of the scriptures.

    I like Cal’s approach because it seems to recognize that rejecting the trinity is not really rejecting the scriptures, or even the promises of Jesus.

  49. It certainly isn’t the ONLY reasonable interpretation of the scriptures.

    It is if you don’t have any additional information than the Bible. If you’re going to call “The First Vision” scripture then certainly, I can see other interpretations.

  50. If you will bear with me I think that I can explain the problem I have with Cal’s view. All of the Trinitarian controversies can be boiled down to either (a) the denial that there is one God (Polytheism) or (b) the denial that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are equally God (Unitarianism). Polytheism rejects the biblical command to worship the one true God and is idolatry. Unitarianism removes the honor and glory due to each person as fully God and is idolatry. Forget about the controversies that required creedal formulas; Dynamic Monarchianism, Arianism, Subordinationism, Adoptionism, Socinianism, Modalism, Tritheism etc. Each of these at the heart is simply idolatry.

    One could ask the seemingly simple question of a Mormon, “How many God(s) are there?” Followed by the equally simple questions, “Is the Father God?”, “Is the Son God?”, “Is the Holy Spirit God?” and see without delving deeply into the mysteries of the Trinitarian rule of faith that a gulf exists.

    Of course there is an assent to the creeds. The very nature of a confession is an individual’s acceptance and joint declaration of a communal belief. Christianity is not an individual endeavor. Irregardless of tradition there is a humility and ecumenism required by the creeds. You are also probably correct that the creeds have caused most people to pause before they go off and reformulate the very nature of God for themselves. I don’t particularly think that is a bad thing. But honestly how much mystery is there to the first line of the Nicene–Constantinopolitan creed?

    I can personally be as secular and as dogmatic as any Old Side, Old School, Southern, Presbyterian and I understand that there is not much unity in 21st century Christianity. But when I recite the creeds during the liturgy or teach them to my children I do it with the understanding and the hope of a promise of unity in the body of Christ. The creeds offer a visible and intellectual representation of our grappling with divine revelation. With believers past and future across denominational and geographic boundaries each confessor takes individual responsibility by participating in the corporate declaration. The creeds have been tried and tested over the centuries, and they stand representing a catholicity, unity and common confession of the Church that all can answer when asked, “Christians what do you believe?” As I see it Joseph renounced that unity. You say that he did it because he was suffocated by orthodoxy. I find that an odd explanation about the founder of such hieratical church.

  51. I think creeds are fine, for all the reasons gundek says. What’s preposterous is the claim that there is only “one reasonable interpretation” of a complex, abstract doctrine based on a reading of 66 different disjointed and often obscure ancient documents.

  52. You say that he did it because he was suffocated by orthodoxy. I find that an odd explanation about the founder of such hieratical church.

    a brief gander over at Feminist Mormon Housewives made me think it was an odd explanation as well.

  53. Honestly, I’m not sure the modern Church bears much of a resemblance at all to the one Joseph Smith founded.

    That’s not to lionize or romanticize Joseph Smith, but just to say that the Chruch has undergone some pretty drastic evolutions. Brigham Young’s church was not the same as Joseph Smith’s, even.

  54. Gundeck, I would also say that Mormonism is a communal affair, with a great deal of humility and ecumenism required of its members within it (maybe not ecumenism with respect to other faiths outside the LDS Church, but ecumenism with respect to the theologically diverse members OF the LDS Church).

    And I never said Joseph renounced orthodoxy because he “just wanted to be free.” That’s to miss the point completely.

    Joseph renounced orthodoxy because it stood as a barrier to direct revelation from the one true SOURCE of all theological truth. Joseph Smith was tapped into a direct flow of revelatory content – compared to which the orthodox status quo could not but pale by comparison.

    To say Joseph just wanted out from under the thumb of orthodoxy is to frame the debate on your terms and assume Joseph Smith was a rogue cleric acting on his own. This is not how faithful Mormons see Joseph Smith.

    He wasn’t looking for freedom from restraint Gundeck. He was seeking to BE RESTRAINED by the Author of all revelation. These are my parameters and my convictions. I don’t expect you to accept them. But please be aware that neither am I going to acquiesce to the way you are trying to frame this.

  55. Gundeck, I would also say that Mormonism is a communal affair, with a great deal of humility and ecumenism required of its members within it (maybe not ecumenism with respect to other faiths outside the LDS Church, but ecumenism with respect to the theologically diverse members OF the LDS Church).

    With all due respect, I think you are describing the Church of Jesus of Christ of the Saints of the Bloggernacle, and not the LDS church.

  56. Seth,

    I was not replying to you but to Jared. In particular these comments.

    “The drawback is that some, like Joseph and many other heretics, felt suffocated by it. It certainly isn’t the ONLY reasonable interpretation of the scriptures.”

    and

    “I like Cal’s approach because it seems to recognize that rejecting the trinity is not really rejecting the scriptures, or even the promises of Jesus.”

    I will take you at your word that you believe that Joseph had a revelation and there is humility and community in your religion. I am sure in your piety and practice the community and humility are important.

    I have to say that you are straining the use of the word ecumenism being from the “one true church”. I think there is probably more diversity in the Free Church of Scotland than you get from the correlated material mandated from Salt Lake. In the Spirit of the Holidays if you want to call this ecumenism, by all means.

  57. (maybe not ecumenism with respect to other faiths outside the LDS Church, but ecumenism with respect to the theologically diverse members OF the LDS Church).

    Can’t that be said of any church?

  58. I don’t think so Tim. Some strains of Evangelicals aren’t exactly welcoming of a lot of theological diversity within their own ranks.

    David, there is plenty of diversity among the held beliefs at many LDS wards. It only seems like there isn’t because the discourse at Sunday meetings focuses on the basics of LDS belief and avoids moving into speculative or disputed territory.

  59. David, there is plenty of diversity among the held beliefs at many LDS wards. It only seems like there isn’t because the discourse at Sunday meetings focuses on the basics of LDS belief and avoids moving into speculative or disputed territory.

    That completely undermines your earlier point when you said:

    but ecumenism with respect to the theologically diverse members OF the LDS Church

    If the diversity of opinion is never expressed then the ecumenism towards others is not needed. In fact if it is never expressed then it would be impossible to show any. You can’t have tolerance for diversity when there is no public diversity. You only have a theoretical tolerance for a theoretical diversity.

    Furthermore, if people just stick to the script I don’t see how the LDS church can be a “communal affair” with respect to beliefs. If the community can’t or doesn’t express beliefs of its members, but only expresses publicly what is officially sanctioned, why would you even need a community?

  60. I probably should have said “congregations.”

    But come on Kullervo, this is hardly a controversial statement.

  61. Gundek,
    Thanks very much for your military service. You have helped to preserve our freedom to have discussions such as this. I salute you!

    David,
    I’m curious—were you a Christian when you were a Mormon? If not, did you believe you were?

    Back to the topic:
    Think of the logic of what you’re doing, David. You are telling Mormons that to be saved they must believe that the Father & the Son are of the same essence, substance, or being while you yourself—apparently—don’t know what that essence is. That’s like handing a Greek Bible to a non-Christian and telling them they must believe it to be saved. They will open it and say, “I don’t understand this—how am I going to believe it?”

    —-
    Seth R. said, “In almost every instance where an LDS leader is “rejecting” trinitarianism – a closer contextual reading will reveal that what they are really rejecting is MODALISM.”

    This is very significant, especially since Eric agreed with it. Tim, Gundek, David Clark: Are any of you qualified to say it isn’t so?

  62. Cal, I think all of us are equally qualified to have opinions on the Internet. But I doubt it goes much further than that for most of us.

  63. I’m curious—were you a Christian when you were a Mormon? If not, did you believe you were?

    It was a complete non-issue for me and I never really thought about it. Since I believed it was God’s one true church I guess you could say I believed that only Mormons were truly Christian. Or, since it seemed that most Christians didn’t want Mormons as part of the club, and since I had been explicitly taught they they were not part of our club, in that sense I was not Christian. In all honesty, it’s simply not a live issue for most Mormons — until it becomes a matter of PR. Then want to be known as Christians.

    Think of the logic of what you’re doing, David. You are telling Mormons that to be saved they must believe that the Father & the Son are of the same essence, substance, or being while you yourself—apparently—don’t know what that essence is. That’s like handing a Greek Bible to a non-Christian and telling them they must believe it to be saved. They will open it and say, “I don’t understand this—how am I going to believe it?”

    I never said that, never implied it, and never would say something like that. I seriously doubt that God will be giving theology tests in the hereafter, and I have no doubt that people will be in heaven having been utterly ignorant of the Trinity.

    I would love it if Mormons would move in the direction of being more orthodox Christians, but I doubt that’s going to happen any time soon. For now, I’d be satisfied if Mormons would be more open and honest about their history and doctrine at their public church meetings. If that were to happen, I think the LDS church would reform in short order.

  64. David said, “I would love it if Mormons would move in the direction of being more orthodox Christians.”

    Yeah, I pray for that all the time. I can see progress but it’s slow.

    I should have asked my question about whether you were a Christian differently. Did you ever really receive the Holy Spirit when you were a Mormon? I suspect that lots of Mormons do not receive the Holy Spirit when hands are laid on them for that purpose, or at any other time. I recently read in an article by an LDS leader where LDS folks were discouraged from letting the laying on of hands become a dead ritual. I took that as a reassuring sign that LDS elders are aware that it can be a dead ritual.

    —–
    Seth R. said, “I think all of us are equally qualified to have opinions on the Internet. But I doubt it goes much further than that for most of us.”

    That’s sad. Does “most of us” include you, Tim?

  65. Cal,

    To the best of my knowledge, none of the folks who comment here are official representatives of any particular church. So I don’t really know what you expect when you ask if anyone is qualified to make a statement on anything. Like Seth said, we are all qualified to make opinions, but are you asking for someone to make a statement as an authorised agent of a denomination or sect?

  66. Did you ever really receive the Holy Spirit when you were a Mormon? I suspect that lots of Mormons do not receive the Holy Spirit when hands are laid on them for that purpose, or at any other time.

    It wasn’t really a live issue for me then, and it’s not a live issue for me now. I understand why charismatics frame the issue this way, but I disagree with the theology behind it all.

  67. Gundek,
    Thanks very much for your military service. You have helped to preserve our freedom to have discussions such as this. I salute you!

    When did gundek mention military service? Am I missing something?

  68. David,
    I see. You aren’t a Christian.
    I won’t condemn you. But I might try to steer toward salvation, if that’s all right.

    Kullervo,
    It was a while back. In the meantime, I took a leave of absence for Christmas.
    I hope you have a happy new year.

  69. Cal said:

    Seth R. said, “In almost every instance where an LDS leader is “rejecting” trinitarianism – a closer contextual reading will reveal that what they are really rejecting is MODALISM.”

    This is very significant, especially since Eric agreed with it. Tim, Gundek, David Clark: Are any of you qualified to say it isn’t so?

    Cal, did you see what else Eric agreed with? I agree with Seth that many Mormons are reacting to Modalism. But that doesn’t exclude the fact that because of Mormon doctrine they ALSO have plenty of reason to reject Trinitarianism.

    As it stands, the doctrine of the Trinity is incompatible with Mormonism. That doesn’t mean individual Mormons may not find ways to accept it. It doesn’t mean that there will be no Mormons in Heaven. It doesn’t mean that the Holy Spirit isn’t finding ways to inspire and encourage Mormons. But it does mean that Mormonism and Trinitarianism are not the same thing. If the Holy Spirit (according to you) thinks that they are compatible he clearly doesn’t understand how they are contradictions of one another.

    I’m inclined to conclude that it’s you, rather than the Holy Spirit who doesn’t understand the two sets of doctrines well enough, but I could be wrong. You’re convinced it was the Holy Spirit’s inspiration that told you all of us (Mormon and Non-Mormon alike) were wrong, so I’m not sure what I can say to dissuade you.

  70. Tim, as soon as someone is willing to explain Augustinian trinitarianism to me in a way that makes coherent sense, I will be more than happy to tell you whether I accept or reject it.

  71. I pointed to Augustine because he seems to have been the first to seriously argue the concept in a philosophically rigorous context. Under his formulation, the Trinity consists of the following premises:

    1. There is One God
    2. The Father is God
    3. The Son is God
    4. The Father is not the Son

    This isn’t necessarily a problematic statement for me. In fact, it meshes pretty well with what I already believe about the godhead. I believe that Father and Son are distinct persons, however they are perfectly united in thought, purpose, and love such that they act as one, and even appear as one (social trinitarianism).

    This is not necessarily at odds with Augustine’s formula – though it does some interesting things with the first premise.

    And this is where we run into trouble – what does it mean to be “One God?”

    Mainly, the problem is the Augustinian notion of homoousios (same substance).

    What the heck does it mean to share the same “substance” anyway? What is “substance” and why should we care about it? How does this notion fit with the Bible in any way, shape or form? And how can a being share the same substance in a Greek philosophical sense with another and still remain a separate person from that other?

  72. Cal said

    Seth R. said, “In almost every instance where an LDS leader is “rejecting” trinitarianism – a closer contextual reading will reveal that what they are really rejecting is MODALISM.”

    This is very significant, especially since Eric agreed with it. Tim, Gundek, David Clark: Are any of you qualified to say it isn’t so?

    The LDS don’t really reject the core of Trinitarianism at all, they reject the creed and its formulation. LDS believe that the Father is ONE GOD with the Son and the whole spirit. They don’t believe they worship more than one God.

    JUST LIKE TRINITARIANS, they don’t really know and can’t really explain without using words akin to nonsense. how there can be three (or more) persons that are also only one God. Its a mystery.

    I mean LDS and Trinitarian Christians believe that there once was a human being, who thought thoughts with a fleshy organ in his skull, had to cut his toenails, probably had a cold or two in his life etc. who actually created the entire freaking universe or at least the sun, moon and stars we can see. Just saying that can sound a bit ridiculous. Its unfathomable really. I would suggest any description of that phenomena is going to end up looking like the trinity, i.e. a reverent throwing of the hands up.

    Your best description starts sounding like a Lewis Carrol poem.

    But from my understanding the dogma of the Trinity was never designed to be an explication of what God is, but rather circumscribes what you can say about him, and that is something Mormons firmly reject.

    However, to Trinitarians Mormons are fast, loose and sloppy when they say stuff about God where Trinitarians are neat and tidy. And sloppiness to them is an enormous mistake.

  73. Tim,
    It seems that everyone who has commented since your last comment is in tune with what’s going on with this Trinity controversy.

    I’m eagerly waiting for you to answer Seth’s question posed on December 27, 2010 at 10:08 pm.

    You said, “As it stands, the doctrine of the Trinity is incompatible with Mormonism.”

    I disagree. I’m saying what Jared said—that the doctrine of the Trinity, or more specifically that doctrine that says that the Father, Son, & Holy Spirit are one in substance, is in agreement with Mormonism. The reason I am confident about that is that I believe this substance is the Holy Spirit that lives inside you. And I’ve studied Mormonism enough to know that Seth and Jared are accurately representing it, and that Mormonism agrees in essence (interesting choice of words) with my definition of the substance, EVEN THOUGH MORMONISM MAY NOT USE THE EXACT WORDS I HAVE USED.

    Now, if this substance is something other than what I think it is, then simply tell me what you think it is, and Jared, Seth, & I will tell you if Mormonism agrees with you.

    You said, “I’m inclined to conclude that it’s you, rather than the Holy Spirit who doesn’t understand the two sets of doctrines well enough, but I could be wrong.”

    That’s great, Tim. You are demonstrating humility in saying you could be wrong.

    I’m not at odds with everyone on this blog, as you suggested. Seth, Jared, and maybe Ms. Jack, are basically on the same track I’m on.
    Good day.

  74. If you define “substance” to mean “that which enables the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who are distinct entities with distinct centers of consciousness, to be fully united in purpose,” then I suppose that the LDS concept of “godhead” is compatible with the traditional doctrine of the Trinity.

    But I have never heard “substance” defined that way and assume that it would be rejected by knowledgeable evangelicals.

  75. If you define “substance” to mean “that which enables the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who are distinct entities with distinct centers of consciousness, to be fully united in purpose,” then I suppose that the LDS concept of “godhead” is compatible with the traditional doctrine of the Trinity.

    Also, that would be pretty much a non-definition.

  76. Cal you’re focused on one aspect of the Trinity. Ask a Mormon “how many gods exist?” With rare exception will they ever say “one”.

    Seth’s question doesn’t prove your point. It just proves he doesn’t understand what Augustine meant.

  77. Seth,

    I claim no expertise in trinitarian theology. However, what has helped for me is to put the formulation of the creeds in an historical context. Trying to understand them without that context leads to lots of confusion. It can be done from a purely logical and philosophical and de-historicized viewpoint, but I find that much harder to come to terms with what it going on.

    To that end two resources have helped me come to terms with what was going on, coupled with a good explanation of the trinitarian and Christological creeds. The first is a lecture series on Christian theology. Wait for it to come on sale if you decide to buy it. Here’s the link:

    http://www.teach12.com/tgc/courses/course_detail.aspx?cid=6450

    The second is a book by Jaroslav Pelikan. He puts all of the doctrinal developments in a historical context. Just a warning, this guy is extremely erudite and mainly works from the original sources in the original languages. Hence, it can be hard to keep up with him, but he’s probably the best source in English for getting an unvarnished and relatively complete view of what was going on. Here’s the link to the first volume in his series, which covers the trinitarian and Christological controversies.

    http://www.amazon.com/Christian-Tradition-Development-Doctrine-Emergence/dp/0226653714

    My apologies if you have already looked at this or similar stuff before.

  78. I said:

    If you define “substance” to mean …

    To which Kullervo said:

    Also, that would be pretty much a non-definition.

    That’s more or less my point. To say that Mormon thought on the nature of the Godhead is consistent with the traditional trinitarian view is to strip the trinitarian view of its meaning.

    I’m not sure entirely what “orthodox” Christians mean by “substance,” but it’s clearly something more than my nondefinition.

    Tim said:

    . Ask a Mormon “how many gods exist?” With rare exception will they ever say “one”.

    Ask me that question, and I’ll answer “I don’t know.”

    As me how many Gods exist, and the answer becomes “one.”

    David Clark said:

    Trying to understand them [the creeds] without that context leads to lots of confusion.

    I think you’re right.

    Jared C said:

    The LDS don’t really reject the core of Trinitarianism at all, they reject the creed and its formulation.

    You may be right. Fundamentally, both LDS and Trinitarians reject modalism. While I believe our views are incompatible or nearly so, someone looking at us from the outside (for example, a Muslim theologian who may see both Mormons and Protestants as tritheists) could have a hard time finding the differences. While the basic LDS view is easier to understand, I’m not sure that ultimately there’s any less mystery involved (which is what I think Jared is saying). We’re both trying to reconcile how God can be one entity and three Persons at the same time without disregarding either aspect.

  79. That’s more or less my point. To say that Mormon thought on the nature of the Godhead is consistent with the traditional trinitarian view is to strip the trinitarian view of its meaning.

    I’m not sure entirely what “orthodox” Christians mean by “substance,” but it’s clearly something more than my nondefinition.

    It was just funny to me. Like saying “cars run on gasoline, which is defined as ‘the stuff that cars run on.'”

  80. Seth ~ The most useful biblical data for helping me understand the Trinity is the identification of Jesus Christ as the Word of God and the Wisdom of God.

    Jesus’ identification as the Word of God is overt (John 1:1) and correct me if I’m wrong, but I’ve always understood Mormons as seeing this as a mere metaphor for Jesus’ relationship to the Father. It’s just an honorific title that describes his role.

    I don’t see it as a metaphor though; I see it as quite literal. It’s as though this aspect of God, his Word, became a person of its own–except that I think the Word was co-eternal with God. It’s not an easy concept to grasp because we have nothing like it in creation, but to me, it makes sense for a being who can speak a universe into existence to be more complicated than his creation.

    The identification of Jesus as God’s Wisdom is a lot more subtle and generally takes some study of intertestamental Jewish Wisdom literature to understand. But the data is strong; I would say undeniable. These are some of the parallels provided by James D. G. Dunn in Christology in the Making: A New Testament Inquiry into the Origins of the Doctrine of the Incarnation (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1996):

    Matt. 11.28-30Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.
    Sir. 51.23-7Draw near to me, you who are untaught . . . Put your neck under the yoke, and let your souls receive instruction; it is to be found close by. See with your eyes that I have laboured little and found for myself much rest.

    John 1.11 – He came to his own home, and his own people received him not.
    I Enoch 42.2 – Wisdom went forth to make her dwelling among the children of men, and found no dwelling place.

    John 1.14 – The Word became flesh and dwelt among us (ἐσκήνωσεν ἐν ἡμῖν).
    Sir. 24.8 – The one who created me assigned a place for my tent (σκηνήν). And he said, “Make your dwelling (κατασκήνωσον) in Jacob”

    1 Cor. 8:6 – . . . Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.
    Prov. 3.19 – The Lord by wisdom founded the earth; by understanding he established the heavens . . .
    Wisd. 8.4-6 – For she (Wisdom) is an initiate in the knowledge of God, and an associate in his works. If riches are a desirable possession in life, what is richer than wisdom who effects all things? And if understanding is effective, who more than she is fashioner of what exists?
    Philo. Det. 54 – . . . Wisdom, by whose agency the universe was brought to completion (τὴν σοφίαν, δι’ ἧς απετελέσθη τὸ πᾱν); similarly Fuga 109.

    Heb. 1.3 – He is the radiance (ἀπαύγασμα) of God’s glory . . .
    Wisd. 7.26 – She is the radiance (ἀπαύγασμα) of eternal light, a spotless mirror of the working God . . .

    Christ’s identification with Wisdom is more overt in 1 Cor. 1:20 (“Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God”). There’s also Matthew 23:34, where Jesus teaches the people, “Therefore I send you prophets, sages, and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town.” The parallel in Luke’s gospel is attributed directly to “the Wisdom of God” (Luke 11:49).

    I know that the New Testament’s identification of Christ with Wisdom is entirely disregarded by Mormons and largely ignored by other Christians. I think this is unfortunate, because it’s been so helpful to me in understanding the Trinity. The Jews did not see Wisdom as a separate deity altogether, nor was Wisdom a mere creation (and I would argue that Proverbs 8:22-30 does not teach that Wisdom was created). Wisdom was something in between, something that fits Trinitarian theology like a glove.

    Slippery words like “substance” and “essence” are just an attempt to describe this relationship between God (the Father), His Word or Wisdom (Jesus Christ), and His Breath (the Holy Spirit). It isn’t correct to say that they’re separate deities sharing a unity of purpose and that these descriptors are just metaphors (polytheism), nor is it correct to say that this is one person or being who can manifest as separate people like putting on different hats (modalism). It’s something in between.

  81. @ Mormons & the Trinity in general ~ Even if we weren’t dealing with the difficulty of what exactly “substance” is and how the Father, Son and Holy Spirit share it, I don’t believe that Mormons could ever accept the Trinity as historic orthodoxy has taught it, for all of the following reasons:

    Because Mormons believe in at least one other divine person who is female – Yes, we can debate whether or not this belief is truly required in Mormonism, and once in a blue moon you’ll meet a Mormon who doesn’t believe it, but let’s be honest here. When push comes to shove, the vast majority of Mormons think there is a goddess somewhere out there who is either not part of the Godhead or is part of the Father’s divinity (divine androgyny). But if the being we call “the Father” is really a man and a woman, then the Mormon “Trinity” doesn’t consist of three persons; it consists of four.

    Because Mormons believe in their own version of Trinitarian subordinationism – We can have a good debate about whether or not the Bible teaches Jesus was eternally subordinate to the Father; that practically was the subject of the Arian controversy. We can’t have a good debate about whether historic Christian orthodoxy allows for Trinitarian subordinationism; it is a heresy. See, for example, the Second Helvetic Confession: “Therefore we condemn . . . all those who blaspheme that sacred and adorable Trinity. We also condemn all heresies and heretics who teach that the Son and Holy Spirit are God in name only, and also that there is something created and subservient, or subordinate to another in the Trinity, and that their is something unequal in it, a greater or a less . . . ” Just because a number of otherwise respectable Christians turned to this heresy in the 1960s out of their need to keep women out of the pulpit, putting Mormon subordinationism in good company, doesn’t make it any less of a heresy.

    Because, even if “substance” is redefined into something Mormons can accept, it wouldn’t be unique to members of the Mormon Trinity – Mormons believe that any man can become what God is now, with all of his divine attributes. It isn’t like traditional Christian and Eastern Orthodox ideas of deification, where God has incommunicable and communicable attributes and those being deified are only getting the communicable ones. About the only divine attribute that Mormons see as incommunicable is sex.

    Because most Mormons believe God progressed to become God and was not always God – There’s no negotiation on this one for the Trinity. Either all three members of the Godhead are and always have been God, or they haven’t been. You can’t use loopholes like, “Well, ‘God’ is an office that different men have filled, but the office has always been around.” That’s totally not what Trinitarianism is.

    The only way that a Mormon can believe in the historic, orthodox understanding of the Trinity is if we re-define it so that it’s no longer the historic, orthodox understanding of the Trinity, or we re-define the LDS understanding of the Godhead so that it’s no longer Mormonism. I don’t see any point in either one other than some kind of feel-good “well, Mormons believe in the Trinity, too” stab at ecumenism.

    But not being genuine and up-front about our honest differences is not the kind of relationship I want with my LDS friends. This is a difference. Let’s just accept that for what it is and move on.

  82. But not being genuine and up-front about our honest differences is not the kind of relationship I want with my LDS friends. This is a difference. Let’s just accept that for what it is and move on.

    Amen.

  83. Jack,

    We should always be careful of the word heresy and all that it implies. I understand that Kevin Giles posits the view that Wayne Grudem and others are falling into the subordinationism, but it can also be said that Dr. Giles is drifting modalisticaly by failing to maintain the distinctions between the 3 persons.

    It could very well be that both Dr. Grudem and Dr. Giles have both taken the analogy of the relationship of the three persons a little to far in proposing that the divine consubstantiality or perichoresis should govern gender relations. I tend to side with Dr. Giles that subordinationist tendencies are revealing themselves and taken with the modalistic tendency in evangelicalism can take glory and honor from the Son and Holy Spirit, but I think that he took the bait so to speak by replying on the terms incorrectly set.

  84. David,

    Jaroslav Pelikan book Creedo is one of the best books I have read. He sets the standard for presenting differing theological views honestly and with care to the nuances that make them important.

  85. Seth R. said, “Do you understand what Augustine meant Tim? I recall inviting you to explain earlier.”

    Tim responded, “Yeah sorry. I’m on my phone and can’t explain from here. I hear your request.”

    We’re still waiting. . . . . . . Are you still on the phone, or are you searching the floor for a pencil you didn’t drop? Sorry to make fun, but you never let me off the hook easily. I’m just giving you a taste of your own medicine. Once again, WHAT IS THE MYSTERIOUS SUBSTANCE?
    I’m not letting you off the hook but I’m telling you to get off the phone. LOL.

    There’s nothing wrong with saying you don’t know. If you say you don’t know, I won’t condemn you. And saying you don’t know is not equivalent to admitting that the LDS is foundationally Christian.

    —–
    @ the Christological creed experts: What ever happened to the Bible? The creeds are great but if you consider them equal to the Bible, you can’t criticize Mormons for making the Book of Mormon equal to the Bible.
    If the Bible is the book to which we make final appeal, why not go straight to the top?

    —–
    For meditation (and for Tim, medication), here’s D&C 19:1:
    “I AM Alpha and Omega, Christ the Lord; yea, even I am he, the beginning and the end, the Redeemer of the world.”

  86. Cal,

    What i meant was that I was responding from my phone, rather than on a phone call. I’m not in the office this week. Thanks for the hard time though. 😉 It’s my love language.

    Eric said:
    That’s more or less my point. To say that Mormon thought on the nature of the Godhead is consistent with the traditional trinitarian view is to strip the trinitarian view of its meaning.

    EXACTLY! It’s not difficult to find things that Mormons agree with us on. But if we have to redefine our terms to be in full agreement with them we’re doing violence to our own views, doctrines and traditions. All for the sake of giving a “rose” another name. If we’re going to redefine what we mean by “Trinity” we might as well redefine “priesthood” “church” “Christian” and “grace” that way we can be fully pleased at our kumbaya campfire.

  87. Seth,

    It’s easy to get confused by the words “persons” and “God” because we quite often use the word “God” in the same way we use the word “person”. So I understand the confusion caused by the doctrine.

    There are three “who” and one “what” that make up the Trinity.

    I’ll try this analogy and see if it helps. Consider God to be a “spiritual element” that is one of a kind. There are other spiritual elements that angel, human and demon persons are in possession of. Only those persons that are uncreated-creators can have the “God element” or be of the “substance ‘God'”. From the Bible, we know that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are the persons called God.

    [Some one feel free to correct me if I’ve got this wrong or if it doesn’t make sense before I proceed.]

  88. Cal,

    Who said that the creeds were equal in authority to the Bible. Any authority that a creed, confession, or catechism has derives from its source, Biblical revelation.

    The Church has a biblical mandate to teach (Acts 10:42), spread (Matt 28:19, 20) confess (Rom 10:9, 10) and defend (2 Tim. 1:13) our beliefs. The creeds, as basic statements of received beliefs, serve as a tool in meeting those biblical requirements that have been used from the time of the primal creed “Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord” (Deut 6:4; Mark 12:29).

    I may have said this before but everybody has a creed. Some people are honestly and publicly confess their beliefs in writing, verbally, and liturgically. They present their beliefs for everybody to examine, critique and judge against biblical revelation.

    Other people keep their creed a secret to themselves, with no written statement, no historical liturgy, no verbal declaration except maybe an insistence in a belief in the Bibles 2 Testaments, 66 Books, 1189 chapters, and 773,000 words. We are of course to accept this, me and my Bible, approach as the more pure form of Christianity whose doctrinal declarations are sacrosanct and recent visitations from the Holy Spirit are canonical.

  89. Gundek,
    Thanks for reassuring me that you do not see the creeds as equal in authority to the Bible.
    I feel there is some advantage in going straight to the Bible most of the time. In my opinion it would encourage unity among us all. Charismatics don’t pay much attention to the creeds that you speak of so highly. I think our philosophy is that if we don’t understand something in the Word, we can go straight to God and ask him (James 1:5). This is no guarantee that we won’t make a mistake in discerning his voice of course, but even the creeds cannot be understood without the Spirit.

    —–
    Tim: Yes, I’m finally learning your language!

    You said, “There are three “who” and one “what” that make up the Trinity.”

    I’ve been noticing this. I suspect that this is the reason the LDS has accused us—in the past at least—of believing in a God without parts or passions—your “what.” The accusation isn’t fair or correct but maybe I can see why they thought it.

    You said, “I’ll try this analogy and see if it helps. Consider God to be a ‘spiritual element’ that is one of a kind. There are other spiritual elements that angel, human and demon persons are in possession of.”

    You’re fine so far.

    Then you said, “Only those persons that are uncreated-creators can have the ‘God element’ or be of the ‘substance “God”‘.

    This is wrong. John 17:22 says, “I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one.”
    I believe “glory” here is another word for the substance. We are given this substance when we enter into unity with the Father, Son, & Spirit. Jesus comes into us. The Father comes into us. The Spirit comes into us.
    From John 17:22, we can see that the glory (substance or essence that is God—I’m using your definition of the word “God” here) is what can make us one, and that this same glory is what makes Father & Son one.
    My point is that the substance is not limited to uncreated-creators, thanks to the incredible accomplishments of Jesus on the cross.

    You said, “From the Bible, we know that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are the persons called God.”

    I understand what you’re saying here and I agree. However, if you examine the use of the word “God” in the NT, it’s rarely if ever used exactly the way you are using it. It’s usually associated with the Father, a few times Jesus is called God (such as Heb. 1:8), it’s used for Satan (2 Cor. 4:4), it’s used for false gods, and a few times it’s used for human rulers (such as in Ps. 82:1).

    You said, “If we have to redefine our terms to be in full agreement with them we’re doing violence to our own views.”

    This isn’t necessarily true. If you were communicating to someone who knew only Spanish, you would have to be able to learn and explain the truth with different words. This doesn’t mean you would have to adjust the truth itself.

  90. Cal
    I understand that some charismatics ignore the written creeds especially their pedagogical value. I must disagree that James invites us to ignore 2000 years of theological development, unity is not found by making up our doctrine every Sunday.

    I might recommend refining your understanding of the Trinity before defining substance as honor.

  91. I feel there is some advantage in going straight to the Bible most of the time. In my opinion it would encourage unity among us all.

    Cal,

    Unfortunately, history proves the above quote to be completely wrong. Appeal to the Bible as the end authority created schism during the Protestant Reformation, not unity. Of course what most people really mean when they say things like this is: If people just read the Bible like I do, then there would be unity.

    The Bible is not an interpretation free document which discloses its meaning in utter clarity and precision to people who read it. How you read it will be based on your interpretive strategy. To a large degree, that’s one of the primary purposes of the creeds, to provide a framework for interpreting scripture with some degree of unity.

  92. Unfortunately, history proves the above quote to be completely wrong. Appeal to the Bible as the end authority created schism during the Protestant Reformation, not unity. Of course what most people really mean when they say things like this is: If people just read the Bible like I do, then there would be unity.

    The Bible is not an interpretation free document which discloses its meaning in utter clarity and precision to people who read it. How you read it will be based on your interpretive strategy. To a large degree, that’s one of the primary purposes of the creeds, to provide a framework for interpreting scripture with some degree of unity.

    Extremely well-put.

  93. gundek ~ My own feelings on tying the debate over subordinationism to the debate over women in ministry is that it’s a category fallacy. There’s no reason why a belief in some form of Christian patriarchy necessitates Trinitarian subordinationism or vice versa.

    I’m not trying to toss the term heresy around lightly, but I know an awful lot about the history of that debate, and it just leaves me shaking my head. But I’ll resist derailing this thread further with details.

    Cal ~ @ the Christological creed experts: What ever happened to the Bible? The creeds are great but if you consider them equal to the Bible, you can’t criticize Mormons for making the Book of Mormon equal to the Bible.
    If the Bible is the book to which we make final appeal, why not go straight to the top?

    I guess I’ll assume that I’m included in this question directed at “Christological creed experts.”

    For starters, in my explanation of the Trinity above, I quoted or referenced the Bible eleven times. If I’m explaining the Trinity to anyone, I infinitely prefer to explain it from the Bible rather than explaining it from Athanasius or Augustine.

    However, my appeal is not limited solely to the Bible, for three reasons:

    (1) Because the context in which the Bible was written is necessary for a proper understanding of it, hence my discussion of Jewish Wisdom literature.

    (2) Because the same people who gave us the Nicene Creed are the people who canonized the Bible. It was Athanasius who did the most work to lobby for Nicene orthodoxy, and it was Athanasius who first came up with our 27-book NT canon list. So accepting the biblical canon he produced while disregarding his creed strikes me as rather analogous to sawing off the branch one is sitting on.

    (3) Because the Bible isn’t the final authority for Mormons anyways, nor do they place as much trust in the reception of the biblical text as other Christians do. It does not matter if you demonstrate that something in the Bible absolutely contradicts Mormon doctrine; many Mormons will either just point out that their views are informed by other sources (BoM, D&C, PoGP, writings of modern prophets) just as much as the Bible, so what the Bible says has to be taken in light of those other sources, or they will quote the 8th Article of Faith and dismiss what the Bible says. So trying to show Mormons that their views on God are contradicted by the Bible is generally a futile exercise.

    I’ve never condemned Mormons on the principle of having an open canon. I’m not really here to condemn Mormons at all. I’m just talking about whether or not their teachings can be easily reconciled with Trinitarianism, and I don’t think that they can.

  94. “I’ll try this analogy and see if it helps. Consider God to be a “spiritual element” that is one of a kind. There are other spiritual elements that angel, human and demon persons are in possession of. Only those persons that are uncreated-creators can have the “God element” or be of the “substance ‘God’”. From the Bible, we know that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are the persons called God.”

    But Tim, that kinda seems like you are describing the whole thing as three beings who share some kind of attribute. And I have no idea what this “God element” is supposed to be.

  95. But Tim, that kinda seems like you are describing the whole thing as three beings who share some kind of attribute. And I have no idea what this “God element” is supposed to be.

    Unobtainium.

  96. Cal said:

    I suspect that this is the reason the LDS has accused us—in the past at least—of believing in a God without parts or passions—your “what.” The accusation isn’t fair or correct but maybe I can see why they thought it.

    Ummmm. . . actually it is a fair and correct accusation. That’s basically a quote from a Catholic expression and Orthodox and Protestants agree with the argument even if they don’t use those words.

    I believe “glory” here is another word for the substance. We are given this substance when we enter into unity with the Father, Son, & Spirit. Jesus comes into us. The Father comes into us. The Spirit comes into us.

    Can you help me understand your position better? Do you think you can ever be called “God” or “god”? Would it be appropriate to give you that title now or some day in the future?

    On what basis do you think the word “glory” is synonymous with “substance”? Did you study it in Greek? Did you investigate Athanasius or Augustine and discover they were using those words that way? Or did you just come up with that explanation in hopes that it would help unify Evangelicals and Mormon understanding of the Trinity?

  97. Seth said:

    But Tim, that kinda seems like you are describing the whole thing as three beings who share some kind of attribute. And I have no idea what this “God element” is supposed to be.

    the “God element” is the spiritual substance that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit uniquely share.

  98. the “God element” is the spiritual substance that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit uniquely share.

    The father, the son, and the holy spirit uniquely share a spiritual substance called “the god element.”

    “The god element” is defined as “the spiritual substance that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit uniquely share.”

    Awesome.

  99. Kullervo and Seth,

    Part of the problem is that when giving essential definitions it’s hard to avoid being self referential and/or circular. Try for example giving a definition of “electric charge”, “time”, or “measurement” without being self referential or circular. It’s something physicists run into all the time, yet physics is still held up as the gold standard to which all other sciences are compared. My point is not to rule your questions out of bounds, because they are valid questions, but it’s not an easy thing to do, nor to grasp.

    People usually end up giving functional or ostensive definitions, which for the most part works with physical things. However, when you are dealing with something that is not physical, functional and ostensive definitions don’t work. In the end, Tim’s self-referential definition may not be all that different from an essential definition of certain concepts which we do know a lot about (just the fact that you are reading this proves that humans know a lot about “charge”) but nervertheless language comes up short in giving an essential definition.

  100. Yeah about 15 minutes after writing that it occurred to me that I was going to get slaughtered.

    I was just trying to clarify that I was referring to the substance of God.

    If you’re looking for a more definitive definition I can’t give it to other than to say it’s not physical. We don’t have more information.

  101. I want to clarify that I have no problem per se with the idea of mystery when talking about God.

    Paradoxes can be helpful in keeping us intellectually and spiritually engaged with the divine. G.K. Chesterton made this point, and I found him fairly compelling.

    It’s not “mystery” I have a problem with. I DO have a problem with using a mystery as the basis for telling another group that “you don’t belong.”

    You should always be able to coherently explain your grounds for exclusion in my mind.

  102. We don’t have to exclude Mormons because of their rejection of ὁμοούσιος. We can exclude them for not believing the members of the Godhead were eternally God, or for believing in other Gods and Goddesses, or for believing in subordinationism, or for believing in exaltation.

    When someone locates a Mormon who:

    (1) Rejects the existence of other divine entities (including Heavenly Mother)
    (2) Believes the Father, Son and Spirit have always been eternally God.
    (3) Doesn’t believe that the Son and Spirit are subordinate to the Father
    (4) Does not believe that human beings can become everything that the Godhead is now

    but still rejects ὁμοούσιος, let me know and I’ll give some serious thought to whether or not s/he ought to be excluded from Christian orthodoxy.

    ὁμοούσιος is just the part that everyone likes to harp on because it’s the hardest to understand.

  103. To borrow an analogy that I heard from someone who is far more clever than I am, the situation with Mormons and ὁμοούσιος reminds me of a scene from the 1969 film Support Your Local Sheriff. In the film, James Garner becomes the sheriff of a lawless mining town. The mayor and town council members turn over the old sheriff’s badge to him, and Garner notices that it has a dent in it from being hit by a bullet. Garner remarks, “It sure must have saved the life of whoever was wearin’ it.” The mayor replies, “It sure would have, if it hadn’t have been for all them other bullets flyin’ in from everywhere.”

    It doesn’t matter if the sheriff’s badge stops the ὁμοούσιος bullet. There’s still all those other differences in the Mormon Godhead that will get Mormonism booted from historic orthodoxy.

    Though I’m still scratching my head as to why Mormons would even care about being included in orthodoxy at this point. I sure don’t care if Jews want to argue that Christians aren’t Jews or monotheists. I understand where they’re coming from and I accept it.

  104. Jack said:

    There’s no reason why a belief in some form of Christian patriarchy necessitates Trinitarian subordinationism or vice versa.

    That’s why I was surprised when you wrote earlier that a doctrine of subordinationism (which, at least as I use the term, is, in my opinion, Biblical) was somehow resurrected in the debate over male/female roles. I didn’t see a link, although my research has showed me how the issues have, as illogical as it may be, become intertwined. If you ever write about the issue in depth, you’ll have at least me reading it.

    Jack also said:

    Even if we weren’t dealing with the difficulty of what exactly “substance” is and how the Father, Son and Holy Spirit share it, I don’t believe that Mormons could ever accept the Trinity as historic orthodoxy has taught it, for all of the following reasons: [Reasons follow.]

    Well, yeah. If we focus just on the issue of “substance,” that sidetracks us from other issues that go to the nature of God. I don’t know how many of the issues you listed are essential to Mormonism (I don’t agree with all of them), but even so, there are differences that can’t be ignored, particularly if we deal with extrascriptural theology.

    Another thing Jack said:

    I know that the New Testament’s identification of Christ with Wisdom is entirely disregarded by Mormons and largely ignored by other Christians.

    As I’ve studied the Old Testament and have occasionally read the Apocrypha, I have found the subject of personified Wisdom fascinating — sometimes it/she appears to me to refer to the Holy Spirit, sometimes to Christ. I haven’t studied the issue enough to organize my thoughts on it, but I agree that there’s something there that relates to the nature of divinity. Personified Wisdom isn’t simply a metaphor for some kind of knowledge.

  105. I love the movie “Support Your Local Sheriff.”

    James Garner was pretty good co-starring with Mel Gibson in Maverick too as I recall.

  106. Eric ~ I’ll consider blogging about it sometime.

    The book I would recommend on the subject is Who’s Tampering with the Trinity? by Millard J. Erickson, which just came out last year. There is a Google Books preview of this book here.

  107. Gundek,
    Thanks for reminding me that “glory” can also mean “honor.” Actually, that thought did occur to me later in the day. It’s still a powerful verse, however.

    Ms. Jack said, “I infinitely prefer to explain [the Trinity] from the Bible rather than explaining it from Athanasius or Augustine.”

    Great! And your reasons for using extra-biblical texts are fine with me.

    Thanks, Tim, for finally admitting that you do not have a more definitive definition of the element/essence/substance. As Kullervo insinuated, your definition is a non-definition. But I won’t gloat too much.

    Seth R. was right on the money when he said, “It’s not ‘mystery’ I have a problem with. I DO have a problem with using a mystery as the basis for telling another group that ‘you don’t belong.’ You should always be able to coherently explain your grounds for exclusion in my mind.”

    And Tim is guilty with a big “G”.

    Tim asked, “Do you think you can ever be called ‘God’ or ‘god’? Would it be appropriate to give you that title now or some day in the future?

    Wiseguy. It depends on how you define “god.”
    C. S. Lewis said in “Mere Christianity” that God “will make the feeblest and filthiest of us into a god or goddess.”

    Saint Augustine said:
    “But he himself that justifies also deifies, for by justifying he makes sons of God. ‘For he has given them power to become the sons of God’ [John 1:12]. If then we have been made sons of God, we have also been made gods.”
    (If anyone wants the reference on that quotation, I’ll be glad to supply it.)

    The Bible says “we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Rom. 8:37). If this is true now, how much more will it be true when Jesus returns!

    If I’m going down, I’m taking C. S. Lewis and Augustine with me. And I’m taking all Augustine’s writings with me, too!!

  108. Cal ~ We did a discussion on traditional Christian notions of deification v. Mormon exaltation, here.

    The article I wrote on it was re-published at Patheos, here.

    I prefer the Patheos version since I made some minor changes, but the original version has some good discussion.

  109. Cal I wasn’t trying to be a wise guy with my question. You were sounding more Mormon than orthodox in that comment. I’m still not sure what to make of your answer. Can you give me a straight forward answer? Do you mean it the same way Mormons do?

    As far as being unable to define “substance”, I think it’s just as difficult a word to define as “spirit”. Mormons have traditionally denied the existence of anything non-material. Just because I can’t tell you what a spirit is from every angle doesn’t mean that Mormons aren’t outside of orthodoxy on the matter.

    And I’m not excluding anyone from anything. I’m recognizing that we don’t believe the same things. If a Mormon wants to believe as I do they are more than welcome to.

  110. Ms. Jack, thanks. I intend to check out your links.

    Tim, I think this is my answer that you are referring to:
    “I believe ‘glory’ here is another word for the substance. We are given this substance when we enter into unity with the Father, Son, & Spirit. Jesus comes into us. The Father comes into us. The Spirit comes into us.”

    I’m not sure anymore what “glory” means in John 17:22. I thought it meant the presence of God. As you must know, the presence of God enters into you when you are born again into the kingdom of God. Is that straight forward enough?

    You said, “And I’m not excluding anyone from anything.”

    In your judgment the teachings of the Mormon Church—I mean the public teachings outlined in their book Gospel Principles, i.e., what the elders at headquarters want the 13 million Mormons to believe—do not lead to heaven but to hell. Isn’t that right?

  111. Jack said:

    When someone locates a Mormon who:
    … Doesn’t believe that the Son and Spirit are subordinate to the Father …

    Could you explain to me what you mean by “subordinate”?

    To me it seems very clear to me that Jesus was subordinate to his Father (and I’m using the Bible as my source, not any specific LDS teaching). He is pictured in the Bible as seeking to fulfill the will of his Father, not the other way around.

    To me, the idea of Jesus being subordinate to his Heavenly Father seems as biblical as can be — there are references to the concept in both the Gospels and the epistles of Paul, and Jesus himself said that the Father was greater than he was.

    I’m not really trying to make an argument for subordinationism here; for now, I’m just trying to understand what you mean by the term. The fact of Jesus being subordinate to the Father seems so obvious to me that it makes me wonder if you’re using the word differently than I am.

  112. Though I’m still scratching my head as to why Mormons would even care about being included in orthodoxy at this point. I sure don’t care if Jews want to argue that Christians aren’t Jews or monotheists. I understand where they’re coming from and I accept it.

    I feel the same way! I don’t consider Mormonism to be part of orthodox Christianity, at all. Part of the Christianity in general? Yes. Part of the Christianity that has a long history of establishing orthodoxy? Not in the least. I’m pretty sure that is the whole point of the LDS doctrine of the Restoration.

  113. I like mystery because it admits that there’s a lot we do not–and can not–know about god. The more we are sure we can explain exactly what and how god is, I think the less likely we are talking about the real god and the more we are talking about something we just made up.

  114. By the way Tim, I imagine this has to be the most civil conversation between Mormons and Evangelicals involving Ed Decker as a topic ever, in… like… the history of the planet.

    Congratulations.

  115. COMPLETELY TANGENTIAL COMMENT ABOUT TRINITARIAN SUBORDINATIONISM AND THE DEBATE OVER WOMEN & MINISTRY. IF THOSE THINGS DO NOT INTEREST YOU, PLEASE IGNORE.

    Eric ~ I’ll try to break this down as briefly as possible (yes, this long, long comment is really me being “brief” on this).

    In Who’s Tampering With the Trinity?, Erickson describes two different positions within the current evangelical movement. The first he calls “the gradational-authority” view. This means that while the Son has authority, his authority is permanently, necessarily, eternally under that of the Father. He was subordinate to the Father before the world began, he was subordinate to the Father during his earthly mission, and he will be subordinate to the Father for all eternity after the Second Coming. Being subordinate to the Father is part of the nature of who the Son is. This is true of his divine nature as well as his human one (hypostatic union). In turn, the Holy Spirit is subordinate to both the Father and the Son.

    The second is what Erickson calls “the equivalent-authority” view. This means that as far as his divine nature is concerned, the Son’s authority is permanently, necessarily, eternally equal to that of the Father. However, for the purpose of the Messianic mission and the salvation of the world, the Son voluntarily and temporarily assumed a subordinate position for the duration of his earthly ministry. This accounts for key subordinationism proof-texts such as “the Father is greater than I” (John 14:28). But he was equal to God the Father in authority before the creation of the world, and he will be equal to God the Father in authority for the rest of eternity. Being equal in authority to God the Father is part of the nature of who the Son is. (The Spirit is likewise equal in authority to both the Father and the Son.)

    Now, subordinationism has been debated throughout the history of Christianity. However, the people who argued for the subordination of the Son were always groups like the Arians or the Jehovah’s Witnesses who used that subordination to deny the deity of Christ on some level or another. This current debate among evangelical Christians pretty much represents the first time in history where two groups claiming to affirm the ὁμοούσιος of the Father and the Son have debated whether the Son is eternally subordinate to the Father.

    What does this have to do with women in ministry?

    Well, prior to the 1960s, Christian patriarchy had it easy. (I’m using “patriarchy” as a broad term for any system of thought that affirms that men are to be the top leaders in the church and the heads of their households.) It was justified based on appeals to passages like 1 Cor. 14:34-35 and 1 Tim. 2:12 and broad appeals to separate spheres for the sexes—same as it is today. However, it was also commonly justified with appeals to widely-held cultural beliefs that women were inferior to men. Men were fit to have authority over women in both the church and the home because men were more intelligent, more righteous, holier, purer, more rational, and less susceptible to the temptations of Satan.

    The idea that women were inferior to men was certainly becoming less fashionable as the twentieth century progressed, but the 1960s and 1970s accelerated that with the advent of second-wave feminism. Second-wave feminism made it a cultural anathema to deny that women were equal to men. It was no longer acceptable to teach that women could not be preachers because they just aren’t as intelligent, righteous, or rational as men are. Advocates of Christian patriarchy needed a way of affirming women’s equality with men while denying their equivalent authority with men.

    It also wasn’t good enough to say that women are only temporarily subordinate to men as a result of the Fall, just as Christ was only temporarily subordinate to the Father for the purposes of the Incarnation. Christ taught that the last would be first and the first would be last. If patriarchy is the order for this life, then we’re all looking forward to a matriarchy in the next life. The subordination of women needed to be a part of the eternal and created order of the universe. Women were subordinate to men before the Fall and they just might be subordinate to men in the next life (there are differing theories on this latter point).

    And that’s how Trinitarian subordinationism came about. Advocates of patriarchy began teaching that women are equal in essence and personhood to men but subordinate in function just as Christ is equal in essence and personhood to the Father but subordinate in function. This subordination is permanent and necessary, just as Christ’s subordination to the Father is permanent and necessary. It isn’t because women are less righteous or less holy than men, any more than Christ is less righteous or less holy than the Father. It is simply the nature of men to rule and the nature of women to be ruled.

    You would think that the question of subordinationism and the question of women in the Kingdom of God would be separate issues, but the paper trail on this does not lie. This did not become an issue within the evangelical movement until women in ministry became an issue, and the biggest heavyweights in this debate for either position have generally been some of the most outspoken hierarchicalists or egalitarians, respectively.

  116. By the way Tim, I imagine this has to be the most civil conversation between Mormons and Evangelicals involving Ed Decker as a topic ever, in… like… the history of the planet.

    Well, we’re into the 140’s and nobody has mentioned Ed Decker or anything related to him since like the 15th comment.

    We’re having a conversation about the Trinity and Creeds, not about Ed Decker.

  117. Ms. Jack, I really liked your post on the similarities and differences between traditional Christian deification and Mormon exaltation. I also liked your post about evangelicals possibly accepting Joseph Smith as a fallen prophet, or something like that. You think a lot like I do. God’s given you some revelation!

    @everyone:
    I found another way to make the point I’ve been trying make for some time now:
    During the above (civil) conversation God has been called an element, a substance, an essence, a nature, and a being. These are mainly Gundek’s words, and he explained to me that “being” doesn’t mean “person” in the traditional description of the Trinity. In light of that, I think they are all legitimate words.

    Now, 1 John 4:8 says, “God is love.”

    Using pure, elementary logic, I conclude that the element (essence, substance, nature, being) is love.

    Is there anyone who does NOT think that that logical conclusion is sound?

  118. Is there anyone who does NOT think that that logical conclusion is sound?

    Yes, you are confusing predication with attribution.

  119. Hi David.
    I’m not sure what you mean. It seems that within the traditional Trinitarian formula or language, God is a what rather than a person. So I have to stay within the “what” category. (This is fine. I’m not complaining. Using the word “God” in the what category is legitimate.)

  120. Speaking of Ms. Jack, she had asked someone earlier, “Why is the Trinity so hard to understand?”, implying that she understood it.
    So what’s your take on it, Ms. Jack? What do you think Jesus meant when he said, “I and the Father are one?,” or, “If you’ve seen me you’ve seen the Father?”

  121. Cal ~ Well, I didn’t mean to imply that the Trinity isn’t difficult to understand. I don’t know what he’s read on the Trinity, but Seth has read a decent variety of evangelical sources on certain issues, I assume some of which have tried to address the Trinity. So I was wondering what was still so difficult to understand about it given his background.

    I’m not accusing Seth of this, but I sort of dread discussing the Trinity with LDS friends. I’ve encountered a lot of scorn and it genuinely seems to me that some of them don’t want to understand it; they would rather keep sneering about what an incomprehensible mess it is and how their doctrine of God is much clearer (and as my other thread is showing, ha-ha on that last point).

    Anyways, John 10:30. The debate over this passage has generally been over whether this refers only to a unity of purpose or whether there’s a greater ontological unity in view here. Long story short, I think that ontological unity is in view, because I think the passage alludes to the Shema (Deut. 6:4) and the Jews see it as a claim to deity, picking up stones to stone him (John 10:31). When Jesus prays for believers to be one, just as he and the Father are one in chapter 17, I think he’s saying that our unity as believers needs to be modeled on the unity between the persons of the Trinity. Ultimately, I think all of our wholesome human relationships are modeled on the relationships between the persons of the Trinity, even if we can’t share in their ontological oneness.

    John 14:8-11 involves Philip asking for an appearance by God, which echoes Moses asking to see the glory of the Lord and having his request granted (Ex. 33:18; 34:10). Jesus basically says, “Philip, don’t you get it? You’ve already seen God.” I think that it is a Trinitarian formula. Jesus’ deity is in view, as is his ontological oneness with the Father, as is his relationship and divine mission from the Father. He later transfers his divine mission to his disciples in John 17.

    (Sidebar: has anyone else ever heard Mormons claim that this passage means God the Father and Jesus Christ are pretty much identical twins in literal, physical appearance? Is that a regular teaching, or just a goofy theory that some Mormons hold to?)

  122. Re: identical twins:

    Yes, this is a commonly held belief among Mormons. I still hold to it (mainly by default – having been given no particular good reason why I should not hold it).

  123. Are fathers and sons typically identical twins? If this is so it further decreases Heavenly Mother’s contribution. The kid doesn’t even look like her, her spiritual DNA didn’t add to the mix.

  124. Tim, most fathers and sons don’t have scriptures written about them about being in each other’s image either.

  125. Sidebar: has anyone else ever heard Mormons claim that this passage means God the Father and Jesus Christ are pretty much identical twins in literal, physical appearance? Is that a regular teaching, or just a goofy theory that some Mormons hold to?

    I’ve heard that conclusion expressed and believe it is commonly believed, but I’ve never heard that the belief is based on the passage (and it’s not what the passage says anyway).

  126. Tim ~ The kid doesn’t even look like her, her spiritual DNA didn’t add to the mix.

    Not to be a killjoy (your comment made me chuckle, really), but it’s actually Mary’s human DNA that Christ would have had.

    Not that Mary’s DNA effected physical appearance either, apparently . . .

    Eric ~ If the “twins” belief doesn’t come from this passage, any idea where it comes from?

    It’s an old, old memory, but I remember one of my LDS friends from my high school days using this passage to prove that point. I thought it was a strange thing to infer from the passage. Now that I’m married to an identical twin, I find it even more bizarre. There is no way I would tell you that you’ve seen John in Afghanistan just because you’ve seen Paul in Illinois.

    I’ve never seen it as something worth fussing over though. I don’t even see the Bible’s use of “image” as referring to physical appearance, so it just strikes me as one of those places where the LDS-Evangelical paradigms are so different, it’s hard to see it the way someone else does.

  127. In the temple video, I think that Heavenly Father and Jesus look the same. Based on that, and nothing else, I think I always assumed the same.

    Not that I would hold to it with a rigidness that if I found out otherwise it would shake my faith even a little. But it would be like, ‘oh! haha–the temple video must have given me that idea, and isn’t it interesting how subtly media can influence us!’

  128. Jack said:

    If the “twins” belief doesn’t come from this passage, any idea where it comes from?

    I’ve always assumed it came from one of the First Vision accounts (not the canonized one) where Joseph Smith says that “[a]nother personage soon appeared like unto the first.”

    It’s very possible that the belief comes from aforementioned passage; I’ve just never heard that connection before (and every once in a while it surprises what I haven’t heard said before).

    If there’s a scriptural basis for the belief, I’d assume it would be from Hebrews 1:3, although I haven’t heard that idea expressed (pun intended) either. Bruce McConkie may have alluded to Hebrews when he said in his New Testament commentary: “The Father begets; the Son is begotten; they are Parent and Child; Sire and Son look alike, so much so that they are the express image of each other’s persons.”

    I do know that all the artwork I’ve seen of the First Vision shows the Father and Son looking very similar if not identical. And, as Katy said, they look alike in the temple film. So even if this belief isn’t officially taught, it’s reinforced by the Church’s visual representations.

    To me, though, the idea doesn’t make sense. Presumably, Jesus would have had Mary’s genetic material. I’ve certainly never heard the claim made that we’re talking about male parthenogenesis here.

  129. I’ve noticed LDS Artist always make Joseph Smith and Jesus seem like twins as well. Maybe they just know how to draw one face.

  130. Very funny, Tim.

    If Ms. Jack cares to answer more questions, I have more:

    Have you ever read the Book of Mormon? If so, what’s your opinion of it? . . . or better yet, have you sensed the Spirit of God telling you anything about it?

    Have you noticed that Mormon and evangelical beliefs appear more at odds with each other when the two parties are arguing than when you hear them expressed totally outside the context of a comparison?

    Would you say 70-80% of Mormon doctrine agrees with evangelical beliefs?

  131. Gundek or whoever wants to answer:
    In Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words I found something that apparently backs up what you and others have been trying to tell me. It distinguishes two Greek words from each other. It says one word indicates the divine essence of Godhood, the personality of God (used in Colossians 2:9); and the other indicates the attributes of God, his divine nature and properties.
    Is this what you were talking about?
    I’m trying to understand it. Would this be a good analogy: My wife is merciful (an attribute of her nature) but she is made up of living cells (her essence).

  132. Gundek’s not showing up. Oh, well, I’ll cap off my thoughts even if it amounts to personal journaling. 🙂

    Thanks to Gundek’s challenge of my viewpoint, and God’s willingness to share his wisdom, my thinking has progressed a little more. I discovered for the first time that the context of Colossians 2:9 (“in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives,” NIV) proves that the Deity (essence of God) is not only in Christ but also in those who are in Christ.

    The Amplified Version of Col. 2:9-10 goes like this:
    “For in Him the whole fullness of Deity (the Godhead), continues to dwell in bodily form—giving complete expression of the divine nature. And you are in Him, made full and have come to fullness of life—in Christ you too are filled with the Godhead: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and reach full spiritual stature.”

    My point is that the essence of God does not need to be mysterious. To the extent that we as believers in Christ are aware of the Godhead in us—the power & peace of the Spirit—we are also aware of what the essence of God is. Being aware of what the essence of God is, makes us qualified by God to judge whether the LDS teaches the oneness of the Trinity.”

    All glory and praise to the Lord Jesus.

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