I Agree with Moroni 8:18

Do Evangelicals just misunderstand Moroni 8:18 or was Moroni’s teaching just an “imagining” on the nature of God?

Though the King Follett Discourse is not canonical it seems Mormons have embraced its teachings on the nature of God more than the Book of Mormon’s.

Thoughts?

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89 thoughts on “I Agree with Moroni 8:18

  1. I realize that this is not necessarily going to cause a faithful Mormon to bat an eye, but I know for me it was a major blow to my remaining faith in Mormonism when I realized that the evolution of Mormon doctrine looked a lot more like Joseph Smith was making things up as he went along than God revealing newer and deeper truths over time.

  2. Tim: small correction: Moroni 8:18 is Mormon’s teaching in a letter to his son Moroni.

    “Though the King Follett Discourse is not canonical it seems Mormons have embraced its teachings on the nature of God more than the Book of Mormon’s.”

    I don’t think the BoM really addresses the nature of God, at least not directly. The King Follet discourse, on the other hand, directly addresses that topic.

    By analogy, this reminds me of the very weak argument Mormons make against Trinitarianism by citing John 1:32 (or Mark 1:10, etc.) as proof that God is three separate beings. Those verses aren’t about the nature of God, so anything we infer from them is a rather indirect—and therefore very open to interpretation—argument.

  3. Yes, you are correct. Mormon’s teaching.

    I must say that I’m not prone to “quote a Bible verse”. In context, this verse seems to be a non sequitor. I’m not sure how we can know that children don’t need to be baptized because God is unchanging and everlasting.

  4. To echo some of what BrianJ said: In context, I don’t think that Moroni 8:18 is talking about the ontological nature of God at all. It does seem to be saying, however, that God is by nature merciful and as such won’t hold children responsible for the sins of their ancestors.

    I do disagree with BrianJ to some extent, though, as I think Alma 11 does speak fairly directly to the nature of God when it apparently affirms the teaching of Amulek that “Christ the Son, and God the Father, and the Holy Spirit … is one Eternal God” and that the “Son of God … is the very Eternal Father of heaven and of earth, and all things which in them are; he is the beginning and the end, the first and the last.”

    With that I fully agree.

  5. Only a chapter earlier we have Moroni 7:22, which speaks of God “God knowing all things, being from everlasting to everlasting…”

  6. Tim: I also don’t follow Mormon’s logic, but verse 18 isn’t entirely a non sequitur because he introduces that language in verse 12:

    But little children are alive in Christ, even from the foundation of the world; if not so, God is a partial God, and also a changeable God, and a respecter to persons; for how many little children have died without baptism!

    Which is not to say that Mormon’s logic is flawed, just that his explanation is incomplete here. I think I’ll poke around a bit and see if I can find a good explication of that.

    Eric: Alma 11 still doesn’t really get at what God is. Is God the same species as man? is the Father of the same substance as the Son? etc.?That is what I mean about the BoM not really addressing the nature of God anywhere close to the same degree or the same frankness as the King Follet discourse.

  7. Kullervo said, “the evolution of Mormon doctrine looked a lot more like Joseph Smith was making things up as he went along than God revealing newer and deeper truths over time.”

    Seems to me that Joseph was getting deep truths for quite a while but unfortunately fell away from God to a certain extent and lost the connection. The line went buzzzzzzzz.

    But as with King David, it would be a mistake to throw away everything he ever said and did because he messed up–in Joseph’s case, apparently backsliding during the last 10(?) years of his life.

    ——
    Eric said, “I think Alma 11 does speak fairly directly to the nature of God when it . . . [says] that ‘Christ the Son, and God the Father, and the Holy Spirit … is one Eternal God.'”

    Yes.

  8. BrianJ said:

    That is what I mean about the BoM not really addressing the nature of God anywhere close to the same degree or the same frankness as the King Follet discourse.

    I’ll grant that, but the King Follet Discourse — even if accepted at face value rather than as speculation — still raises more questions than answers.

    We’re told, for example, that God is an exalted man, but we’re not told if he has always been such or if, apparently like Christ, he was God before he became man. We are told he is a self-existent being, but then we’re told he’s not merely a self-existent being. We’re told he’s an eternal being, yet it’s suggested that his eternal nature isn’t much different than humankind’s eternal nature.

    So while the KFD may go into some detail that isn’t present in the Book of Mormon or the Bible, I’m not sure how clear that detail is once you start analyzing it closely. To paraphrase what you said, I’m not sure that the KFD does much more to say what God is than the Bible does, other than that he’s both spiritual and corporeal.

    But it’s an fascinating sermon nonetheless.

  9. Eric: yes, I think we’re seeing things along the same lines now. I probably should have put it is thusly:

    Can a Trinitarian agree with the BoM statements about God and Christ? Yup, (probably) every last one of them.

    Can a Trinitarian agree with the KFD statements about God and Christ? {ack!} {cough!} Are you outta your mind?!

    So how is it that the BoM gets away with it, but the KFD does not? Because the BoM doesn’t really “get into it” like the KFD.

    And yes, in the end the KFD comes nowhere close to answering all the really good questions. It’s main value (as far as this topic), I think, is not that it clearly paints a picture of what God is, but rather it shows what God is not (i.e., a classic Trinity).

  10. “By these things we know that there is a God in heaven, who is infinite and eternal, from everlasting to everlasting the same unchangeable God…” (D&C 20:17)

    Would Mormons here say D&C 20:17 really wasn’t intended to speak to the nature of God?

  11. Aaron said this on Facebook and I thought it cut through a lot of issues related to this.

    One of the biggest barriers to understanding the Book of Mormon is Mormonism. If you try to read the Book of Mormon like a folk Christian restorationist of 1830, it makes a lot more sense.

  12. Aaron S asked:

    Would Mormons here say D&C 20:17 really wasn’t intended to speak to the nature of God?

    I wouldn’t say that at all.

    Aaron S also apparently said:

    One of the biggest barriers to understanding the Book of Mormon is Mormonism. If you try to read the Book of Mormon like a folk Christian restorationist of 1830, it makes a lot more sense.

    For some reason, the people I go to church with every Sunday don’t seem to have much of a problem understanding the Book of Mormon.

  13. So Eric, does the KFD disagree with Moroni 8:18 and D&C 20:17, or do all three of them agree? If so, how so? If not, which position is the official position of the LDS?

  14. I think Moroni 8:18 may not be able to build a great case against eternal progression, but as has been pointed out, it does make a case for God’s character being consistent throughout eternity. So this might be an excellent verse to clarify if God might have ever once been a sinner.

  15. Meh…

    I think it’s a real stretch to read Moroni 8:18 as making a statement of neoplatonist ontology.

    All it’s saying is that God keeps his covenant promises.

    Same as the Old Testament.

    If you want to dump Plato on all of that, be my guest, I guess.

    But don’t expect me to go along with you.

  16. What’s funny about that comment Seth is that in the KFD Smith tries to claim that his is the logical conclusion.

  17. Eric,

    Could you please explain to me what you mean by, “For some reason, the people I go to church with every Sunday don’t seem to have much of a problem understanding the Book of Mormon.”

    Is the average LDS member able to parse the sentences and make sense of the word meanings and grammar? Yes, but that’s a very low bar for understanding.

    Is the average LDS member able to apply the Book of Mormon to their daily lives? Yes, they can do that too. However, it usually is an extended exercise in eisegesis. However, that’s a very low bar for understanding because you can eisegete any text to make it apply to you. And I do many ANY text. I also think this is what Aaron is getting at by saying Mormonism is the biggest barrier to understanding the Book of Mormon. Reading in modern Mormonism to some passages makes other passages harder to understand. Also, eisegesis from modern Mormonism makes some very essential things impossible to understand in the Book of Mormon. The Book of Mormon actually spends a lot of time on the concepts of conversion, preaching, authority, the nature of God, grace, repentance, etc.. However, in any of those cases the modern Mormon misses what the text is really trying to say and achieves only a partial understanding because eisegesis of modern Mormonism obscures the rest.

    For me the gold standard of understanding a text is simple, Can you read the text in its proper context? I have never seen a member of the church be able to do that. In fact the church makes it impossible to do that. By insisting the Book of Mormon takes place in ancient America, all attempts at understanding the text become extended exercises in shoe-horning the text into its purported context. Ironically, those who do this end up ignoring large swaths of the text and bend the meaning of other parts beyond recognition. And I have to insist that this is not because we are so ignorant of mesoamerican archaeology here. The problem is that we actually know a great deal about it now and the text simply doesn’t fit the context, at least not without doing violence to the text.

    The text best fits the context of early 19th century religious movements and ideas. When you read it in that context, the text tends to cohere and make sense. But, this option is not available to the LDS reader because doing so destroys one of the foundations of the LDS church, namely that Joseph could translate ancient text.

    There does seem to be a middle ground that has developed among the Mormon intelligentsia in the various “expansion theories” which posit that Joseph was translating while simultaneously expanding the text according to the revelation he was receiving. However, these theories exist for only one purpose, to allow LDS readers to read at least parts of the book as a 19th century production, while still saying it’s ancient to avoid the ire of the LDS authorities.

    The irony is that the Mormon intelligentsia, with the various expansion theories, have pretty much conceded the argument the critics have made since the beginning, that the BofM is a 19th century work. Both agree that at least some of the work is not ancient, the only argument is what percentage is.

  18. I think Moroni 8:18 may not be able to build a great case against eternal progression, but as has been pointed out, it does make a case for God’s character being consistent throughout eternity. So this might be an excellent verse to clarify if God might have ever once been a sinner.

    As a faithful Mormon, I did not believe that God had once been a sinner. I believed that God the Father had once been the savior of his world, the way Jesus is the savior of ours. And I believed that although we would one day be “gods,” we would be subordinate to Jesus Christ in some fashion.

    I read or heard somewhere that Jesus was not only the savior of our world, but of all the worlds, including other worlds with human beings on them.

    So my theory was, in the next “cycle” or whatever, the next eternal generation, Jesus would be the “Heavenly Father” of the main/prime world, where his only begotten son would be sacrificed like he was for the sins of the universe.

    We would gods, but not exactly like Heavenly Father, since we wouldn’t be sending our only begotten sons to atone for anything. Our worlds would be saved by Jesus’s son. The precise details of our relationship as gods with the humans on these other worlds was for the moment, an interesting speculation but ultimately an unimportant tangent.

  19. Responding to Moroni 7:22 and D&C 20:17 –

    As far as I’m concerned, being eternal and everlasting is a state you can enter into.

    Once you attain theosis – BANG – you’re now “everlasting” and “eternal.”

    Congratulations!

  20. For me the gold standard of understanding a text is simple, Can you read the text in its proper context? I have never seen a member of the church be able to do that. In fact the church makes it impossible to do that. By insisting the Book of Mormon takes place in ancient America, all attempts at understanding the text become extended exercises in shoe-horning the text into its purported context.

    As a declared agnostic on the ancient origins of the BOM, I have to admit, this is a compelling point.

  21. Seth here is the passage I was referring to. You can make of it whatever you want but it looks like to me that Smith is making an argument based on the nature of an infinite.

    We say that God himself is a self-existing God. Who told you so? It is correct enough, but how did it get into your heads? Who told you that man did not exist in like manner upon the same principles? (Refers to the old Bible.) How does it read in the Hebrew? It doesn’t say so in the Hebrew; it says God made man out of the earth and put into him Adam’s spirit, and so he became a living body.

    The mind of man is as immortal as God himself. I know that my testimony is true; hence, when I talk to these mourners, what have they lost? Their friends and relatives are separated from their bodies for only a short season; their spirits existed coequal with God, and they now exist in a place where they converse together, the same as we do on the earth. Is it logic to say that a spirit is immortal and yet has a beginning? Because if a spirit has a beginning, it will have an end. That is good logic. I want to reason further on the spirit of man, for I am dwelling on the spirit and body of man–on the subject of the dead. I take my ring from my finger and liken it unto the mind of man, the immortal spirit, because it has no beginning. Suppose I cut it in two; as the Lord lives, because it has a beginning, it would have an end. All the fools and learned and wise men from the beginning of creation who say that man had a beginning prove that he must have an end. If that were so, the doctrine of annihilation would be true. But if I am right, I might with boldness proclaim from the house tops that God never did have power to create the spirit of man at all. God himself could not create himself. Intelligence exists upon a self-existent principle; it is a spirit from age to age, and there is no creation about it. Moreover, all the spirits that God ever sent into the world are susceptible to enlargement.

  22. Katie, part of the problem there is that with the Bible, we can get into an analysis of what the original Greek and Hebrew words meant.

    How are we supposed to do that here?

    The words “eternal” and “everlasting” could mean a lot of things in a pre-Columbian linguistic context.

    I disagree with David’s remark that the only difference between an LDS “intelligentsia” and Aaron S. here is the percentage of the Book of Mormon they think was a product of the 19th century.

    Most “intelligentsia” I have encountered (if you want to label them that way) believe that the Book of Mormon is of ancient origin – but with a layer of 19th century language spread over the top of it. Something that Aaron rejects.

    It’s a quite different view of the book, and not a matter of mere “percentages.”

  23. Once you attain theosis – BANG – you’re now “everlasting” and “eternal.”

    Did you convert to Eastern Orthodoxy or do you now accept what they mean by theosis, contra what Mormons think happens in the afterlife? If not, your use of “theosis” is not helpful.

    Also, the fact that you have to put scare quotes around “everlasting” and “eternal” simply proves the point that modern Mormons can’t actually deal with the BofM text as it is. “Everlasting” and “eternal” can’t mean what they are commonly accepted to mean, and what they meant to the saints who read the BofM pre-Nauvoo. Otherwise, you could just write those two words and we could use the commonly accepted definitions for those words.

  24. Sure Tim.

    But I don’t see how this sheds much light on Moroni 8:18.

    Joseph Smith wasn’t the author of Moroni 8:18.

    Moroni was.

  25. It’s a quite different view of the book, and not a matter of mere “percentages.”

    No, it is a matter of percentages. Every critic does concede that a substantial percentage of the BofM is ancient in origin. Every time you see large swaths of Isaiah, Malachi, and Matthew quoted verbatim, the critic will readily concede that those parts are ancient in origin.

  26. If not, your use of “theosis” is not helpful.

    THANK YOU.

    Please use the word “exaltation” if that’s what you mean. Because theosis is closer to the Protestant word “glorification” than the Mormon word “exaltation”.

  27. David, I do not accept that the word “theosis” belongs solely to the Eastern Orthodox any more than I accept that the word “Christian” belongs to James White.

    So no, I don’t have a problem pirating and useful term for our own purposes. Not something I lose sleep over in the slightest.

    And if it muddies the waters, well, that’s just too darn bad.

    Because the waters NEED to be muddied in this instance.

  28. Sorry guys; words have multiple overlapping meanings that evolve over time. Welcome to human language. You don’t have to like it, but your dislike won’t ever change it.

  29. I’ll remember that next time I go to my Mormon church and have Jack administer her Melchizedek priesthood ordinances in the Celestial Room.

    There’s a difference between using a word that has multiple meanings and intentionally co-opting a word so as to create confusion. Seth knows what “theosis” means. He’s using it in an attempt to make the Mormon doctrine of exaltation to appear to have a long standing in Christian orthodoxy. It’s intellectually dishonest and Seth knows better.

    Seth you’re a proud Mormon. Why do you care if you appear to be within apostate orthodoxy or not? Embrace exaltation. Don’t cowardly try to sneak it in as “theosis”.

  30. “but with a layer of 19th century language spread over the top of it. Something that Aaron rejects.”

    Less like peanut butter on bread and more like a scoop of peanut butter on a spoon.

  31. For me the gold standard of understanding a text is simple, Can you read the text in its proper context? I have never seen a member of the church be able to do that. In fact the church makes it impossible to do that. By insisting the Book of Mormon takes place in ancient America, all attempts at understanding the text become extended exercises in shoe-horning the text into its purported context.

    My understanding is that this is a big reason for why academia mostly ignores the BoM. It should be treated as a 19th-century work and understood in that context, except for all of the people, many of whom are themselves in academia, who insist that it is an ancient Mediterranean/Mesoamerican work.

    Dealing with that controversy is a big barrier of entry for the academic who is not somehow personally invested.

  32. Cal asked:

    So Eric, does the KFD disagree with Moroni 8:18 and D&C 20:17, or do all three of them agree? If so, how so? If not, which position is the official position of the LDS?

    I’m not going to deal here with Moroni 8:18, because I believe that in terms of Aaron’s campaign it’s being taken out of context. As Tim said above, in the context Moroni 8:18 deals with God’s character, rather than the nature of his existence.

    But I can deal with D&C 20:17, which, to answer your question, is the official position of the Church. I don’t know of a plausible way to argue otherwise.

    As to whether that contradicts the King Follett Discourse, I don’t know and I don’t really care. The discourse, of which we have no reliable transcript, was never presented as revelation, and it has never been canonized. I don’t know how much Joseph Smith was speculating and how much he was presenting as what he saw as established fact. And there are plenty of questions that remain unanswered. I wish he could have fleshed out his thoughts a bit more, but he didn’t.

    Could the KFD be consistent with D&C 20:17 or Aaron’s out-of-context interpretation of Moroni 8:18? Perhaps. Protestants don’t seem to have any difficulty believing that the Second Person of the Trinity once had no body, then had a mortal body and now has a glorified body — and at the same time believing that God is the same yesterday, today and forever, or of affirming that God is unchangeable.

    Religious belief is full of paradoxes, this may just be one of them.

    David Clark — I may respond to you more thoroughly later on, but basically I don’t think Mormons are as stupid as you seem to think they are.

  33. Tim, the orthodox don’t have copyright on theosis.

    Our doctrine is highly similar to theirs other than the idea that we become god by nature as opposed to merely participating in him.

    I don’t see any problem with Mormons using the word in informed company.

    Believe me – in uninformed company, I don’t really use the word – because neither the Mormons NOR the Protestants would know what the heck I was talking about. In informed company, I almost always freely acknowledge that we have fundamental differences of opinion with the Orthodox whenever theosis comes up. So you can save the charges of dishonesty.

    It’s a useful term that invokes a deep history of scriptural analysis and support that can just as easily be used by Mormons. You’d better believe I’m going to use it.

    As for the King Follett Discourse, I’m still not seeing what it has to do with the question of taking Moroni 8:18 in or out of context. Tim’s quote didn’t really illuminate much for me.

  34. Eric, Tim said, “it does make a case for God’s character being consistent throughout eternity.”

    That is not something Mormonism traditionally as an institution and culture and general theological worldview affirms. This comes back to the issue of the cold-hearted neo-orthodox dismissal of mainstream Mormonism’s existence (out of sight, out of mind; if we stop acknowledging their theology we won’t have to address and defend their general positions), and whether “Mormonism” and “the official position of the Church” should be merely thought of in terms of the original meaning of its canon.

    Modern Mormonism leaves open the question of whether God the Father’s character has always been consistent.

    But if you asked a Mormon in 1830 to read Moroni 7:22, 8:18, D&C 20:17, and D&C 76:4 (and a few years later, the third Lecture on Faith[1]), do you really think you’d get an “I don’t know” answer to the question, “Was God always of the same character?”

    [1] Lecture 3 of the Lectures on Faith taught, “A correct idea of his character, perfections and attributes” is “necessary, in order that any rational and intelligent being may exercise faith in God unto life and salvation.” It goes on to quote the word of God, Psalm 90:2, “Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, you are God.” The lecture then goes on to say that “he changes not, neither is there variableness with him; but that he is the same from everlasting to everlasting, being the same yesterday to-day and forever; and that his course is one eternal round, without variation.”

  35. I wrote this a few years ago:

    If you’re a Mormon and you want to know what evangelicalism teaches, then you shouldn’t read the Bible. You should read what evangelicals write about theology, including what they say about the Bible. If you’re an evangelical and you want to know what modern Mormonism teaches, don’t read their Standard Works. Read what institutional Mormon leaders write about theology, including what they write about their Standard Works. We must not naively assume that any given religion is functionally equivalent to the original meaning of its historical canon.

  36. David Clark — I may respond to you more thoroughly later on, but basically I don’t think Mormons are as stupid as you seem to think they are.

    Good, maybe you can then explain how stupid I think Mormons are, I’m pretty clueless about how I think Mormons are stupid. Thankfully, I have you to show me my true thoughts and intentions.

  37. Actually Aaron, for the purpose of finding out what you believe, I think my time would be better spent reading Calvin’s commentaries than the Bible.

    The Bible, alas, seems to be open to a lot of interpretation. So going there might not work out so well.

  38. Tim.

    Probably because I haven’t studied “glorification” much. But I have done a bit of reading on “theosis.” So I can’t help you much there.

  39. You’re quite mistaken Aaron if you think that was mere snark.

    I was dead serious.

    I think I’d learn more about YOUR theology by reading Calvin than I would by reading the Bible.

    So I really don’t think you have any room to talk about simple sources of theology here at all.

  40. This comes back to the issue of the cold-hearted neo-orthodox dismissal of mainstream Mormonism’s existence (out of sight, out of mind; if we stop acknowledging their theology we won’t have to address and defend their general positions), and whether “Mormonism” and “the official position of the Church” should be merely thought of in terms of the original meaning of its canon.

    In my mind, this is much less about any sort of cold-hearted neo-orthodox dismissal of mainstream Mormonism’s existence, and more about the fact, again, that there is no “mainstream” Mormon position — especially when it comes to the issue of the taxonomy of God.

    Call this a fault with Mormonism all you want — and some days I’m inclined to agree with you — but it’s just the way things are. Mormonism is much easier to deal with when you accept this fact and stop trying to make it fit into a neat little theological box.

  41. Katie, part of the problem there is that with the Bible, we can get into an analysis of what the original Greek and Hebrew words meant.

    How are we supposed to do that here?

    The words “eternal” and “everlasting” could mean a lot of things in a pre-Columbian linguistic context.

    I think this was David’s point. As long as we insist that “eternal” and “everlasting” were used in a pre-Columbian linguistic context — that the BOM is of literal ancient origin — we won’t be able to examine it in its more likely historical context, and the text will necessarily remain somewhat obscure to us.

    (Note that I said “more likely” — again, I am agnostic on the actual origins of the BOM. I do not rule out that it could be ancient, but at times it seems like quite a stretch to me.)

    In the end I’m okay with that, because honestly, I’m not all that invested in it being literally true. God has spoken to me through the Book of Mormon so, barring a few reservations, however it got here is basically all right with me.

  42. “So I really don’t think you have any room to talk about simple sources of theology here at all.”

    Umm, maybe you missed the part where I said: “If you’re a Mormon and you want to know what evangelicalism teaches, then you shouldn’t read the Bible. You should read what evangelicals write about theology, including what they say about the Bible.”

    “there is no ‘mainstream’ Mormon position”

    I disagree. While I agree that there is no “official and binding Mormonism” in the end, and only interpretative traditions, etc., we can still make generalizations about institutional, cultural, and traditional teachings. I think it’s meaningful to talk about “mainstream Mormon positions” such as: historicity of the Book of Mormon, exclusive priesthood authority, eternal progression unto full Godhood, etc. It’s not the language of stereotype, but of generalization.

  43. “Mormonism is much easier to deal with when you accept this fact and stop trying to make it fit into a neat little theological box.”

    Katie, there’s where I think you are conflating stereotype with generalization. I totally agree that Mormonism can’t be put in a box, but generalizations are still helpful and even necessary. You shouldn’t feel bad for telling a neighbor, “Mormons believe that the Book of Mormon is inspired scripture, a translation of an ancient set of plates.”

    If Seth was denying the Book of Mormon’s basic historicity, and also denying that the Book of Mormon was inspired, I’d likewise tell him that such a position was the mainstream Mormon position—even though Mormonism can’t be stereotyped and has its share of Sunstoners.

  44. “I’d likewise tell him that such a position was NOT the mainstream Mormon position”, that is

  45. That might be true, Aaron. I guess when I read the word “mainstream” it translated in my head as “official and binding.” But yes, there are certainly mainstream positions, if by mainstream you mean the position held by a majority of faithful, active Mormons.

    I don’t know that the intelligentsia ignores the mainstream’s existence, though. I just think they think it’s wrong. Not too unlike the intelligentsia in many cultural and faith traditions. 🙂

  46. Let me intensify/exaggerate things for a moment for the sake of the point: Imagine you are in a room with a dozen people deeply, negatively, emotionally, spiritually impacted by Kimball’s Miracle of Forgiveness, and you are the only Mormon who outright rejects the book and understands that the real repentance that brings forgiveness is not so perfectionistic, but immediately available and more of a simple, imperfect change of heart-orientation (which doesn’t guarantee the sin won’t be committed again).

    Now imagine that an evangelical walks in the room and, with a sense of spiritual compassion and zeal for the gospel, starts engaging the theological orientation of the dozen Kimball-infected Mormons, and you chime up and totally distract the evangelicals from the Kimballite theology and instead get them to interact with Stephen Robinson’s theology as though it is somehow more representative of the religion you are in.

    That ends up being cruel. It defends a version of Mormonism at the expense of dealing—with integrity and openness—with the stark reality of the common Mormon individuals.

    So it’s great that some Mormons here reject traditional Lorenzo Snow couplet theology, and positively affirm that God was always God and never had a change in character (being consistent with Moroni 8:18). But if the elephant in the room—the existence of mainstream Mormonism—-isn’t explicitly and openly addressed, then I think it’s a part of cold-heartedness that Jesus wants no part of.

    “I don’t know that the intelligentsia ignores the mainstream’s existence” — Not outright and always, but to a large degree I think they do. I would, from the bottom of my heart, challenge you to make this a theme of observation as you watch the neo-orthodox Mormons engage with evangelicals.

    I guess part of what I desire so much is that neo-orthodox Mormons show that they really love their fellow Mormons by engaging in a serious and open social activism for reformation within their community, even if that takes making the Church institution not look as reliable as is commonly assumed.

  47. Thanks, Eric.

    A comforting fact for Mormons: There is no verse in the Bible that I’m aware of that says you have to know that God was never a man like us in order to become a Christian.

    The comforting fact for Trinitarians is that you don’t have to completely understand the Trinity to be a Christian. All you have to do is surrender your life to Jesus, make sure he’s living in you, and continue to follow him as your Lord. (I hope you’ve all done that.)

  48. Aaron, the ONLY downside in your scenario is that the Evangelical doesn’t get some new converts.

    That’s really the only downside I see here.

    If the Mormons in the room have their eyes opened to Robinson and it makes them happy, then the only person in the room who lost out is the Evangelical who didn’t get a chance to put a couple more notches in his belt.

  49. Aaron, as someone who was emotionally and spiritually damaged by The Miracle of Forgiveness your point is well-taken.

    But consider my story…

    I’d been familiar with evangelical positions on grace and forgiveness for years — literally years — and never considered them. It wasn’t until I read Stephen Robinson and Robert Millet that I began to believe that maybe, just maybe, there was grace for me, too.

    I refused to listen to the outsider. I would only listen to the insider.

    I’m not saying that’s a good thing. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing. I’m saying it’s a human thing. God knew that, so He reached me, not through evangelicals, but through the so-called neo-orthodox Mormons who “coldly reject” the mainstream.

    And as someone who struggles with extreme anxiety and perfectionism I tell you sincerely, Aaron, that God saved my life this way. That’s why I’m not so quick to dismiss their (the neo-orthodox’s) methods.

    I guess part of what I desire so much is that neo-orthodox Mormons show that they really love their fellow Mormons by engaging in a serious and open social activism for reformation within their community, even if that takes making the Church institution not look as reliable as is commonly assumed.

    But Aaron, I think what you see, to a large extent, is serious and open social activism for reform. You can’t carry a big stick in Mormonism and be effective. It just isn’t done. Call it a fault with Mormonism if you will, but it’s the way it is. Sometimes there is wisdom in accepting what you cannot change and working within it.

    To be honest, this is one big reason why I stay Mormon. I reject many of what you call “mainstream” LDS positions on the nature of God. I am closer to traditional Christianity in many of my beliefs.

    But I love, love, LOVE my people. So much that it’s difficult to express. And I recognize that there are others in my faith community who are like me, struggling against an unnecessarily painful yoke. People who simply won’t consider an outside view. But if I can make a loving comment in Relief Society or Sunday School, if I can ask a poignant question, if I can be a loving and gracious influence in my ward, working side by side with them at service projects and weekly activities, then perhaps I can bring Christ’s message of love and grace to people who would never have considered it otherwise.

    Because there are ways to phrase it in Mormon terms. It is not antithetical to Mormon beliefs. Thank God! And so, out of love, that is what I will do.

    It might mean I have to tread softer. It might mean I have to keep some of my “unorthodox” theological positions to myself.

    So be it.

    There is room for all kinds of approaches. God reaches His children however they’ll hear Him.

  50. If the Mormons in the room have their eyes opened to Robinson and it makes them happy, then the only person in the room who lost out is the Evangelical who didn’t get a chance to put a couple more notches in his belt.

    Or, you know, lead God’s children toward salvation from eternal damnation, depending on your perspective.

  51. If the Mormons in the room have their eyes opened to Robinson and it makes them happy, then the only person in the room who lost out is the Evangelical who didn’t get a chance to put a couple more notches in his belt.

    Yeah, because LDS missionary efforts are never centered on statistics or numbers. On my mission I was never once asked about how many discussions I taught that week, how many people I had baptized, how many men I was teaching vs. how many women, how many of my investigators attended church, how many people had committed to baptism, how many hours I worked, how many Books of Mormon I gave out. And I was certainly never asked to submit paperwork on actual baptisms, in triplicate.

    Yep, we didn’t do any of that because both the church and my mission presidents were very concerned and never wanted us to think of numbers as equating to “notches in our belts.” Yep, I’m eternally grateful that never happened.

  52. Katie, thanks much for your comment. I wouldn’t doubt that Robinson was a transformative breath of fresh air for you. As an evangelical I can see how God can use Mormon neo-orthodoxy mightily for gospel-purposes.

    The problem I have with neo-orthodoxy is the rampant lack of integrity in methods, of not openly engaging the actual institutional and traditional sources of false teaching which bred and fostered perfectionism, etc., in the first place.

    What I’m saying is this: neo-orthodoxy in the end is cruel and lacks integrity, and yet God still uses it for good. That doesn’t mean we should give neo-orthodoxy a free pass. It just means we should thank God for using sin-ridden methods for gracious purposes. I THANK GOD that he has used neo-orthodoxy in my friends’ lives.

    What you call “carrying a big stick” I call, for example, “being open and honest enough to admit and teach that books currently promoted in the Church Distribution Center contain grossly false teachings that are massively misleading and spiritually destructive.”

    We can’t “play God” by trying to do things that seem more effective, yet lack honesty and integrity. We should do things God’s way, even though God has a way of using things that aren’t his way.

    I really do empathize with your plight. I have a lot of real affection for you and where you are at. God has grown that affection in me over the years.

    But I’m calling for honesty and integrity here. If you can’t do that in Mormonism, you probably shouldn’t be Mormon, you know? And it happens, neo-orthodox Mormons leave. I know some of them by name (if you visit SLC, please let me arrange a lunch or dinner so you can meet them!). They realize that to live with integrity and open honesty about the status quo of Mormonism at large, they have to leave. When it comes to the gospel, Paul among others doesn’t leave room for playing around (see Galatians 1:6-9).

    The gospel involves the passionate, protective love of Jesus for his bride, his sheep. When wolves abuse and manipulate the sheep, the heart of a believer gets jealous, and passionate, and outraged, and heart-broken. When you know the Bride or the sheep are being molested, you don’t play it cool. You don’t take it bending over. You fight and contend for the truth like a husband or shepherd fights to protect the honor and well-being of his beloved bride and sheep.

    He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. (John 21:17)

  53. David, I spent the last three months of my own mission pretty much devoted to keeping my interfering Zone Leaders out of my District who were after exactly that – notches in their belts.

    I had three baptisms lined up in that area. All were going just fine, except that they were not fast enough for my ZLs. They wanted the baptisms to happen on THEIR watch. Their stats… all that stuff. They kept trying to arrange for them to come visit my area and try and pressure my people into speeding up the date.

    I devoted myself to keeping them out of my area, and preventing them from messing things up.

    Believe me, I have no sympathy for trophy hunters – whether they wear an LDS nametag, or blog at Mormon Coffee.

  54. I don’t think Protestant missionaries are anywhere near as numbers-oriented or “quick conversion”-oriented as Mormon missionaries are.

  55. “‘Theosis’ is really a fairly technical term that ought to be reserved for the Eastern Orthodox theologians beginning about the 5th century.” ~ Blake Ostler, March 14, 2009

    Why is his opinion relevant?

  56. Why is his opinion relevant?

    Because in this one instance he agrees with me. Otherwise, your are correct, his opinion is irrelevant.

  57. Because he’s a Mormon and a theologian. I’m just demonstrating that it’s not like Protestants are the only ones who think “theosis” is improperly applied to non-Eastern-Orthodox traditions.

    Mormons have a perfectly sound technical term for what they believe in this area. I don’t see a good reason to confuse the issue by trying to commandeer “theosis.”

  58. Ostler is also someone Seth respects.

    Seth I think you’re being incredibly uncharitable to Aaron. I’ve never heard him take credit for a conversion. Perhaps he has, but it’s really not his style nor in character for a Calvinist.

  59. I’m fine with not using the word theosis solely because I don’t know what it means. 🙂 Mormon words I know and understand. 😀

    Aaron, I totally get where Katie is coming from here. If you want to convert people to Jesus, love is the way to go about it. Smacking someone around and shaking up their world brutally, it turns out, doesn’t turn them toward your message. At least, not in my experience.

    It says in the Bible that the only person we are responsible to bringing to Jesus is ourself. And how amazing and lucky for Katie that she is able to be a Christian and really feel and enjoy and grow with Christ, and really be transformed by Him, and do it within Mormonism. And every single person who she is able to bring a grace-based faith to within the church is going to be grateful for it too. Mormonism doesn’t change because people decide to “be open and honest enough to admit and teach that books currently promoted in the Church Distribution Center contain grossly false teachings that are massively misleading and spiritually destructive.”

    Mormonism changes when the people within start believing differently, teaching their children differently, teaching differently in church. And in 50, 60 years, when our generation is running the church, I imagine there will be big changes, subtly implemented. They won’t have to be heralded because everyone who is growing up in the church will have already been taught them.

    Even know–in the last 10 years there has been much more emphasis on Jesus than, say, in the 30 years before that (to my understanding, anyway).

    But if Mormonism is going to change, it’s going to be because of people like Katie, spreading the good news of Jesus Christ.

  60. Tim I’ve never been under the impression that Aaron is particularly interested in seeing Mormonism reform.

    His aim has always been to completely discredit the movement – not improve it.

    And I don’t think he’s all that happy about seeing Stephen R. Robinsons crop up within Mormonism. From his point of view, they simply make it more difficult for him to lead people OUT.

    Which is why he always works so hard to marginalize and discredit any movement within Mormonism that threatens to blur the battle lines he’s worked quite hard to draw.

    It’s not a matter of taking credit for a conversion. It’s a matter of viewing individuals as part of a bigger agenda. A notch on the belt is a notch on the belt, and I don’t really much care if you are “dedicating them to Jesus” after the fact.

  61. I’m interested in Ostler, and like some of his articles. Just like I like Eugene England’s stuff.

    But I don’t think that the mere fact he thinks something is necessarily binding.

    In this case however, I actually remember reading the quote in question last year. And I don’t think the context of his remark makes a great deal of difference to my approach here. He’s being more philosophically careful than I generally care to be.

    Let me revise that – his statement did make a difference to my approach already. It’s why I’m usually careful in discussions of theosis to carefully note the differences between the LDS and Orthodox positions.

  62. katyjane,

    I of course wouldn’t characterize openness, honesty, and integrity as “smacking someone around”, or as antithetical to love. There’s no need to dichotomize love and integrity.

    “And in 50, 60 years, when our generation is running the church, I imagine there will be big changes, subtly implemented.”

    Even if such a change was assured, I don’t believe that kind of wait-for-it (at the expense of personal integrity) attitude is permitted by scripture, especially given Galatians 1:6-9. To stay in a religion where your active participation implicitly communicates that you share the same general beliefs, while you don’t share the same general beliefs (and indeed, have to keep silent about much of them), is to live a lie.

    Also, subtle change without repentance and confession–even at the institutional level–isn’t necessarily pleasing to God. God wants brokenhearted repentance from Mormon laymen and leadership over traditional Mormonism, not simply making subtle changes so that the Church can save face.

    The gospel is about giving up on saving face. You strip naked, you confess, and you embrace your weakness and nakedness and let God show his strength through that. If Mormonism really made a spiritual change to the real gospel of Jesus, it wouldn’t stay silent on its chief trangressions. It would confess and repent.

    If I had an affair on my wife, I’m sure my wife would to a degree be happy with subtle changes away from the affair. But what she’d really want in her heart is a brokenheartedness that is willing to confess and repent and restore. Worldly repentance might even entail an abandonment of the affair (which in a sense others could celebrate, since it would be “good” for my marriage). Godly repentance would bring godly sorrow and the giving up on saving face. The former gives a glimmer of hope, but the latter brings tears of liberating joy.

    Seth, I am overlooking your antipathy.

    “Tim I’ve never been under the impression that Aaron is particularly interested in seeing Mormonism reform.”

    Incremental reform does bring potential glimmer of hope for wider change. But the heart of the problem is that Mormonism needs more than an incremental reform. It needs a restoration replete with confession and repentance.

    Mormonism is so clear that repentance entails confession, yet when it comes to the Mormon institution, Mormons seem to want to make an exception. Why is that?

    Take care,

    Aaron

  63. Even if such a change was assured, I don’t believe that kind of wait-for-it (at the expense of personal integrity) attitude is permitted by scripture, especially given Galatians 1:6-9.

    I recently completed an in depth study of Galatians. Chapters 1-2 were both shocking and exhilarating. It really is a very serious critique of how both liberal and conservative Mormons approach church in general.

    My attitude towards scripture is generally that the ones that challenge you the most are the ones you need to come to terms with the most. And, those two chapters get my vote for the ones that are most challenging to all Mormons (liberal and conservative).

    Mind you, I’m not saying that the Bible uniquely challenges Mormons, I think evangelicals may have a big challenge in coming to grips with Matthew 25, but I’ve never been one, so I can’t say for sure.

  64. I don’t want to spend a lot more here defending my choices, so this will probably be my last post on this particular topic. Aaron, I believe that you are genuine in the things you’ve told me and that you’ve said them out of concern and love. I want you to know that I see that and appreciate it and don’t take the things you’ve said lightly.

    The only thing I want to address is the issue of personal integrity as it relates to my involvement in the church.

    I want to make it clear that in general, I believe that the church is a force for good. I believe that God has a special purpose for it. I believe that the Mormon people have a special mission in the world, one that is beautiful and God-ordained.

    That does not mean I turn a blind eye to its faults. I am well aware of them. I do not support them in practices or teachings that I believe are harmful.

    But I choose to love them and fellowship with them anyway. I recognize that human institutions are always going to be screwed up because human beings are screwed up. I imagine I would find similar faults with any church I chose. But even if not — even if Mormonism is a special brand of extra screwed up — I will still be there for them, worship with them, serve with them. Because they are my people.

    It would require a tremendous sacrifice of personal integrity for me to do otherwise.

    I’ll spare you the details of how I navigate this on a daily basis. The details are between me and the people with whom I interact. Suffice it to say I do not have it in me to live a double life, it goes against my nature, and so I am forthcoming with many people in my religious life (including priesthood leaders) regarding my positions. It turns out they still want me, and I still want them.

    If at any time I felt my personal integrity was threatened, that would be another question. But so far, so good.

  65. Thanks for listening, and for the reply, Katie.

    Grace and peace from a friend in Utah,

    Aaron

  66. Katie L — I agree with nearly everything you said in your last post as I feel very much the same way (a big difference being that I wasn’t born in the Church but was generously adopted into the family even though I haven’t, and likely never will, fit the Church’s stereotype).

    As much as I disagree with some of what I see in the Church, and some of what has been said by some leaders in the past, it would be violating my personal integrity to go elsewhere, so I take issue with the implied claim that the only way to maintain integrity is to rail against every error I see. This is where I firmly believe God has called me to be.

    If I appreciate the grace-centered message when I hear it — and I hear it quite often, certainly more than I did in the legalistic evangelical background I knew as a child — then the thing for me to do is to live a life of grace and extend that grace to others in word and in deed.

    I am grateful for my evangelical upbringing, and particularly the love of the Bible it gave to me. But despite the Church’s faults, it is where I have seen my faith in Jesus and his atoning sacrifice grow like it didn’t elsewhere. I’m not about to give that up because the Church is far less than perfect.

  67. To stay in a religion where your active participation implicitly communicates that you share the same general beliefs, while you don’t share the same general beliefs (and indeed, have to keep silent about much of them), is to live a lie.

    Your view of why a person should or should not stay in a church is extremely narrow. There are scads of reasons other than doctrinal integrity.

    I realize that your faith and your mindset means that you privilige doctrinal integrity above everything else, and that you sincerely believe that God does, too. But you have to understand that other people simply do not, and it has nothing to do with integrity.

    Moral choices are about weighing competing values. By weighing her values and acting accordingly, Katie has demonstrated personal integrity. If Katie did what you suggest, which is to act according to how you think she should be weighing her values, then she would be sacrificing her integrity. Not the other way around.

    The only integrity she is not showing is integrity to your moral framework. And I think she should be proud of that.

  68. Not to mention that it ignores the countless scores of Protestants who don’t really understand their own doctrines (or often even know about them), who Aaron presumably doesn’t consider “dishonest” in remaining Protestant.

    Be honest – how many Protestants really get concepts like “grace”, “trinity”, and such? How much disagreement and debate is there in Protestant academic circles over this stuff? Are they all somehow “lacking in integrity” for being where they are?

    Of course not.

    And neither are the Mormons.

  69. Kullervo, help me out here. Am I correct to read you as saying that personal integrity need not necessarily entail doctrinal integrity as a decisive factor in decision making?

  70. Am I correct to read you as saying that personal integrity need not necessarily entail doctrinal integrity as a [vital/decisive] factor in decision making?

    That is exactly and unambiguously what I am saying.

  71. There are many reasons why people join or belong to a church. I’d bet that in most cases, doctrinal positions aren’t No. 1 on the list.

  72. Moroni 8:18 is just the tip top of a huge iceberg of what is really taught in the major portion of the LDS Standard Works.

    There are a number of things to realized about what the Mormons scriptures alone say about the Mormon God.

    Initially, notice that nowhere in the Mormon Standard Works does there exist any specific teachings that tells us that the Godhead of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost are three separate Gods– or three separate beings. Yet INSTEAD LDS scriptures do plainly and clearly say that the Father, Son and the Holy Ghost are One God. This the LDS scriptures say over and over again.

    Next, the Mormon Scriptures use words to describe its God as being Eternal, and from Everlasting.
    Historically these words were derived from Trinitarian thinking long after Augustine. “Eternal’ is a word used to describe an attribute of God only after God was pre-defined as being transcendent. The words in English Bibles ‘For Ever,’ ‘Eternity’, ‘Everlasting’, have no ancient Greek or Hebrew counterparts– but are theological terms injected into the Bible text in associated with Trinitarian thought.

    Yet the Book of Mormon uses these kinds of Trinitarian-like terms (forever, eternity, everlasting eternal) in its descriptions of God. So the Book of Mormon is on a multi-faceted and refractive level full of subtle Trinitarian commentaries and nuance.

    In addition to this the Book of Mormon teachings about the Holy Spirit being given to believers are Trinitarian-like in description. The Jesus of the Book of Mormon refers to the Holy Ghost as “my spirit”– and likewise the Moroni Sacrament Prayers call the Holy Ghost as ‘His Spirit’ referring the the Spirit of Jesus Christ.

    On top of all of this the Baptismal Covenant is Trinitarian-like as it is stipulated in 3 Nephi by the Jesus of the Book of Mormon.

    This all boils down to the conclusion that Salt Lake City based-Mormonism (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) has no LDS Standard Works basis to support its assertions for Eternal Progression or the plurality of Gods in the Godhead. They have radically reinterpreted the Book of Mormon from its ‘plain and precious’ state.

  73. Steve Redinger said:

    This all boils down to the conclusion that Salt Lake City based-Mormonism (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) has no LDS Standard Works basis to support its assertions for Eternal Progression or the plurality of Gods in the Godhead.

    I suppose it depends on what you mean by “plurality of Gods.” The Book of Abraham refers at length to the creation of Earth and humankind by “the Gods.”

  74. Steve, it’s great to see you on here! Praise God!

    I like Eric and Katie L’s reasons for staying in the LDS.
    I like a lot of what Aaron S says except that he seems to be operating on the premise that Mormonism is unchristian to the core. I’m still waiting for biblical proof to support that position.

    I don’t think the LDS is the best denomination—I believe in non-denominationalism, actually—but I’m open to the possibility that God is calling folks like Eric and Katie L to stay in it. I have charismatic Catholic neighbors who say God has told them to stay in the Catholic church they attend. Unless God tells me otherwise, who am I to tell them they’re not hearing God?

  75. I’ve been away for awhile focus on work. This is a very good open discussion.

    Maybe someone on the Evangelical side could do a future post on denominations that might make sense for a Mormon seeking another church closer to the truth without the erroneous Mormon baggage, but doesn’t want to hear anti-Mormon diatribe (just seeks to move on). Personally I can’t handle a liturgical church or anything Fundamentalist (the earth is ancient, evolution doesn’t conflict with the Gospel), but am clueless where to start in Northwest Houston?

    No need to respond here.

  76. Tim,

    I should be able to write something up either tonight or tomorrow night. I’ll send it to you when I am done.

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