The Pre-Existence of Jesus

I’ve been reading “The Deep Things of God” by Fred Sanders. I’m sure I’ll have more to say about the book when I finish it. I got caught off-guard by a side point that he made and was struck by what a wide gap between orthodox Christianity and Mormonism has been totally neglected in my mind.

In the book Sanders refers to Jesus’ pre-existence. The idea of Jesus pre-existing is certainly familiar to Mormons. But Evangelicals don’t typically think of it in those terms. Sanders basically states that before his own birth, Jesus pre-existed. Before an angel visited Mary, before David was anointed, before Moses split the Red Sea, before creation and even before Jesus was known as the Christ; he pre-existed eternally as God. He didn’t become God or earn divinity. He was always God.

This puts the incarnation (the act of God becoming a man) in a totally different light for Evangelicals and Mormons.

Philippians 2 (The Message) puts it this way:

Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion.

According to orthodox Christianity, Jesus emptied himself of Godhood to take on all of the characteristics of humanity. As The Message states, “it was an incredibly humbling process”.

I recognize that the details of the pre-existence and the “plan of salvation” within Mormonism are sometimes a bit obscured or unclear. But my basic understanding is that Mormons believe that Jesus was not God in the pre-existence (like the Father). Jesus developed a plan for us to come to earth, live a mortal existence and prove ourselves worthy to be exalted to Godhood. Jesus lived out this plan and provided a means for everyone else to follow him into it.

This differs significantly from the orthodox concept of the incarnation. Jesus didn’t really humble himself in any way that is different than the rest of us according to Mormonism. Jesus had to become a god and he could only do that through living a mortal life. A human life was a necessary condition for Jesus to become a god (though he was a creator beforehand). Deity was not an eternal and fundamental characteristic of his being.

I recognize that the doctrine of the Trinity seems to be philosophical mumbo-jumbo without any pragmatic implications for some. But if we just focus on the Trinitarian ideas about who Jesus is and what he had to do to become a man; we immediately start running into some practical implications that make Jesus a different kind of being than the one Mormonism offers. I might be so bold as to say that Mormonism removes the entire doctrine of Incarnation or if it does not, then it makes it as ordinary as birth.

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173 thoughts on “The Pre-Existence of Jesus

  1. Tim: I think you have to be careful because your analysis is limited by what you take as the Mormon belief on Jesus pre-mortal divinity. I would suggest looking into Mormon scripture for clues as to whether or not Jesus was God pre-birth—and since I believe the case is overwhelming that Jesus was in fact God pre-birth, then that means that it is not correct to write, “…according to Mormonism. Jesus had to become a god and he could only do that through living a mortal life.”

    I would also be interested if anyone can find an LDS scripture that supports the claim that “Deity was not an eternal and fundamental characteristic of his being.”

  2. Brian, can deity be grasped without living a mortal life?

    Can you rewrite my three sentences on the plan of salvation with a more accurate understanding?

  3. Tim,

    According to Mormon theology deity can be grasped without living a mortal life, otherwise the Holy Ghost could not be God.

    BrianJ,

    I would also be interested if anyone can find an LDS scripture that supports the claim that “Deity was not an eternal and fundamental characteristic of his being.”

    I like how you limited it to LDS scripture, because you know that the LDS faith is completely sola scriptura. In any case the differences between Matt 5:48 and the corresponding 3 Nephi 12:48 passage are widely interpreted to mean that Jesus was most definitely lacking in something prior to his mortal life.

    Please, no BS about that only being one interpretation, it’s all just interpretation, and I have consistently heard that taught from the pulpit.

  4. I think one key difference is that Mormons don’t think that being human is not as low as Evangelicals think it is. Making the incarnation less of a humbling experience than a step toward a higher level of understanding. Mormons believe that participating as a organism in this dimension is a important opportunity, even for a God.

  5. I think these are the sentences you have in mind, with my “corrections” in italics:

    “Jesus was not God in the pre-existence (like the Father, because they are one God).

    The Father presented* a plan for us to come to earth, live a mortal existence and prove ourselves worthy to be exalted to Godhood. (I don’t want to get side-tracked by focusing on the different implications of “prove ourselves,” so I’ll leave that alone.)

    “Jesus lived out this plan—in the sense that he lived a mortal life, but not in the sense that he needed to prove himself, etc.—and provided a means for everyone else to follow him into it.”

    I think the main question is: Can one be God without a physical body? I think the answer is “yes; e.g., Jesus and Holy Ghost.”

    The follow-up questions are:

    Did Jesus need, or somehow benefit from, a physical body? I think the answer is “I don’t know, because he was already one with God.”

    So, do we need a body? I think the answer is “yes, but I’m not sure why.”

    __________
    * Mormons will be specific on this point—that the Father “presented” the plan—although I don’t think that it’s clear who actually “developed” the plan.

  6. Jesus humbled himself by putting off the vast knowledge and power he had pre-earth, but Mormons believe that he had something to gain by this process. So, the humbling was significantly greater than those who were not godlike prior to birth, but “humbling” seems to be a strange word for the process of incarnation in either belief system.

  7. David Clark: “Please, no BS about that only being one interpretation…”

    Okay, what BS would you like then?

    You’re wrong, by the way, about why I limited my question to LDS scripture.

  8. Certainly the Book of Mormon has Jesus as God before the Incarnation “God himself shall come down among the children of men, and shall redeem his people” (Mosiah 15:1). Your description of the Incarnation of Christ does not match up with the descriptions in the Book of Mormon.

    And lo, he shall suffer temptations, and pain of body, hunger, thirst, and fatigue, even more than man can suffer, except it be unto death; for behold, blood cometh from every pore, so great shall be his anguish for the wickedness and the abominations of his people. And he shall be called Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Father of heaven and earth, the Creator of all things from the beginning; and his mother shall be called Mary. And lo, he cometh unto his own, that salvation might come unto the children of men even through faith on his name; and even after all this they shall consider him a man, and say that he hath a devil, and shall scourge him, and shall crucify him. (Mosiah 3:7-9).

    Even with later developments in Mormon thought, I don’t see any articulation that has abandoned or deviated from those views of the Incarnation.

  9. According to Mormon theology deity can be grasped without living a mortal life, otherwise the Holy Ghost could not be God.

    I think Mormonism offers us less information on the Holy Ghost than it does on the pre-existence of Jesus. There are some Mormons who believe that the Holy Ghost is an office (similar to the offices of the First Presidency) that is occupied by men. Perhaps Joseph Smith and Brigham Young have filled the position. I’m NOT saying that this is THE Mormon answer for how the Holy Ghost obtained godhood. But it’s a popular enough idea to show that you can’t say for sure that “the Holy Ghost became deity without living a mortal life.” It is an unanswered question in Mormonism.

    Aquinas,
    I don’t think the Book of Mormon has played much a role in the development of Mormon theology. Certainly very little in understanding the pre-existence or “the plan of salvation.” Pointing to the Book of Mormon for orthodox definitions on the Incarnation is a bit like pointing to the Book of Mormon for definitions on the Trinity. Sure they are there, but they didn’t seem to play much a part in forming Mormon ideas. I wish Joseph Smith and early Mormons had been more familiar with the Book of Mormon as they started to develop these ideas.

  10. From David’s link this is what Apostle Russell M. Nelson had to say

    That Jesus attained eternal perfection following his resurrection is confirmed in the Book of Mormon. It records the visit of the resurrected Lord to the people of ancient America. There he repeated the important injunction previously cited but with one very significant addition. He said, “I would that ye should be perfect even as I, or your Father who is in heaven is perfect.” 22 This time he listed himself along with his Father as a perfected personage. Previously he had not. 23

    Resurrection is requisite for eternal perfection.

    Catch that. “Resurrection is requisite for eternal perfection.” The orthodox understanding of the Incarnation believes that Jesus emptied himself of eternal perfection. According to one of the LDS Church’s seer, prophets and relevators, Jesus didn’t have that perfection when he became incarnate. His perfection was contingent on something else.

    It’s a different Incarnation.

    The alternatives are that I’m blind to the true meaning of Elder Russell’s words or that Elder Russell doesn’t understand the divinity of Jesus appropriately.

  11. I sort of think that the Mormon doctrine of foreordination is important here, as is a variety of shades of Mormon meaning for “godhood.”

  12. Follow up on my comment to Aquinas,

    I don’t think the orthodox understanding of the Incarnation was specifically rejected. It’s just that they didn’t pay any attention to it as they formed these new ideas on the pre-existence. As a result, they unintentionally modified the Incarnation.

  13. Aaron (who looks like “Aaron S” but has dropped the “S”): “In the Book of Mormon, Jesus is the incarnation of the Father, or in other words, is the Father-made-flesh.”

    Could you please point to the versus you have in mind? Thanks.

  14. Tim said:

    Jesus didn’t really humble himself [in the Incarnation] in any way that is different than the rest of us according to Mormonism.

    With all due respect, that doesn’t make any sense at all.

    In LDS thinking, Jesus was the creator of the universe (under the Father’s direction) — and by any reasonable definition, that is being God, or at least godlike. And he is frequently referred to in LDS thought as being the God of the Old Testament, aka Jehovah/Yahweh.

    Going from being the creator of the universe to being born in a stable isn’t humbling?

  15. Okay, what BS would you like then?

    Whatever you feel most comfortable with.

    You’re wrong, by the way, about why I limited my question to LDS scripture.

    Why, pray tell, did the response need to be limited to LDS scripture?

  16. I think Mormonism offers us less information on the Holy Ghost than it does on the pre-existence of Jesus….It is an unanswered question in Mormonism.

    All very true. Thinking more about it, the Nelson article along with D&C 130:22-23 seems to make a total hash of the concept that the Holy Ghost can be God in the same sense that the Father is God. If as Nelson says, “Resurrection is requisite for eternal perfection,” then at no time can whoever or whatever is the Holy Ghost be perfect. And if one must be perfect to be God, then the Holy Ghost can’t be God.

    One also has to wonder that since everyone had a pre-Earth existence, why is the Holy Ghost not given a more prominent place in discussions of pre-Earth life? It generally is assumed that Jesus was perfect, therefore he joined the Godhead at some point in time, and thereby got the gig for being the Savior. But, if the Holy Ghost was also invited to join the club, why not more about how great he was pre-creation?

  17. BrianJ,

    So, do we need a body? I think the answer is “yes, but I’m not sure why.”

    Funny how 19th century Mormons were much more sure about this than 21st century Mormons are. Simply put, you needed to get a penis to impregnate your celestial wives.

    Yeah, I know, not official doctrine, yadda yadda yadda.

  18. The Book of Mormon makes it abundantly clear that “Jesus is THE CHRIST, the ETERNAL GOD.” It says so on the Title Page and it makes the point again and again and again throughout the book. It is the entire message of the book that Mormon wrote. I would even go so far as to say that the Book of Mormon makes the divinity of Jesus much clearer than the Bible does, because the authors of the various Biblical books were not writing for the same purpose that Mormon was writing–to convince Jew and Gentile that Jesus is God. To claim that Mormons do not believe in the pre-mortal Godhood of Jesus is to say that Mormons do not believe in the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon.

    That being said, Mormons also believe that Jesus did not receive the fullness of His glory until after His resurrection. What does that mean? I don’t really know for sure, but I believe it has much to do with the LDS concept of eternal progression. Jesus Christ was known before His mortal birth as Jehovah, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He was a Divine Personage, a Personage of Deity. But He was, and still is, capable of progressing.

  19. Eric: that’s what I guessed too, but I don’t want to assume and risk missing Aaron’s point.

    David Clark: “Whatever you feel most comfortable with.”

    Well, then we have a problem, because the BS I’m most comfortable with is the “only one interpretation” kind. So…bit of a predicament, seeing that I can’t please you either way.

    “Why, pray tell, did the response need to be limited to LDS scripture?”

    Because I like LDS scripture, and like to think about it and what it means, and what it doesn’t mean, and I felt like thinking about Tim’s statement in light of LDS scripture. I also like milk, but I also like water, and yet tonight I asked for some milk.

  20. To claim that Mormons do not believe in the pre-mortal Godhood of Jesus is to say that Mormons do not believe in the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon.

    Funny, I think that’s precisely the problem.

  21. Funny how 19th century Mormons were much more sure about this than 21st century Mormons are. Simply put, you needed to get a penis to impregnate your celestial wives.

    You’re an @$$h0le.

  22. Hey Mephi, were the scads of GA’s who taught that Elohim literally had sex with Mary also a-holes?

  23. I dunno, did they bring it up apropos of nothing in order to take a dump on someone else’s religion from a great height?

  24. Thanks Tim,

    What was the difference between Pre-Incarnation Jesus and Post – Incarnation Jesus? Can it be explained by Hebrews 5:8

    If so, I can’t see that in principle there is a massive difference between Mormon conception of the Incarnation and Trinitarian.

    They both seem to believe:

    1. God becomes Man 2. Learns in that experience 3. Goes back to being God with new found knowledge.

  25. Mephi,

    I believe their thinking on the matter was that since Joseph Smith had already called the creeds of other Christian churches abominable, since they had already called all ministers tools of Satan in the temple endowment, and since Brigham Young had already said gems like:

    “With a regard to true theology, a more ignorant people never lived than the present so-called Christian world” (Journal of Discourses 8:199).

    there really wasn’t any need to use God having sex with Mary as an opportunity to take a dump on someone else’s religion.

    But in any case, since when does describing a widely held view among Mormons (that we need physical bodies to physically copulate in the afterlife) constitute taking a dump on someone else’s religion? If I say Catholics venerate the Virgin Mary, is that taking a dump on Catholicism? I’ll grant that I mostly said it to get a few laughs, but for anything to be funny there must be an element of truth.

  26. One of the sections of LDS-specific scripture that discusses Jesus’ premortal state is Ether 3, in which the brother of Jared is having a conversation with “the Lord,” clearly the God that he believes in and worships. During the conversation, he has a vision of the the finger of the Lord as being “like unto flesh and blood,” and he was surprised (and fearful) because he didn’t realize the Lord had flesh and blood.

    So the Lord tells Jared’s brother that because of faith Jared’s brother has seen that the Lord will take on a body (future tense). The Lord then identifies himself as Jesus Christ, as the Father and the Son, and as the Creator. Later in the text, Moroni (the author) identifies Jesus as God.

    I don’t see how it could be made much clearer that Jesus was God before the Incarnation.

    Later LDS scripture, particularly the Book of Moses and the Book of Abraham, also identify the premortal Jesus with God.

    So I agree with BrianJ’s and Alex V’s take on the matter.

    ***

    As to the section of Philippians 2 paraphrased above, we believe in the writings of Paul too and affirm his teachings as scripture.

    I’m not fond of using paraphrases — a more literal rendering would be that Jesus existed in the form of God (sounds a lot like Ether 3). His refusing to grasp equality with God very well may be a reference what we can refer to here as the LDS narrative about the plan that Satan proposed to the Heavenly Father, a plan in which Satan would receive the glory himself, while Jesus was advocating a plan that would give the glory to the Father. But to the point of this thread, Philippians 2:7 does indeed teach that Jesus then emptied himself (unfortunately, the meaning is obscured in the King James Version), gave up what he could have had to take on human nature. That’s what Paul taught, it’s part of LDS scripture, and that indeed is what we teach and believe.

    ***

    Re the talk of Elder Nelson: I think you’re reading more into it than is there. Nowhere does he say that Jesus wasn’t divine before the Incarnation. He points out (correctly) that the Greek word translated as “perfect” carries with it the idea of completion or of finishing something. What Nelson is saying is that Jesus had a vital task to perform, and until he completed it he could in some sense not say he was complete. In the context in which Nelson is speaking, we might also say that Jesus became glorified upon his resurrection — and I think (correct me if I’m wrong) that even Protestants would say that after Jesus was born, it took his death and resurrection for him to become a glorified being.

    I don’t know what Elder Nelson would say about how the divinity of the Holy Spirit fits into all this. The Holy Spirit isn’t the point of his talk, and it’s taking his teachings out of context to make it so.

    ***

    Finally, as I studying this issue this morning, I came across the following Church-published article about what Jesus was before the Incarnation — and it doesn’t sound a bit like what Tim described as the LDS belief: The Eternal Ministry of Christ.

    I’d like to know what in that article the non-LDS folks here would take issue with.

  27. Eric said:
    With all due respect, that doesn’t make any sense at all.

    In LDS thinking, Jesus was the creator of the universe (under the Father’s direction) — and by any reasonable definition, that is being God, or at least godlike. And he is frequently referred to in LDS thought as being the God of the Old Testament, aka Jehovah/Yahweh.

    I didn’t say that Jesus wasn’t god. I acknowledge that Mormons believe that Jesus was the creator and Jehovah. But he wasn’t god like the Father. I’ve picked up from Mormons that Jesus lacked something and needed mortality. If you follow the thought down the path a little ways you could also say that all of the rest of us are deity as well (being the same species as Heavenly Father). It just so happens that Jesus is further along in his training.

    Philippians 2 says that he was equal to God. But Elder Nelson says he didn’t attain “eternal perfection” until after the resurrection. His perfection was contingent on something. That’s not equality in the pre-existence.

    Jared (and Aquinas) mentioned Hebrews 5:8. I’m puzzled that neither mentioned Hebrews 5:9 but I’ll put both verses here for everyone.

    From the Amplified:

    Although He was a Son, He learned [active, special] obedience through what He suffered

    9And, [His completed experience] making Him perfectly [equipped], He became the Author and Source of eternal salvation to all those who give heed and obey Him

    From The Message:

    Though he was God’s Son, he learned trusting-obedience by what he suffered, just as we do. Then, having arrived at the full stature of his maturity and having been announced by God as high priest in the order of Melchizedek, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who believingly obey him.

    The passage uses “perfection” in the way Elder Nelson suggests as the Greek word teleiono; “to reach a distant end, to be fully developed, to consummate, or to finish.”

    So the passage could be rewritten to say that when Jesus had done all that he needed to do he became the author and source of eternal salvation.

    The place Elder Nelson’s teaching diverges from orthodoxy is that in reference to the Resurrection he decides to add the word “eternal” to “perfection”. That is a significant change. The Trinitarian understanding of Jesus is that he was perfect with or without Creation, Incarnation or Resurrection.

    1. 1. Elder Nelson gives us two categories of perfection, mortal and eternal (I’m with him so far).
    2. 2. He states that the Father has eternal perfection (I’m with him so far).
    3. 3. He states that Jesus could only attain eternal perfection after the Resurrection (we part ways).

    If he had put the Resurrection as a part of Jesus’ mortal perfection, then Mormonism and Trinitarianism would be in agreement on the perfection of Jesus. But he didn’t do that.

    I made a mistake and over-stated things in saying the Incarnation of Jesus was ordinary. My point was that the Incarnation of Jesus in Mormonism is not as significant as it is in orthodoxy. To some degree in Mormonism, everyone becomes incarnate. Jesus followed the same “method” of incarnation as everyone else though he was a much higher “rank”. In orthodoxy, Jesus is the only Incarnate deity and he had nothing to gain in becoming man. The experience offered him nothing he didn’t have.

  28. Aquinas,

    I’m really surprised that you don’t see any evidence from any group or time period within Mormonism that mortality is an important step towards exaltation.

    I agree that Nelson doesn’t say anywhere that Jesus wasn’t god. But apparently Nelson believes that Jesus was some sort of non-eternally perfected god in his pre-existence. In the orthodox understanding, there is no such thing as a non-eternally perfected god. He parts ways with the orthodox understanding of the Incarnation by positing such a being.

  29. Eric, thanks for the link from your morning reading. I agree that I don’t much in the way of disagreement with it except that it says that Jesus served under the Father.

  30. I didn’t edit Mephibosheth’s comment earlier because I was reading the comments on my phone and couldn’t do so from there. But I will admit that it was rather eloquent.

    Kullervo, you have definitely used up all of your allowances and several other people’s as well.

  31. Oh, regarding my use of “The Message”, I don’t think it’s the best translation, I just like how it moves us past the familiar reading of the words.

  32. It may be that the big difference between us is less about what we think about Jesus and more about what we think of humans.

  33. Kullervo, you have definitely used up all of your allowances and several other people’s as well.

    Sure, but:

    1) Surely if there’s a quota, it’s got a time element as well. By letting my allotted cusses build up for several months, I should eventually be in a surplus instead of a deficit.

    2) Surely there are some people whose cusses I haven’t used who don’t want to do anything with them. I want those peoples’ and I’m willing to bargain hard.

  34. Eric,
    That’s a bit like saying, the difference isn’t in how much pie is left, it’s how much pie is on our plate.

    You’ve got to take something away from Jesus in order to elevate yourself. Either Jesus is a unique being or Eric can be god too.

  35. You’ve got to take something away from Jesus in order to elevate yourself. Either Jesus is a unique being or Eric can be god too.

    Only if (1) “godhood” only means one thing and (2) Jesus’s uniqueness is solely a result of that godhood.

  36. Tim, I’m responding specifically to what you have written in your original post:

    [M]y basic understanding is that Mormons believe that Jesus was not God in the pre-existence (like the Father). . . . Jesus didn’t really humble himself in any way that is different than the rest of us according to Mormonism. Jesus had to become a god and he could only do that through living a mortal life. A human life was a necessary condition for Jesus to become a god (though he was a creator beforehand).

    Based upon what you have written, I understand you to be offering the following three points as the Mormon position:

    1. Jesus was not God before the Incarnation.
    2. The Incarnation of the Son of God entailed no sacrifice of Christ “descend[ing] from His throne divine.”
    3. The only way for Jesus to become god was by living a mortal life.

    If these are not your claims, feel free to correct me, or if you have since changed your mind on any of these three points, please let me know.

  37. 1. Jesus was not God before the Incarnation.
    2. The Incarnation of the Son of God entailed no sacrifice of Christ “descend[ing] from His throne divine.”
    3. The only way for Jesus to become god was by living a mortal life.

    My understanding is that very few Mormons would agree with any of those points without carefully defining the terms.

  38. Aquinas, that is my understanding in S.E. Idaho. Have I missed anything from the General Authorities or Area Authorities that would point me in another direction?

  39. Hi Aquinas,

    Thanks for asking for clarification of what I meant.

    I’ll revise all three as you’ve stated them so that my original intent can be understood.

    1. Jesus was not god before the Incarnation in equality with the Father (despite being some sort of divine species and participating in Creation).
    2. Jesus was not unique in incarnation from pre-mortality pre-mortal “divinity”.
    3. The only way for Jesus to obtain exaltation was by living a mortal life.

    There’s a lot of confusion in using the word “god” or “become god” because Mormons will say that Jesus (or the Father, or Aquinas) was always eternally God even when he was an unorganized intelligence. So I’m not sure how to differentiate between the species of divine beings and the perfected and exalted person who is worshiped and praised. If you know of a way for me to communicate to avoid this confusion I would appreciate the help.

  40. 1. Jesus was not god before the Incarnation in equality with the Father (despite being some sort of divine species and participating in Creation).
    2. Jesus was not unique in incarnation from pre-mortality pre-mortal “divinity”.
    3. The only way for Jesus to obtain exaltation was by living a mortal life.

    Not sure what you mean by #2, but I think most Mormons would now agree with #1 and #3.

  41. I probably agree with #1 (depending on what you mean by equal, but I believe it’s Biblical that Jesus does the will of his Father, not the other way around, so yeah).

    I’m not certain what #2 means.

    On #3, it depends on what you mean by “exalted.” If by “exalted” you mean “to have an exalted body like Heavenly Father,” then of course. If by “exalted” you mean “to have the power and authority of God as a member of the Godhead” or something similar, then I disagree.

  42. I probably agree with #1 (depending on what you mean by equal, but I believe it’s Biblical that Jesus does the will of his Father, not the other way around, so yeah).

    I think Tim means “equal” in a qualitative sense as opposed to some kind of rank or subordination. Jesus was a god and Heavenly Father was a god, but they were not necessarily “a god” in the same way in all possible senses of the word. Or, put differently, there is some quality of deity that HF posessed that Jesus did not.

    On #3, it depends on what you mean by “exalted.” If by “exalted” you mean “to have an exalted body like Heavenly Father,” then of course. If by “exalted” you mean “to have the power and authority of God as a member of the Godhead” or something similar, then I disagree.

    I don’t think many Mormons use “exalted” to mean “to have the power and authority of God as a member of the Godhead.” And I also don’t think Tim means “exalted” to mean merely to have a perfected, eternal body.

    Instead, I think Tim is just using #3 to restate #1 and go a step further, namely, that there is some quality of divinity which HF had in the Pre-Earth that Jesus did not, and living a mortal life is essential for Jesus to obtain that quality.

  43. Tim,

    Here Hebrews 5:7-9 from the NIV:

    7During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. [8] Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered 9and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him [10] and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek.

    Correct me if I am wrong but by what it reads here, Jesus changed somehow through his experience on earth. Whatever that change is corresponds to the change that Mormons believe took place in Jesus when he was incarnated.

    Mormons believe he was perfectly God before and after the incarnation but somehow changed to be more like his father and which is referenced here as being “designated to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek”

    I think Mormons and Trinitarians would agree that in some sense Jesus did not change through the incarnation, he was just as worthy before as after, but in some sense both would agree something new happened.

    Before the incarnation Jesus was not the source of salvation, after he was.

    So, even though the rhetoric and details of doctrine may be at odds, this scripture seems to provide the common ground.

  44. I agree that there is nothing in the passage for us to disagree about. It’s that Elder Nelson thinks that this change was necessary for Jesus’ eternal perfection.

    Jared said
    Mormons believe he was perfectly God before and after the incarnation

    So Mormons believe that Jesus was perfectly God but not eternally perfect?

  45. A charitable reading show that Nelson is using “perfection” in the same sense as the author of Hebrews.

    “Eternally perfect” is either a technical term that has to be carefully defined to get around the meaning of Hebrews 5:7-10 or nonsense, or both.

  46. Conceivably believers in Hebrews believe that

    Christ was god before and after the incarnation but something was different.

    I am not sure how Trinitarians explain what was difference.

    Mormons explain what was different, in part, in the way that Nelson does.

    In my mind nothing either group says about this difference makes any real sense in a way that we can ultimately explain a meaningful difference. But I think Nelson’s description is within the meaning of Hebrews.

  47. Mormons believe he was perfectly God before and after the incarnation but somehow changed to be more like his father and which is referenced here as being “designated to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek”

    I don’t think Mormons would use the phrase “perfectly god.” But I continue to insist that one of the problems here is that Mormons can mean a number of different, overlapping things when they say “god.”

  48. Just want to thank Eric for kicking in some very insightful study notes—and everyone else for the subsequent discussion. Good stuff.

    Todd Wood: “Aquinas, that is my understanding in S.E. Idaho. Have I missed anything from the General Authorities or Area Authorities that would point me in another direction?”

    Yes: the Book of Mormon and Pearl of Great Price. (See Eric’s comments.)

    Tim: I don’t want to draw conclusions about your approach, but how it appears to me is that you are starting from the position that Mormons do not believe that Jesus was God pre-mortally and then persisting to hold onto that premise in the face of clear contrary evidence (e.g., the BoM). I don’t think you can ever grasp the Mormon view if you approach it like that. A better approach would be: “Mormons believe that pre-mortal Jesus was God, but what distinctions, if any, do they make between Jesus-God and Father-God, or pre-mortal-Jesus-God and resurrected-Jesus-God, etc.? How are those distinctions different than the distinctions that Trinitarians make?”

  49. I think Trinitarians have overlapping meanings, but their meanings have been carefully crafted over a long period into the doctrine of the trinity. “God” can mean the person Father, the person Son or the person Holy Ghost, and all three.

    I think both belief systems have trouble explaining what is meant by saying “God” is all three together as well as the fact that each is individually separate persons, or what the differences are between the persons.

    Trinitarians seem to explain this by saying its a mystery. Mormons explain this by calling each a god despite their differences. But what a god is is certainly a mystery in itself.

    It seems that one way of saying it non-mysteriously (and thus incorrectly) is that both systems believe “God” can exist in persons in different states. I.e. A state like the Father, a state like the Son, and a state like the Holy Ghost.

    Mormon theology provides for the God the Son to move to the same state as God the father. In their belief, the transition doesn’t make the Son less a god, any more than his being different that the Father makes him less a god. Of course why this is must be a mystery.

    From what I hear, Trinitarians believe that God is absolutely one eternally the same. It seems that to them Christ can be the same before and after the historical event of the incarnation. Precisely why this is, is also a mystery.

  50. A better approach would be: “Mormons believe that pre-mortal Jesus was God, but what distinctions, if any, do they make between Jesus-God and Father-God, or pre-mortal-Jesus-God and resurrected-Jesus-God, etc.? How are those distinctions different than the distinctions that Trinitarians make?”

    This.

  51. “Mormons believe that pre-mortal Jesus was God, but what distinctions, if any, do they make between Jesus-God and Father-God, or pre-mortal-Jesus-God and resurrected-Jesus-God, etc.? How are those distinctions different than the distinctions that Trinitarians make?”

    Fair enough.

    It’s still my contention that these distinctions produce a different Incarnation (and dare I say it, “a different Jesus”) than the one represented in orthodoxy.

  52. “It’s still my contention that these distinctions produce a different Incarnation (and dare I say it, “a different Jesus”) than the one represented in orthodoxy.”

    I’m not trying to argue against that. I just don’t see it—or don’t see what you see—and won’t until I can follow the argument from the right approach.

    Which is not to say that I don’t see the “different Jesus” point in general. If we get right down to it, Mormonism concludes that “your Jesus” doesn’t exist (and vice versa). I’m just having a hard time seeing how that conclusion is reached solely from this one point of distinction.

  53. I agree with BrianJ about the way to approach the question.

    I agree with Kullervo that part of the problem is the various definitions of “God.”

    I agree with Jared C that the Hebrews passage is consistent with Elder Nelson’s talk. In fact, if Hebrews 5:9 were interpreted the same way that Tim is interpreting Nelson’s talk, then the author of Hebrews would be saying that Jesus wasn’t perfect before his suffering.

    I might even agree with Tim that there may be a “different incarnation”* in the two belief systems, but if I were to agree it might be not because of the reasons he gave but because of the different perspectives that the two systems have on the nature of the body.

    I’m being agreeable for the moment.

    * I hesitate to use phrases such as “different Christ” or “different God”or “different whatever,” because there are different meanings of “different.”

  54. Which is not to say that I don’t see the “different Jesus” point in general. If we get right down to it, Mormonism concludes that “your Jesus” doesn’t exist (and vice versa). I’m just having a hard time seeing how that conclusion is reached solely from this one point of distinction.

    Eh, the “different Jesus” problem is nonsensical. If I believe that you like strawberry ice cream, but Tim believes that you prefer vanilla, then we believe in a “different BrianJ,” and I believe that the BrianJ Tim believes in (i.e., the one that rpefers vanilla) does not exist.

    Sorta limp if you ask me.

  55. I like Tillamook Mudslide. That’s all you really need to know.

    I agree in part with what you’re saying. I don’t fully agree though because at some point I think it’s fair to recognize that two beliefs are so mutually exclusive that they’ve crossed some line—i.e., they are not different “takes” or viewpoints, but entirely contradictory. Liz Lemon would call this a “dealbreaker belief.” Using the admittedly problematic term “different Jesus” is just short-hand. It’s not a term I’m fond of—because of it’s shortcomings—but it’s one I’m willing to work with if someone else brings it up (as Tim did).

    Maybe we should call them “deal-breaker” differences?

  56. I appreciate BrianJ’s suggestion to reframe the issues.

    Tim, in discussing these issues there are many approaches that one could take. One could seek to describe Mormon faith claims by taking into account Mormon self-perception. Following this approach, the litmus test as to whether a description is generally accurate would be for Mormons to see themselves reflected in such a description. One might see this as an anthropological approach to describing religious cultures.

    Another approach is not to be concerned with Mormon self-perception but rather to take Mormon theological positions and judge them based on some external criteria, or to compare them with some other theological tradition. In this approach the goal isn’t to asymptotically match your description with self-descriptions of the adherent using the same language and vocabulary, but rather the goal is to analyze the implications of certain doctrinal tenants vis-à-vis some other theological criteria, tradition or framework. This should still lead to accurate depictions within the bounds and definitions set forth, although adherents would not see an image of their reflection without translation.

    In your original post you wrote:

    But my basic understanding is that Mormons believe that Jesus was not God in the pre-existence (like the Father)…

    This seems to me to have been interpreted by most people as the first kind of approach. In response you received several comments from Mormons who disagreed with your description. Eric, BrainJ, Alex, and myself did not see congruency between your description and our personal beliefs or experiences. If your goal was the first approach, the appropriate response would be to modify your description in light of this feedback. Instead of doing this, however, you responded by saying that quotations from the Book of Mormon are irrelevant in determining Mormon views on the Incarnation. I did not expect this response. While I think everyone acknowledges that Mormon revelations continued after the publication of the Book of Mormon, that hardly makes the book irrelevant to Mormonism generally and certainly does not make it irrelevant to the specific issue at hand. If Mormon are now barred from pointing to their own textual tradition when they seek to describe their own beliefs, this does not bode well for interfaith dialogue.

    After several comments you have now stated:

    It’s still my contention that these distinctions produce a different Incarnation (and dare I say it, “a different Jesus”) than the one represented in orthodoxy.

    I would like to highlight that now you seem to be taking the second approach I outlined above, and not the first. If you are now saying that Mormonism is different from your perspective or from the perspective of historic Christian orthodoxy or Evangelical orthodoxy, I find no objections to that, other than to say that we might take advantage of dialogue that has taken place previously. Blomberg and Robinson concluded:

    Both communities accept the full divinity of Jesus Christ, his divine sonship, and his role as the only means of salvation for human beings. Latter-day Saints are subordinationists, making the Father greater than the Son, while Evangelicals generally find this a compromise of the divinity of the Son. (HWD, 142).

  57. Aquinas,

    Were my revisions to your three points with more precise Mormon terminology helpful to you? Did they better reflect the Mormonism you’re familiar with and believe in?

    Do you agree that it can be difficult for a non-Mormon to accurately reflect what Mormons mean by the word “god”? Can you suggest a way I could better describe Jesus’ non-exalted divinity?

    If Mormon are now barred from pointing to their own textual tradition when they seek to describe their own beliefs, this does not bode well for interfaith dialogue.

    I wasn’t barring Mormons from looking to the Book of Mormon to form their personal theology. I was pointing out that their Mormon predecessors didn’t seem to reflect on what the Book of Mormon had to say as they developed some of their more unique doctrines. So when approaching something like the pre-existence I don’t know that the Book of Mormon is all that helpful to us in understanding what Mormons have generally and historically believed.

    I could suggest that Mormons believe in polygamy and someone might counter that I’ve got it wrong and all I’ve got to do is look at what the Book of Mormon has to say about polygamy to see for myself. The Book of Mormon’s teachings on polygamy, the pre-existence and the nature of God are all very interesting. I truly wish that Joseph Smith and Brigham Young had been more prone to quote them in their sermons and had grounded themselves in them more faithfully. If modern Mormons wish to abandon Smith and Young’s teachings in favor of Rigdon or Moroni’s I’d be quite excited for the prospect.

    I don’t know that Mormons at large would see themselves reflected in my description of Mormonism from that perspective but I hope that day arrives.

  58. Tim asked someone else:

    Can you suggest a way I could better describe Jesus’ non-exalted divinity?

    I’m going to semi-answer that question with what I think might be a rephrasing of your question:

    What does the postmortal Jesus (which I think is synonymous with the exalted Jesus) have that the premortal Jesus did not?

    My answer is that he has a body he didn’t have before, and that he has the knowledge he gained from being on Earth. I don’t see him as having any more authority or power, so in that sense he isn’t “more” God than he was before.

    I assume that an evangelical answer would be similar, would it not?

    If I were to answer your question directly, I’m not sure what more I could say than I have already. As a “nonexalted divinity,” Jesus had the power and attributes that his Father had, but without the body. He was a member of the Godhead and obviously had the full powers of creation, although he worked under the direction of his Father. I see nothing in the Scriptures to indicate that he was anything less than fully God.

    Perhaps other LDS have different views, but everything I’ve said is consistent with what I’ve been taught.

  59. I don’t see him as having any more authority or power, so in that sense he isn’t “more” God than he was before.

    I was serious before about why 19th century Mormons thought it was necessary to have a body, though I put it rather glibly. Simply put Mormonism has generally taught that having a celestial body is necessary for being a God in the same sense that God the Father is. That is, the celestial body is for the procreation of spirits.

    Also, it really befuddles me why Mormons are so quick to throw this away, because it solves a fundamental quandry/problem with traditional Christianity. The problem is this: Once you accept that the spirit is eternal, what is the point of a physical, bodily resurrection? Put another way, if you are going to live forever as a spirit, what does a body get for you that a spirit alone does not?

    Orthodox Christians need to affirm a physical resurrection because of 1 Cor 15. However, some Christians are wishy-washy on the issue because they really can’t answer why there is a need for a body in the after life. And if there is no need for it, and nothing to do with it, why bother with a physical resurrection?

    LDS thought is crystal clear on this issue, you need a body to be like God the Father so you can procreate like God the Father can. And that’s precisely the same reason that Jesus also needs a body. I have noticed that many Mormons on this thread are quick to volunteer that Jesus is the creator. And when they are talking about the organization of the physical elements, that is correct. However, Mormon theology definitely holds that he had nothing to do with the creation/organization/birth of the spirit bodies in the pre-existence. He didn’t have anything to do with that because he did not have that power (notice the orthodox don’t have this problem as God simply created spirits by Himself ex nihilo).

    Also notice that by ignoring or downplaying the procreation after death aspect of the Mormon theology of bodies you also pretty much flush the concept of eternal families down the toilet. If exalted Mormons are just going to sit around doing a whole lot of nothing with their bodies, there really isn’t anything you can call an eternal family, and the temple ordinances really don’t mean much anymore.

    If you want to have an orthodox theology of Jesus and his incarnation, then you have to take an orthodox understanding of the afterlife as well, because any concept of the afterlife will be connected to the nature of Jesus. This is why detailed theology matters and you can’t just wave your hands and call it meaningless details.

    You have two options. One is to agree with Russell M. Nelson, that Jesus was lacking in something prior to his resurrection. If you do that you get to keep eternal families and a reason for a resurrection. Or, go the orthodox route and throw away those Mormon distinctives.

  60. Eric, thanks for that. You’re right there is little I would disagree with.

    Can I ask, was Jesus exalted without a physical body? Did he have the need for a physical body? What did the fulfilled need provide him with?

  61. Tim asked:

    Can I ask, was Jesus exalted without a physical body?

    It depends on what you mean by “exalted.”

    Tim asked:

    Did he have the need for a physical body? What did the fulfilled need provide him with?

    I don’t claim to have the answers to all the questions. I’ve tried to state what makes sense to me based on the Scriptures and what I’ve been taught, and not all the answers are there.

    I don’t have this sorted through yet. But certainly the implication of what I know is that Jesus had to experience mortal life (which by definition includes having a body) in order to carry out the Atonement. Why? I don’t claim to know, and any answer I would come up with would be tautological.

    Beyond that, I don’t know the details, but there’s something about the whole process of having our bodies restored with the resurrection that has to do with living together as an eternal family with God as our supreme Father and, furthermore, as descended family units in the eternities. Whether that involves some sort of spiritual procreation as David C. opines and made a compelling case for, I don’t know. (I firmly believe that our eternity is going to be filled with us creating in some way, but what type of creation I do not know.) But in some way the whole gospel message is tied into this concept of family; certainly there is the Biblical imagery of us being adopted into God’s family, of us being his offspring and of us being created in his image. How all these relate, I honestly don’t know, and the LDS-specific scriptures don’t add as much as I wish they would.

    I certainly can speculate, but I don’t think that would be helpful in this forum.

    So that’s kind of a nonanswer, but it’s the best I can do. I’m certainly open to hear what others have to say.

  62. Can I ask, was Jesus exalted without a physical body?
    yes,

    Jesus was not exalted without a physical body in the same way he was not incarnated without one, Exaltation is the elevation of a physical being into a godlike physical state.

    i think “need” is a funny word to use in this context. Mormons clearly believe he didn’t “need” to be exalted to be God.

    Exaltation was needed to move to the state his father was in.

  63. Eric, I consider you a friend and I hope you take what I’m about to say in the spirit in which I offer it. . .

    Asking me to define “exaltation” is just about the most “jello-avoiding-a-wall” Mormon answer I’ve heard.

  64. i.e. the exaltation of Jesus is a big them in the New Testament and is part of the change that began with the incarnation.

    Jesus is given the “crown” of his father, he is exalted by the father to stand at his right hand.

    In order for Jesus to move into the state his Father was in he had to be incarnated and exalted. But he was a god before and after. He was completely worthy of all of the glory of the Father from the beginning.

    The “orthodox route” David Clark refers to seems to gloss over all of the language in the New Testament that talks about the change that came over Jesus due to the events of his life.

    The “lack” referred to is what the Father met by exalting Jesus as His heir. Jesus’ incarnation and exaltation made him the author of salvation of all other incarnate beings and paved the way to making them joint-heirs.

    The New Testament talks about Jesus learning, growing, changing, becoming. Mormon theology describes this as the “exaltation” why the incarnation and exaltation is needed, is the same reason that Jesus was needed to save mankind. Whatever reason that was.

  65. Tim told me:

    Asking me to define “exaltation” is just about the most “jello-avoiding-a-wall” Mormon answer I’ve heard.

    Well, if you don’t like that, I’ll give you Ezra Taft Benson’s answer:

    An angel of the Lord who appeared to Nephi used a word to describe the willingness of the Holy One of Israel to step down from His throne divine and make flesh His tabernacle. That word is condescension. It means to descend or come down from an exalted position to a place of inferior station. This our Savior did. [emphasis added]

    From Five Marks of the Divinity of Jesus Christ (President Ezra Taft Benson in a fireside address given at the University of Utah Special Events Center on 9 December 1979)

  66. David Clark: “it really befuddles me why Mormons are so quick to throw away [the idea that resurrected bodies are required for procreation of spirits], because it solves a fundamental quandry/problem with traditional Christianity.”

    I recognize the value of addressing the need for resurrection, but “making spirit babies” is not a sound justification. Mormons have good reason to believe that spirits are not created, ever, by any means (see below). Thus, having a body so that we can do something that cannot be done is not a good explanation for why we have bodies. We could just as improperly say, “We need resurrected bodies so that we can divide by zero.”

    So yeah, I still wish I had a good way to answer that resurrection question. But I’m not going to take a wrong answer just so that I can have an answer.

    “LDS thought is crystal clear on this issue….”

    Obviously, I don’t think so. I mean, it’s clear that we need a body, just not why we need it. For example, D&C 93:34 says that without a body we can’t “receive a fulness of joy,” but doesn’t explain how the mechanics of joy are impeded for the non-resurrected.

    “[Jesus] had nothing to do with the creation/organization/birth of the spirit bodies in the pre-existence. He didn’t have anything to do with that because he did not have that power….”

    And Joseph Smith stately explicitly that neither did God the Father. (This is what I was getting at above; several relevant quotes were published in the recent JS manual.)

    “downplaying the procreation after death aspect…you also pretty much flush the concept of eternal families down the toilet.”

    I don’t follow—unless by “eternal families” you mean “increase or progression.” (See below; I think I’m confused by your terms.) At any rate, I think we will “acquire” new spirits exactly the same way God the Father “acquired” us, and I don’t think that had anything to do with him making or creating us spiritually.

    “If exalted Mormons are just going to sit around doing a whole lot of nothing with their bodies…”

    Who said that? Just because we may not use our bodies to do the impossible—create spirits—does not mean that we won’t use them for anything at all. Maybe we will use them to play soccer, or get massages, or eat. Who knows? But excluding one proposed use for them does not render them unused.

    “…there really isn’t anything you can call an eternal family, and the temple ordinances really don’t mean much anymore.”

    I may be missing your point, but it seems that you’re saying that “eternal procreation” is the meaning of “eternal family.” I’ve never thought of “eternal family” that way, instead thinking of it referring to family members who already exist (as opposed to those I would create spiritually some time in the future).

    “You have two options.”

    No, I think you’re too restrictive because your first option insists that Mormons must believe that bodies are necessary for procreation. Why can’t we just say that bodies are necessary, but we don’t know why? It doesn’t give us a leg up on other Christians who also believe in literal resurrection, but it’s an honest and (I believe) correct answer.

    Also, one can quite easily disagree with Elder Nelson* and still believe there is a need for a physical resurrection. For example, we could say, “We need a body in order to become one with God the Father, who also possesses a body; Jesus and the Holy Ghost, on the other hand, somehow managed to become one with him without possessing a body. We don’t know how they did/do it. Thus, what Jesus gained by possessing a body is quite different than what we stand to gain.”

    ________
    * Or how you’re interpreting Elder Nelson. I think Eric offered some good counter-points to your interpretation, but whether we take yours or Eric’s doesn’t alter my point here.

  67. Eric: “So that’s kind of a nonanswer, but it’s the best I can do. I’m certainly open to hear what others have to say.”

    I think your answer was great. Sometimes the best we can do is state a principle without much explanation into what makes it so.

    (Except, as you can see from my comment above, where you extol David Clark’s case for procreating resurrected bodies. I also don’t like your “nonexalted divinity” term used earlier; too problematic.)

  68. Personally, I’m pretty certain that I will finally be able to play rugby when I have a resurrected, exalted body. Half-blind and half-deaf as I am now, I could try, but I wouldn’t be very successful at it.

  69. BrianJ: Excellent points, and I think you’re probably more right than I am.

    Among the good points is the possibility you raised that perhaps the process of exaltation was/is different in some way for Jesus and the Holy Spirit than it is for us. I don’t really now.

    As I did some searches through lds.org last night, I noticed that there are basically no direct references to Jesus being exalted even now (although it’s frequently implied). Whenever exaltation is discussed, it’s basically always in the context of being something that Jesus made possible for us, not in terms of something that he did himself or went through.

    It’s true that we don’t talk in terms about Jesus being exalted in premortality. But it’s also true that we (here, I’m referring to church leaders and official teaching materials) don’t talk directly about Jesus being exalted today, even though we believe it.

    So as slippery as this may strike Tim (and I understand where he’s coming from), perhaps what it means for Jesus (or, perhaps, the Holy Spirit) to be exalted is different than what it is for us.

    Perhaps.

    And you’re right about “nonexalted divinity.” Pretend I never used it.

    All that said, I’m prepared to give Tim the direct answer he craves.

    Tim asked:

    Can I ask, was Jesus exalted without a physical body?

    Yes, as before he came to Earth he had everlasting life with his Heavenly Father and lived the kind of life his Heavenly Father lived, and that’s what it means to be exalted. And to say that he condescended (or, in the words of Paul, emptied himself) to become human makes no sense unless he was in an exalted state beforehand.

  70. Tim, I think the simplest way of putting is that exaltation is a lifting up. You have to be “down” in order to be “lifted”.

    Jesus had to condescend in order to be exalted. (had to go down before he could go up.) His exaltation was a necessary part of his incarnation.

    All of God’s other children started “down”, they had to descend like Jesus did, but have a chance to be exalted because of what Jesus did.

    Thus the Word was God, the Word was made Flesh, and the Word ascended to the right hand of his father with a resurrected body.

    Now certainly there are differences in what Evangelicals and Mormons believe on this but i think you are stuck on the idea that Mormons don’t think as much of Jesus as Trinitarians do. That he was needy, incomplete, in need of progression in order to be the Word. I just can’t see that.

    Measured by the conceptual architecture of the Trinity, the Mormon conception of the incarnation may be heretical, but its hard for me to see how its an unreasonable interpretation of the New Testament.

    If you are interested in teaching the Mormons the error of their ways I think you have to understand their position and then argue from scripture.

    What implicitly clear is that the New Testament teaches that for some reason it was “needed” that Jesus, who was with God and was God, do what he did, i.e. incarnation, passion, resurrection, exaltation (or ascension). What, to me, is equally unclear was why all this was really necessary. (maybe that is the subject of another post)

  71. Thanks for the direct response Eric. (and also to Jared and BrianJ).

    I’m glad to hear you guys stretching for the orthodox understanding of the Incarnation. I think to do so starts to make a mess of other LDS beliefs though.

    Let me explain further,

    I understand Mormons to believe that Jesus is our older brother and that we are Heavenly Father’s children in exactly the same way that Jesus is (vivaporous birth debates aside).

    [let’s pause for just a moment so someone can tell me that the Book of Mormon contradicts this idea and that they have never been taught that it is true]

    If Jesus can become exalted and reign in glory with Heavenly Father without a mortal life, then that means the same is presumably true for us. We all could have remained with Heavenly Father and skipped this mortal life. This puts a serious kink in the Mormon explanation for the problem of evil. The mortal life didn’t have to be.

    Further, families were already eternal. Heavenly Father’s family was together (in various states of exaltation). The mortal life reduces the certainty of THE eternal family to the mere possibility that families can be eternal. The testing that the mortal life offers us ends up separating family members that were already together in the pre-existence.

    If Mormons embrace the orthodox understanding of Incarnation for Jesus I wonder if there is a lesser or different incarnation for the rest of us. Why did people who are a part of the divine species choose a lesser incarnation? Or did we become incarnate in exactly the same way Jesus did; emptying ourselves of deity and taking on the form of a human?

  72. Jared said:
    In order for Jesus to move into the state his Father was in he had to be incarnated and exalted.

    This implies he lacked something the Father had. The mortal life was a requirement on him to be equal to his Father. You affirm that he was “god” that he was the Word and that he was creator. But still you acknowledge that he wasn’t in the same state as his Father and that incarnation was the only way for him to get there.

    What implicitly clear is that the New Testament teaches that for some reason it was “needed” that Jesus, who was with God and was God, do what he did, i.e. incarnation, passion, resurrection, exaltation (or ascension). What, to me, is equally unclear was why all this was really necessary.

    In the orthodox understanding, Jesus is the only mortal with a pre-existence and the only one of the divine species to become incarnate.

    His Incarnation was necessary, but not for him. It was for us. WE needed to be atoned. WE needed a savior. Jesus was God and would continue to be God whether or not he ever tasted salt and whether or not he ever was called Messiah. It was all necessary for his creation but it offered him nothing he didn’t already have. And that is how we know God loved the world. . .

  73. Jared,

    The “orthodox route” David Clark refers to seems to gloss over all of the language in the New Testament that talks about the change that came over Jesus due to the events of his life.

    Not at all, it just interprets those in light of Chalcedon. An orthodox understanding of Jesus mortal life is that he was both fully God and fully human. Paradoxial? Yep!

    But what it means is that the NT authors can talk about Jesus undergoing change, learning, growing, etc. Because, with the exception of sinning, Jesus was in every way fully human. Where orthodox part company from Mormons is in saying that Jesus had to do this as part of an eternal progression. He had no need to become incarnate, it was an act of pure love. The Mormon view is that Jesus had to become incarnate for his own progression.

  74. I don’t follow—unless by “eternal families” you mean “increase or progression.” (See below; I think I’m confused by your terms.) At any rate, I think we will “acquire” new spirits exactly the same way God the Father “acquired” us, and I don’t think that had anything to do with him making or creating us spiritually.

    God “acquired” us huh? I love it how you use the passive construction. I know your answer will be “I don’t know,” but where/how in the hell does God “acquire” something? Did he acquire us through some cosmic eBay? Was it just a random event? Perhaps God the Father just sits around long enough and spirits just pop into his lap ready to go?

    You really are going for broke here, aren’t you? Now God the Father “acquires” spirits in a random transaction with a mysterious third party or some other such nonsense. If this stuff just happens, if spirits just get “acquired,” one wonders why there is a need for a God at all.

    And, if he just “acquires” us by some mysterious process or random 3rd party brokering this transaction, why not worship that mysterious process or random 3rd party? That process or party seems to be much more powerful and useful than God is. I mean, he just sits around waiting for crap to happen while this 3rd party or process seems to get the job done.

  75. Tim, i agree that Jesus was different than the Father (and actually will always be. and difference will always imply some “lack” If i had a twin, we would both be fully human and genetically identical but our experiences make us different. we would lack, and always lack something the other had. Such lack in itself does not imply that we are any less fully human and genetically identical.

    My point is not that Trinitarianism and Mormonism are identical, but substantially similar in that they both take into account New Testament Language.

    The Hypostasic Union is one way of reconciling the language of the New Testament, albeit by incorporating mystery and paradox.

    The idea of progression of the Son to become like the Father is another one way of reconciling new testament language, albeit by incorporating mystery and paradox.

    Making a Man into a God is always going to require such strange twists of conception.

    But as far as the incarnation goes, in principle it seems that this doctrine is as similar in both systems as any.

  76. David Clark: what are you after here? Over and over again you’ve come across as someone just in a sour mood, arrogant, and not truly interested in what other people think. I’ve tried to be generous in my response to you, tried to give you the benefit of a “mistaken reading due to the limitations of blogging,” and even tried to re-read your comments to see if I’m missing something and actually don’t disagree with you as much as I first thought.

    I get that you dislike Mormonism. But that’s not my problem or issue or choice or interest in any way. I don’t care. At all. And you don’t need me to explain my beliefs in order to have something Mormon that you can mock and deride and complain about. So I don’t see what value my words have to you, or why you take time out of your day to respond to someone you apparently have no real interest in or need for.

    I also don’t see the value of your words to me. I don’t care if you’re wrong about Mormonism; that club has a huge membership. I don’t care if you attack Mormonism; I haven’t felt the need to play apologetics for years. And I don’t have any intentions of converting you to Mormonism. I’m on this blog because I find interfaith dialog interesting—mostly because it offers me new insights or vantage points from which to analyze my own beliefs. But you don’t offer any dialog—at least not in this thread. Your rebuttals have come across as insincere, ill-conceived, and ignorant. And thus, you have nothing to offer (to me).

    P.S. If you’re just interested in making fun of me, you should know that I’m going bald, I can’t dance, and I not-so-secretly actually like Neil Diamond. Kinda. That should give you lots of material.

  77. Tim: “I’m glad to hear you guys stretching….”

    I thought we were making progress, but that one sentence tells me that you still aren’t “getting” the LDS position. I may be missing a point that you are focusing on, but it seems that the Mormons here have been stressing that the LDS view is clearly and unequivocally that Jesus was God pre-birth. I don’t see how we’re “stretching” at all—trying to “reach out” as far as we can to some other doctrine that we don’t dare fully embrace. Pre-mortal Jesus was God; our scripture, our prophets, and our manuals say so repeatedly.

    I really hope I’m just missing your point 🙂

    “I understand Mormons to believe that Jesus is our older brother….” Very common belief. Almost universal in the Church. But yeah, I can’t find a single LDS scripture that states that. In one sense I don’t think he is, but in another sense I don’t think it matters at all. But that is a different discussion, no?

    “If Jesus can become exalted and reign in glory with Heavenly Father without a mortal life, then that means the same is presumably true for us. We all could have remained with Heavenly Father….”

    No. Not necessarily. Perhaps at one time this was true—that it was theoretically possible for some of us to “skip mortality.” But suppose God the Father at some point looked at all of us and, in his great wisdom, determined that we just weren’t making any progress. We needed something entirely different in order to advance, and no amount of eternal existence as a spirit would get us “over the hump.” Not Jesus though; he was (for whatever reason) different. In fact, he was unique.

    Thus, I don’t think that “The mortal life didn’t have to be” is a necessary conclusion.

    “Further, families were already eternal.” Together forever, yes, but not exalted. A standard teaching in Mormonism is that our progression had stagnated pre-mortally. That’s not what God wanted: “God himself, finding he was in the midst of spirits and glory, because he was more intelligent, saw proper to institute laws whereby the rest could have a privilege to advance like himself” (Joseph Smith; see “Teachings of Pres of Church” manual, Ch 17).

    “Why did people who are a part of the divine species choose a lesser incarnation? Or did we become incarnate in exactly the same way Jesus did; emptying ourselves of deity and taking on the form of a human?” I think the quote from Joseph Smith addresses these questions.

  78. Eric: “So as slippery as this may strike Tim (and I understand where he’s coming from), perhaps what it means for Jesus (or, perhaps, the Holy Spirit) to be exalted is different than what it is for us.”

    I think you raise a very important point: can we point to any scripture that ever refers to Jesus as “non-exalted” (or “non-divine,” “non-God”, etc.)? I don’t think so. Which means that we have no idea whatsoever about how he became God, or indeed whether there truly was a God before him and the Father. (The Snow couplet raises this point, and our scriptures are open to the possibility, but our scriptures do not explicitly say so.)

    I don’t see why saying “Jesus was different” should sound “slippery” to any Christian. Jesus is different—every Christian believes that, right?

  79. I get that you dislike Mormonism….I also don’t see the value of your words to me. I don’t care if you’re wrong about Mormonism; that club has a huge membership. I don’t care if you attack Mormonism;

    Brian,

    When I point out the inconsistencies and inanities of what you write, I am not attacking Mormonism. For that to be true you would have to actually be offering up Mormon doctrine and teachings. You don’t, not by a long shot. You only want to spout off the worst versions of internet-Mormon-me-too-ism imaginable. If you actually said something resembling the Mormonism that the GA’s teach, that people in the pews believe, and that past Mormon prophets have taught, I wouldn’t have a beef with you.

    No, I’m defending Mormonism. My family are all still Mormons and they believe the things that I have said on this thread, though I admit they wouldn’t be as flippant with the penis comments. To be honest I don’t know why you even think you are defending Mormonism.

    And now, to be even harsher. I think this tactic of denying what Mormons actually believe and have believed in the name of some false ecumenical dialogue is no better than those who flat out lied about the 1890 manifesto. They wanted some acceptance from the U.S. government so they lied to get it. Internet Mormons want to be loved and/or accepted by the Christian community, so they lie about what they really believe. When Sunday rolls around, all Internet Mormons spout the party line or remain silent at church, thus giving tacit agreement to what is said and taught there. This is no different than the GA’s in the 1890’s lying about polygamy to the feds and then trotting off to perform and engage in polygamous marriages.

    Of course, the complaint will be that Internet Mormons aren’t lying because 1) There is no official doctrine on that subject, 2) He was speaking as a man not a prophet, 3) That’s only one interpretation, 4) Mormonism has no official doctrines, it’s just a covenant community, 5) What we really want is orthopraxy, not orthodoxy, 6) I don’t know that we preach that, I don’t know that we teach that, and the list goes on for 183 more entries. It’s all just language games to be able to say one thing to non-Mormons for convenience while going back to church and either explicitly or tacitly agreeing to the status quo. It’s no different than the polygamist lying to the feds by saying “I only have one wife among the living,” because he made his other wives visit the cemetery that day. Cute, technically true, but it’s also a lie.

    In summary, I like Mormonism just fine (though I think it’s false), it’s Internet Mormonism that really annoys me.

  80. In regards to Jesus being our older brother BrianJ said”
    Almost universal in the Church. But yeah, I can’t find a single LDS scripture that states that. In one sense I don’t think he is, but in another sense I don’t think it matters at all. But that is a different discussion, no?

    No, not at all. It’s actually fundamental to our discussion. If you didn’t realize that you may not get what I’ve been saying. The idea of Jesus being our older brother is what causes me to think that his incarnation is similar to our own.

    I’m a bit frustrated that you tell me that it’s not a part of any Mormon scripture and then go on to quote the Snow couplet and “Teachings of Pres of Church” in support of a different set of Mormon beliefs. Oh, how nice it would be if Mormons confined their belief system to what can be found in their scriptures.

  81. I really have learned a thing or two from this discussion, please verify that I’m understanding Mormon teaching correctly.

    Exaltation is a process of entering into godhood for mortal bodies. Jesus was fully god without a body, but once he took on a body he was able to partake in exaltation. On a much lesser extent we could say that exaltation is like tasting salt, it’s something only physical bodies can do and it’s not fundamental to godhood.

    Is that right?

    If so, can we assume that Heavenly Father must have lived a past mortal life because he has an exalted mortal body? Can mortal bodies receive exaltation without having lived a mortal life? Is Heavenly Father exalted?

    Eric I’d like to hear from you specifically because I believe in the past that you have rejected the idea that Heavenly Father lived a mortal life. How does that square with Heavenly Father possessing an exalted physical body?

  82. Wow David Clark. I hope you didn’t spend too much valuable time on your response, because I only read the first two sentences. You’re just not getting it.

  83. David Clark: You’re in no position to judge our motives. And if you don’t want to be annoyed, there’s an easy answer to that.

    BrianJ said:

    … you should know that I’m going bald, I can’t dance, and I not-so-secretly actually like Neil Diamond. Kinda.

    Ditto to all, for better or worse.

    BrianJ also said:

    I may be missing a point that you [Tim] are focusing on, but it seems that the Mormons here have been stressing that the LDS view is clearly and unequivocally that Jesus was God pre-birth. I don’t see how we’re “stretching” at all—trying to “reach out” as far as we can to some other doctrine that we don’t dare fully embrace. Pre-mortal Jesus was God; our scripture, our prophets, and our manuals say so repeatedly.

    I think the problem goes back to the quote that Aquinas used earlier from How Wide the Divide:

    Both communities [evangelicals and Mormons] accept the full divinity of Jesus Christ, his divine sonship, and his role as the only means of salvation for human beings. Latter-day Saints are subordinationists, making the Father greater than the Son, while Evangelicals generally find this a compromise of the divinity of the Son.

    Evangelicals generally seem to emphasize the equality (whatever that means) of the Father and the Son, and the fact that our (meaning LDS) language often runs contrary to that seems to be the cause of some of the concern. Ironically, the case for saying that the Father is “greater” (for lack of a better word) than the Son is even stronger in the Bible than it is in non-Bibiblical LDS scripture. In the Bible, Jesus is always portrayed as doing the will of the Father, not the other way around. And Paul consistently distinguishes between there being one God (the Heavenly Father) and one Lord (Jesus Christ). And he consistently speaks of us experiencing the Father through the Son, not the other way around. In his first letter to Timothy, Paul refers to Heavenly Father as God and in the same sentence (in English translation) calls Jesus a human mediator.

    It’s very difficult for me to see the ontological Trinity in these passages.

    The writer of Hebrews talks about Jesus being being appointed by God, speaks of Jesus becoming better than the angels, speaks of Jesus offering himself to God, refers to Jesus as a high priest, speaks of Jesus taking his throne on the right hand of God and speaks of Jesus being the representation of God. Yet nowhere does the writer of Hebrews tell us directly that Jesus is God, either now or in the pre-existence. (Correct me if I’m wrong.)

    Yet I haven’t heard evangelicals claim that the writer of Hebrews didn’t believe in the divinity of Christ.

    Yes, Jesus was, is and will be divine, and the Bible as a whole (along with non-Biblical LDS sources) testifies to that. But it seems that because our views on Jesus’ divinity don’t fit in a neat little box that we’re accused of not believing in his divinity at all, at least for some times in his life.

    We may not consistently speak of Jesus being God, but neither did the Biblical writers. But that doesn’t mean we and they don’t/didn’t believe it.

  84. If so, can we assume that Heavenly Father must have lived a past mortal life because he has an exalted mortal body? Can mortal bodies receive exaltation without having lived a mortal life? Is Heavenly Father exalted?

    I think this is a correct assumption. There was a lot of speculation in this area. I was taught was that Jesus came to earth to go through the process his Father went through.

    I understand exaltation as the process of receiving a mortal body and having it put on immortality and glory. So yes, you need a body to be exalted.

    Heavenly Father is exalted.

  85. David,

    I am going to agree with Eric that Hebrews does not seem to be talking about Jesus becoming, growing, changing in station in his mortal existence alone. Hebrews seems to refer to Jesus as a being who was exalted to God due to and after his performance/experience on earth. I get that Trinitarians don’t really believe the plain reading, but it does fit well with Mormonism.

  86. Tim said to me:

    I’d like to hear from you specifically because I believe in the past that you have rejected the idea that Heavenly Father lived a mortal life. How does that square with Heavenly Father possessing an exalted physical body?

    I’m not sure what I said in the past, but I wouldn’t say now that I reject the idea that Heavenly Father had a mortal life, but that he had a life in which he was only mortal. I certainly would reject the idea that he was a sinful human being who needed to be redeemed and who thus grew into becoming God.

    The King Follett sermon isn’t canonical, but if for some reason I had to accept it as inspired, I would probably accept what has come to be known as the revisionist interpretation, that at the time Heavenly Father had a mortal experience, he already was God (in other words, a mortal experience somewhat like that of Jesus).

    The following blog post takes the position that makes the most sense to me about why our Heavenly Father came to have a body. My views are subject to change: My Take on Joseph Smith’s King Follet Sermon.

  87. Tim said:

    Oh, how nice it would be if Mormons confined their belief system to what can be found in their scriptures.

    I could say the same thing of evangelicals. 😉

  88. I was always taught that Jesus was like his Father in all respects, but he was simply at a different stage in the process, which why he was the Son.

    You have the Father and the Son, both equally gods. The Father had a mortal experience and became exalted after that experience. The Son did the same. I think the tasting salt analogy seems to work. Becoming mortal and then being exalted is not an required attribute for godhood, at least for Jesus and the Father and the Holy Ghost.

    The exaltation process was the plan for getting all of the other children to the same state, Jesus had to conquer death for us like his Father conquered death in order to make it work.

    Yes, it leaves a ton of unanswered questions about what happened with the Father, but it fits reasonably well with the scriptures, King Follet, and the Snow couplet.

    Now this may not be the only Mormon view, but I was never disabused of this by anything I was taught or read as a Mormon.

  89. I’m not sure what I said in the past, but I wouldn’t say now that I reject the idea that Heavenly Father had a mortal life, but that he had a life in which he was only mortal.

    Couldn’t you just as easily say that none of us are “only” mortal?

  90. Couldn’t you just as easily say that none of us are “only” mortal?

    Perhaps. I’d say I have divine potential (you too), but I wouldn’t say I’ve ever been a God or a god.

  91. Tim: you’re right to challenge my response to you. The good news is that I think I now understand how you and I have been mis-communicating. The bad news is that I have too much to do today so my reply will have to wait. Thanks though.

  92. I think one way of getting around the erroneous “Jesus was lacking” concept is to put it in Trinitarian terms.

    In terms of the Trinitarian paradigm (as in the Mormon), Jesus is fully and equally God, but he had a mortal experience, i.e. participated in the hypostatic union. In terms of the Trinity, God the Father is fully and equally God but did not participate in such a union. This doesn’t imply that there is anything lacking in God the Father simply because he didn’t have the experience of Jesus.

    Likewise it doesn’t imply that the pre-existent Jesus was lacking simply because he had not yet participated in the mortal experience that the Father had.

  93. David Clark,

    I’ve met and had complex doctrinal discussions with Mormons from Mongolia to Madagascar to Moab.* I know its not fair play to a doctrinally static evangelical, but pinning down “what Mormons really believe” is virtually impossible. You know this – let it go. Its just the way it is.

    If you want to take GC as a point of reference – then, in my experience, Internet Mormonism is a lot closer to GC than what the average Utah/Idaho Mormon believes.* Tell your relatives to put down MoDoc, Answers to Gospel Questions and Saturdays Warrior and read what Church leaders are saying TODAY.

    *This perspective was gained while serving a mission in Utah – where the Elders and Sisters were from every region of the World you can imagine – except Utah.

  94. I understand Mormons to believe that Jesus is our older brother and that we are Heavenly Father’s children in exactly the same way that Jesus is (vivaporous birth debates aside).

    No way. The bold part is your own. Mormons believe we and Jesus are all HF’s children, in the sense that he is the father of all of our spirits. But that in now way forces Mormons to believe that we are otherwise equal to Jesus.

    Ditto with the hackneyed “Jesus and Satan are brothers” canard. Yes, they are “brothers” in the sense that they are both spirit children of HF. As are all of the rest of us. But that doesn’t mean they are equal, or have equal potential, equal status, or anything like that. It means, they are both spirit children of HF, just like the rest of us. Full stop.

  95. CJ,

    I know its not fair play to a doctrinally static evangelical, but pinning down “what Mormons really believe” is virtually impossible. You know this – let it go. Its just the way it is.

    I don’t self identify as evangelical. Yes, I already know all that. In any case, one has to wonder: why bother discussing “Mormon beliefs” (your use of scare quotes, not mine) at all, if there aren’t any? Answer: because Mormons actually do believe a great many things, but for some reason when certain types of Mormons get on the internet they find playing pin-the-belief-on-the-Mormon more interesting.

    If you want to take GC as a point of reference – then, in my experience, Internet Mormonism is a lot closer to GC than what the average Utah/Idaho Mormon believes.*

    Way to go CJ! Is there a special term for lumping the average Utah and Idaho Mormons into one pile to denigrate them? Again, I find it absolutely hysterical that I’m the one defending the average Mormon here, while you seem content to piss on your Utah/Idaho brethren and sisters from whatever perch you happen to be sitting on.

    Tell your relatives to put down MoDoc, Answers to Gospel Questions and Saturdays Warrior and read what Church leaders are saying TODAY.

    Kudos CJ! Seeing as how they read none of that and do listen to what the church leaders are saying TODAY (your yelling, not mine), I don’t have much to tell them. But thanks for the words of wisdom. So, just one question for you CJ. Since my relatives do listen to what church leaders are saying TODAY, and they think there are official Mormon beliefs and doctrines (of the traditional variety), does this also mean that they deserve you pissing on them from whatever perch you happen to be sitting on? Just curious. I actually encourage Mormons like yourself to treat my family like the crap you think they are, it will make it much easier to convince them that the LDS church just isn’t worth it.

    A final thought, you say that the GA’s are much closer to Internet Mormonism than the rubes are, well, all I can say is projection.

  96. Eric,

    FWIW, I wasn’t lumping you in the BrianJ, nor was I lumping you in with the group of Internet Mormons. To be on the internet does not make one an Internet Mormon. You have seemed pretty up front with your positions and you seem to be a genuinely nice person. If you were offended, then you have my apologies.

  97. I am going to agree with Eric that Hebrews does not seem to be talking about Jesus becoming, growing, changing in station in his mortal existence alone. Hebrews seems to refer to Jesus as a being who was exalted to God due to and after his performance/experience on earth. I get that Trinitarians don’t really believe the plain reading, but it does fit well with Mormonism.

    I’d have to look at the Hebrews passage more closely. However, if you think it fits well within Mormonism, I’ll concede that point up front. My point has never been that every Mormon reading of the Bible is inferior. Ironically, one of my comments that landed me in the dog house was me defending Mormons as having a more compelling read of 1 Cor 15.

    In any case what matters most to be is trying to do the most compelling reading of the Bible as a whole. I’ll concede up front that every Christian belief system is going to read some parts of the Bible in a way that just isn’t very compelling. And, every Christian belief system is going to read at least a few parts of the Bible in a very compelling way, Mormons included.

  98. “I am interested in knowing more about this ‘Internet Mormonism’. What is their official doctrine?”

    “It just works” and “I know that MacBooks are true.”

  99. Okay, as indicated, I realized I was miscommunicating with Tim. I’ll try to make this explanation of my epiphany brief and clear.

    The bottom line is that I thought Tim’s post centered on one very specific question: Was pre-mortal Jesus God, or did he need mortality to get there? I don’t think I was alone in this; Alex, Eric, Aquinas, Jared, and David Clark all made it a point in their initial comments to state that Mormons believe that pre-mortal Jesus was God (or that a never-been-mortal could be God). I see now that Tim is asking many more questions than just that, and so I have been missing his point.

    (I first summarized everyone’s beliefs so I could make sure I understood everyone before continuing, but I became afraid that it would be too tedious and therefore not helpful to anyone but me.)

    As usual, there’s a serious communication gap because we are using terms differently. For example, exaltation has been used with different meanings by Tim, Eric, Jared, and me—thus, the question “Was pre-mortal Jesus exalted?” is impossible to answer. Eric says “yes” because Jesus was God and therefore above us (exalted=lofty); Jared says “no” because exaltation means elevating a mortal to Godhood (exaltation=salvation+eternal life).

    Divine Nature
    A bigger problem, though, is that Tim is not seeing how Mormons think about “divine nature.” For Trinitarians, it is impossible that we are the same “divine species” as God—only the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are of that species. Thus, when Mormons claim Jesus as a brother, it sounds like we’re claiming to be divine. This is why Tim found the Jesus-brother point essential, but I did not: to me, it makes no difference who Jesus was or where he came from if the only question you have is whether he was God pre-mortally.

    But Tim wasn’t just asking about Jesus. He was, indirectly, asking about the rest of us too. (Or, the uniqueness of Jesus, to phrase it differently.) Tim asked,

    “Why did people who are a part of the divine species choose a lesser incarnation? Or did we become incarnate in exactly the same way Jesus did; emptying ourselves of deity and taking on the form of a human?”

    I think Tim understands Mormon views by this analogy: God is King, we are his newborn sons, we are therefore princes and will become King if we hang around long enough (and maybe Jesus is the oldest and therefore already treated like a king), and so it makes no sense for us to agree to abandon the kingdom and go live who-knows-where with the promise that maybe somehow we’ll find our way back and claim our throne.

    The problem: I don’t think Mormons would describe pre-mortal existence as any degree of deity. To Mormons, “divine nature” does not equal “deity.” We were of the same species as God and Jesus, but that didn’t make us like them in divinity. No amount of waiting around could bring us to their level, could teach us or transform us into beings that could be One with God; we needed something entirely different than “spirit life” for that. Jesus was different—we don’t know how or why, but he was. Jesus was already One with God.

    Tim didn’t see “divine nature” the way Mormons do, so his line of reasoning continued:

    “If Jesus can become exalted and reign in glory with Heavenly Father without a mortal life, then that means the same is presumably true for us. We all could have remained with Heavenly Father and skipped this mortal life. This puts a serious kink in the Mormon explanation for the problem of evil. The mortal life didn’t have to be.”

    See? For Tim, saying that we’re “divine species” like Jesus must mean that:
    a) we are therefore capable of pre-mortal Godhood,
    or
    b) that none of us (including Jesus) was capable of pre-mortal Godhood.

    Tim’s view of Mormonism does not seem to leave room for viewing pre-mortal Jesus and us as the same in species but different <in glory attained or even potential. But Mormons do. As Kullervo pointed out, Mormons believe that Jesus was different—we don’t know why or how or even when, but we believe he was. We believe that the rest of us had progressed to a certain point but then stagnated and would have remain stagnated forever (part of why we rejoice that Adam & Eve fell).

    I think all of this explains why I (and perhaps others?) was flummoxed when Tim said we (Mormons) were “stretching” to reach the “orthodox understanding,” or that somehow we had to choose between two beliefs: either pre-mortal Jesus was God, or he was just a Creator and we can still believe in eternal families etc. (A dichotomy David Clark expressed more directly).

    Eternal Family
    This also plays into one more point of miscommunication that I believe affects both Tim’s and David Clark’s arguments. Both seem to use a non-Mormon definition for the Mormon concept of “eternal family.” For Tim, claiming to be the same species as God—siblings of Jesus—means that we were a big eternal family in our pre-mortal existence. It is true that we were a big family, but Mormons would reserve the term “eternal” for post-resurrection celestial exaltation—just as “eternal life” is not synonymous with “living forever.” “Eternal” is a degree, not a time-frame.

    For David Clark, “eternal family” denotes, at least in part, forever having more and more spirits kids after we become Gods ourselves. While this concept of procreating forever is part of Mormon thought, I do not think many Mormons would include “celestial procreation” in a discussion of “eternal family.” Ask a Mormon what is means to be an “eternal family” and he will talk about being with his parents and siblings and wife and children forever in the celestial kingdom. In other words, his focus is on the family he has on earth, not the spirit children he will have much later on. (If you want a Mormon to talk about having spirit children, then you need to bring up eternal marriage.)

    The reason this is important in this discussion is that both Tim and David Clark present the Mormon views of:
    1) Divine pre-mortal Jesus, and
    2) needing to come to earth so we could become an eternal family

    as mutually exclusive. The Mormon view is that we were not an eternal family pre-mortally because being “eternal” means being “celestial, god-like” (I’m trying to avoid the term “exalted”!), and we weren’t god-like pre-mortally.

  100. (As an aside: Tim, I said that you were right to challenge my use of a JS quote, etc. Here’s the deal: I, like nearly all Mormons, use a “doctrinality coefficient” for my beliefs: some authoritative sources are more authoritative than others, so you kinda have to multiply the statement by its coefficient to get just how authoritative you’ll take it. We all do it—e.g., most Mormons would give the scriptures a high score and obscure quotes from Brigham Young a low score. On my scale, the canonized scriptures score the highest, with Joseph Smith quotes a close second. All other sources are considerably lower. My scale is admittedly different than that used by other Mormons, who would typically score current prophets and Apostles much closer to Joseph than I do.

    That said, I didn’t use the Snow couplet to prove a point (I actually score it very low, as do many more Mormons after Pres. Hinckley’s treatment of it), I used it as a nod to widely-held Mormon beliefs, and I did that to address specifically something that Eric was talking about. I did not intend that couplet to address your questions, as I did not even realize—at the time—that it had anything to do with your questions.)

  101. For David Clark, “eternal family” denotes, at least in part, forever having more and more spirits kids after we become Gods ourselves. While this concept of procreating forever is part of Mormon thought, I do not think many Mormons would include “celestial procreation” in a discussion of “eternal family.” Ask a Mormon what is means to be an “eternal family” and he will talk about being with his parents and siblings and wife and children forever in the celestial kingdom. In other words, his focus is on the family he has on earth, not the spirit children he will have much later on. (If you want a Mormon to talk about having spirit children, then you need to bring up eternal marriage.)

    I have pointed this out before, but I maintain that this concept of “Eternal Family” is incoherent.

  102. Kullervo: Thanks for the link. I agree with many of the questions you raise in the post you linked to. I’ll leave it at that for now, since I think that’s outside the scope of this discussion (though I said that earlier and was wrong!).

  103. I agree that the issue is tangental–I thought that by offering the link, I would raise the possibility of sending that issue over to my blog (although the post is old) where the question has already been raised instead of confusing the issue here.

  104. BrianJ

    I think you offer a good overview of the conversation and the places where we fail to communicate. I have one hiccup in your description though

    you said:
    The problem: I don’t think Mormons would describe pre-mortal existence as any degree of deity. To Mormons, “divine nature” does not equal “deity.”

    Quite often (perhaps even with you) when Evangelicals try to nail Mormons down on the eternal deity of Heavenly Father, Mormons will say something along the lines of “Yes Heavenly Father was always God, even if he was a mortal man at some point he was always God because he comes from a divine intelligence.”

    So to explain away the Evangelical critique that Mormons worship a Heavenly Father who wasn’t always God Mormons WILL equate “divine nature” with “deity”.

    Hopefully that mixed message will clarify how confusing it might be for me to understand what Mormons might mean when they say that Jesus is god.

  105. I always thought it made a lot more sense to think that HF lived a mortal life like Jesus’s–he was the savior of all the spirit children of his own HF, and thus was always god the same way Jesus was always god.

    We have a divine nature and a divine potential, but not exactly the same as HF’s and Jesus’s.

  106. Tim: I think you have 1,000 reasons to be confused by Mormon terms—the fact that you’re only confused by 10 of them is a testament to your careful study 🙂

    I’m sorry to say it, but I have never heard that explanation used by Mormons. I would be interested in seeing examples of it, though I imagine that you don’t have those at hand (I wouldn’t be able to produce examples like that!). It’s possible that this is because I haven’t experienced all Mormon arguments, though I also wonder if what they actually said is nuanced enough that you heard them one way but I (or another Mormon) would hear it quite differently. Maybe someone else can weigh in here and point to an argument that took that route.

    I’ll say again though: I believe it is possible that you have heard that argument. Just in this thread alone you have Mormons who are defining “exaltation” differently.

    In my own case, I have heard two views on the godhood of God the Father, one of which can be broken down into two sub-views:

    1) (minority view) The Father has always been God; he was the very first God—but will not be the last; he was never mortal. (Raises the question of how he got a body, but then again, Adam and Eve got a body in a perhaps unnatural way so….)

    2) The Father was once mortal.
    a) He was a mortal like you and I. Sin, repentance, atonement by some savior, exaltation, eternal life—the whole Plan right there. One eternal round.
    b) He was a mortal like Jesus was; i.e., he was a Savior who was pre-mortally a God, took on mortality, etc. That’s why Jesus says, “I only do the things my Father has done.”

    My hunch would be that 1 is held by <5% of Mormons, and 2a and 2b each held by 47.5%.

  107. My hunch would be that 1 is held by <5% of Mormons, and 2a and 2b each held by 47.5%.

    I think your hunch is very likely to be pretty accurate.

  108. Except that there’s probably a significant % of Mormons who do not know anything about these doctrines, have not given them a lot of thought, and/or don’t care either way.

  109. I had originally parenthetically written “of those Mormons who have thought about it,” but deleted it for fear that it would come across wrong (sound intellectual-elitist) or that it would not convey that even those who don’t think about it are still exposed to the predominant views when they go to church.

  110. BrianJ

    Thanks for your charity. I think I could probably garner that response from someone just by creating a new post that says “I don’t think Mormons believe Heavenly Father was eternally God. Discuss.”

    It is possible (probable/likely) that I heard the Mormon description through Evangelical ears.

    I think the real causes of the confusion is that Mormons haven’t carefully thought through the nature of God or the (pre-mortal) history of Jesus. Partly because they haven’t had the time to do the work like orthodox Christianity and partly because many of the Mormon distinctives weren’t well thought through to begin with and came out of a shoot-from-the-hip frontier religious experiment.

  111. I think 2b starts wrecking havoc on the word “eternal” when you start thinking about Heavenly Father being a “Son of God” and what that means for Jesus as an eternal God.

  112. Tim: “I think the real causes of the confusion….”

    I agree, at least on an institutional basis (I think on this blog you get some Mormons who have carefully thought about it). I’ll add a third: Mormonism has eschewed the seminary—not on an individual basis, but certainly in the formal sense where the Church looks to learned experts for exegesis. Coming from your perspective—where you have specific terms for all sort of details (hypostatic union, homoousia, etc.)—must be like a mathematician talking theory structure with a sociologist.

    I especially like your “shoot-from-the-hip” cause. As has come up in this thread, there are differences between what I (and other modern Mormons) believe and what 19th Century Mormons believed.

    I’d love to see a post where a Mormon argues that—not because I want to test your claim, but because I’d like to talk to such a Mormon to find out what they’re thinking.

    Jared: you must be right.

  113. “I think 2b starts wrecking havoc on the word “eternal”…”

    That ship sailed long ago:

    D&C 19:
    10For, behold, the mystery of godliness, how great is it! For, behold, I am endless, and the punishment which is given from my hand is endless punishment, for Endless is my name. Wherefore—

    11Eternal punishment is God’s punishment.

    12Endless punishment is God’s punishment.

  114. I think 2b starts wrecking havoc on the word “eternal” when you start thinking about Heavenly Father being a “Son of God” and what that means for Jesus as an eternal God.

    Only if you insist that Mormons always mean the exact same thing in the same way when they say “god.” Which, as has been discussed above, they do not.

  115. As Brian pointed out, Mormonism has not had as much time to develop theological ideas precisely, and it lacks (or in some cases specifically rejects) the kinds of structures and institutions that would facilitate the kind of precise and methodical development of theological issues as you have in orthodox Christianity.

  116. Well, the problem is that God is a hidden god. If God is going to be hidden, working out an orthodox understanding of how to talk about God him will ultimately lead to a misunderstanding. When you don’t know something or can’t explain it, why would thinking things through really help.

    Orthodoxy strikes me as an artificial philosophical gloss on the scriptures rather than the meaning of the scriptures themselves.

    Mormon distinctives weren’t well thought through to begin with and came out of a shoot-from-the-hip frontier religious experiment.

    I think Jews an other Monotheists would say this about Christianity.

  117. I think 2b starts wrecking havoc on the word “eternal” when you start thinking about Heavenly Father being a “Son of God” and what that means for Jesus as an eternal God.

    I think Hebrews 5 wreaks havoc on the thought that Jesus was an unchanging, a-historical god. luckily in religion you can smooth all the equations out with “mystery” constants.

  118. Well, the problem is that God is a hidden god. If God is going to be hidden, working out an orthodox understanding of how to talk about God him will ultimately lead to a misunderstanding. When you don’t know something or can’t explain it, why would thinking things through really help.

    Orthodoxy strikes me as an artificial philosophical gloss on the scriptures rather than the meaning of the scriptures themselves.

    On the contrary, I think there’s immense value in thinking deeply and precisely about the divine, but it has to be balanced by an understanding that in the end, we are almost certainly wrong.

  119. I didn’t say that thinking about the divine has no value, but we need to recognize the constraints.

    The Trinity might be nonsense, but it may be very enlightening nonsense. Same with the stuff Joseph Smith said.

    I do think its silly or counterproductive to view scripture as inerrant then try to shoehorn scripture into a new philosophy.

    I think Jesus mentioned something objectionable about new wine in old bottles. . .

  120. I didn’t say that thinking about the divine has no value, but we need to recognize the constraints.

    The Trinity might be nonsense, but it may be very enlightening nonsense. Same with the stuff Joseph Smith said.

    I do think its silly or counterproductive to view scripture as inerrant then try to shoehorn scripture into a new philosophy.

    Ah, then we are essentially saying the same thing.

  121. I’ve never heard the explanation of Heavenly Father’s godhood described at Tim cited, but that certainly doesn’t mean that there aren’t Mormons who believe it. I met a member on my mission who put for the theory that HF is an alien who impregnated Mary through artificial insemination after abducting her, then wiped her memory of it.

    He was quite a bit out there with his ideas, but it just goes to show that someone, somewhere, is going to hold onto a belief the rest of us find a bit crazy.

    I’ve never been formally taught anything about how or when HF became HF/God but I’ve certainly heard a lot of Mormons discuss it in informal setting, and I would say that 2b is the most common explanation I’ve heard.

  122. I had almost forgotten about this poll that addresses some of our questions. Check out the poll and Matt’s analysis for more details, but here’s some data I extracted:

    “There is an infinite chain of Gods going back across infinite time.”
    1 – 4.66%
    2 – 6.95%
    3 – 48.74%
    4 – 26.74%
    5 – 12.91%

    “God the Father has a Father.”
    1 – 3.18%
    2 – 4.70%
    3 – 34.02%
    4 – 33.11%
    5 – 25.00%

    Pretty consistent results with those two related questions. But look at the contradiction between the next two:

    “Our spirit bodies were created via spirit birth.”
    1 – 5.19%
    2 – 7.63%
    3 – 56.98%
    4 – 19.45%
    5 – 10.76%

    “The spirits of man have always existed.”
    1 – 2.58%
    2 – 10.33%
    3 – 14.43%
    4 – 28.25%
    5 – 44.42%

  123. And just about the problems with—or lack of—careful Mormon theology.

    I’ve acknowledged the problems. Now let me point out in that light, that it’s frustrating when, as a Mormon, I try to do careful, thoughtful, deliberate study and am met with criticism for straying from the so-called “shoot-from-the-hip frontier religio[nists]” and/or the average modern Mormon who, like most people, doesn’t give a whole lot of thought to theology (let alone logic, etc.).

    It sounds like, “You aren’t careful enough and how dare you disagree with your careless forebears!”

  124. http://lds.org/new-era/1984/12/behold-the-condescension-of-god?lang=eng&query=condescension+god

    This is a Great talk by Bruce R McConkie on the subject, you can read all of it but in escence:

    “And I, Nephi, saw that the was lifted up upon the cross and slain for the sins of the world” (1 Ne. 11:27, 31–33).

    Now we have a second matter relative to Deity’s condescension. This time it is the fact that Christ elected, chose, and volunteered to come into the world and be born as God’s Son, undergo the mortal probation and ministry assigned him, and then climax it with the working out of the infinite and eternal atoning sacrifice.

    So when we think of Christ’s condescension in this matter, we must think of the glory and dominion and exaltation that he possessed. We read in the revelations that he was “like unto God” (Abr. 3:24). We read the language of the Father where he says, “worlds without number have I created; … and by the Son I created them, which is mine only Begotten” (see Moses 1:33). We discover that Christ was like the Father; that he was co-creator, that he had the might and power and dominion and omnipotence of the Father and that he acted under his direction in the regulating and the creating of the universe.

    We read the words which an angel spake to King Benjamin, in which the angel described him as “the Lord Omnipotent who reigneth, who was, and is from all eternity to all eternity,” and then said that he would come down and tabernacle in a body of clay and minister among men; that he would be the Son of God and that Mary would be his mother (see Mosiah 3:5, 8).

    Here we have a glorious thing. Here we have exalted, noble beings on a plane and status so far above our present circumstance that we have no way of comprehending their dominion and glory, and we have one of them, God our Eternal Father, through the condescension and infinite love and mercy that he has for us, stepping down from his noble status and becoming the Father of a Son after the manner of the flesh. We have that Son being born, that Son who was his firstborn in the spirit, who had like power and omnipotence with the Father. We have each of them performing a work that there is no way for us to understand as far as magnitude and glory and importance is concerned.

    So Jesus was God, and was a God, and he “stepped down” when he came t this life.

  125. I try to do careful, thoughtful, deliberate study and am met with criticism for straying from the so-called “shoot-from-the-hip frontier religio[nists]”

    The main problem is that this is of course a false dichotomy. Those “shoot-from-the-hip frontier religio[nists]” are usually called by their more formal names in Mormon culture as “prophets, seers, and revelators.” Thus you aren’t comparing the careful to the not so careful. Rather, you are juxtaposing the careful to the prophets.

    and/or the average modern Mormon who, like most people, doesn’t give a whole lot of thought to theology

    Again, why all of the dumping on the average Mormon? They don’t give much thought to theology, but they do tend to know at least some doctrine. The doctrine gets taught in the manuals and in general conference. The problem for the average Internet and/or liberal Mormon is that they just plain disagree with that doctrine. But because there is no room for public disagreement in Mormon culture, doctrine becomes jello at best or non-existent at worst in the hands of those who can’t agree on principle and can’t disagree because of situation.

  126. I actually encourage Mormons like yourself to treat my family like the crap you think they are, it will make it much easier to convince them that the LDS church just isn’t worth it.

    David,

    I was simply giving my observation about the many people I’ve met from that region. If that observation comes across as “pissing”, then that’s your interpretation – not mine.

    Just to give you some background. My ancestors settled in So. Idaho as converts from Wales. My own parents grew up in that same region. My two wonderful grandmothers still live there. I was born in Idaho, but mostly lived in Sandy, UT until I was 11 years old. I returned to the West to serve a full time mission in Southern Utah.

    Especially in that period of my life, I spoke with literally thousands of Mormons from Provo to Delta to St. George. My impression was/is that Mormons from that region still believe a lot of doctrines which have not been openly taught (GC, Ensign, manuals) for many years. I don’t claim to know why this is and made no conclusion about what this means for them intellectually, spiritually or their dedication to God – you did.

    To your original point – I still don’t see how you can claim to know what the “average Mormon” believes.

    Accept my apology for assuming you’re an Evangelical. Minus Kullervo, it seems to be one or the other around here.

  127. Personally, I think the term “Internet Mormonism” is nothing more than a code word for:

    “I don’t want to have to deal with the full spectrum of this religious tradition – because it’s mentally taxing to me. Instead, I’d rather just return to the comfortable caricatures I grew up with and rejected when I left the church in the first place. Because, I really, REALLY do not want to have to entertain the possibility (however remote) that maybe I screwed up when I left.”

    And David, what you call dishonesty (not “speaking out” in Sunday School) I merely call being polite in a social setting.

    Let me suggest another definition of “Internet Mormonism” (though I think the term itself is reductionist and misguided):

    “Internet Mormonism: What happens when Mormons take their ideas onto the medium of the Internet.”

    If the people in my own main street USA ward were all on the Internet interacting with other faiths and ideas, they would probably have the same spread of theological ideas that you find among the Mormons who are already here. But they aren’t, so their own beliefs and theology doesn’t develop in that manner.

    You’ve been quick to call this “dumping” on fellow Mormons David.

    But I wonder – why is it that you automatically assume that being unaware of theological history and nuance is an overriding deficit?

    I’ll state it right up front – I am better informed on topics of Church history and theology than most people in my ward. I have a niche that they do not. I’ve chosen to specialize in something that they have not chosen. There’s nothing wrong with admitting this.

    So yes, in some areas, I am better equipped than they are.

    What I don’t get is why you think this is some sort of insult on my part to acknowledge this. Who said anything about “better” or “superior” as a general matter? What is it about knowing the history of topics like Adam-God, or polygamy, or Orson Pratt’s theology that makes me superior to anyone in my ward – from the youngest Sunbeam up to the oldest High Priest? What is it about being theologically informed that makes me a definitively “better” person than others in the ward who are not?

    I find it highly interesting, David, that you seem to think that such people are inferior to me – if my claims of knowledge are true.

    Why do you think that?

  128. I wonder if people consider it fair of the likes of Richard Dawkins to use Young Earth Creationists as representative of what “true Protestantism” is.

    Because I’ve actually witnessed “New Atheists” point-by-point mimic David’s contributions to this thread, using their YEC peers as examples of what the “real Christians” are like.

    I’ve even seen them perversely try to turn it around, and ridicule the Christians who are trying to distance themselves from the YEC viewpoint as “betraying their Christian brethren”, etc. etc.

    Because, as every Christopher Hitchens disciple knows – the only “true” Christian is one who believes the ideas he or she has the easiest time refuting. Everyone else is just being “dishonest” of course.

    Labeling

    How to win an argument without doing any real work.

  129. Seth,

    I have little desire to argue over what you would like the term “Internet Mormon” to mean. I meant it in a very specific way, if you want to argue about something else, I really don’t care to argue that. FWIW, “Internet Mormon” has been adequately defined and subsequently defended by the originator of the term.

    The main dividing line between Internet Mormons and Chapel Mormons is how they view the prophets. Chapel Mormons view the prophets as authoritative mouthpieces of God who give modern revelation that members of the church should listen to and obey. A representative view of the prophets, from the viewpoint of an Internet Mormon, was articulated by none other than yourself on this blog when you said:

    What I do not have a particular testimony of is whether Thomas S. Monson is absolutely authoritative in overruling any of that, or interpreting it for me.

    I basically view most modern General Authorities as highly persuasive commentary on Joseph Smith and the scriptures and little else. Other than that, I concede their mandate to run the Church and have no desire to challenge them in this role.

    In other words, what a prophet says is not authoritative nor binding on the members of the church. You, Seth R, are an Internet Mormon par excellence.

    The problem is this. I think the GAs have adequately taught their view on prophets, and it’s not the Internet Mormon view of them. You can’t get much more explicit than when GA’s read the “14 Fundamentals of Following the Prophet” back into the record twice in the October 2010 conference. I also think that the majority of the attending members understand what the prophets are saying, believe what they are saying, and can adequately explain what the prophets are saying.

    The condescension comes when Internet Mormons think that the regular Chapel Mormons have somehow gotten this all wrong, that Internet Mormons understand how things really are. I think this is completely wrong and condescending. The GA’s have explained themselves and the majority of the membership have understood it.

    You’ve been quick to call this “dumping” on fellow Mormons David.

    But I wonder – why is it that you automatically assume that being unaware of theological history and nuance is an overriding deficit?

    Yes, I think it is dumping on fellow Mormons. And just in case I wasn’t crystal clear, this is not a case of average Mormons not understanding history and nuance. They hear what the GA’s are saying loud and clear, no nuance required. Does the actual history and the nuance undermine what the GA’s are saying? Absolutely. However, it does not change the fact that they have been clear and the membership has understood what they have said.

    I find it highly interesting, David, that you seem to think that such people are inferior to me – if my claims of knowledge are true.

    Why do you think that?

    I don’t think they are inferior to you. I think that you think you are superior to them. And since you admitted as much, thank you for proving my case.

  130. Because I’ve actually witnessed “New Atheists” point-by-point mimic David’s contributions to this thread, using their YEC peers as examples of what the “real Christians” are like.

    I’ve even seen them perversely try to turn it around, and ridicule the Christians who are trying to distance themselves from the YEC viewpoint as “betraying their Christian brethren”, etc. etc.

    Because, as every Christopher Hitchens disciple knows – the only “true” Christian is one who believes the ideas he or she has the easiest time refuting. Everyone else is just being “dishonest” of course.

    Your comparison fails for a very simply reason.

    Christians have not historically defined YEC as a litmus test for being Christian. Almost since the beginning of Christianity there have been Christians who have argued that the Genesis account of creation has to be allegorical or theological, not historical or scientific. For one shining example, see Origin’s On First Principles.

    The assertion of YEC as some litmus test for being Christian is an unfortunate, and ignorant, product of American Fundamentalism. YEC became a focal point, a battle cry, in the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy and related controversies. American Fundamentalism is not the definition of historical Christianity, unfortunately they have been loud enough so that some people think it is. And unfortunately, this includes people like Dawkins, Hitchens, and the other “new atheists” (who quite frankly should do more historical research).

    However, one litmus test for being a Mormon has always been (with the possible exception of the apostolic interregnum between JS and BY) a belief that the prophet leads the church, receives revelation, speaks for God, and that the members of the church should obey what he says. Thus I see Internet Mormons as undermining a defining feature of Mormonism, not some ancillary issue.

    In some ways, I’d like to see Internet Mormonism as a good thing. In some ways I think the following equation describes Internet Mormonism’s relation to Christianity: “Internet Mormon” – “Exclusive Authority Claims” = “Protestant Christian.” Since I used to be an Internet Mormon of sorts, that equation worked well for me. However, all too often Internet Mormonism is a stepping stone towards agnosticism and atheism. There are reasons for that, but that’s an entire blog post.

  131. I view prophets and general authorities as “authoritative” as well David.

    Perhaps you want to be more clear what you mean here.

    And no, I don’t view myself as superior in general to anyone in my ward. I view myself as more knowledgeable in certain subjects than they are. But that’s not the same thing as saying I’m superior to them in general.

    In fact, if we want to generalize – I know of at least a dozen people in my ward whom I consider to be generally superior to me – regardless of their relative level of historical or theological context.

    As for the articles on “Internet Mormonism” – I’ve read them, and I still consider the term to be reductionist, and its use by ex-Mormons to be opportunistic and irresponsible.

    I still think it’s a copout – a way to avoid dealing with complicating nuance that casts doubt on one’s own ideological position.

    As for whether nuance helps understand what the General Authorities are saying, your approach is completely off base, but I would expect no less from someone who doesn’t believe that General Authorities actually are spokespersons for God Almighty.

    You don’t believe they are spokespersons. So when you listen to Elder Jeffrey R. Holland speak, you assume that it’s “just the man Jeffrey Holland speaking.”

    I don’t make that assumption. I assume they are speaking from inspiration from God.

    As such, I am not interested in what the MAN Jeffrey Holland is saying – like you are, David.

    I am interested in what GOD THE FATHER is saying.

    And yeah – you’re darn right that NUANCE is required for understanding that. Thus nuance is required of EVERY Mormon. Otherwise, you have no way to know fully what is being said –

    BY GOD, not by Jeffrey Holland.

  132. “Christians have not historically defined YEC as a litmus test for being Christian. Almost since the beginning of Christianity there have been Christians who have argued that the Genesis account of creation has to be allegorical or theological, not historical or scientific. For one shining example…”

    Sure, but I don’t see why you think this doesn’t apply equally to Mormons on just about every doctrinal issue you like to harp on here.

    “The assertion of YEC as some litmus test for being Christian is an unfortunate, and ignorant, product of American Fundamentalism. YEC became a focal point, a battle cry, in the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy and related controversies.”

    And I don’t see why folk doctrines within Mormonism aren’t subject to exactly the same assessment of localized influences.

    “one litmus test for being a Mormon has always been…. a belief that the prophet leads the church, receives revelation, speaks for God, and that the members of the church should obey what he says. Thus I see Internet Mormons as undermining a defining feature of Mormonism, not some ancillary issue.”

    There’s a difference between undermining something and simply contextualizing it. Yes – treading the fine line between the two is a lot of work.

    I don’t care – life’s rough.

  133. I might have had a better analogy in the Christian ideas of sola scriptura vs. sola ecclesia – since it sheds light on Mormon notions of authority somewhat.

    But Protestants and Catholics have even managed to (somewhat) bury the hatchet on that doctrinal fight – so even that doesn’t count as a litmus test for being a Christian anymore – except to some marginalized corners of Christianity.

  134. The main dividing line between Internet Mormons and Chapel Mormons is how they view the prophets.

    Actually, this isn’t true.

    I have dozens — literally DOZENS — of Mormon friends who are active, faithful, temple-attending, devoted, etc., who have never read a scrap of apologetics nor participated in an online theological discussion, and yet have developed the kind of nuanced perspective on the authority and role of the General Authorities that Seth is talking about. In fact, my closest LDS girlfriends (I have three or four) — all of whom think I am the biggest nerd EVER for participating in blogs like this — think and believe that way.

    For the most part, these are people who tend toward the arts and/or are more liberal politically. If you were never tuned in to these communities while you were LDS, David, it’s understandable that you missed them. But they’re there. In every single ward I’ve ever been in.

    It’s not an internet vs. chapel thing. It’s a personality thing. Some people need the solid boundaries, the black-and-white perspective. They cannot function in a world of grey. Other people are more comfortable there, naturally aware of the contours and shadows, and don’t mind them. There is nothing wrong with either perspective. I don’t believe I’m superior to my more dogmatic counterparts simply because I have a personality that needs a nuanced worldview and they don’t.

    Still, is it really a surprise that you find more people like me engaged in nuanced theological discussions than people who aren’t willing or able to see shades of gray?

    This whole idea that the “average Mormon” believes X, Y, or Z is nonsense. All kinds of Mormons believe all kinds of things. For the most part, we peacefully coexist — well, at least mostly-peacefully — and muddle through things together as best we can.

  135. Just because a faction of the church’s membership doesn’t hog the pulpit at Fast and Testimony Meeting, or, when they are up there – doesn’t see fit to expound upon their own personal pet theories – does not mean they aren’t there.

    I’ve had people who shared similar views to myself in many wards that I’ve been in. They’re everywhere, they just don’t feel a need to inflict their opinions on everyone around them.

  136. Seth, that mirrors my experience EXACTLY.

    There is a segment that is rigid, dogmatic, and unbending — and who tend to be very vocal about it. Whether they’re a majority or minority, I don’t actually know.

    But there is another sizable segment who are much more temperate in their approach. It makes sense that you wouldn’t hear from them as much. That’s part of being more temperate. It doesn’t mean they’re not there, not an important part of the community, not wanted, or that they consider themselves superior to everyone else (trying not to be judgmental kind of goes hand in hand with that whole temperance thing too).

  137. One more thought, then I need to get back to work. 🙂

    I think part of the dynamic at play is that people who tend toward a more nuanced worldview also tend to see and value the human side of things over “accuracy.” We would rather be wrong and keep peace than be right and have conflict — or, on the flipside, rather allow other people to be wrong than create nasty tension.

    This has definite pros and cons as an approach to the world.

    On the other hand, people who are more rigid in their perspectives are generally less interested in the wishy-washy “humanity” stuff, and want the hard facts — the data — the Truth. They value rightness and accuracy before “feelings” and peace. In fact, they would say that a peace based on falsehood is a false peace, and not desirable at all.

    This has definite pros and cons as an approach to the world, too.

    Given that dynamic, it’s easy to see why one faction is more visible and dominant than the other. But again, you can see that it is a personality-driven issue first and foremost.

  138. Katie,

    I am well aware that such people exist. My entire point would make little sense if they didn’t. Thus I really don’t know how listing all of the Internet Mormons you know affects what I am saying.

    More to the point, this is not a personality thing. There are people on both sides who are rigid and who are flexible. To say or think otherwise commits the same fallacy of reductionism of which Seth accused me earlier. There are people on the Chapel Mormonism side who are flexible in their views, depending on the doctrinal subject. Likewise, there are few people in this world more dogmatic and unbending than an Internet Mormon of the liberal variety talking about prop 8.

    This is about how people approach prophetship. Redefine the terms I am using all you want, but just realize that once you do so you are no longer talking about the same thing I am talking about.

    In fact I can play that game too. I believe in modern prophets, provided they don’t include any of the LDS variety and they do include people like Dietrich Bonhoeffer or Karl Barth. But to say something like “I believe in modern prophets,” and yet mean the above is misleading at best, lying at worst, if it were to be done in an LDS sacrament meeting. Likewise, I’ve stated the definition I am using for “Internet Mormon,” so I really don’t see how trying to change the definition under discussion helps anything.

  139. I didn’t see the point of bringing “Internet Mormonism” into the discussion in the first place – whichever definition you use.

    I believe in the authority of prophets. And I don’t feel dishonest at all saying so in church.

  140. David, I see that my comments didn’t make it clear, but I was trying to use your definition. My point is that people with a more nuanced perspective on prophetship are every bit as Mormon as those with a more rigid one — that there are probably more of them than you think, they’re just quieter than the other faction — and that they’re not just online, but in the pews, and everywhere you go among Mormons.

    And yes: I should have specified. Of course there are people with all kinds of personalities who have all kinds of different perspectives on prophetship. I was speaking in generalities, based on my experience: as far as I have seen, people with perspectives like those we’re discussing *TEND* to fall into the camps I’m describing. But because people are people, there will always be exceptions.

    In the end, though, I think what I’m trying to suggest is this: maybe the way you were Mormon isn’t the only valid way to be Mormon.

  141. In the end, though, I think what I’m trying to suggest is this: maybe the way you were Mormon isn’t the only valid way to be Mormon.

    Katie,

    I’ve been every variety of Mormon on my way out.

    And, I haven’t argued that there is only one way to be a Mormon. Just to be clear on what I am arguing here:

    1) The GAs have been crystal clear on many points of doctrine, and especially on how they expect people to act and believe in response to prophetic claims.

    2) The vast majority of Mormons hear #1, understand it, can explicate it, and believe it.

    3) A small minority of Mormons have a more nuanced view, a view that is different than that held by groups in #1 and #2.

    If that were it, I would have no complaint. The problem is that:

    4) The small minority in #3 very often makes the claim that they do not believe like the group in #2 because they have a superior understanding of Mormon theology and/or because they have a superior understanding of Mormon history and/or because they think the group in #1 misunderstands what the prophets are actually saying.

    When you take all 4 points together, I think that the group in #3, the “Internet Mormons,” are condescending to group #2.

    Be any kind of Mormon you want, I really don’t care. But that is not the point I am making.

  142. That would have more impact David if you hadn’t just accused half of us here of being fundamentally dishonest in our affiliation with Mormonism.

  143. Seth,

    My last post was an attempt to summarize the argument I was trying to make today. I was not attempting to address anything I said earlier in the comments.

    It’s true that I do think that believing one thing while saying another is fundamentally dishonest. I simply could not stay in Mormonism because I think doing so would have been a lie. I could no longer answer correctly to the belief questions on the temple recommend interview. Specifically I no longer had a testimony of the restoration, nor do I consider the current crop of GA’s prophets, seers, and revelators.

    However before that I went through a phase where I heavily nuanced all of that. “Prophet” could mean anything I wanted it to mean, as could “restoration,” “authority,” and so on. The last time I did that in an official setting was when my son turned 8. I’m fairly certain the social pressure to baptize my son was a contributing factor for me. Was this type of nuancing fundamentally dishonest in retrospect? Absolutely, yes.

    So when I say it’s dishonest, I include myself in that as well Seth. Looking back, I wish I had not done that because it will make what happens next year, when my second son turns 8, even more difficult. He’s going to feel bad not only because his dad won’t be baptizing him, but also because his dad was a chicken and baptized his older brother when he should not have. I’m going to feel bad too, but I do take some solace that this time around I’m being honest with myself and with the LDS church.

    If the LDS church did not haul people before the bishop every two years to declare their beliefs on some very specific and non-nuanced questions, it would be different. If the church did not expect people to stick to the manual, it would be different. If the church let fathers (or mothers) baptize their children with no questions asked, it would be different. If abstaining from the temple and callings did not make one a second class citizen in the LDS church, then it would be different.

    When I look at myself in the mirror every morning I see a sinner, but one of those sins is no longer lying to myself and the LDS church about what I believe. In some ways it makes my life very rough, but like you said Seth, “I don’t care – life’s rough.” Amen to that.

  144. I just wish you’d quit projecting your experiences onto me.

    I’m not experiencing the same things you did. And I simply am not seeing the same way you do or did.

  145. I see what you’re saying better now, David.

    I’m sorry you experienced that kind of heartache. I can only imagine how that felt, and I completely respect the choices you’ve made. I have no doubt you’re where God wants you. 🙂

    To echo what Seth said, my experiences within Mormonism have been different. But that doesn’t mean I think yours are invalid in any way. I can totally see how someone would experience Mormonism the way you did — and given that fact, I think you did the only thing you could do in good conscience. I’m so glad you no longer feel like you’re being dishonest with yourself and others: that is a miserable, miserable way to live.

    I only have two things I want to address from your four points above…

    First, I don’t know that I believe that the “vast majority” of Mormons have the rigid view of prophetship that you’re espousing. I think it’s possible that some kind of majority does, but even then, I will tell you that when I was in the throes of my own crisis of faith (which came about in part because of rigid belief in the near-infallibility of the leadership), I was literally STUNNED by responses I got from genuine, 100% active, completely faithful Mormons (including my bishop!) who had never read a page of Mormon apologetics. Responses like, “Katie, they’re human; they make mistakes; it’s okay to disagree with them on things.”

    Of course, in my mind that felt totally blasphemous and wrong — if I could disagree with them on one thing, who’s to say they’re not wrong on lots more? — but over time I began to see that the perspective I’d grown up with wasn’t necessarily the perspective that everyone in the church has, even among totally committed, faithful, “chapel” Latter-day Saints.

    Second, yes. There are some with the more nuanced view who think they are better than others because of it — that they’re more sophisticated or intelligent. But not all believe that way, David. I, for one, think I’m probably worse off because of it — but I accept it’s the way God wired me. 😉 Same for the friends I’ve been talking to you about. That’s all I’m saying.

    Anyway, thanks for sharing more of your story. It’s nice to learn more about what folks around here have experienced. 🙂

  146. Although my life story is much different, my experience with people I have known is similar to Katie L’s. I would have had a hard time joining the Church if everyone were the rigid type. I have talked to many people, even including some missionaries from conservative corners of Utah, who share a nuanced view of authority and related matters. And, yes, I have also talked to others who are incredibly rigid.

    For what it’s worth, I suspect the majority lean toward rigidity. But I’ve been fairly open about what I think about things (although, when teaching, always being careful not to mix up personal views with doctrine), and I’ve never felt less than accepted by other members.

    And I go to church with ordinary people, “chapel Mormons,” not a bunch of theological intellectuals.

    I’m certainly aware of the “14 Fundamentals” approach, But I have also observed that church leaders continue to teach explicitly that we’re supposed to pray about doctrinal matters. Maybe there’s a contradiction there, I don’t know, but when they tell it’s OK to pray about what even the Prophet says I take them at their word.

    And for what it’s worth, the Church’s own semiofficial statement on what constitutes doctrine states that something doesn’t become doctrinal simply because church leaders say it, but only over a period of time as it is consistently proclaimed through Church channels. (The statement even suggests that something isn’t fully doctrinal if it’s not in the Standard Works.)

    I feel a great deal of latitude in approaching theological issues, actually more than I felt in my days in the evangelical world. And I don’t see that as being inconsistent with anything I may say in a temple recommend interview (and I haven’t always answered all questions with a simple yes or no).

    I’m not saying everyone should feel the same way.

  147. Internet Mormons want to be loved and/or accepted by the Christian community, so they lie about what they really believe. When Sunday rolls around, all Internet Mormons spout the party line or remain silent at church, thus giving tacit agreement to what is said and taught there.

    David,

    It seems that your point boils down to the argument that Mormons have various degrees of fundamentalism, and that those on the less fundamentalist/ more intellectual end of the spectrum are not Real Mormons or that apostles and prophets have generally been on the more fundamentalist end. It may be true, but it is also clear that there have always been lots of discussion and disagreement in the church on all kinds of doctrinal issues. Correlation is a relatively recent phenomena and I think the Church continues to evolve due to the undercurrents against it.

    Also.

    I don’t think your description here really describes “Internet Mormons”. The church leadership seems more interested in being accepted by the Christian community and downplaying peculiar doctrine than the average Mormon on the internet. Was Gordon B. Hinkley an Internet Mormon?

  148. Interesting:

    BrianJ: “I haven’t felt the need to play apologetics for years.”

    David Clark replied: “I don’t know why you even think you are defending Mormonism.”

    Seth: “Who said anything about “better” or “superior” as a general matter?”

    David Clark replied: “I think that you think you are superior to them. And since you admitted as much…”

    Apparently, when you say one thing, David Clark insists that you said the other.

    Perhaps Seth identified the reason for this: “I just wish you’d quit projecting your experiences onto me.”

    David Clark seems to think that many of us Mormons (on this site, and other blogs) are guilty of:

    “It’s all just language games to be able to say one thing to non-Mormons for convenience while going back to church and either explicitly or tacitly agreeing to the status quo.”

    and

    “It’s true that I do think that believing one thing while saying another is fundamentally dishonest.”

    …without bothering to find out if that’s really how any of us act at church. Apparently, he says we all must be “Internet Mormons” because that’s all David Clark is willing to find out (or believe) about us.

  149. Well, having not read every single one of these comments, but being fascinated by the subject brought up in this, I believe that in Joseph Fielding Smith’s multi-volume book “Answers to Gospel Questions”, he stated that having a physical body is not essential to the Holy Ghost’s Godhood, and cited the Pre-Mortal Jesus’ Godhood as evidence of this. So I don’t think that it would be correct to say that Mormons don’t believe that Jesus was God before His mortal mission was completed.

    Granted, there is the ongoing discussion on the “officiality,” as it were, of Mormon doctrines, and as a missionary in Brazil, I was told on no uncertain terms that official declared doctrine is that which is in the scriptures, Ensign and similar magazines, and General Conference talks. Anything apart from this may or may not be correct doctrine in the LDS perspective, and is not doctrinally binding on the church. However, President Smith’s non-General-Conference comment seems in line with the scriptures, statements by living prophets, and especially the James E. Talmage book “Jesus the Christ”, which is amongst the few books LDS missionaries are permitted to read during their missions.

    So, there’s my take on it. Woo-hoo!

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