Review: The Deep Things of God

There are 3 things that Evangelicals want to know about the Trinity:

1. Is it Biblical?

2. Does it make sense?

3. Does it matter?

Fred Sanders, in his book ” The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything decides to charge at these three questions in a different way. The book in no way offers an overview of the historic development of the doctrine. It does not delve into the philosophical mathematics of the Trinity. It doesn’t even offer “triadic prooftexts” to support the doctrine.  Instead Sanders spends his entire time on the third question “Does it Matter?” I came away from just the first couple of chapters with the impression that the Trinity isn’t just one of many Christian doctrines, it is probably our most important and most defining doctrine. Everything we say and do as Christians is a testimony to the existence of the Trinity.

Many Evangelicals are Christ-centered, Father-forgetful and Spirit-ignoring.  There is a general malaise toward the doctrine of the Trinity that causes Evangelicals to think “it’s kind of weird, it’s not something I want to think about, and I’ll go no further than to sheepishly agree because I don’t quite get it.” The book challenges those notions by fine-tuning our understanding of all our other doctrines so that we can see how the Trinity is at the center of action of all of them.

Many would prefer to prioritize “What does faith do for me?” over “Who is God?” It makes sense that people would do this because it’s practical and has an affect on their day-to-day lives.  But Sanders responds “a better way of underlining what God has done on our behalf is to keep it securely anchored in his own inherent goodness.”

This diagram illustrates his point that the doctrine of the Trinity can be useful in understanding how and why God has acted in a particular way toward us.

A person may be satisfied and not ask any further questions after being given salvation, but typically when someone steps into faith they begin to seek understanding.  The ripple effects of salvation leads the believer to question “How did Jesus bring about this salvation?” then on to “Who must Jesus be to save in this way?” and then on to “Who must God be, if that is true of Jesus?”

“If you notice. . . how much bigger the outer circle is, you can begin to see how Trinitarian theology can help us maintain a proper sense of proportion. The Trinity is bigger than you and your salvation and has other things going on in the parts of the circle that don’t overlap with your circle. Those other parts of the Trinity are the rest of the fullness of God’s own life, the happy land of the Trinity. It is not possible to draw it to scale, because it is infinite, boundless and finally inconceivable. There are parts of that happy land that you don’t go to, and you never will. I cannot describe to you what happens there and neither can anybody else, for God has remained silent about those regions.” (page 74)

My take away from the book is that by finely tuning our religious practice into the frequency of the Trinity we get a much greater sense of who God is, what he is doing and why we are allowed to participate. Instead of making the Trinity an item on a list that we affirm “our tacit Trinitarianism must be coaxed out, articulated and confessed. . . . it does us little good if we continue to be radically Trinitarian without knowing it. We are at risk of staying in the shallows when God calls us to the deep things.”

I think Sander’s real gem is found in the introduction. He cites two great problems facing Evangelicalism, shallowness and Trinity-forgetfulness. Not coincidentally they are related.  Evangelicals would like to emphasize four things: the Bible, the cross, conversion and heaven.  Those are probably the right things for us to emphasize.  But being emphatic is different than being reductionist.  If we emphasize those four things by isolating them out of the main body of Christian truth, we very quickly create an anemic faith. Shouting “the cross! the cross! the cross! the cross!” over and over again very quickly makes the cross meaningless.  “The gospel reduced to four points ceases to make sense unless its broader context can be intuited.”

“Knowing what to emphasize in order to simplify the Christian message is a great skill. It is not the same thing as rejecting nuances or impatiently waving away all details in order to cut to the main point. There is a kind of anti-intellectualism that is only interested in the bottom line, and considers everything else disposable. Certainly that kind of ant-intellectualism can be found in evangelical history, but it is a deviation from the true ideal. Emphatics are not know-nothings. The emphatic approach to Christian witness has a different impulse. It knows that the only way to emphasize anything is precisely to keep everything in place, not to strip it away.” (page 17)

I’m frustrated by Evangelicals who wish to declare Mormonism to be Christian by reducing Christianity to its most simplistic confessions. This explanation of emphatic Evangelicalism vs. Reductionist Evangelicalism perfectly nails down my thoughts on why I’m bothered by it.

“A blade is not all cutting edge. In fact, the cutting edge is the smallest part of the knife. The rest of the knife is the heavy heft of the broad flat sides and the handle. Considered all by itself, the cutting edge is vanishingly small — a geometric concept instead of a usable object.” Christianity reduced to “believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved” is meaningless outside of the much larger context of who Jesus is, how Jesus saves and why we need salvation.  The Reductionist successfully brings Mormonism into the camp of orthodoxy by effectively declaring “there is no camp.”

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216 thoughts on “Review: The Deep Things of God

  1. The Reductionist successfully brings Mormonism into the camp of orthodoxy by effectively declaring “there is no camp.”

    Would that be the definition of an “Internet Evangelical?”

  2. Just when I thought Tim was sick of the Trinity issue, and just when I was gearing up for a Sabbath from blogger-space, Tim comes up with this post!

    I agree with Tim’s observance that
    “Many Evangelicals are Christ-centered, Father-forgetful and Spirit-ignoring.” I also have observed that charismatic Christians tend to be Christ-centered, Spirit-aware, and Father-forgetful.
    By mixing evangelicals, charismatics, and Mormons we may get the perfect combo.

    Tim said, “Christianity reduced to ‘believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved’ is meaningless outside of the much larger context of who Jesus is, how Jesus saves and why we need salvation.”

    This is true. Are you suggesting that Mormonism ignores or completely misconstrues who Jesus is, how he saves and why we need salvation?

    Eric & co. can correct me if I’m wrong, but the LDS recognizes that all people need a Savior—someone divine, sinless, yet fully human, to die for us to rescue us from sin. And that Jesus—he da man.

    (Was I cute enough, Kullervo?)

  3. You note that you are “frustrated by Evangelicals who wish to declare Mormonism to be Christian”, and then you equate that reductionist methodology to “successfully bring[ing] Mormonism into the camp of orthodoxy.” So you’ve equated “Christian” with “orthodoxy”.

    Of course, relative to most of the past 2000 years Mormonism is indeed quite unorthodox, and no Mormon would disagree. But to equate orthodoxy with “Christian” is not right. One can certainly be “Christian” and be unorthodox!

    Just my two cents. Thanks for telling us about this book.

  4. Cal said
    This is true. Are you suggesting that Mormonism completely misconstrues who Jesus is, how he saves and why we need salvation?

    Yes and any Mormon worth their salt would agree that they have a different understanding about the nature of Jesus (as God) than we do and a different understanding of how he saves.

    Mormons have been consistently saying that to you on this blog for several months.

  5. Well now, I don’t claim to be a Mormon worth my salt, but I don’t know that we have a fundamentally different understanding of how Jesus saves nor why we need salvation.

    That whole nature of Jesus as God thing is trickier, but there are various strains of Mormon thought here, some of which are closer to orthodox Christianity and some of which are further away.

    However, the nature of God is a pretty difficult concept to grasp. Of course we should do our best to get as close as we can, but isn’t it wise to remember that in the end, all our concepts of God are just approximations, symbols, and analogies that fall far, far short of the real thing?

  6. Katie, does the LDS Church teach that ordinances performed by an authorized priesthood are required for salvation?

    If yes, that is a much different understanding of how Jesus saves.

    Of course we should do our best to get as close as we can, but isn’t it wise to remember that in the end, all our concepts of God are just approximations, symbols, and analogies that fall far, far short of the real thing?

    of course they fall short but doesn’t mean that there aren’t things we can know and feel confident about. A 9th grade student’s understanding of Quantum Mechanics is pitifully low, but that doesn’t mean they can’t rest assured in the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics. Just because it gets bigger and more complicated from there doesn’t mean there is no confidence for us.

  7. 9th grade student’s understanding of Quantum Mechanics is pitifully low, but that doesn’t mean they can’t rest assured in the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics. Just because it gets bigger and more complicated from there doesn’t mean there is no confidence for us.

    It does mean there is no absolute confidence, only relative confidence. Welcome to the real world.

  8. Eric & co. can correct me if I’m wrong, but the LDS recognizes that all people need a Savior—someone divine, sinless, yet fully human, to die for us to rescue us from sin. And that Jesus—he da man.

    On the one hand, granted, the “different Jesus” thing seems like a ridiculous polemic.

    On the other hand, if I start a church that teaches that we must “believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved from sin” but it turns out, when I say “the Lord Jesus Christ” I mean a Komodo Dragon that was transformed into a psychic man-godling by a ray of pure divine dragon energy from the Andromeda Galaxy and he saves us by annihilating the spiritual black dragon-larvae that infest our souls when we sin, and by “sin” I mean “breathe noble gases or eat onions,” and the way to get Lord Jesus to cleanse your soul is to show your belief in him by dancing a complicated symbolic dance… I think it’s fair to claim that I’m talking about two very different things, despite the fact that I am using familiar terms. And the fact that the Jesus Dragonites can agree to the statement that “Jesus Christ saves us from sin when we believe in him” does not really mean much substantively.

    (Was I cute enough, Kullervo?)

    I have no idea why you are asking me this.

  9. If Mormons preach a Jesus with the same nature as those believed by other Christians, and who provides salvation in the same way, under the same conditions other Christians believe, then Mormons are telling 50,000 – 60,000 of their youth (every two years) to spend 18-24 months and thousands of their own dollars for absolutely nothing. That’s just cruel. Mormons for the most part evangelize people who already are at least nominally Christian in nations that are already heavily evangelized by other Christians.

    If there is a difference, if the nature of Jesus is different, and the conditions of salvation are different, then you are sending those 50,000 – 60,000 youth (every two years) on a noble mission and the sacrifices are warranted and holy.

    I don’t see how you can have it both ways. Either its different and those missionaries are engaging in God’s work, or it’s a cruel waste of time.

  10. Before anyone says it, yes I am aware that a small minority of Mormon missionaries evangelize in non-Christian nations and a small minority of converts have never been Christian. If you did serve in those countries or baptized lots of non-Christians, and you feel my comment doesn’t apply to your particular situation, kudos. Excepting that small minority, my point remains.

  11. of course they fall short but doesn’t mean that there aren’t things we can know and feel confident about.

    I think this is where I differ fundamentally from most religious people who feel sure of themselves.

    I think the fact that we know that we are missing critical information means that we should always remain open to the idea that we’ve got things wrong — because, likely, that missing information changes a lot.

  12. I think the fact that we know that we are missing critical information means that we should always remain open to the idea that we’ve got things wrong — because, likely, that missing information changes a lot.

    Bingo. Relative confidence. A measure of confidence. Not absolute confidence.

    And that’s honestly a good thing–absolute confidence makes people do some pretty crappy things.

  13. Yep.

    Most people aren’t particularly good at living with that kind of ambiguity, though. It makes things A LOT less comfortable.

    This isn’t a criticism. There are days I really wish I weren’t so tuned in to ambiguity and could find more confidence in things. Those aren’t the cards I’ve been dealt, however, and there are benefits. One is learning to be at peace with unsurety, which I believe is a fundamental characteristic of human life.

  14. Most people aren’t particularly good at living with that kind of ambiguity, though. It makes things A LOT less comfortable.

    Death and taxes make us less comfortable, too. But there’s no getting around them and pretending they don’t exist doesn’t make them go away.

  15. Death and taxes make us less comfortable, too. But there’s no getting around them and pretending they don’t exist doesn’t make them go away.

    So say we all. 🙂

    Speaking of which, I totally went to the Battlestar Galactica exhibit at the Seattle Sci-Fi museum yesterday. It was awesome!!!! I stood this close to Apollo’s Viper.

  16. Most Mormons wouldn’t say that their Jesus is different, only that they know the same Jesus better than everybody else. (This is nothing more than an application of the classic “bring your own truth and let us add to it” meme from Gordon B. Hinckley). Historically, other Christians have also competed for converts on one another’s turf, so I don’t agree with David that this makes Mormons un-Christian (just naive in their assessment of their own imaginary superiority, but they are certainly not alone in that).

    For me personally, Sanders’ whole argument falls flat at the first question Tim recognizes: “Is it biblical?” I have read the Bible many times, in many versions (including ancient Hebrew, Greek, and Latin), and I have yet to find any indisputable standard in it (whether that standard defines “true” metaphysics, ethics, or history). No matter what you want to say about anything, you can find biblical justification for your position. (God is one. God is plural. Killing is evil. Killing is good. God acts in history. God does not act in history.) Unless you are willing to play Marcion and start cutting off books (hacking off the OT actually frees you up a lot), the mass of contradictions is (in my limited experience) untractable. The more responsible you are as a critic (in any faith tradition, including interested agnosticism and even atheism), the more you acknowledge this: this means that all good interpreters are ultimately forced to admit that they (and each one of us) rely on our own judgment or intuition when interpreting scripture. If we claim our judgment as divine inspiration, we put ourselves in a position where we either have to allow that God says very different things to different people, or we have to deny others’ perspective on reality. I am more comfortable with the first idea than the second.

    But I am not fundamentally a relativist. I am convinced that there are commonalities in the human experience (i.e. that relativity has it limits). I just don’t see how any one person in the Bible (not even Jesus) owns those commonalities. Does anyone really own things like charity and kindness, life and death? We can say these things belong to God, but trying to nail them down to a specific divine figure in history is dangerous (leading to the kind of superiority complex that has infested all the monotheistic religions at one point or another). To me, it seems that if there is something out there that we want to refer to as God, the Bible is not really the only (or even the most useful) guide. If we restrain ourselves to ancient sources, the Tao Te Ching is at least as good, and if we include modern literature, I think we can all find more immediately useful material for our ethical and metaphysical problems than a hodge-podge of ancient mythological texts. I admit I am predisposed to this heresy by my Mormonism (which has a strong skeptical streak, something many Catholics find in Protestantism generally: I am pretty sure the usually innocuous G. K. Chesterton refers to Protestants as atheists somewhere in his book “Orthodoxy”). But I cannot help thinking that an honest version of Hinckley’s invitation (“bring what good you have and see what others can add”), as opposed to the rhetorical sham that the LDS church practices (“bring your own truth to us so that we can bury it in a bunch of truer platitudes equally arbitrary”), is the best way to pursue inter-faith dialogues (no matter what faith one practices or doesn’t practice). What emerges from the resulting dialogue will be something a lot more like “objective religious reality,” and I don’t see how it is going to look anything like dogmatic Judaism, Christianity, or Islam (which are really three versions of the same ancient Near Eastern cultural system). Christians like Pierre Teilhard de Chardin will be comfortable, as will Muslims like Ibn Arabi, Jews like Martin Buber, and Buddhists like Thich Nhat Hanh (or the Dalai Lama, for that matter). The fundamentalists who insist on some kind of unique access to universal truth impossible to anyone outside their (idiosyncratic and relatively non-negotiable) belief systems will not. For them, dialogue (if it occurs) will always be an instrument to conversion; their way will always be superior; and they will always mistake that way for something given by God (the one true one) to all people (who accept it and are saved or reject it and are damned: weaker versions of salvation for the wishy-washy are just nice ways of being damned).

    I am sorry if I am spamming this thread, but I am going to do it anyway (at least until Tim tells me to lay off already).

  17. Tim asked:

    Katie, does the LDS Church teach that ordinances performed by an authorized priesthood are required for salvation?

    If yes, that is a much different understanding of how Jesus saves.

    If that were the only difference, and if the ordinances ultimately are done for all people, then I’m not convinced there’d be any practical difference.

    I’m not sure there’s broad agreement within either evangelicalism or Mormonism on how Jesus saves. Some evangelicals believe in a substitutionary atonement, for example, and so do some Mormons, and I’m not convinced the evangelical model of a substitutionary atonement is all that different than the Mormon one.

    But not all evangelicals subscribe to the substitutionary-atonement model, and neither do all Mormons.

    So I’m not ready to agree with you that there’s a huge gap between LDS and evangelicals of how Jesus saves.

    But I do agree with you here:

    Yes and any Mormon worth their salt would agree that they have a different understanding about the nature of Jesus (as God) than we do …

    Yep, some big differences there. And I agree that our different views on the nature of Christ (and of the other two members of the Godhead/Trinity) do affect the ways in which related to our Savior.

    For Mormons, the fact that Heavenly Father is corporeal makes him a God that can be related to. And that’s one reason we’re not “Father-forgetful” in the way that Sanders accuses evangelicals of being. Mormonism as practiced certainly has its faults, but ignoring any particular member of the Godhead isn’t among them.

    I read the portion of Sanders’ book that can be read for free at Amazon.com, and I did find it interesting. He pretty much lambastes (as an insider) the shallowness of much of evangelicalism today.

    Tim said, apparently agreeing with Sanders:

    Christianity reduced to “believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved” is meaningless outside of the much larger context of who Jesus is, how Jesus saves and why we need salvation.

    For better or worse, though, that’s been the message of much of evangelicalism.

  18. If I had been thinking, I might have mentioned that I think Rob Bell could be comfortable with real interfaith dialogue (though I should read more of him before making any definitive pronouncement), as would Sterling McMurrin (for the Mormons out there).

  19. Hermes, just a commenting tip for you.

    It’s much easier for people to read your thoughts if you include some paragraph breaks. Even if they separate your thoughts in an unnatural or unnecessary way.

  20. Tim said,
    “any Mormon worth their salt would agree that they have a different understanding about the nature of Jesus (as God) than we do and a different understanding of how he saves.”

    Apparently Eric & Katie L. aren’t worth their salt—they didn’t totally agree with you.

    I’d guess that Mormonism as a whole is approximately 70% in agreement with evangelicalism. Can we agree on that, Tim?

    I am admitting that the nature of Jesus and how he saves are not 100% the same as ours.

    Now, will you admit that Joseph Smith agreed with us when he said, “[Jesus Christ] came into the world . . . to be crucified for the world, and to bear the sins of the world, and to sanctify the world, and to cleanse it from all unrighteousness; that through him all might be saved” (D&C 76:41-42, quoted in “Gospel Principles,” p. 59)?

    My perception of you, Tim, is that you are so obsessed with the disagreements between the LDS and us that you can’t bring yourself to admit that there are some extremely important AGREEMENTS that need to be recognized before we are qualified to make a judgment on whether the organization can be called Christian.

    If you’ll admit to me that the above quotation of the D&C agrees with orthodox views, you’ll do much to dispel my perception of you.

    (May God keep both of us humble, teachable, and hungry for more revelation.)

  21. Cal,

    I’d guess that Jehovah’s Witnesses as a whole are approximately 70% in agreement with evangelicalism. Can we agree on that, Cal?

    I’d guess that Islam as a whole is approximately 70% in agreement with evangelicalism. Can we agree on that, Cal?

    I’d guess that Buddhism as a whole is approximately 70% in agreement with evangelicalism. Can we agree on that, Cal?

    I’d guess that agnosticism as a whole is approximately 70% in agreement with evangelicalism. Can we agree on that, Cal?

    I’d guess that ufo cargo cults as a whole are approximately 70% in agreement with evangelicalism. Can we agree on that, Cal?

    I’d guess that animism as a whole is approximately 70% in agreement with evangelicalism. Can we agree on that, Cal?

    I’d guess that Mithraism as a whole is approximately 70% in agreement with evangelicalism. Can we agree on that, Cal?

    Sorry, got carried away, reminded me of Mad Libs.

  22. I’d guess that Mormonism as a whole is approximately 70% in agreement with evangelicalism. Can we agree on that, Tim?

    In a kind-of defense of Tim, I don’t think the percentage makes much difference (and I’d say it’s closer to 90 percent). If we (LDS, that is) are wrong on an essential belief, it’s irrelevant how many other beliefs we agree on.

    Or to use an analogy that’s probably flawed, would I go to the store to knowingly buy an apple that’s rotten at the core, even if the remaining 70 percent (or 90 percent) is edible?

    For what it’s worth, the original post is actually far more critical of evangelicalism (or certain trends in evangelicalism) than it is of Mormonism.

  23. Apparently Eric & Katie L. aren’t worth their salt—they didn’t totally agree with you.

    A reminder that I’ve never claimed to be worth my salt. 😉

  24. I didn’t know you had a website, Adam. Neat. How’d you make the smiley!
    Back to serious: The issue here isn’t why Jesus has the right to forgive our sins. The issue is how do we appropriate his forgiveness.

    Eric said, “In a kind-of defense of Tim, I don’t think the percentage makes much difference (and I’d say it’s closer to 90 percent). If we (LDS, that is) are wrong on an essential belief, it’s irrelevant how many other beliefs we agree on.

    EXACTLY! This is what I’ve been trying to tell Tim. He’s been telling me my focus is narrow, that the edge of the knife wouldn’t be effective if the bulk of the knife wasn’t there. I finally tried going along with his focus in hopes of making a point. David is making the point.

    Really, I think one of Tim’s mistakes is the same as Adam’s, which I stated in my first paragraph.

    However, I would still like to hear him admit his agreement with D&C 76:41-42, quoted in my last comment. If he’d get his nose out of the manure, his discernment would increase. (Sorry to mention manure, Tim, but I’m using your love language!)

  25. I think all human religions are more similar than different. I also think that most of the differences pointed out by “rational” apologists are superficial.

    Religion is like language: it recognizes some objective reality in the world and invents a name for it. The reality is something like “transcendence” and/or “goodness,” but different religions call it by different names (salvation, exaltation, nirvana, etc.) and invent different mythical figures to embody and control it (like Yahweh, Jesus, Allah, Shakyamuni Buddha). The existence of these figures in history is not necessary: they represent something common to all human time and space (that we know of). The important thing is not the symbols used to indicate the reality, but the reality itself (which can be approached through just about any combination of symbols).

    Because of accidents of birth, some of us are more comfortable with one language than another. The same is true with regard to religion. No one should feel obligated to make his religion true for all people, in the same way that no one should feel obligated to make all people speak his language. The existence of a broad spectrum of languages in the world benefits us as a species, providing multiple ways of thinking about and dealing with human problems. The existence of a broad spectrum of religions is similarly beneficial, providing multiple ways of thinking about and dealing with ethical and existential crises.

    Good religion is about approaching and relating well to the objective reality that every single human being experiences (even criminals and atheists, though these are not the same thing). Bad religion is getting so caught up in the (arbitrary) symbols used to mark that reality that one spends more time defining the mystery (which is futile) than experiencing it (which provides some of the most satisfying experiences available to human beings); the more seriously we take our definitions of ultimate reality, the less open we are to the fact that we do not (and have never) grasped said reality. The most we can do with dogma is point at reality. It does not really matter what object (or whose finger) we point with.

    Mormonism is not truer than Christianity, which is not truer than Mithraism (or any other religion), just as English is not truer than Chinese (or Spanish, or any other language past, present, or future). Our collective life is enriched by being expressed in many languages, and in many religions.

  26. My DNA is 70% consistent with a whale’s. Further, my DNA is 98% consistent with a monkey’s. But that doesn’t mean I can take a baboon as a wife.

    Evangelicalism might be only 70% consistent with Catholicism, but you don’t see me making arguments against the Catholic church. The percentage is irrelevant, the most important part is where the differences lie.

    Cal said

    Now, will you admit that Joseph Smith agreed with us when he said, “[Jesus Christ] came into the world . . . to be crucified for the world, and to bear the sins of the world, and to sanctify the world, and to cleanse it from all unrighteousness; that through him all might be saved” (D&C 76:41-42, quoted in “Gospel Principles,” p. 59)?

    Yes, I will agree that Joseph Smith agreed with us. Further, I’ll state that there is very little in the Book of Mormon that I would disagree with from a theological viewpoint, and in fact some parts of the Book of Mormon state my beliefs more clearly than the Bible.

    The problem is, D&C 76 and the Book of Mormon come from something with a much larger context. It violates Mormonism to remove them from that context. In an effort to find agreement you are actually doing “harm” to Mormon beliefs. Have you read the King Follet Discourse? Have you read the Pearl of Great Price?

    I understand that you think the Mormon knife is 70% the size of the Evangelical knife. So you don’t agree with me that you’ve reduced Evangelicalism down to a razor’s edge. I don’t think you understand the diagram included in the original post. Go look at it again. Do you notice that the rings get exponentially bigger the further out they go? Those outer rings are where we disagree with Mormonism the most? That means our disagreements are exponentially bigger than our disagreements with Catholics. If Mormonism is false there is no weight in the back portion of their knife. It might carry a similar shape, but it can’t cut because it has no weight.

    D&C76 is the edge of the knife. It doesn’t mean anything unless you define “sin,” “world,” “Jesus,” and “saved”. It has no pragmatic value to anyone unless those words are placed in a context of truth.

    I understand that you have a Mormon friend who has influenced you greatly. You would like to believe he is your brother-in-Christ. I have no desire to dissuade you of that. I hope you’re right about him. I hope to meet him dressed in glory standing before Christ someday. But I can’t look at the teachings of his church and agree that they are the same as mine. We have real, fundamental differences and they aren’t over the style of music or what kind of underwear we use. They are over what kind of God(s) exists.

    I’m positive that I can find a Hindu who adds Jesus to his collection of gods. I probably could even find one who asserts that Jesus came to save the world and cleanse it from unrighteousness. Would you call that man a Christian even if he also believed that Jesus has a dark mother named Kali who will destroy the world? Please answer this question.

    If you’ll admit to me that the above quotation of the D&C agrees with orthodox views, you’ll do much to dispel my perception of you.

    I’m pretty sure I gave up caring what your perception of me is when you said I was being led around the nose by Satan.

  27. Hi Tim,

    First, I want to apologize for the “manure” comment. I think I stepped over a fine line of Christian decency.

    I also want to say I respect that you’re willing to dialogue with me. As you can imagine, I can’t dialogue much at all on this topic with my local evangelical friends. One reason may be that they don’t want to quarrel, which could be wisdom. Another might be that they are afraid of being deceived.

    I’m glad to know you have read the Book of Mormon and I agree with your assessment of it. Who do you believe wrote it?

    You: “Have you read the King Follet Discourse?”

    Yes—at least the controversial part anyway.

    You: Have you read the Pearl of Great Price?

    Yes—a long time ago. I don’t remember much of it. At the time, I didn’t feel prepared to make a sweeping judgment of it one way or the other. Perhaps I should read it again.

    You said, “D&C76. . . . doesn’t mean anything unless you define “sin,” “world,” “Jesus,” and “saved”.

    That’s true. How do you think the LDS defines those words?
    You don’t need to bother with Jesus because I already have a good idea of how you would answer.

    I’ll go ahead and answer my own question where it concerns the word “saved”: According to “True to the Faith” (an official LDS book), salvation has six different meanings. They are (1) salvation from physical death, (2) salvation from sin, (3) being born again, (4) salvation from ignorance, (5) salvation from the second death, and (6) eternal life or exaltation, which is a place in the highest degree of a celestial kingdom.

    I have troubles with #6. I think a lot of Mormons will be surprised on judgment day to find that they aren’t going to be as greatly rewarded in relation to others as they think they will be.

    I also recognize that “being born again” to them is more a process than an instantaneous event—what we might call sanctification or spiritual growth.

    I agree with them that a life lived by faith in Jesus does bring salvation from sin—from the condemnation and power of sin. I also agree that Jesus brings salvation from ignorance and the 2nd death.

    I believe we will receive what we expect to receive (Mark 11:23-25), as long as it’s in line with God’s will. They will get what they expect, and it’s a whole lot!

    You said, “I’m positive that I can find a Hindu who adds Jesus to his collection of gods. I probably could even find one who asserts that Jesus came to save the world and cleanse it from unrighteousness. Would you call that man a Christian even if he also believed that Jesus has a dark mother named Kali who will destroy the world? Please answer this question.”

    I don’t believe you can serve two gods—Jesus said that. (The Gods that the LDS serve make up one God. If you serve both Jesus and the Father, you won’t have any troubles because they will lead you in the exact same direction.)

    The Hindu who asserts that Jesus came to save the world and cleanse it from unrighteousness has not satisfied God’s requirements for salvation—he has not repented.

    So I would say the Hindu is not a Christian.

    God bless you, my brother.

  28. Tim — You’re basically arguing (and arguing well) a variation of the “Mormons worship a different Jesus” theme. That’s one of those things I could argue either way; it’s a matter of what it takes to be “different.”

    I understand your main point — the framework of Mormonism is so different from that of evangelicalism (or, if you prefer, historic Christianity) that they can’t be considered the same religion. I wouldn’t disagree (in fact, LDS leaders often refer to non-LDS Christians as being people from other faiths).

    But my observation after spending many years in both the evangelical and LDS worlds is that from everything I can tell, many Mormons and many evangelicals are having similar if not identical experiences in the relationship (for lack of a better word) they have with God. They talk in much the same way about their appreciation for their Savior, about the challenges of resisting temptation, about the joy they find in experiencing forgiveness, about the joy found in reading the Scriptures, about the desire to follow the teachings of Christ and so on. I’ve heard LDS talks about living the Christian life that, except perhaps for a quote from the Book of Mormon or an LDS apostle, could have been preached at an evangelical church, and the few evangelical sermons I’ve heard in the past few years wouldn’t seem out of place (except in speaking style) in an LDS context.

    This may run counter to both LDS and evangelical dogmas, but I’m inclined to believe that in some sense many of us (both evangelical and LDS) do believe and are experiencing the same thing at some level that matters. I myself, even as a trying-to-be-faithful Saint, have little doubt that there are those outside the Church who are experiencing the Holy Spirit in their lives.

    (I’ve also known both Mormons and evangelicals who are caught up in legalism, prosperity teaching and other approaches to the Gospel that you and I would agree are false, but those aren’t the people I’m talking about here.)

    I am not taking Hermes’ position here — what we experience is more than symbolism, and to reduce religion to mere analogy as he seems to do denies an external reality that is essential to the claims of both evangelicalism and Mormonism. And there are certainly areas where either evangelicals or Mormons — or both of us — are wrong.

    But I can’t escape what I’ve seen and what I’ve experienced. While I don’t always agree with Cal, who seems to whitewash substantial differences, neither can I deny — and I’m basing this on observation rather than theological analysis — that there’s a core something that spiritually growing evangelicals and spiritually growing Mormons have in common. And that something is more than the identical labels we apply to our different concepts of who Jesus Christ is.

  29. that there’s a core something that spiritually growing evangelicals and spiritually growing Mormons have in common.

    I think you are right that they share a core spirituality, but I don’t think it’s because of some commonality between Evangelicalism and Mormonism. Rather, I think most people in American share in the religion of moral therapeutic deism, and many of those happen to be Evangelicals and Mormons.

  30. This may run counter to both LDS and evangelical dogmas, but I’m inclined to believe that in some sense many of us (both evangelical and LDS) do believe and are experiencing the same thing at some level that matters.

    Well, of course! It’s pretty narrow to believe that God is limited by our dogma.

    I am not taking Hermes’ position here — what we experience is more than symbolism, and to reduce religion to mere analogy as he seems to do denies an external reality that is essential to the claims of both evangelicalism and Mormonism. And there are certainly areas where either evangelicals or Mormons — or both of us — are wrong.

    Eric, I’m not taking Hermes’ position here either, but I’m not sure that’s what he said. I don’t believe he reduced all religion to mere symbolism at the expense of an external supernatural reality. What I understand him to be saying is that there is an external supernatural reality that it is essential to evangelicalism and Mormonism…but that is equally essential to other religions and belief structures as well. In other words, the external spiritual reality is BIGGER than Mormonism and evangelicalism and even the whole landscape of Christian belief.

    (Maybe that’s what you’re saying, too, but we’re just using different words?)

    My position on that? I’m comfortable with lots of things in scripture being symbolic (not that they necessarily are, just that it wouldn’t stress me out to discover that they are), but I do believe in the literal resurrection and lordship of Christ. So I consider myself a Christian in a very literal and tangible way. Having said that, I wouldn’t put it past God to use other “languages,” as Hermes described it, to communicate His message to the people and cultures of the world. And if He chooses to save people who come to Him as best they know how in the language they understand, I’m not going to tell Him He can’t. In fact, I really, really hope He does. Heck, I even think there’s a darn good chance He will.

  31. Thanks for rescuing me from the charge of denying reality, Katie L, and for bringing my views down to earth with some clearer language. You understood me correctly.

  32. Eric said, “many Mormons and many evangelicals are having similar if not identical experiences in the relationship (for lack of a better word) they have with God. . . .”

    Thanks very much for that testimony, Eric. This is what I have observed as well. And after all, Jesus did say, “You’ll know them by their fruit.”

    Your assertion that Mormonism and Christianity are two different religions seems to disagree with what you observed.

    You said, “Cal . . . seems to whitewash substantial differences.”

    My local Mormon friend also thinks that differences between us are greater than I believe they are. Sometimes it’s because of his surprisingly substantial ignorance of evangelical theology. This is much less likely to be the case with you. Sometime we’ll discuss that some more.

    I won’t entirely deny whitewashing. When we make Jesus our Lord, God whitewashes us in a sense. I mean our sins are all forgiven—as you eluded—i.e., we are pardoned or acquitted. This is so we can enter the Father’s presence and begin to see our sins washed away in actual experience—a life-long journey, as you know, brother Eric.

  33. Oops! Not “as you eluded,” but as you implied. (If I use “eluded,” Kullervo will never let me forget it!)

  34. Cal said

    I also want to say I respect that you’re willing to dialogue with me. As you can imagine, I can’t dialogue much at all on this topic with my local evangelical friends. One reason may be that they don’t want to quarrel, which could be wisdom. Another might be that they are afraid of being deceived.

    Another reason might be that they have discernment where you do not. Or perhaps the Spirit is directing them away from teachings that do not belong to him. Have you paused to consider that it might be you who is out-of-step with the rest of the Christian world and not the other way around?

    You: “Have you read the King Follet Discourse?”

    Yes—at least the controversial part anyway.

    Please read the entire discourse and prayerfully consider “Are these Christian teachings?” Another way to consider the question is “are these teachings in line with the teachings of Jesus?”

    Then read this letter Joseph Smith wrote to one of his teenaged wives (look for the letter from August 18th). It is one of the few things we have that was written in Joseph Smith's handwriting. After you finish read D&C 132 and again prayerfully ask “Are these Christian teachings?”

    We’re not talking about some possible mistaken views of God. We’re talking about someone who said his teachings were as authoritative as the Bible and when in doubt he should be trusted over the Bible.

    The Hindu who asserts that Jesus came to save the world and cleanse it from unrighteousness has not satisfied God’s requirements for salvation—he has not repented.

    So I would say the Hindu is not a Christian.

    And what if the Hindu has gone through the motions of repentance but still believes that Jesus has a dark Mother named Kali? Is his repentance showing good fruit? What if he teaches others about his knowledge of Kali; is that good fruit? What if in addition he taught that someday he would become a god and have his own spirit children that would worship him; would he be Christian in your eyes?
    I’d love an answer.

    You seem to think that as long as you say the right things about Jesus it doesn’t matter what else you might add to it, you’re still a Christian in God’s eyes. At what point do the additions make nonsense out of Jesus? Could Jesus be a reptilian? Could Jesus teach us to sacrifice our own first-born sons?

  35. Cal said

    Your assertion that Mormonism and Christianity are two different religions seems to disagree with what you observed.

    As far as Eric’s apparent contradiction. Have you considered that “Are Mormons Christian?” and “Is Mormonism Christianity?” might be two different questions? You might meet Mormons who are in fact Christians while simultaneously acknowledging that what the LDS church teaches is so different than Christianity that it falls outside of our definitional bounds?

    I understand that you have a Mormon friend that you wish to somehow incorporate into your spiritual brotherhood. Could you be stretching too far in accepting all of Mormonism as “Christian”? The word “Christian” and “saved” mean different things.

    You said, “Cal . . . seems to whitewash substantial differences.”

    My local Mormon friend also thinks that differences between us are greater than I believe they are. Sometimes it’s because of his surprisingly substantial ignorance of evangelical theology. This is much less likely to be the case with you. Sometime we’ll discuss that some more.

    From what I can tell I think you’ve got some “substantial ignorance” when it comes to evangelical theology as well. Your descriptions of the Trinity seem to serve your justifications that Mormons are Christian more than they reflect the historical understanding of the doctrine.

  36. Hi Tim,
    I never said I believe everything the LDS teaches is Christian—far from it. I see error in the Catholic Church, for example, but I still consider it Christian. I consider it Christian because if you believe/do everything the Pope wants you to believe/do you will end up in heaven.

    You asked, “And what if the Hindu has gone through the motions of repentance but still believes that Jesus has a dark Mother named Kali?”

    I believe, as the song Billy Graham used to use all the time indicated, that God accepts us just as we are when we turn our lives over to his control. THEN, he starts to clean up our hearts and renew our minds. If we had to clean ourselves to get God to accept us, then his salvation would no longer be by grace.

    I met a guy when attending Oral Roberts University who told me that when he & his girl-friend got saved, they were living together. As I recall, about 6 months went by before he realized he was “living in sin,” as he put it. When he realized it was wrong for him to be in bed with a woman out of wedlock, they got married.
    I believe that if he had died 4 months after he became a Christian, he would have gone to heaven.

    This doesn’t mean I condone shacking up. It’s harmful, as any sin is.

  37. Eric, we’re both claiming that you’re on our side. We may tear you apart before this is over!

  38. Cal, great. We’ve got something to work with now.

    I agree that Jesus cleans us up after we enter into a relationship with him. I also agree that your friend would have been in heaven if he had died even though he was shacking up.

    I also agree with you that there are a number of things the Catholic church is in error on.

    Let me ask you, what if your friend had been confronted about his shacking up on numerous occasions and refused to repent. When asked “why won’t you repent?” he responded “I’m not in sin, my relationship is an example of God’s righteousness. Other people should follow my example, forgo marriage and just live together. I’m going to teach other Christians to follow my example as often as I get the chance.”

    I’m guessing you would start to question the good fruit of your friend’s “first repentance.” You might even go so far as to say he’s not a Christian. In I Corinthians 5:5 Paul said to not having anything to do with such a person. To not permit him into your fellowship.

    So now let’s suppose your friend wasn’t teaching people to shack up and avoid marriage, instead he was teaching people blasphemy. Every attempt to correct him fails. At some point he even suggests that all the other Christians are apostate and he’s the only one with the authority from Christ to save.

    Is his teaching in less error in situation #2 than situation #1? Is teaching sexual sin more offensive to you than teaching blasphemy? In my mind blasphemy is way worse than sexual sin. At the very least it’s on par with sexual sin (see I Timothy 1:20) and deserves the same kind of church discipline.

    In Joseph Smith with have situations #1 and #2 all wrapped into one.

    Do you agree with me that Joseph Smith declared that all men are gods? Do you agree with me that declaring yourself to be a god is blasphemy? Do you agree with me that saying Jesus is in any way comparable to Lucifer, Cal or Tim is blasphemy?

    As I stated, I think the Catholic Church is in error on a number of things. I also think Oral Roberts was in error on a number of things. I think every Christian church is probably in error on some level or another. But in every single case I don’t think their error can be classified as blasphemy.

    I can’t say the same thing about the LDS church. They blaspheme the nature of God. In some instances they have blasphemed the character of God. They are in such error on these issues I can’t even recognize the God I worship. He appears to be nothing like the god of Christianity.

    Their sin of blasphemy prevents me from joining in fellowship with them. I can not commune with blasphemers. I can not join hands in worship with them because when they worship they blaspheme. That they haven’t dismissed all of Christianity doesn’t excuse their blasphemy.

    When you accept Mormonism into the fold of Christianity you are in effect saying “Unrepented blasphemy is fine by me.”

  39. Tim — I understand that you’re responding to a fellow evangelical about a specific position (that the LDS church should be recognized into full fellowship). And, actually, I’d agree the answer should be no — and I don’t think the position of the LDS church or any LDS who have participated in your forum would be otherwise.

    But if we’re all a bunch of blasphemers, what’s the point of dialogue?

  40. Yes. I’m allowing you to listen in on a conversation with another evangelical.

    But is it any surprise to you that I think Exaltation is blasphemy? How else would you classify it if you were me?

  41. Yes, somewhat, and that’s hard to say, because I don’t see the doctrine as blasphemous, nor even why it should be considered as such. I don’t see us claiming that we will be God, that we will be superior to him, that we’ll ever quit worshiping him, that at some point we won’t need God or anything of the sort — our Heavenly Father will always be our God, and Jesus Christ will always be our Lord. I honestly don’t see the blasphemy in it.

  42. Of course you don’t see it as blasphemous, you wouldn’t believe it if you thought it was; that’s part of the bad fruit of Mormonism.

  43. Tim, I appreciate your agreement with me that the Christian shacking up in ignorance is going to heaven. It shows that we aren’t miles and miles apart.

    You asked me, “What if your friend [said,] ‘My relationship is an example of God’s righteousness. Other people should follow my example, forgo marriage and just live together. I’m going to teach other Christians to follow my example as often as I get the chance’?”

    Good question. I imagine that if I were an elder of my friends’ church, and he would not respond to correction, I would have to start praying about some sort of discipline. First Corinthians 5:5 is a verse I would look at.

    Then you said that “the LDS church blaspheme[s] the nature of God. In some instances they have blasphemed the character of God. They are in such error on these issues I can’t even recognize the God I worship. . . . I think Exaltation is blasphemy.”

    I couldn’t improve on Eric’s response to your charge that exaltation is blasphemy. Exaltation as Eric explained it is obviously not blasphemy. Are you doubting the truth of what he said? Are you misunderstanding him? I know you’re intelligent enough to understand him. Are you clinging to a narrow definition of the word “god”? I honestly don’t get it.

    I’m also grieved by the way you just slapped him in the face. I don’t doubt your sincerity, Tim, but if God hadn’t taught me to be merciful and revealed to me just how deceived even Christians can be, I would pray about disfellowshipping YOU right now!

    I’ve never seen Eric slap you in the face in the way you just slapped him. In that respect, he has more fruit than you do. You better be glad that the blood of Christ is covering you in the way it is covering Eric, because condemning your own brother in the Lord is a big sin, too.
    You also should thank God that the restraining influence of the Spirit is working in me right now or I would say more than I’m saying. I don’t have as much of the fruit of patience as Eric does.

    Thanks for hanging with this conversation, Eric.

    when what we are supposed to be clinging to is truth. To use an exaggerated example, suppose you condemned Alex because he doesn’t spell some words the way you have been taught to spell them? Wouldn’t that be straining a knat and swollowing a camel?

  44. Cal,

    You honestly need to reevaluate what you just said to Tim. I understand that he has bluntly laid out the nature of Joseph Smith’s teaching on God. Some of that is your fault by continually insisting the compatibility of Smith’s doctrines with the catholic doctrine, I think you have exhausted his patience.

    Now because Tim’s plain presentation of blasphemy conflicts with your “Holy Spirit inspired” desire to conflate Joseph Smith teaching with historic Christianity you are throwing around disfellowship.

    The publish button is like the spoon on a grenade, you can’t put it back all you can do is apologize.

  45. Well, Tim’s last remark to me was grossly insulting as well as unnecessarily and uncharacteristically personal. And for now, at least, that’s all I’m going to say about that.

  46. Hi Gundek. You said, “You honestly need to reevaluate what you just said to Tim.”

    I have been reevaluating it ever since I wrote it. My patience was getting exhausted as is Tim’s. I think I did rant too much. I don’t mind you correcting me, Gundek.
    But these are major issues we’re talking about. It’s not easy.

    You said, “I understand that he has bluntly laid out the nature of Joseph Smith’s teaching on God. Some of that is your fault.”

    I don’t fault him or me for bringing out all Joseph Smith’s teaching. If we’re ever going to resolve what sets the LDS apart from us, we’re going to have to lay everything out on the table sooner or later the way I see it.

    ——
    Back to the Exaltation issue:
    Eric said, “I don’t see us claiming that we will be God, . . . that at some point we won’t need God or anything of the sort — our Heavenly Father will always be our God, and Jesus Christ will always be our Lord. I honestly don’t see the blasphemy in it.”

    I honestly don’t see the blasphemy in it either.

    I don’t believe that anyone is going to get special treatment in a special kingdom because they’ve had hands laid on them by or have been baptized by Mormon authorities. But the Word of God does say,

    “If we endure, we will also reign with him” (2 Timothy 2:12).

    “When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, . . . then the saying that is written will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory'” (1 Corinthians 15:54).
    We will reign over death!

    “There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain” (Revelation 21:4).
    We will reign by the power and presence of Jesus and his Father over death, crying, and pain! You are too, Gundek & Tim—not just me & Eric! 😉

    I think we can have constructive conversations by establishing where we agree, then slowly, humbly, chip away at those arenas where our knowledge is incomplete. Also pray, listen for the voice of the Lord, be willing to forgive each other seventy-seven times a day (Matthew 18:21-22), and minimize the rants.

  47. Eric said
    Well, Tim’s last remark to me was grossly insulting as well as unnecessarily and uncharacteristically personal. And for now, at least, that’s all I’m going to say about that.

    I’m sorry if my comment was insulting. I very much intended it to be blunt but not personal. My apologies for getting carried away.

  48. Cal said

    I couldn’t improve on Eric’s response to your charge that exaltation is blasphemy. Exaltation as Eric explained it is obviously not blasphemy. Are you doubting the truth of what he said? Are you misunderstanding him? I know you’re intelligent enough to understand him. Are you clinging to a narrow definition of the word “god”? I honestly don’t get it.

    Eric’s defense of exaltation is similar to your friend in situation #1 saying “what? I don’t understand what the problem is. My girlfriend and I are monogamous. I’m totally devoted to her, I don’t even look at other women. We have no plans to ever break up. Why do we need some legal piece of paper or a pastor to validate our relationship?”

    It highlights all of the positive without acknowledging any of the problems.

    The last half of the Lorenzo Snow couplet states “As God IS, man may become”

    That means that the way God is right now, in his present state, is something man may become. That’s not just saying God is the same species as man (which is still blasphemy), that’s saying that men will sit in the same kind of power, authority and seat of worship that God is sitting in right now. That’s blasphemy. Saying that God will always be ahead of us in glory doesn’t diminish it, it’s just a way of distracting from the offense by reaffirming something we agree on. Joseph Smith believed that men will be worthy of the same worship that God receives.

    I affirm that we will reign with God and share in his glory. Exaltation takes it a step further and is blasphemous. It makes the same error as turning “God overshadowed Mary into “God had sex with Mary.”

    That you throw out the word “disfellowship” because I was rude, but are unwilling to identify and condemn blasphemy says more about you than I think you want to know. I’m glad you would look to I Corinthians 5:5 for counsel. What about I Timothy 1:20?

  49. Tim said, “Joseph Smith believed that men will be worthy of the same worship that God receives.”

    Is this in the King Follett sermon? (I am going through it again. I can see that I had underlined in various places, so I probably did read most of it many years ago.) If not, where is it? Do you have any evidence that the LDS still teaches it today?

    Also, I wonder if the LDS has discontinued publishing the King Follett sermon. Does anyone know?

    When I rhetorically mentioned the possibility of disfellowshipping you, it wasn’t for being rude, it was for condemning Eric. Are you aware of what the Bible says about divisive people? Anyway, I’ll drop that because it’s off topic and probably not constructive at this point. (I am glad that you’re appealing to the Word of God. That carries a lot more weight than simply giving your opinion does.)

    I’m glad you affirmed that we will reign with God and share in his glory.

    First Timothy doesn’t apply yet because you haven’t convinced me that the LDS blasphemes. I also don’t know what the exact nature of the blasphemy of Alexander and Hymenaeus was.

    How much time do you spend in prayer? (I’m doing my best to answer all your questions. All I ask is that you answer mine.)

    . . . Oh, I think there’s one I didn’t answer. You asked me about a Hindu who went through the motions of repentance but still believed Jesus’ mother was evil. Before I answer, please tell me what you mean by “going through the motions”?

    You may not have to ask as many questions if you just remember that I believe that God has made abundantly clear in the Bible what we have to do to be saved—in this life and the next. Anything that is not listed as an essential is not essential. I haste to add that many non-essentials are very important. But think about it—every doctrine has to be either essential or nonessential. There can’t be any gray area.

    Kullervo: Have you repented? Have you forsaken your belief in pagan gods and made Jesus your only Lord? My party hats are still ready for the light of day!

  50. Cal,

    I agree with you that these are important issues but I don’t see why it is not easy. In all honesty these are no brainers. The catholic doctrines that Tim is referring to are some of the only doctrines that are held by each of the major Christian groups, Rome, East, Protestant and Pentecostal. The doctrines of God, theology proper, are not up for grabs. I am not about to abandon the unity I have with Rome and the East because you want to embrace the doctrines of eternal progression or the prophet hood of Joseph Smith.

    For decades the World Alliance of Reformed Churches have had an ongoing ecumenical dialog with Eastern Churches. This has been a serious dialog identifying the actual areas of agreement and disagreement. Your position would end that dialog in order to embrace Salt Lake. That is untenable and divisive.

    You continue to reference disfellowship, but you have yet to give any evidence that you have grappled with the historical theology of the Church. I think that you have proven that you are willing to give up or ignore any historically orthodox doctrine in order to fashion the veneer of unity with Mormonism. I wonder if you have even though some of these things through. Can you explain exactly how the LDS doctrine of eternal progression compatible with the eternal perfection of God? Can you explain how eternal progression is not idolatry?

  51. Gundek, you’re making lots of false assumptions of my position. If you do this to me, what’s to say you don’t do the same to the LDS?

    I don’t have time to answer your questions right now. Ask me again in a month or so. I first want to get to the end of the track that Tim has me on. Is that OK?

    There’s a question I asked Tim that he never answered. You’re free to take a stab at it yourself, Gundek. (You can use one of Tim’s knives!)

    I had asked him if he agrees with Doctrine & Covenants 76:41-42, which says, “[Jesus Christ] came into the world . . . to be crucified for the world, and to bear the sins of the world, and to sanctify the world, and to cleanse it from all unrighteousness; that through him all might be saved” (quoted in “Gospel Principles,” p. 59).

    Tim had said, “It doesn’t mean anything unless you define “sin,” “world,” “Jesus,” and “saved”,” implying that the LDS has so redefined these terms that they have completely stripped the gospel of all its power.

    So I asked him to give me the Mormon definitions for those terms. He hasn’t answered.

    If he can’t answer, it will show that he makes implications that he can’t back up.
    If he answers it incompletely, it will be a confirmation that he isn’t looking at the LDS objectively.
    If he answers it correctly, it will show that the LDS is not so totally different from Christianity that it is “unrecognizable” when compared to Christianity, as he asserts.

    ——–
    Eric, I have a question for you. If Mormonism denies that the Father and Son are of one essence, how do you explain the following quotation of Joseph Smith (quoted in “Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith,” comp. Joseph Fielding Smith [Salt Lake City: Deseret, 1976], 345-47):

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

    Thanks. You all have a nice day.

  52. If you’re talking about disfellowshipping Tim for divisiveness, how are the Mormon church’s claims of exclusive truth and priesthood authority–sending missionaries to convert other Christians, even!–not divisive? Yet you step all yourself to insist you can fellowship with them.

  53. Cal,

    If you believe so strongly that you can fellowship with Mormons why don’t you try this experiment.

    Drive to the nearest LDS temple and ask to participate in baptisms for the dead. Explain that you are a baptized Christian and that you have read 1 Cor 15:29 and would like to get in on the action. You recognize that the LDS Temple is Jesus’s house and as a spiritually regenerated Christian you have a right and the desire to fellowship and participate with Mormons in this ritual.

  54. You guys. Even Tim said that the exclusive priesthood / temple stuff, although from his perspective incorrect, wasn’t enough to keep us from being accepted into the fellowship of Christian orthodoxy (even if we don’t return the favor).

    This whole “but YOU do it too!” is honestly the worst argument that ever crops up in interfaith dialogue.

    Cal, I appreciate what you are trying to do here, but let me ask you a question to better understand your position: are “Christian” and “saved” synonymous for you? In other words, do you think it’s possible for people to be saved without being Christian?

  55. Katie,

    What I said does not argue against a generic “accepted into the fellowship of Christian orthodoxy,” though I see how it can be interpreted that way.

    My main point is this. Cal seems hell bent on saying Mormons and Christians are the same thing. Cal also simply doesn’t seem to do well with argumentation, he seems to think that tossing around decontextualized proof texts is sufficient for making his case. I though perhaps a more indirect and action centered approach might get him to think differently. Though in retrospect, I probably should have approached it differently.

  56. Cal said

    I had asked him if he agrees with Doctrine & Covenants 76:41-42, which says, “[Jesus Christ] came into the world . . . to be crucified for the world, and to bear the sins of the world, and to sanctify the world, and to cleanse it from all unrighteousness; that through him all might be saved” (quoted in “Gospel Principles,” p. 59).

    Tim had said, “It doesn’t mean anything unless you define “sin,” “world,” “Jesus,” and “saved”,” implying that the LDS has so redefined these terms that they have completely stripped the gospel of all its power.

    So I asked him to give me the Mormon definitions for those terms. He hasn’t answered.

    Cal, first off, I didn’t say that we need to define the words “Sin”, “World” “Jesus” and “Saved” because I necessarily think that Mormons define those words differently than Evangelicals.

    What I was getting at was that even if D&C 76 were the razor’s edge of Mormonism (which it is not) the statement in and of itself wouldn’t mean anything unless you knew what they meant by those words. You have to turn the knife on its side to discover the meaning of those words. When you turn the Mormon knife on its side you are going to discover some significant differences to orthodox Christianity (you’ll also discover some similarities).

    Second, it would be impossible for me to comprehensibly define those words in a Mormon context. I’ve got a full wall that needs Jell-O nailed to it first. If my credibility on this subject relies on my ability to accurately define those terms, then you win; I am not looking at the LDS church objectively. Congratulations.

    If you can’t spend 15 minutes reading a Joseph Smith sermon, I don’t know why I should be required to write a systematic theology for a religion that specifically rejects systematic theology. Particularly when I wasn’t claiming that they have a different view of all of those terms than the one I hold.

    Of those terms, the one that I am most concerned about is “Jesus”. Gundek’s question to you was on point and we shouldn’t have to wait a month to hear your answer. It’s the very thing we’ve been discussing. How do you reconcile eternal progression with the eternal perfection found in Jesus? The two viewpoints are incompatible. You can reject that Jesus is eternally perfect, which is blasphemous or you can claim that we will be equal to Jesus in glory and power, which is also blasphemous.

  57. Cal said

    How much time do you spend in prayer? (I’m doing my best to answer all your questions. All I ask is that you answer mine.)

    Continuously.

    I also don’t know what the exact nature of the blasphemy of Alexander and Hymenaeus was.

    Really? It has to be the same sort of blasphemy for you to follow Paul’s example? So does that mean if a man is sleeping with his sister we can’t follow I Corinthians 5:5?

    . . . Oh, I think there’s one I didn’t answer. You asked me about a Hindu who went through the motions of repentance but still believed Jesus’ mother was evil. Before I answer, please tell me what you mean by “going through the motions”?

    The reason I said “going through the motions” is because I would assume a Hindu who accepts Jesus but also believes that Kali is his evil mother and rejects correction has not really repented. He might say he has repented of his sins, but if he continues to sin in defiance of church discipline, at some point I’m going to question the integrity of his “repentance”. So my question really was “if a man has done everything you think is essential for salvation, but still believes in Kali, would you consider him a Christian?”

    You may not have to ask as many questions if you just remember that I believe that God has made abundantly clear in the Bible what we have to do to be saved—in this life and the next. Anything that is not listed as an essential is not essential. I haste to add that many non-essentials are very important. But think about it—every doctrine has to be either essential or nonessential.

    Yes I agree that there are essentials and non-essentials. But the whole point of the “emphatic” versus the “reductionist” is on display here. You can’t reduce the essentials down and eliminate their context. We’re not talking about infant baptism or hymn selection. We’re talking about who is Jesus and what sort of God does he put on display for us. You agree that the Kullervo can’t continue in idolatry and rightfully be called a Christian. Why the double standard?

    The only reason I can surmise is that you don’t understand Mormonism (which more than one Mormon has told you you are white-washing) or that you don’t understand your own Christian theology well enough to know when it’s being compromised. Then you add to it the braggadocio to say that anyone who doesn’t agree with your own Spirit-prompted evidence must be led around by the nose by Satan.

  58. Cal said

    Is this in the King Follett sermon? (I am going through it again. I can see that I had underlined in various places, so I probably did read most of it many years ago.) If not, where is it? Do you have any evidence that the LDS still teaches it today?

    Also, I wonder if the LDS has discontinued publishing the King Follett sermon. Does anyone know?

    You’ve indicated that Kullervo would need to repent for you to accept him as your brother. I’m guessing that you think a Hindu who worships both Jesus and Kali would need to repent as well.

    Does the LDS church not need to repent? Can they really just say “I don’t know that we teach it?” while at the same time sustaining Joseph Smith as a true prophet? Is that true repentance?

    Here it is published in a collection of Mormon literature from BYU
    http://mldb.byu.edu/follett.htm

  59. Katie said

    You guys. Even Tim said that the exclusive priesthood / temple stuff, although from his perspective incorrect, wasn’t enough to keep us from being accepted into the fellowship of Christian orthodoxy (even if we don’t return the favor).

    This whole “but YOU do it too!” is honestly the worst argument that ever crops up in interfaith dialogue.

    Cal also stated that I should be disfellowshipped for being divisive. If it’s good enough for Tim it should be good enough for the LDS church. Cal might need to spend some time considering the “non-divisive” history and actions of the LDS church.

  60. I went to the About page to see if I could find an answer to Eric’s question:

    This is a conversation between Evangelical Christians and Latter Day Saints. We discuss our differences so that we might find common ground. The purpose of this blog is not for Evangelicals to try and convert Mormons, nor for Mormons to convert Evangelicals. Attacks on the history of the LDS church or the life and character of Joseph Smith, although many may find interesting, is not the focus of this blog (though those issues arise from time to time).

    Honestly, Tim, I’ve found most of your comments in this thread recently to be all about attacking the LDS church, its history, teachings, etc. And the “blunt” comment to Eric came across as a “STFU, I’m talking to Cal, not you or anyone else” approach than any kind of attempt to remember that there are a lot of us interested in what is going on.

  61. Alex, my point over the last week or so has not been to attack the LDS church, but to put its teachings into a clear and revealing comparison to orthodox Christian teachings for the benefit or another Evangelical.

    For several months now I have very patiently tried to explain to Cal why I disagreed with his assessment. He has consistently ignored or convoluted the evidence that has been presented to him. If that hasn’t been the case, he’s tried to hijack other discussions. This particular post (about a book directed at an Evangelical audience) highlighted why I think we disagree and so I’ve decided to have a full discussion with him about the issues.

    I clearly would not approach a prostitute and tell her she’s a fornicating fornicator who fornicates. I also appreciate the offense that is communicated if I tell a Mormon he’s a blaspheming blasphemer who blasphemes. But I’m not sure how else to put it for a fellow Evangelical who says prostitution or Mormonism are just fine and smugly won’t accept any counter arguments because of something the Spirit has only privately revealed to him.

    I know that what I am saying and how I’m saying it are not going to make me popular with my Mormon friends, but this is where Cal and I interact with one another and I’ve decided that this particular post is where I’m going to have it out with him. You could say that I’m abandoning the mission of the blog “to dialogue with Mormons” in order that I can dialogue with an Evangelical about Mormonism.

    I hope you, and everyone else, can understand and appreciate the context of everything I’m saying in these comments. Everyone (except Rick Hurrd) is, of course, welcome to comment.

    I certainly didn’t intend to tell Eric to “STFU” (nor would I ever). I agree my comments to him crossed the line and offered my apology. I very intentionally took one of his comments and made a new blog post out of it in order to separate my conversation with a Mormon and my conversation with an Evangelical.

    Hopefully that will clarify where I’m coming from.

  62. Cal,

    What false assumptions am I making? You claim that 70% of Mormon theology is compatible with evangelicalism. Put your mouth where the money is and decide if Joseph Smith was a prophet, decide if eternal progression is compatible with the catholic doctrine of eternal perfection, decide if eternal progression is idolatry. Three simple questions for someone who has assessed 70% of Mormon theology to be compatible with evangelicalism.

    While I agree with Tim that D&C 76:41, 42 “doesn’t mean anything unless you define “sin,” “world,” “Jesus,” and “saved” it only matters if you take these verses out of context.

    I neither agree with D&C 76 or the Gospel Principals manual on the atonement and I won’t let you take 2 verses out of context and present them as a qualifier of orthodoxy. I don’t believe that Joseph Smith had a revelation concerning the translation of John 5:29. I don’t believe that Smith’s translation has any merit. I don’t believe in degrees of salvation or the telestial, terrestrial, and celestial glories. I think the concept of the atonement absent the doctrine of the Holy Trinity is nothing but cosmic child abuse.

    You have made some bold claims in the past, but now you have made reference to disfellowshipping Tim. If you have the knowledge required to make such a serious accusation against Tim you should at least be able to answer my questions.

    Back up your claims or apologize to Tim.

  63. Kullervo, I wasn’t totally serious when I “threatened” to disfellowship Tim. However, you make a good point. There are lots of divisive Christians all over the place who are not getting disfellowshipped. There’d be no fellowship left if we disfellowshipped them all!

    David, the LDS exclusivity is one of the biggest reasons I could never become a Mormon. God causes my heart to grieve about it whenever I visit a ward.

    Katie L. asked, “are ‘Christian’ and ‘saved’ synonymous for you?”

    Good question. Yes.

    Tim said, “If my credibility on this subject relies on my ability to accurately define those terms, then you win; I am not looking at the LDS church objectively. Congratulations.”

    Thanks for your admission. I am not trying to win, however. I am trying to help you. Your accusation that I am trying to win an argument is false and mean-spirited (not to mention your many other false accusations). This doesn’t surprise me since your judgment of the LDS is also mean.
    However, I know you’re sincerely deceived about some things, just as Mormons are, and just as we all are including me. So I’m under obligation to love and respect you as much as I do my Mormon brothers & sisters, and as much as the grace of God gives me the ability.

    I kinda skimmed the rest of the comments because I’m running out of time. I’m also going to be busy for the next 4-5 days and won’t have much time for blogging.

    Tim, if you want to change my mind, all you have to do, as I had said a few months ago, is find a few verses in the Bible that specifically say a certain thing is necessary for entering the kingdom of God (becoming a Christian, getting born-again, etc.); then find a few quotations from LDS books that clearly state the opposite. Please show them to me so I can make sure they’re not out of context.

    Thanks. I have been praying for you.

  64. Cal said

    not to mention your many other false accusations

    Please direct me to them so I can correct them.

    This doesn’t surprise me since your judgment of the LDS is also mean.

    That’s just silliness.

    Tim, if you want to change my mind, all you have to do, as I had said a few months ago, is find a few verses in the Bible that specifically say a certain thing is necessary for entering the kingdom of God (becoming a Christian, getting born-again, etc.); then find a few quotations from LDS books that clearly state the opposite.

    Cal, as I’ve been stating for over the last week, I reject your criteria. I don’t think everything essential in the Christian faith can be hand-plucked out of a few verses. I think your preferred method of theological reflection is seriously flawed. I’m not a reductionist and I’m not going to play by reductionist rules to prove reductionism wrong. Reductionism is a greater problem than which verses we settle on as definitional.

    Likewise, I don’t think a full understanding of Mormonism can be ascertained by reading a few quotations from Mormon sources. In fact, the chief mistake Evangelicals make in trying to understand Mormonism is assuming they’ve got it all figured out from one or two quotations. You are choosing to understand Mormonism in precisely the same way the harshest critics of Mormonism view it. The only difference is in which quotations you happen to be looking at.

  65. Cal stated

    Katie L. asked, “are ‘Christian’ and ‘saved’ synonymous for you?”

    Good question. Yes.

    I think this is a great question Katie.

    The problem with Cal’s response is that he’s switching categories. He’s saying the LDS Church is “Christian”. But the LDS church is an institution and an institution can’t be saved. The LDS church can’t have a born-again experience or be baptized.

    I personally can’t describe those who are “Christian” as those who are saved because I think salvation is ultimately a matter of the heart. I’m not qualified to know what everyone’s heart is. So if I want to talk about who is “Christian” I need something different than who is or is not saved as criteria.

    Cal might agree with me on that point and say “The LDS Church is Christian because it teaches the basics a person needs in order to receive salvation.” I wouldn’t fault him for that response but he needs to answer my earlier question; after the basics can people throw in whatever they want (including an evil mother named Kali) and still be rightly considered Christians?

  66. The problem with Cal’s response is that he’s switching categories. He’s saying the LDS Church is “Christian”. But the LDS church is an institution and an institution can’t be saved. The LDS church can’t have a born-again experience or be baptized.

    Tim, exactly.

    You are talking about two different things — salvation and Christianity — but the problem is that Cal doesn’t realize they are different, or at least doesn’t account for the for the fact that you perceive it as such.

    I wouldn’t fault him for that response but he needs to answer my earlier question; after the basics can people throw in whatever they want (including an evil mother named Kali) and still be rightly considered Christians?

    This is trickier — (and for the record, I really don’t have a dog in the “are Mormons Christian” fight; I can see both sides) — but the fact is, Mormonism DOESN’T teach that Jesus has an evil mother named Kali. The differences between traditional Christianity and Mormonism are much, MUCH subtler. I recognize you brought it up to make your point by taking the argument to the extreme position, and it’s a point well taken, but I think we can all agree it’s not as cut-and-dried as that example.

  67. If for no other reason than that Mormon doctrine doesn’t even really exist, so it’s tough to make anything all that cut-and-dried when discussing what “Mormonism” teaches!

  68. Blah, too many disjointed thoughts in a row, but…

    I think fair to say is that there are strains of Mormon thought that could probably be considered Christian (in the sense you mean it, Tim), and strains of Mormon thought that probably fall decidedly outside the bounds.

  69. But the LDS church does teach that Jesus has an evil brother named Lucifer. .

    Ha. Yes.

    Did you know they were BFFs in the pre-existence? That’s what I heard.

  70. The chief problem I have with the usual fight about who is and isn’t a Christian is that the terms are always arbitrary. The monolithic “historic Christianity” that Tim talks about in the present exists only as a rather uneasy alliance between factions that were too weak to wipe one another out years ago, and too strong to be wiped out. If the Catholics had pressed things a little harder in the aftermath of the fourth crusade (1202-1204) or the age of religious wars (1560-1715), then the peace they made with the Orthodox and the Protestants might have ended like the peace they made with the Donatists (who were not finally annihilated until the Arab conquest, actually: Allah finished off the “orthodox” Christ’s dirty work). The easiest way to control their access to absolute truth would be to stop spawning heresies, but that is what every single church under the sun has done since the beginning of recorded religious history: there is no dogma but someone turns it inside out.

    To me, the telling thing is the perspective taken by outsiders with no horse in the race (or dog in the fight, to use Katie L’s more apt metaphor): serious historians inevitably treat Mormonism (with its revivalism, folk traditions, fundamentalism, and sometimes radical social experimentation) as one of several popular nineteenth-century Christian movements (“heresies” like Christian Science), the same way that serious historians of fourth-century Christian history treat the Donatists (as a marginalized group of “Christians” or Christian heretics).

  71. Tim said, “Cal might agree with me on that point and say ‘The LDS Church is Christian because it teaches the basics a person needs in order to receive salvation.'”

    Yes, I would agree.

    Katie L. said, “Mormon doctrine doesn’t even really exist.”

    I consider the Articles of Faith, “Gospel Principles,” and the speeches of LDS leaders as recorded in “Ensign” magazine as doctrine. Wouldn’t you agree?

    Very good point, Hermes.

    Tim said, “But the LDS church does teach that Jesus has an evil brother named Lucifer. . .”

    But only in origin. In LDS thought, Satan is totally wicked and should be resisted as an enemy, and Jesus is totally holy and someone in whom we can put complete trust.

  72. I think it’s time to review Kullervo’s post on the matter. It’s a good summary and I largely agree with it. The point here is I think Cal is precisely the thing that Evangelicals are concerned about, that Evangelicals will be confused about the status of Mormonism.

    So Cal, let me ask you a couple of questions:

    Scenario #1: You have a an atheist friend who is looking to become a Christian. He is meeting with the Mormon missionaries and with the pastor of a local non-denominational Evangelical church. He can’t make up his mind about which path to take, so he comes to you for advice on which path he should take. What do you tell him?

    Scenario #2: You have a friend who is attending your charismatic church. He confides in you that he no longer finds it spiritually fulfilling. He says he is considering joining the Mormon church. When you ask why, he says that he read the King Follett discourse and finds it compelling. He really likes the idea that God was once like us, that we can become like just like him. What do you tell him?

  73. Cal said

    But only in origin. In LDS thought, Satan is totally wicked and should be resisted as an enemy, and Jesus is totally holy and someone in whom we can put complete trust.

    Again Cal, you’re emphasizing the positive in order to ignore the negative. The offense found in Jesus being Lucifer’s brother is not their relationship but that Jesus is a created being in the same order as Satan. Jesus is the Creator not a creation.

    It’s peculiar that you would jump in to defend the LDS church on that (a non-issue in this conversation) and STILL fail to answer the question posed right before it.

    I’d love to hear your answer to David’s question.

  74. Tim said:

    I’m sorry if my comment was insulting. I very much intended it to be blunt but not personal. My apologies for getting carried away.

    Apology accepted.

  75. Cal asked me:

    If Mormonism denies that the Father and Son are of one essence, how do you explain the following quotation of Joseph Smith … : “Each God in the Godhead is a personage, separate and distinct from each of the others, yet they are ‘One God,’ meaning that they are united as one in the attributes of perfection. For instance, each has the fullness of truth, knowledge, charity, power, justice, judgment, mercy, and faith.”

    My quick answer is that I’m not totally sure what it meant by “one essence.” If all it means (and I’m not saying it does) is “that which unites the three Persons of the Trinity so that they can be considered one God rather than three,” then Smith’s statement seems consistent with that. Or if “one essence” means that they are the same type of beings united in every way possible that they can be considered one, I don’t have a problem with that either.

    I also don’t think that the nature of how the three Persons of the Godhead/Trinity are united by itself is necessarily that big of an issue that divides us. One of the problem is that we have all sorts of things that kind of clutter up our picture of the Godhead — things like the Heavenly Mother, some distinction between the Holy Spirit and the Spirit of Christ, the existence of other (lower-case) gods, and so on. And I’m not sure that Mormon theology, such as it is, always neatly explains how those relate to the Godhead.

    I personally don’t find the concept of “one essence” by itself all that troublesome as long as the individual character of the persons is recognized.

    Cal also asked:

    Also, I wonder if the LDS has discontinued publishing the King Follett sermon. Does anyone know?

    The Church does make the sermon available on its website here, so in that sense the Church still publishes the sermon. However, it has never been canonized, and (to the best of my knowledge) only brief excerpts are used in current instructional manuals, and then infrequently. It is not a source of binding doctrine.

  76. Another analogy (one that breaks down eventually, like others) relating to exaltation:

    One thing I have always told my kids is that you can’t make your self higher by knocking other people down (although bullies, among others, seem to think so). If this is a true statement, then logically this also is true: You don’t lower yourself by raising others up.

    To me it speaks to the majesty of God our Heavenly Father that he is willing to exalt us, to raise us up, to give us all he can give us as joint heirs with his Son. And his doing so doesn’t diminish him in the least! And if someone wants to call that idea blasphemy — even though it’s hinted at in numerous places in the New Testament — then so be it.

  77. Cal said: I consider the Articles of Faith, “Gospel Principles,” and the speeches of LDS leaders as recorded in “Ensign” magazine as doctrine. Wouldn’t you agree?

    I consider them prevalent, even currently official, strains of Mormon thought.

  78. I’m curious to know why non-Mormons get really upset at the Mormon idea that Jesus and Lucifer were brothers, but none of them seem to be the least bit concerned by the Mormon idea that Lucifer was our brother, as well. (I use the past tense because I consider being cast out of heaven the spiritual equivalent of being disowned, so there is no longer the kinship there). Is it just because it is more shocking to claim that Jesus and Satan were brothers, or do they just ignore the rest of the idea?

  79. Alex, I think it’s the idea that Jesus and Satan are ontologically the same that is the most troubling — at least to those who are thoughtful (sometimes I think it’s used as one of those “shock” statements without much thought or meaning behind it).

  80. But if the idea is that Jesus and Satan are ontologically the same, then shouldn’t it ALSO be troubling that WE are ontologically the same as them?

    Of course, Mormons don’t believe we are the same as Jesus, only that we have the potential to become as Him and His Father. But if they are going to play the “Jesus and Satan are brothers” card, then they need to play the rest of the hand.

  81. But if the idea is that Jesus and Satan are ontologically the same, then shouldn’t it ALSO be troubling that WE are ontologically the same as them?

    Yes, my understanding is that this is quite troubling to them, too.

  82. Alex,

    As Tim pointed out, Jesus and Satan as brothers implies that both Jesus and Satan were created. Or if you follow the implications the other way that both Jesus and Satan are uncreated. Neither option is acceptable. In the first option you are denying the eternal divinity of Christ in the Second you are denying that Satan is a creature.

    Taken to the next step the Jesus Satan relationship denies the two natures of Christ. The first nature as God and divine, the second nature Christs humanity assumed at the incarnation. We are ontologically the same as the human nature of Jesus Christ, but we are not the same as the divine nature only begotten Son by whom all things were created.

    Taken another step by denying the two natures of Christ you create distinct problems with how we understand the atonement.

  83. Cal,

    I noticed that you found time to comment but were unable to apologize to Tim.

  84. Taken another step by denying the two natures of Christ you create distinct problems with how we understand the atonement.

    Explain.

  85. Since Christ was atoning for the sins of humanity the penalty was borne by human, while only God could apply the the righteousness of Christ to those who accept Him by faith.

  86. Since Christ was atoning for the sins of humanity the penalty was borne by human, while only God could apply the the righteousness of Christ to those who accept Him by faith.

    Fair enough. But then, the Mormon concept of atonement is different anyway.

  87. gundek,

    Thanks for the explanation. I’ve never had anyone actually provide an answer. It sounds like what you are saying is that it is a much bigger deal to place the source of Evil (or the symbol of Evil) on the same plane as the source of Good. That’s a much bigger problem than the idea that we, as created beings, are somehow related to Satan, who was also a created being?

    Of course, the Mormon concept of the Divine that is different, as well, since I am quite comfortable with the idea that Christ, a created being, can still be fully God. I also believe that Christ was both fully human (mortal) and fully God (divine and capable of immortality) while he was on Earth.

  88. Of course, the Mormon concept of the Divine that is different, as well, since I am quite comfortable with the idea that Christ, a created being, can still be fully God. I also believe that Christ was both fully human (mortal) and fully God (divine and capable of immortality) while he was on Earth.

    My understanding of Mormon doctrine was that all of us–including you, me, God the Father, Jesus Christ, and Satan–are in some senses created beings and in some senses uncreated beings.

    The distinction between created and uncreated is therefore not nearly as important in Mormon theology as in orthodox Christina theology.

  89. I didn’t have time to read everyone’s comments (I hope to by Saturday) but I love what Eric said about exaltation. We charismatic Christians would wholeheartedly agree with what you said. The truth about our future is profound and very exciting to think about!

    Gundek, I’ve lost track of what I’m supposed to apologize for, but by all means, Tim, please accept my apologies for everything. At least half of what I say is probably in the wrong spirit.

    To kill two birds with one stone, I’m going to indirectly answer Tim’s question about the now infamous Hindu Kali, and Gundek’s question.

    Some of you may know church history better than I, but I recently learned about a historical saint (not Latter-day) who participated in the crusades.
    I have also heard that there were Christians in Germany who were sucked into believing Hitler was doing God’s will.
    During our own Civil War Christians were killing each other, both thinking they were in God’s will.

    There seems to be no limit to the extent to which the devil can deceive even Christians when they allow him to.
    My puny little mind doesn’t dare to add to God’s Word by setting limits on what Christians can be deceived about above what God has told us. I don’t want to incur God’s judgment.

    First John says you can’t claim to be in God if you’re deceived into thinking Jesus is not the Son of God. The same goes for believing Jesus did not come in the flesh, and you can’t be a Christian if you do not love your brothers and sisters in the Lord (1 John 3:14-15).

    I can’t think of any others off hand. Does that answer your questions?

  90. Kullervo – True. Matter is eternal and intelligence is eternal. In that sense, everything existed, but it was also created when it was organised into what it is.

  91. Alex,

    There are two ways to look at the Jesus/Lucifer thing

    Theological Offense
    the idea that Jesus and Lucifer are brothers offends orthodox theological sensibilities because it defines Jesus as a created being no higher in “ontological” order than Satan.

    We view Jesus as an uncreated, eternally perfect being. Only something that is uncreated and eternally perfect can be called “God”. So this comparison robs Jesus of his deity.

    It’s just as offensive to say that Jesus is Lucifer’s brother as to say that Jesus is Tim’s brother.

    Emotional Offense
    That Jesus is in any way comparable or on any level equal with Satan is disturbing.

    On a different note,
    We don’t view Satan as the source of all evil. Evil can exist with or without Satan. But Good can only come from God. Evil is merely the absence of Good.

  92. We view Jesus as an uncreated, eternally perfect being. Only something that is uncreated and eternally perfect can be called “God”. So this comparison robs Jesus of his deity.

    It’s just as offensive to say that Jesus is Lucifer’s brother as to say that Jesus is Tim’s brother.

    But of course, this is just a matter of theology. For it to be a problem, you have to assume that only something that is uncreated and eternally perfect can be called “God,” which Mormons do not believe. It only “robs Jesus of his deity” if you try to reconcile a Mormon description of “Jesus” with an Evangelical description of “deity.”

  93. I don’t think it is only an evangelical description of deity. The Roman Catholic an the Eastern Orthodox would also agree.

  94. Eric said

    To me it speaks to the majesty of God our Heavenly Father that he is willing to exalt us, to raise us up, to give us all he can give us as joint heirs with his Son. And his doing so doesn’t diminish him in the least! And if someone wants to call that idea blasphemy — even though it’s hinted at in numerous places in the New Testament — then so be it.

    You are the master at baiting the hook for Cal-fish.

    I of course agree with your description of glorification, but is there anything more to exaltation than this? Help Cal understand the plain and precious truths that are lost when we merely talk about glorification.

  95. I don’t think it is only an evangelical description of deity. The Roman Catholic an the Eastern Orthodox would also agree.

    Of course. But I’m talking about a hypothetical misunderstanding between a hypothetical Mormon and a hypothetical Evangelical.

    Which of these hypothetical people’s theologies have the weight of Christian tradition behind them is a discussion worth having, but it doesn’t bear on what I am saying at all.

  96. I understand, I only mentioned anything because often these positions at attributed to American evangelicals as if they are not also shared by other traditions.

  97. Fair enough, especially in interfaith dialogue with Mormons, who often do not have a very accurate picture of the landscape of American/Global Christianity.

    Usually I try to say “orthodox Christian” unless I really do mean specifically “Evangelical.”

  98. Cal, would you say a church is teaching Christian truth if it denies Isaiah 43:10?

    “You are my witnesses,” declares the LORD,
    “and my servant whom I have chosen,
    so that you may know and believe me
    and understand that I am he.
    Before me no god was formed,
    nor will there be one after me.

  99. I hope Eric will tell me if I’ve misrepresented the LDS in any way in the following comments.

    Gundek, I didn’t read your big questions of a few days ago until now.
    You asked, “What false assumptions am I making?”

    I can’t remember now why I accused you of making false assumptions.

    Put your mouth where the money is and decide if Joseph Smith was a prophet.

    My take on Joseph is mixed. (What’s sad is that the LDS claims that either Joseph was everything he claimed to be or he was a fraud and the entire LDS is fraudulent. Mormons think they have to choose between the two when in fact the truth is somewhere in between.)

    I know for sure that Mr. Smith did not restore the church of Jesus Christ to the earth. The perfect structure of the church has yet to be fully restored—if it ever was perfect. And the authority of Jesus Christ (what they call priesthood authority) that was given to the church after Jesus ascended (Eph. 1:22-23; 2:6) never completely left the earth. A study of church history clearly shows that.

    The first time I read Joseph’s testimony (called “Joseph Smith—History” or “‘History of the Church,’ Vol. 1, Chapters 1-5”) I got a conviction from the Spirit of God that here is a man searching for God and finding him. I see lots of evidence that he walked close to God for a period of his life and that he was prophetically gifted, but it appears that he backslid during approximately the last 10 years of his life.

    ————
    You said, “decide if eternal progression is compatible with the catholic doctrine of eternal perfection.”

    Tell me more about your understanding of eternal progression. I want to make sure we’re on the same frequency. I’ve heard evangelicals make charges that Mormon missionaries and Mormon books have denied in part.

    You said, “I don’t believe in degrees of salvation or the telestial, terrestrial, and celestial glories.”

    I don’t either. I do believe that some Christians get rewarded more than others. I believe there are basically two places to go: heaven & hell, and most people unfortunately go to hell. I don’t believe anyone can accept the gospel in the spirit world.

    The LDS definitely believes that Jesus died for our sins and that there would be no salvation if it had not been for his sacrifice. I’ll show you evidence of this if you like.

    Have you read the Book of Mormon or any other Mormon publications?

    Nice talking to you.

  100. Oh, my God, I’m continuing to wreck my nightlife!

    Tim, I believe that if Kali repents but continues to be deceived about a supposed wicked mother of Jesus in heaven, Kali is justified (made right with God, accepted by God).
    This has to be true according to Acts 10:43: “. . . everyone who believes in him [Jesus] receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
    Now if Kali KNOWS that Jesus does not have a wicked mother but continues to believe it anyway, that’s a different situation.

    Jesus did in fact have natural brothers on earth that were wicked because they didn’t believe in him (at least one of them did believe later). This did not keep people from believing in him.

    I’ll tell you about one of the 1000 reasons I know the LDS is Christian. The last time my wife & I visited the local ward, we sat through a Bible study on John 3. They went through much of it line by line. I don’t remember them saying anything that would disagree with evangelical theology. Many Mormons who commented obviously were experiencing what John 3 talked about.
    I left the church feeling lifted up (my faith strengthened, my peace increased, etc.) in the same way I do when I read the Bible.

  101. Cal, Kali is the evil mother in that scenario. (Although she might not be evil so much as just a terrifying feminine force that strikes at our deepest fears about change, destruction, and death…but whatever.) Anyway, she’s not looking for justification.

  102. Kali is a Hindu goddess.

    Life of Pi is about an Indian boy stranded on a boat in the Pacific. Before he left India, he was raised Hindu but also adopted Islam and Christianity. So…I don’t think he actually believed that Kali was Jesus’ mother, but his grafting and reconciliation of wildly different faiths is a dominant theme in the book.

    It’s an excellent novel; I highly recommend it to everyone here.

  103. I’ll tell you about one of the 1000 reasons I know the LDS is Christian. The last time my wife & I visited the local ward, we sat through a Bible study on John 3. They went through much of it line by line. I don’t remember them saying anything that would disagree with evangelical theology. Many Mormons who commented obviously were experiencing what John 3 talked about.
    I left the church feeling lifted up (my faith strengthened, my peace increased, etc.) in the same way I do when I read the Bible.

    Cal,

    At this point I hope and pray that you visit a Buddhist monastery. You will feel your faith strengthened and have your peace increased. Then you can go bug the hell out of Buddhist blogs and claim they are Christian too.

  104. After I expounded on the nature of exaltation, Tim told me this:You are the master at baiting the hook for Cal-fish.For some reason, that made me laugh. I’m not even sure if it’s a compliment or an insult.

    Then Tim went on to say:

    I of course agree with your description of glorification, but is there anything more to exaltation than this? Help Cal understand the plain and precious truths that are lost when we merely talk about glorification.

    You want me to do your dirty work for you? 🙂

    OK, I’ll try.

    Here, Cal, is what Tim is trying to say to you:

    [start of talking-as-if-I-were-someone-else mode]

    When Eric talks to you about exaltation and puts it in terms that don’t sound all that unorthodox, or other Mormons talk about an epistle of John in ways that sound familiar to you, what they say resonates with you. Of course it does — they’re using the same words you would to describe their spiritual experiences.

    The problem, however, is that everything they’re talking about takes place in a different framework than historical Christianity. They aren’t talking about their existence in a universe created by a single God, nor one where God is the creator and we are his creations. Instead, they’re talking about some sort of universe where God is nothing special — just one of many embodied spirits, one in which God is nothing more than some kind of former human who has gone through the ranks like we are, one in which there were other Gods before him.

    Have you really read the King Follett Discourse? The God that Joseph Smith paints a picture of isn’t the master of the universe, the one who created everything around us by the force of his will. He’s just another being of many.

    Joseph Smith takes the teachings that have endured the test of time and dismisses them by simply calling them the products of unlearned men. He deconstructs the Bible and instead creates some sort of a strange pantheon of gods — is that what anyone who is a true follower of Christ would do?

    Those Mormons, they talk a good talk and many even walk a good walk. Come on, Cal, I dare you to read that sermon in its entirety. You’ll see that the god they worship is something that is unrecognizable in the Bible. How can that possibly be something that would lead people to the true Christ?

    [end of talking-as-if-I-were-someone-else mode]

  105. I didn’t ask you to parody me. I asked you to stop selling your doctrines short by only describing them with the aspects you know Cal agrees with.

  106. Tim — That wasn’t intended to be a parody of you personally — but I can certainly see why it might have come across that way. Perhaps I should have labeled it a generic evangelical argument or something like that.

    I asked you to stop selling your doctrines short by only describing them with the aspects you know Cal agrees with.

    The problem there is that I was describing my doctrine the way I understand it and the way I would explain it to anyone.

    I doubt if I would fit the definition of a “reductionist” Mormon, but I clearly take a prima scriptura approach. And the things that seem to bother you (meaning evangelical critics, not necessarily you specifically) the most tend to be those things that aren’t part of the LDS canon. The King Follett Discourse isn’t part of the canon, and neither are lot of things that have been said historically by various leaders (including Joseph Smith) that some people seem to bring up a lot. As for me — and I’m not suggesting this is the norm in Mormonism — I don’t do a lot to incorporate them into my beliefs of how I picture God.

    So when I describe exaltation largely in terms that Cal (or you, for that matter) has little problem with, it isn’t because I’m trying to hide some doctrine or some belief of mine, or to sell my beliefs short. And if, for example, I say I believe that God has always been God, or that Jesus is fully God, it isn’t because I’m playing word games about what “always” and “God” mean, it’s because that’s the plain sense of what I believe — and I believe that LDS Scripture (not just the Bible) backs me up on that.

    Frankly, I think a lot of things that Joseph Smith said in his lifetime were speculation — speculation that was more spiritually informed than mine might be, but speculation nonetheless. I think there are reasons the KFD hasn’t been canonized, and they don’t have to do with the unreliability of the manuscripts.

    Even the Lorenzo Snow couplet hasn’t been canonized, so I don’t see any need to analyze it carefully in the way that I might analyze the passage in Isaiah you mentioned.

    I’d also point out, as you’re either aware or could surmise, that I didn’t grow up in the church and don’t have family of origin within the church. My exposure has been relatively recent — and all these speculative beliefs are ones that I have seldom heard mentioned at church and have never or very rarely heard taught. They certainly haven’t come up at General Conference. So I really haven’t felt the need to deal with the “polytheism” of Mormonism and related issues.

    And everything I’ve said in this conversation about exaltation (and in most other conversations here about other issues) I could say in an LDS Sunday school class without anyone telling me I falling short of describing LDS doctrine.

    All that said, I agree with one of your main points here, although I don’t think you’ve worded it this way, that it’s best to consider historical/evangelical Christianity and Mormonism as separate religions. (Talking about whether we’re “Christian” or not is a waste of time, because it depends on how the term is defined.)

    You won’t hear me claim that you should accept that I am or that other LDS are “saved” by your definition. That’s for you to decide, not me. There are times I wish that our evangelical critics would spend more time bashing the various pseudo-evangelical movements instead of bashing us, and I do believe that some of those movements are a bigger threat to evangelicalism than Mormonism ever will be. But that’s really beside the point.

  107. Cal,

    Of course the Mormon understanding of Joseph Smith is that he was everything he claimed to be. Trying to make Smith’s prophethood acceptable by making Smith less than he claimed to be or attributing to him prophetic gifts ignores the totality of what he taught (not ding justice to Mormonism claims in the process) and assumes that prophetic gifts come separate from the role of edification of the church. I am at a loss how you can separate Smith’s prophethood, apostleship, or priesthood claims from his teaching on the great apostasy.

    Don’t take my understanding of eternal progression, this isn’t about me. Go to LDS.org and search for eternal progression. I would especially commend the teaching of the Mormon prophet John Taylor to you. Decide if man is a God in embryo and if that is consistent with orthodoxy.

    Yes, I have read all of the Mormon Standard works and a fair amount of other LDS published material.

  108. Trying to make Smith’s prophethood acceptable by making Smith less than he claimed to be or attributing to him prophetic gifts ignores the totality of what he taught (not ding justice to Mormonism claims in the process) and assumes that prophetic gifts come separate from the role of edification of the church.

    Disagree. I think Cal’s interpretation of Joseph Smith is charitable and within the bounds of acceptability for an evangelical. I mean, I’m NOT an evangelical, but I remember a post by Jack that contained similar thoughts.

    Don’t take my understanding of eternal progression, this isn’t about me. Go to LDS.org and search for eternal progression. I would especially commend the teaching of the Mormon prophet John Taylor to you. Decide if man is a God in embryo and if that is consistent with orthodoxy.

    Yes, I have read all of the Mormon Standard works and a fair amount of other LDS published material.

    You misunderstand how Mormonism functions. Folks are always trying to “nail” us on stuff our leaders have said in the past, but it’s just not how things work for us.

    Is it frustrating? Sure. It frustrates me sometimes, too. Reality is often much more frustrating and ambiguous and confusing than I would like — but it is what it is.

    Still, at the expense of sounding like a broken record on this point, what you are objecting to, Gundek, is a strain of Mormon thought — one that is, incidentally, becoming less and less prevalent these days. So feel free to object to that strain all you want, just bear in mind that what you have done is declare that one strain unorthodox, and it doesn’t necessarily account for the other strains, kind of like Eric’s most recent comment showed.

  109. ..and all these speculative beliefs are ones that I have seldom heard mentioned at church and have never or very rarely heard taught. They certainly haven’t come up at General Conference.

    I have been a baptised member of the LDS church for a little over 20 years. I have attended the LDS church throughout my life. And I can echo exactly what Eric said above. The only times I have had anyone “teach” the speculative beliefs was within the context of speculative beliefs–I’ve never had anyone say that the speculations are doctrinal.

    My first mission president frequently had those in my mission ask him for answers to questions on such speculations. His response was quick and firm, every single time: “I don’t know, and you can quote me on that.” That response far better echoes the Mormonism with which I have been raised and am familiar than the speculative Mormonism of the 19th century.

    All of which is a way to also echo what Katie L. has said more than once on this blog: these are strains of Mormonism. There is much more to Mormon thought than the quoted speculations of past (and even current) members, including the prophets and apostles.

  110. All of which is a way to also echo what Katie L. has said more than once on this blog: these are strains of Mormonism. There is much more to Mormon thought than the quoted speculations of past (and even current) members, including the prophets and apostles.

    Amen, Alex!!!

    One thing I know that is frustrating and difficult for some of our evangelical friends is that there is a fairly prevalent strain of Mormon thought that says prophets and apostles always speak for God — and we need to try to reconcile their statements — but Mormonism does not demand this approach.

    It can be tough to grasp, but once you do, I believe you will understand Mormonism SO much better (speaking, of course, in the universal “you” and not to any one person).

  111. (And by “it” in the last paragraph of my comment, I was referring to accepting the fact that Mormonism is comprised of various strains of thought.)

  112. Katie,

    Thank you for the response and I truly appreciate the time you took to reply. I do not claim to speak for every strain of evangelicalism but I don’t see how Jack’s post is relevant. As a hypothetical it does not take into account anything that occurred in history between 1820 and 1832, including the publishing of the Book of Mormon, reworking the Bible, establishing the priesthood etc.

    Jack’s post also assumes that Christ reveals Himself outside of Scripture, I agree with Dietrich Bonheoffer when he confessed with much of Protestantism rejecting “new forms of enthusiasm according to which Christ reveals himself without and outside of Scripture.”

    I readily acknowledge that there are different strains inside Mormonism and I don’t think I am portraying one version of Mormonism as more or less orthodox. I have not misrepresented an acceptable strain inside Mormonism. I will leave it to Mormons to determine the boundaries of orthodoxy either Eric’s individual interpreted prima scriptura or the 14 fundamentals of following a prophet, it is an internal debate for you.

    Belief in Joseph Smith as a prophet, eternal progression, or the great apostasy are all within the bounds of Mormonism if not within the majority and most mainstream elements. I am unaware of anyone inside of the Salt Lake LDS church denouncing them heretical and remaining in any official capacity. In fact as I understand it the Smith as a prophet and the great apostasy would fit well inside Eric’s personal prima scriptura strain.

  113. Gundeck said:

    In fact as I understand it the Smith as a prophet and the great apostasy would fit well inside Eric’s personal prima scriptura strain.

    Just to clarify, in case I gave the wrong impression: I wouldn’t be LDS if I didn’t believe Joseph Smith was a prophet; I just don’t believe he was infallible. And, of course, nearly all of the non-Biblical scriptures we have are from him, at least indirectly, so even my prima scriptura approach places quite a bit of reliance on him. And prima scriptura doesn’t deny authority to current prophets and apostles, although it does recognize their limits and reminds us that a process has been set up, one overseen by God, in which revelations can become canonical and therefore binding.

    Talking about all the strains of Mormonism would be getting beyond the scope of this topic. But I think I can safely say that those of us LDS who have participated in this discussion would agree that there are faithful members of the church who wouldn’t agree with each other on various issues that get at some pretty fundamental questions such as the nature of God.

    I agree the ambiguity of Mormon doctrine can be confusing and frustrating. But as Katie says, it is what it is.

  114. I do not claim to speak for every strain of evangelicalism but I don’t see how Jack’s post is relevant.

    Gundeck, I recognize that you don’t see the validity of her argument, and I respect that. It’s relevant to the extent that, to the best of my understanding, it is within the bounds of Christian orthodoxy to say that JS could have been a fallen prophet. It wasn’t an attempt to dissuade you from your position, merely to point out that yours isn’t the only acceptable one.

    I readily acknowledge that there are different strains inside Mormonism and I don’t think I am portraying one version of Mormonism as more or less orthodox. I have not misrepresented an acceptable strain inside Mormonism.

    No, you haven’t misrepresented the essence of that strain…but my concern was that you didn’t label it as a strain. To me anyway, your comment made it seem as though you believe that the definition of “eternal progression” with which you are familiar is “THE” Mormon position (e.g. when Cal asked you how YOU would define eternal progression, you said, “it’s not about me, look it up on LDS.org”). I can’t speak for Cal (and he certainly says lots I disagree with), but I’d imagine he would consider that strain unacceptable as well. Your comment failed to take into account that there is more than one acceptable, even “orthodox,” Mormon position on this issue. And that is important to this discussion.

    I will leave it to Mormons to determine the boundaries of orthodoxy either Eric’s individual interpreted prima scriptura or the 14 fundamentals of following a prophet, it is an internal debate for you.

    Sure, it’s an internal debate. But, again, what is difficult for many (including Mormons!) to grasp is that, to a large extent, the internal debate has been settled by not settling it. *Should* it be settled more formally? That’s a great question. There are pros and cons on both sides. But for now, the tension remains, so if we’re going to discuss Mormonism responsibly, we need to keep reality in mind as part of the conversation. It doesn’t help us be specific and accurate when we paint over these important nuances.

  115. Katie,

    You are correct that I would be hard pressed to call the fallen prophet argument an outright heresy. I think if an evangelical were going to seriously consider Joseph Smith a fallen prophet they would need to delineate when the fall took occurred, placing it in its historical context, in order for it to be a usable category. It would also be helpful to have a serious discussion of a doctrine of revelation defining prophet before making such a claim. Otherwise to me it appears to be a dodge or setting up an apologetic argument for their own version of personal revelation.

    I referred Cal to LDS.org simply because he generally demands “official” LDS quotes, not to endorse one particular strain of Mormonism over another.

    I have have come to see Salt Lake LDS like a Main Line Protestant denomination. There are theological liberals and conservative with little demand to conform to a party line as long as you don’t rock the boat. Ignoring doctrinal debates worked for the Main Line for about 75 years before they started declining in numbers.

  116. Eric, your parody of Tim was brilliant!
    You said, “Talking about whether we’re “Christian” or not is a waste of time, because it depends on how the term is defined.”

    How would you define “Christian”?
    My definition: Someone who has Christ (the Holy Spirit) in them.
    By that definition, you’re a Christian, right?
    The reason the question is important to me is that God wants all Christians to be in unity so that the world will know that Christ was sent by God and that God loves them (John 17:23)—so that more unbelievers will become believers. As long as we see ourselves as two different religions serving two different gods, there will be very little effort on your side or mine to bridge the gap.

    Gundek said, “Yes, I have read all of the Mormon Standard works and a fair amount of other LDS published material.”

    Good for you.

    Tim, you had asked me about a verse in Isaiah that says basically that the God of the Bible is the only living god.

    First, that verse does expose some of Joseph’s error. LDS leaders should publicly renounce all Joseph’s error. As of now, they apparently don’t have a revelation that he erred but we’ll keep praying for them. Progress is slowly coming!

    Secondly, the verse does not say that believing only one God exists is necessary for justification through faith in Christ.

    Hebrews says you have to believe God exists (obviously) and Jesus said you can’t serve two gods; but I don’t know of a verse that says you have to believe there is only one living god in order to get God to accept you into his family.

    In 1 Corinthians 8 Paul mentions Christians who still think of idols as being real.

    I’m glad you’re quoting the Word of God!

  117. Eric, I need to add that my definition of a Christian organization is “an organization whose teachings lead people into Christ (the gift of the Holy Spirit), and encourage people to become like Christ by the power of his Spirit.”

  118. Cal, I like your definition of Christian and think it’s just fine. You realize, though, that the majority of Christians you’re speaking with have a very different definition — at least much more involved ones? I think you will be more successful in your attempts at persuasion if you took the time to handle this point before jumping into the debate regarding whether or not we Mormons qualify. Just a friendly observation.

  119. The reason the question is important to me is that God wants all Christians to be in unity so that the world will know that Christ was sent by God and that God loves them (John 17:23)—so that more unbelievers will become believers.

    Cal, I’m going to try this one more time.

    Kullervo has repented and asked Jesus to be the Lord and Savior of his life. He also believes in various pagan deities. Are you looking to be in Christian unity with him as well? If there were 300 people who followed Kullervo’s teaching on Jesus-and all-the-rest, would you seek Christian unity with them? After all, you can’t find a verse that says believing in one God is necessary for justification through faith in Christ.

    You clearly believe in repentance. But, I’m not hearing anything from you that makes me think repentance is any more than a tacit acknowledgement that Jesus is God. Do you think my belief that repentance means “an active turning away from sin and false beliefs about God” is unsupported by scripture? Am I adding a hedge around the fence with that definition? Can you define repentance for me?

    How would you define “Christian”?
    My definition: Someone who has Christ (the Holy Spirit) in them. By that definition, you’re a Christian, right?

    This is where we are having our biggest disconnect. I’m more than happy to see you reach out in fellowship with any individual who you think is your Christian brother. If you think you see enough evidence to judge a person’s heart as repentant and declare them a Christian; have fun. I’m sure mileage may vary for everyone.

    I’m trying to wrap my head around the teachings of an organization and discern if those teachings are in line with the Bible and catholic Christian understanding.

    I’m not asking “how would you define A Christian?” I’m asking “how would you define reliable Christian teaching that leads people to Biblical truth?”

  120. Cal said
    Tim, I have a question for you: Does Hebrews 1:8-9 make reference to one God or to two?

    8But of the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom. 9You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness;therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.”

    The passage references two persons who are one God. Jesus, the Father and the Holy Spirit can all be referred to as “God” and they all can act upon one another.

    This passage is an excellent example of why we need the doctrine of the Trinity. It helps us make sense out of these sorts of descriptions of God.

    I wonder how this passage does compared to the Lorenzo Snow couplet or the King Follet Discourse? Have Mormons been taught by the LDS church that the throne of Jesus is forever and ever? Was there ever a time when Jesus or the Father were not enthroned?

  121. Katie and Eric,

    I completely understand that there are various strains of “Mormonism”. I’m going to try to stop using “Mormonism” and instead try to focus on “the teachings of the LDS church”.

    As it pertains to the LDS church there is a very small group of men who are able to define what the teachings of the church are and what they are not. I’m not going to be able to comprehensively talk about John Dehlin and Joseph McConkie and everyone in between. But the teachings of the LDS church is a different story.

    It’s quite clear that the “Fourteen Fundamentals” style of Mormonism is much more clearly communicated than Eric’s prima scriptura.

    The LDS church teaches that Joseph Smith and Thomas Monson are reliable prophets who can not and have never led the church astray on doctrinal matters.

    I’m glad you both agree with me that Joseph Smith and the subsequent prophets are not what the LDS church makes them out to be. May the LDS church fall in line with you on the matter.

  122. Tim said to Cal:

    This passage [Hebrews 1:8-9] is an excellent example of why we need the doctrine of the Trinity. It helps us make sense out of these sorts of descriptions of God.

    That sounds to me like a backwards way of understanding the Bible. If a plain reading of a passage may sound like it contradicts a given doctrine, perhaps it’s the doctrine that’s wrong. Anyway, that’s my problem with the orthodox understanding of the Trinity: Time and time again when I read the Bible, and especially the letters of Paul, and I ask myself, “How would that have been understood by the original readers?” I end up with something other than Trinitarian doctrine.

    Tim said:

    I’m going to try to stop using “Mormonism” and instead try to focus on “the teachings of the LDS church”.

    Fine, then. So why keep on harping on the King Follett Discourse, which isn’t canon, is barely mentioned in current teaching materials, and (as far as I’ve been able to find out, correct me if I’m wrong) hasn’t been taught in General Conference, at least not in any detail, since our current crop of young missionaries has been alive?

    You’re absolutely right about one thing: There’s a small group of men who decide what LDS doctrine is. And they have made a decision, whether explicit or not, not to treat the King Follett Discourse as the Word of God.

    Look, I’m no John Dehlin, and I don’t go around playing word games to somehow find a way to stay in the Church despite believing what it teaches. If there’s any doctrinal position I’ve taken here that contradicts what has been taught in General Conference since I’ve been a member, please tell me.

    Tim also said:

    The LDS church teaches that Joseph Smith and Thomas Monson are reliable prophets who can not and have never led the church astray on doctrinal matters.

    It is possible to be fallible and still not lead the church astray.

    And:

    I’m glad you both [yours truly and Katie] agree with me that Joseph Smith and the subsequent prophets are not what the LDS church makes them out to be.

    I’m not going to pretend to speak for Katie. But I don’t see the LDS church making the prophets out to be something other than what I believe. I have always been taught that the prophets from Joseph Smith onward (or, to be precise, from Adam onward) are flawed human beings.

    In my next comment, I’ll remark briefly on what Cal said, and then I’ll probably bow out of this particular conversation unless asked a direct question. You’ve indicated you want to have it out with Cal, so it’s probably appropriate for me to quit butting in.

  123. Cal said:

    As long as we see ourselves as two different religions serving two different gods, there will be very little effort on your side or mine to bridge the gap.

    Just to clarify, I don’t see us as serving two different gods; I believe that Mormons, evangelicals, Muslims and Jews all serve (or seek to serve, if they’re sincerely seeking to follow the tenets of their faith) the same God, the God of Abraham.

    And I’m not sure I see it as particularly important to “bridge the gap,” depending on what you mean by that. I do want our beliefs to be understood, and I do think that evangelicals and Mormons have things they can learn from each other, but I see no need to seek some sort of unity beyond possible cooperation of items of mutual concern.

  124. Oops. I left out a word: “Look, I’m no John Dehlin, and I don’t go around playing word games to somehow find a way to stay in the Church despite not believing what it teaches. “

  125. Kullervo has repented and asked Jesus to be the Lord and Savior of his life. He also believes in various pagan deities.

    Cal, just so we’re clear, Tim’s question is a hypothetical.

    In real life, I do acknowledge the divinity of Jesus but I have not asked him to be the Lord and Savior of my life.

    That being said, answer Tim’s question. Let’s imagine that I have repented and asked Jesus to be the Lord and Savior of my life, but that I also believes in various pagan deities. Are you looking to be in Christian unity with me as well? If there were 300 people who followed my teaching on Jesus-and all-the-rest, would you seek Christian unity with us?

  126. Fine, then. So why keep on harping on the King Follett Discourse, which isn’t canon, is barely mentioned in current teaching materials, and (as far as I’ve been able to find out, correct me if I’m wrong) hasn’t been taught in General Conference, at least not in any detail, since our current crop of young missionaries has been alive?

    You’re absolutely right about one thing: There’s a small group of men who decide what LDS doctrine is. And they have made a decision, whether explicit or not, not to treat the King Follett Discourse as the Word of God.

    Look, I’m no John Dehlin, and I don’t go around playing word games to somehow find a way to stay in the Church despite believing what it teaches. If there’s any doctrinal position I’ve taken here that contradicts what has been taught in General Conference since I’ve been a member, please tell me.

    Fine Eric, then by that definition, nothing that happens in the endowment is doctrinal in the slightest. GAs never bring up any endowment related matters at general conference, therefore it’s not doctrinal. It’s also not doctrinal because they have shown no qualms about changing either the endowment or the washing and anointing. If it’s not doctrinal, why isn’t it optional?

    You don’t get a free pass by saying it’s too sacred to talk about at general conference. If that’s the case, perhaps the King Follet discourse is also too sacred to talk about at general conference, but is doctrinal?

    I can give you a reason why King Follet is doctrinal, it’s doctrinal in the same way as Nicea and Chalcedon are for orthodox Christians. You simply can’t make sense of Christian practice or Christian reading of the Bible without them. Likewise, there is no way to make sense of Mormon practice or Mormon readings of scripture without King Follet in the background.

    Without King Follet, nothing in 19th century Mormonism makes sense. Nothing. Without King Follet Joseph Smith’s polygamy has no doctrinal engine (D&C 132 is an explanation for the practice, but it also becomes meaningless without King Follet) and simply has to be seen as one dude’s philandering. And if that’s the case, game over, he’s a fallen prophet. Likewise with Brigham Young and John Taylor.

  127. David said

    I can give you a reason why King Follet is doctrinal, it’s doctrinal in the same way as Nicea and Chalcedon are for orthodox Christians. You simply can’t make sense of Christian practice or Christian reading of the Bible without them. Likewise, there is no way to make sense of Mormon practice or Mormon readings of scripture without King Follet in the background.

    Exactly. This.

    All you are left with is a blind claim on the only authoritative priesthood. I can see that the doctrine of the LDS church is being whittled down to that, but that’s not what got Joseph Smith got in trouble for.

  128. Eric said

    That sounds to me like a backwards way of understanding the Bible. If a plain reading of a passage may sound like it contradicts a given doctrine, perhaps it’s the doctrine that’s wrong. Anyway, that’s my problem with the orthodox understanding of the Trinity: Time and time again when I read the Bible, and especially the letters of Paul, and I ask myself, “How would that have been understood by the original readers?” I end up with something other than Trinitarian doctrine.

    And this is exactly the problem with reducing Christian theology down to what one verse says. Hebrews 1 is in a much larger context that it can’t be disowned from.

    I don’t really see how the plain isolated reading of this verse doesn’t violate Mormon understandings as much as orthodox understandings.

  129. Hebrews 1 is read in light of Deuteronomy 6. It was written to Hebrews after all.

  130. Katie L. said, “the majority of Christians you’re speaking with have a more involved [definition of “Christian” than you]. I think you will be more successful in your attempts at persuasion if you took the time to handle this point. . . .”

    Maybe a good point there. I’m mulling it over. . . . In other words, say, “Let’s discuss what a Christian is”; then mention Mormons only after an agreement on a definition is reached? I’m all for it.
    We may have to get Tim’s permission because I try to stay within the topic he started.

    —————
    Tim, when you say Kullervo (hypothetically) also believes in various pagan deities do you mean he tries to FOLLOW the deities, or does he just believe they exist? You’re forcing me to identify a fine line—not that I’m complaining. It’s a healthy challenge that presses me for more revelation.

    Repentance is more than an acknowledgement that Jesus is God. It is an act of the heart (the real intent) to make him your personal God.

    ————
    In reaction to Eric’s comment about Tim’s comment on Hebrews 1:8-9, I’d like to say that I am a Trinitarian in that I believe the Father & Son are two persons who are one in essence and nature. However, if I were to rely on the explanations of the Trinity by those who don’t understand what makes them one, I would get confused.

    The devil is the author of confusion; God gave us in Christ the spirit “of power, and of love, and of a SOUND MIND” (1 Timothy 1:7 KJV, emphasis mine).

    —————
    Eric, please keep “butting in.” You are quite knowledgeable and you seem like a godly man. (Katie also seems to have a good spirit.)
    For the record and so that I can use you as an example for future points, will you confess that you have the gift of the Holy Spirit?

  131. Tim, when you say Kullervo (hypothetically) also believes in various pagan deities do you mean he tries to FOLLOW the deities, or does he just believe they exist? You’re forcing me to identify a fine line—not that I’m complaining. It’s a healthy challenge that presses me for more revelation.

    Repentance is more than an acknowledgement that Jesus is God. It is an act of the heart (the real intent) to make him your personal God.

    No no; I don’t hypothetically also believe in various pagan deities. I actually believe in various pagan deities. But as a general rule, you don’t usually have to “follow” a pagan deity, as in, become his or her devoted disciple, the way you do Jesus. So in a certain sense, your question is inapplicable.

    To make your life easier though, let’s say, hypothetically, I believe in Jesus and accept him as my personal Lord and Savior, and I believe I will find salvation by following the path he has laid out, living a life devoted to him, and trusting wholly in his ability to save. I confess his dininity and his godhood and I believe I have repented of my sins by leaving the old sinful man behind and being regenerated and made new in Jesus Christ. In other words, hypothetically, I am a disciple of Jesus.

    But (also hypothetically) let’s say that in addition to being a disciple of Jesus, I also believe in Zeus, Hera, Ares, Dionysus, Aphrodite, Jim Morrison, and a host of other gods and goddesses.

    And while I am not hypothetically a devoted disciple of any of them, let’s say the following are also true:

    1. That I do believe that they have expectations for human behavior that strive I follow, but I do not believe that these expectations contradict or prevent me from being fully devoted to Jesus, because I believe these expectations are universally applicable; and

    2. That despite my devoted discipleship of Jesus, I continue to show piety by making offerings and libations to the other gods; in fact, I believe it would be sinful not to, and as I have repented of my sins, that means I am required to show proper piety.

    Now, you would say that I’m wrong about repenting of my sins, because you would probably would say that I’m an idolater, and idolatry is a sin. But then I say that’s a minor theological point, a mere differing understanding of Jesus Christ’s gospel, and that we should be able to put things like that behind us and fellowship together as Christians.

    What then?

  132. Cal asked me:

    For the record and so that I can use you as an example for future points, will you confess that you have the gift of the Holy Spirit?

    First, I don’t think that’s relevant to Tim’s argument. I think he’s acknowledging that there may be Mormons who have the Holy Spirit in their lives, but that’s in spite of the Church, not because of it.

    Second, “the gift of the Holy Spirit” has wildly different meanings for various branches of Christendom, so even if I I thought the mater were germane I couldn’t give an accurate answer without knowing what is meant by the question.

  133. I completely understand that there are various strains of “Mormonism”. I’m going to try to stop using “Mormonism” and instead try to focus on “the teachings of the LDS church”.

    I’m downs with that, just remember that this will shift and change, sometimes dramatically and with little warning. Also keep in mind that the 15 GAs at the top often say diverse and even contradictory things among themselves, let alone 20, 50, 100+ years ago.

  134. just remember that this will shift and change, sometimes dramatically and with little warning. Also keep in mind that the 15 GAs at the top often say diverse and even contradictory things among themselves, let alone 20, 50, 100+ years ago.

    Either the hierarchy is on average doing well, providing a valuable service, with a few bad apples and/or talks (which should be able to be identified as such). Or, it’s capricious and random, and at best serves no purpose. The former is how Catholics view their hierarchy, the latter is the reformation critique of the Catholic hierarchy, and why protestants in general eschew hierarchy.

    Trying to have it both ways depending on whether or not the conversation is with outsiders or insiders starts to come across as special pleading after a while.

  135. Eric,
    I think it’s relevant because Tim is saying the LDS is not Christian. If you believe those teachings that he says have to be changed in order for the LDS to be classified as Christian, and you claim to have the Holy Spirit as the LDS defines him, then you could become a witness to the fact that someone can believe those teachings and still be a Christian. Hence, the LDS is leading people to Christ in spite of what Tim & I consider error.

    If you’re afraid of getting your precious testimony shot down, I don’t blame you. But just think, you will be greatly rewarded for sharing in the sufferings of Christ as your Mormon ancestors were, and I’ll stand in the line of fire for you!

    When I said “the gift of the Holy Spirit” I meant as the LDS defines that phrase.

    Thanks.

  136. Kullervo,

    Good stuff, where was the evangelical accusing others of special pleading?

  137. That is so far beyond irrelevant hair-splitting.

    You are a conservative enough Christian and you have more than adequately demonstrated your hypocritical mastery of special pleading on this blog.

  138. Kullervo,

    Honestly you are the first person who has accused me of being conservative or “conservative enough” of a Christian (though one has to wonder what “conservative enough” means in this context). I don’t self-identify as Evangelical, mainly because my impression is that no Evangelicals want me in their club. Mainly because I am not an inerrantist and I waffle on social issues.

    But if one can be an inerrantist, waffle on social issues, and still be an Evangelical, your accusations of special pleading lose most, if not all, of their force.

  139. It’s pretty much impossible to claim that your religion is True and all others are False without engaging in special pleading.

    Given that there’s nada for conclusive evidence for any religion, that everyone’s personal religious experiences (mystical and mundane) fit on basically the same spectrum, and that there’s not a whole lot of discernible difference between the fruits of different religions, to claim objective truth for your religion and objective falsehood of others requires you to say your evidence, experiences and fruits are valid while everyone else’s comparable evidence, experiences and fruits are not.

    That’s special pleading, and you’ve done it here a-plenty.

    No worries. It’s not personal. Mormons definitely do it too.

  140. It’s pretty much impossible to claim that your religion is True and all others are False without engaging in special pleading.

    You conveniently set up the parameters for engaging in special pleading to exclude pagans. Nice try, counselor, not buying it.

    No worries. It’s not personal.

    Oh, my guess is that it was all personal. I critiqued the wrong person.

  141. I do not doubt that many pagans engage in special pleading in a variety of contexts. Most people do.

    But I’m saying here specifically that making a claim of exclusive religious truth requires special pleading. The behavior is special pleading, not the religion.

  142. Oh, my guess is that it was all personal. I critiqued the wrong person.

    You know I’m married to the other Katy, right?

  143. David said, “my impression is that no Evangelicals want me in their club.”

    We do want you. Just repent, kiddo, and you’re in!

    Kullervo said, “hypothetically, I am a disciple of Jesus.”

    Is that “hypothetically” or “hypocritically”?
    Seriously, are you asking me, “What if someone serves Jesus AND another god at the same time?”?
    At 4 p.m. the answer came to me. Out of time for now . . . later.

  144. Is that “hypothetically” or “hypocritically”?
    Seriously, are you asking me, “What if someone serves Jesus AND another god at the same time?”?

    No, Cal. I am going to make this more simple.

    Three Questions:

    1) What if Person X is a committed disciple of Jesus, but he believes in the existence of other gods, but he does not worship them or do anything else other than acknowledge their existence?

    2) What if Person X is a committed disciple of Jesus, and he not only believes in the existence of other gods, but he believe those gods expect him to behave in certain ways which he does not think contradict the way of Jesus. For example, he believes that Zeus expects him to give generously to strangers and beggars, and so he does give generously to strangers and beggars both because Jesus expects him to and because Zeus expects him to.

    3) What if Person X is a committed disciple of Jesus, and he not only believes in the existence of other gods, but he gives them small offerings and libations, which he believes is consistent with following Jesus because Jesus asks us to repent of sin and he believes that impiety (lack of proper respect for the gods) is a sin.

    In case 1 is Person X a Christian? Case 2? Case 3?

  145. DC, it’s totally off topic, but I think by some definitions you would be an Evangelical. I don’t want to belabor the point though. If someone doesn’t want to take on the title I have no interest in forcing it on them.

    It’s kind of an arbitrary definition and I care more about the things it represents than the use of the word. I’ve chosen to self-identify with it because it gives people a broad overview of my religious affiliation. At a different time or place I could easily see myself dropping the designation.

  146. Good questions, Kullervo.
    In case #1 I would say yes.

    I started to comment on the other cases but decided to delete my comments because I could easily be misunderstood and I don’t see a constructive reason right now for venturing into them.

    The third person X might be opening him or herself up to demons. Christians can have demons, you know.

  147. I started to comment on the other cases but decided to delete my comments because I could easily be misunderstood and I don’t see a constructive reason right now for venturing into them.

    we are all waiting for you to answer this very question. everything is on hold until you will answer.

  148. If you can show me that they apply to Mormonism, I’ll answer.

    “Gospel Principles” says “God [the Father of Jesus] is the Supreme and Absolute Being in whom we believe and whom we worship.” Christians sin—both intentionally & unintentionally—and they are usually very ignorant when compared to God’s infinite wisdom. This would include LDS leaders.

    But God knows ours hearts in a way that know human being does. He’s the judge. We can’t judge unless he first reveals his judgments to us. At some point we have to go beyond the Spirit-less intellect and hear the voice of God through much prayer, etc.

  149. If you can show me that they apply to Mormonism, I’ll answer.

    Cal, that’s not at all helpful.

    You want other Christians to follow your example and seek unity with any one that meets the lowest definitional threshold. But at the same time you acknowledge that unrepentant sin might disqualify someone (like sleeping with your mother [I Cor. 5:5] or blasphemy [I Tim. 1:20]).

    So we’re trying to flesh out your ideas a little more. This isn’t about Mormonism. This is about Christianity and who you think other Christians should/shout not join in fellowship with.

    You’re basically punting and saying that you don’t want to have a discussion anymore. Help me reconcile your viewpoints. Help me live my Christian life the way you think it should be lived. The situation that Kullervo described is not purely hypothetical. There are real people living that out in India as we speak.

    At some point we have to go beyond the Spirit-less intellect and hear the voice of God through much prayer, etc.

    I categorically reject this. God gave us our intellect as a gift and expects us to use it. Our intellects can and should be Spirit-led. There is a book by a Pentecostal philosopher named JP Moreland that I think you should check out. It’s called “Love Your God with All Your Mind: The Role of Reason in the Life of the Soul”. He’s an active member of a Vineyard church and quite dedicated to the ongoing spiritual gifts.

  150. You said, “You’re basically punting and saying that you don’t want to have a discussion anymore.”

    How’d you know? I can’t blog for the next few days; also, our summer vacation starts in less than two weeks; and I’ve been getting the feeling that we’re at a dead end.

    You: So we’re trying to flesh out your ideas a little more.

    Why?

    Concerning disfellowshipping, it’s hard for me to compare disfellowshipping Mormons (they’re already disfellowshipped!) to disfellowshipping an adulterer from a close fellowship. I might not fellowship with an unrepentant Mormon adulterer.

    I examined 1 Timothy 1:20 closer. Verse 19 may have a clue to the nature of the blasphemy there. If the clue is correct, I don’t believe the LDS is guilty of the same thing.

    You misunderstood my comment about Spirit-LESS intellect. I’m glad you believe in being Spirit-led.

    I have some questions for you, and I promise I will check back in after this Sat. if not before.

    Are you a Christian? (I’m not taking anything for granted!)
    What’s your definition of a Christian organization?
    What’s the minimum that has to be changed in order for your classification of the LDS to change?—was it just the 7 or so teachings you stated about a month ago?

    God bless.

  151. Cal I’m will not be answering your questions until you answer Kullervo’s.

    Particularly since all of your questions have been answered in one way or another on the blog’s about page or in discussions you’ve been a part of.

  152. In case #1 I would say yes.

    Okay. But what about 2 and 3?

    I started to comment on the other cases but decided to delete my comments because I could easily be misunderstood and I don’t see a constructive reason right now for venturing into them.

    How about, because they’re the whole point of the conversation, Cal?

    The third person X might be opening him or herself up to demons. Christians can have demons, you know.

    The question is not whether Person X is in error or in spiritual danger. The question is whether Person X is Christian. How much more clearly do we have to spell this out to you?

  153. You know I’m married to the other Katy, right?

    Yes, I’m aware katyjane is your wife, not Katie L.

  154. Tim said, “We’re trying to flesh out your ideas a little more. This isn’t about Mormonism.”

    I’d rather stick with Mormonism.

  155. Tim said, “Cal I’m will not be answering your questions until you answer Kullervo’s.”

    Stalemate!

  156. I’d rather stick with Mormonism.

    Don’t be obtuse. We’re trying to flesh out your ideas about who is a Christian and who is not because they are absolutely central to your position on Mormonism.

    The fact that you are not answering direct questions that are relevant and germane to the discussion and instead you are throwing out a hissy-fit smokescreen of irrelevant tangentals flushes whatever credibility you already had (which honestly was not much) down the toilet.

  157. As a more or less neutral observer (I haven’t asked to be accepted into fellowship by non-LDS Christians and don’t care whether I am or not), I find Kullervo’s questions entirely relevant to this discussion. And if Cal indeed has received revelation and prophetic insight into the issue, he’s missing an opportunity here.

  158. Cal,

    Miroslav Volf wrote a book recently called Allah: A Christian Response. In this book Volf sets up an argument that Christianity and Islam worship the same God. Volf engagaes with the specific theology of Trinititarianism and absolute Monotheism. You may or may not agree with him, that is besides the point.

    Volf did the hard work of studing the theologies of two different faiths and then wrote a book putting his reputation on the line. I respect him for that.

    What I have little use for is skipping the hard work of study and engagement and instead putting the reputation of the Holy Spirit on the line by claiming revelation. You are not doing your cause any good.

  159. I’m not even asking Cal to do hard work. I’m just asking him to explain his reasoning by applying it to different facts.

  160. Lots of false accusations as usual!
    I don’t believe you guys! I worked for months to get your attention; now you’re begging me not to stop. Why? That’s the one question you must answer.
    Are you trying to trip me up like the Pharisees tried to trip Jesus? Are you starved for more challenges? Bored? Are you thinking I might have some valid points and want to hear more to help you decide if I do?

    Unless you can show me that the LDS encourages the worship of more than one God, I don’t see the relevance of going deeper than my comments below go.

    Food for thought: 2 Corinthians 4:4 calls Satan “the god of this age.” Assuming that Tim & Gundek believe that verse, I want to ask you, “How can you claim to be saved if you recognize the existence of more than one god?”

  161. Cal,

    As a fairly uninterested observer who can’t be bothered to unsubscribe from the comments on this post, I don’t think anyone’s trying to trip you up.

    We’re generally an analytical crowd here. When someone puts forward a philosophical framework, we want to understand the boundaries of that framework so that we can apply it to different situations and see if it’s logically consistent. If you’re adopting one approach for fellowshipping with Mormons, we want to know how that approach applies to similar people of other faiths who don’t fall into a “traditional” definition of Christianity. It’s not about tricking you. It’s about understanding your thought process so that we can consider whether it’s an approach we want to adopt for ourselves.

    What numerous commenters have told you is that you’re setting a double standard. The standard you set for fellowshipping with Mormons is different than for members of other faiths. If that’s not true, we’re not understanding why your standard is consistent. And when we press you, you default to, “I received a revelation.”

    I’m admittedly squishy in the boundaries of my faith, but I own it. We’re asking you to do the same. It’s okay to say that you place the LDS faith in its own special category, but understand that we’re going to keep asking why and how far that category extends.

  162. Whitney & Eric are pretty convincing. OK, here’s Kullervo’s second question:

    2) What if Person X is a committed disciple of Jesus, and he not only believes in the existence of other gods, but he believe those gods expect him to behave in certain ways which he does not think contradict the way of Jesus. For example, he believes that Zeus expects him to give generously to strangers and beggars, and so he does give generously to strangers and beggars both because Jesus expects him to and because Zeus expects him to.

    I find this a hard question to answer. Kullervo is really toeing the line. I guess it depends on the source of the instructions from this imaginary Zeus.

    Humans can become a god to you if you let them control you. So in the following examples, I’m going to use a human in place of a god—it helps my train of thought.

    Jesus said that in order to be his disciple, you must hate your own mom. I understand Jesus to mean that if your mom tells you not to serve Jesus, you must disobey your mom and obey Jesus. (Obviously, you are not to stop loving your mom.) And Matthew says, “Seek FIRST [God’s] kingdom” (6:33, emphasis mine).

    Kullervo said that person X believes that the extra gods expect him to behave in ways which he does not think contradict the way of Jesus. The question here is, “Are these imaginary gods getting their instructions from the one true God?” Paul the Apostle said, “Follow me as I follow Christ.” So it’s OK to follow someone else as long as that person (or god) is following Christ.

    When Jesus said you can’t serve two masters (Matt. 6:24) he implied that one master was leading in a different direction than the other. This no doubt is implied also in Exodus 20:3 where God says we must have no other gods before (or besides) us (the First Commandment). The NIV Study Bible says that the Hebrew for the word “before” is translated “in hostility toward” in Gen. 16:12 and 25:18.

    Does anyone disagree with my answer? (My wife thinks it’s OK.)

  163. Cal, thanks for your answer, but I think you are missing the point. The question is not whether Person X’s beliefs are true or consistent with yours. You have said before that Mormons believe plenty of things that are false, ad in this hypothetical, I am willing to take it as a given that Person X’s beliefs about Zeus are false.

    In other words, let’s assume for the sake of argument that “Zeus” isn’t getting his instructions from anywhere since Zeus is not real. But Person X believes that Zeus is real and that Zeus has expectations for human behavior that are consistent with the teachings of Jesus. The stuff about giving to strangers and beggars is too easy since Jesus explicitly teaches that stuff.

    But what if Person X believes that the gods expect him to abstain from eating birds that are sacred to them, so Person X does not eat eagles (Zeus), peacocks (Hera), swans (Apollo), or doves (Aphrodite). So Person X, believing that the other gods expect him to not eat their sacred animals but believing that Jesus is silent on the matter, abstains from eating them.

    In other words, Person X follows the commandments of these other gods, but he believes that they are not inconsistent with the teachings of Jesus, i.e., he still believes he does not have to disobey Jesus in order to keep this no-eating-sacred-birds commandment. So Person X is following a commandment that is not from God or from Jesus–remember we are assuming for the purposes of this argument that the other gods do not exist so this bird-eating commandment is entirely manmade–but that does not require him, in his understanding at least, to break any of Jesus/God’s commandments.

    Again, remember that the issue is not whether Person X is correct, or whether his beliefs are true doctrine. We are assumming for the sake of argument that his beliefs are false doctrine. The question is, is Person X a Christian despite his false doctrine?

  164. I will say this for Cal: he appears to earnestly believe that he has received revelation from God that Mormons are Christian. Now we can poke holes in the logic he has tried to build up around that all we want, but at the end of the day, but that’s not goign to disturb what he feels confidently comes from God.

    Maybe Cal did receive a true revelation, in which case the revelation itself is not the problem, merely the logical extrapolations he has tried to make from the revelation are flawed.

  165. Kullervo isn’t that what people say about the priesthood ban? “We know God didn’t want blacks to have the preisthood, we just don’t know why. All the reasons people give seem to be racist so we know their all wrong.”

  166. I think there are two things being evaluated here, and they get evaluated in different ways: (a) the purported revelation and (b) the logical conclusions based on the purported revelation.

    (b) can be wrong without (a) being wrong. Evaluating (b) is easy, since (b) consists of logical propositions that can be tested using formal (or informal, as the case may be) reasoning. That’s what we’re doing here.

    (a) can be wrong, too, but you have to approach (a) differently and more tentatively.

    Regarding the priesthood ban, I think you can make a pretty strong case that no such revelation ever happened. And by “a pretty strong case” I mean that there is basically no contemporary evidence at all that such a revelation ever happened.

    But even if there was evidence, since the priesthood ban is basically morally reprehensible on its face, you have to at least ask some hard questions about how reliable this purported revelation was, how certain we are that it came from God, how certain we are that we can rely on it absolutely in spite of our conscience.

    Ditto with something like Cal’s revelation, that seems to contradict other things Cal believes.

  167. Tim asked, “did you stretch out before typing that out?”

    I’ll take that as a friendly comment. It did stretch me spiritually!

  168. Isn’t this simply a question of degree. All so-called Christians will have some false beliefs about God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit, i.e. they believe they have different attributes than they actually do have. The question is how does the salvation by faith really come about. How perfect do you have to be to take advantage of it. Cal seems to think that Mormons are far from perfect in doctrine, dead wrong and misguided on many fronts, but still believe in the promises of Jesus enough to be saved. Other Evangelicals seem to believe that Jesus requires much more perfection in doctrine before his grace is extended. It seems on the fringes there are clear examples of what is not really believing in the promises and commandments of Jesus, but I think Cal believes the line simply shouldn’t be drawn too close to the core of orthodoxy.

  169. Tim seems to be talking more about institutional orthodoxy (can the LDS church be considered a “Christian” church?) more than individual orthodoxy (can an LDS person be “saved”?), which raises different issues.

    In any case, I found this conversation on another evangelicalism-oriented blog recently and thought it pertained to this discussion, including what Jared said about degrees of orthodoxy: Essentials and Non-Essentials in a Nutshell.

  170. Once again, Jared encapsulates the issue excellently.
    Thanks for the link, Eric. I thought it was good.

  171. Jared, what Eric said pretty much sums up my response. I agree it’s a discussion of degree.

    Using the article Eric linked to, I’m happy to concede that individual Mormons may fit into the first category pertaining to things “Essential to Salvation”. I’m not willing to engage in a definitive discussion of who is and is not saved since I believe it involves intimate knowledge of a man’s heart. On the individual level I can merely speculate.

    On the organizational level, it’s quite clear that the LDS church does not even match the second category of “Historic Orthodoxy”. Since organizations can’t be “saved” I’m saying this second category must the baseline for churches and organizations.

    Cal seems unwilling or unable to engage me on the discussion of the differences between organizations and individuals. Further he seems unwilling or unable to meaningfully clarify his feelings on the level of degree of heresy that would disqualify someone for any group other than Mormons.

  172. Cal seems unwilling or unable to engage me on the discussion of the differences between organizations and individuals. Further he seems unwilling or unable to meaningfully clarify his feelings on the level of degree of heresy that would disqualify someone for any group other than Mormons.

    But remember, Cal has made it clear that he doesn’t see a distinction between “saved” and “Christian.” So your first point doesn’t make any sense to him.

    As to the second point, I think he’d say that he hasn’t had a revelation about any group other than Mormons.

  173. As I stated, he’s unwilling or unable to discuss the distinctions of organizations over individuals.

  174. One of the things I most respect about Mormons is a generally high view of the Church and its role in the life of the covenant community. I may disagree with most of the ecclesiastical doctrines of the LDS but I think it is clear that there is a distinction between the individual and the institution.

    The most charitable observation I can make is that Cal appears to be a doctrinal antinomian, dismissing importance of the doctrine and the first table of the Law, much the same way that a moral antinomian dismisses the usefulness of the second table and other moral commandments to the Christian life.

  175. Well, ultimately I don’t think Cal’s position requires the distinction, he is not saying clearly saying that the Mormon Church has correct positions on God or Jesus, just that Mormons in general believe and rely on the promises of Jesus enough to take advantage of his grace. In that way he can embrace Mormons as a people but still reject the organization as heretical. (I confess I have not read all of the comments above so I apologize if I am missing a key point of contention.)

    From his website:

    How can the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints of Salt Lake City, Utah, live up to its claim to be a Christian organization when they teach so many eccentric and extra-biblical doctrines?

    It is because the LDS does adhere to the essential message of the New Testament — not only the teachings that we all must adhere to for salvation in Christ (for example, “God exists”), but more significantly, teachings that effectuate, or bring about, salvation.

    It is also because all their false teachings concern nonessential issues. Nonessentials are principles that may be important for spiritual growth but on which someone may be in error without losing their status as a forgiven, born-again, blood-bought, heaven-bound child of God.

    The vital question is, “Does the Mormon Church encourage people to make Jesus Christ their personal Lord and Savior?” The answer is unequivocally yes.

    The objections to this position turn on the theological difference between Mormon Doctrine and Evangelical Doctrine. But I would suggest that in practice these do not produce dramatic differences in the lives of believers. As I pointed out previously, both Mormons and Evangelicals have similar religious experiences with Jesus and feel similar (if not the same) sort of feeling of grace and redemption. I think this justifies Cal’s position that Mormons should not be separated out from believers in Christ.

    Personally, it doesn’t matter to me at all whether evangelicals care if Mormons are Christians. I think most Christians are truly disciples of Christ and i think that salvation from hell and adherence to certain theology has little to do with what Jesus taught. But I think hardline positions on theology and doctrine are the key source of disunity among believers in Jesus, and in that sense I think Cal is no the right track and very consistent in seeking to break down as many barriers as he can, even if it means not knowing precisely where the fence should be.

    I also think Sanders must be overstating the importance of the Trinity since it was not at all apparent that Jesus believed that a particular theological understanding mattered at all, If you were His disciple God would be with you, inside you. And if God is with you, it doesn’t really matter what you think about Him does it? You can have someone living at your house without knowing a whole lot about who he is, the fact that he is living there shows that he has chosen your house, not that you have chosen him by defining who he is.

  176. This is where we will have to agree to disagree. I see Cal ignoring the totality of the revealed word of God looking for unity where none exists and dismissing catholicity where it does exist.

  177. Eh, there’s only a “totality of the revealed word of God” inasmuch as people like you insist that there must be.

  178. “. . . looking for unity where none exists. . .”

    This sounds like what it takes to determine what the “totality of revealed word of God” is. You can always find disunity.

    I don’t think Cal is ignoring the orthodox Evangelical position on the bible. I think he, like the Roman Catholics prior with the Second Vatican Counsel, is rethinking the reasons for disunity among those who believe in Jesus of Nazareth. Many want to draw their lines with theological constructs alone, I think Cal wants to focus on spirit and similarity of experience more than conceptual differences. Its hard to see where that is un-Christian.

  179. Kullervo,

    There either is or there isn’t a total revealed word of God, it doesn’t particularly matter what I say about it.

  180. Jared,

    I don’t doubt that Mormons believe in the historical Jesus of Nazareth any more than I doubt that the Muslims believe in him. If similarity of experience is all that matters is any religious experience is sufficient for unity? We will have to disagree on this as well.

  181. Gundek,

    What constitutes the “totality of the revealed word of God” though? Who decides what does and does not get included? Do you limit it to the traditional Protestant Bible? Just the Hebrew Scriptures? What of the Apocrypha or the Dead Sea Scrolls? I assume that, with the exception of the Bible, you exclude the body of LDS scriptures as part of this totality.

    Maybe this is a topic that has been addressed before, or maybe it is something that is worthy of its own post, but I have often wondered what is actually meant when traditional Christians use that phrase, or ones similar to it.

  182. Oh, and there is also the question of which version of the Bible. I have a wide collection, and some of them have very notable differences, which means that, if we are to determine the totality of the revealed word of God, we must also determine which translation(s) is/are correct, as well as which canon.

  183. we must also determine which translation(s) is/are correct, as well as which canon.

    No we don’t, we just read them in the originals.

  184. Each of your questions is important and I hope that you do not take the brevity of my response to be dismissive. God decided what he reveals. As said before, what we believe is revelation either is or is not. Our acknowledgement of it as revelation does not give it a special status.

    Much of the Dead Sea Scrolls are in fact Old Testament documents confirming the received text that we have today. Other Dead Sea texts discovered have never been considered canonical as sacred texts in the second temple period i.e. not part of the Law and the Prophets and are not part of “Moses and all the prophets” the books recognized by Jesus himself as scripture. For the same reason the Apocrypha are not scripture. There are any number of historical, redemptive historical or traditional arguments for the present Protestant canon that I am sure you are aware of.

    I myself use many English translations (NASB95, NIV, KJV, ESV etc. in order of usage) of the received text but for careful exegesis of a particular passage the Greek or Hebrew should be preferred, taking into account the textual critical study of the received manuscripts.

    I am not trying to hurt anybodies feeling but the provenance for the Book of Mormon, Book of Abraham, Joseph Smith Translation etc. really don’t point to any form of canonical validity.

    My point to Jared about Cal is that you cannot dismiss the importance of doctrine for personal experience unless you are also going to dismiss what Jesus says in Matthew and Mark, what Paul said in Romans, Ephesians, Timothy, and Titus, what the writer to the Hebrews said, What James mentions, what Peter confesses, what John reveals. Each of these writers speaks much about doctrine and very little about personal experience.

    Cal is asking evangelicals to ignore the most foundational area of doctrinal agreement that they have with Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Lutherans, and Reformed Protestants in order to embrace Joseph Smith. That dog don’t hunt.

  185. Gundek, nobody is saying that similarity of experience with Jesus is all that matters. But simply that it does matter. If Jesus is interacting with Mormons in a similar way that he is with Evangelicals or other Christians, this seems to indicate that at least He believes there should be some unity. Biblical, it seems that the Gospels speak very little about Jesus requiring the correct theology to become a christian. It seems to me that that Christianity is primarily about a relationship with the person Jesus as a god and savior. You don’t see Jesus interaction with the Samaritans dealing with their theological problems. His disciples were determined by their love not their theology. A strict theological delineation of the fold has to have been a post-biblical phenomena, a extrapolation from the pursuit of a unified interpretation of disparate concepts in the text.

    I don’t see Cal asking Evangelicals to ignore anything, or to embrace Joseph Smith. It seems he is just asking to remove certain barriers in the way they embrace individual Mormons, and to acknowledge the realities of the effects of the way Mormons interact with Jesus.

  186. Jesus does indeed address the Samaritan’s theological claims in John 4:21-26, telling the Samaritan woman, “Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews.” I think that you like Cal are simply ignoring the many passages where doctrine plays an important role. Doctrinal differences do not prevent love, but love does not allow us to ignore doctrinal differences. Jesus clearly told the woman at the well that the worship at Mount Gerizim was incorrect “…worship ye know not what…”, but he lovingly told her that a time would come, in fact was here, when travel to a physical temple for worship would not be needed. Now I imagine that you may disagree that worship in a physical temple is no longer required, but to be honest I imagine that on most doctrinal issues we will disagree.

    Similarly, like Cal, your focus is on the individual while I am speaking about the institution and the doctrine it preaches. Unlike Cal, I am not qualified or gifted to determine if an individual has a saving relationship with Jesus.

  187. Pingback: Deep Things Roundup - The Scriptorium Daily

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