The Trinity is the Gospel

Christian J recently posted this comment

Does the Jesus I believe in have power to save the human family? Is that salvation extended with mercy and grace? I don’t believe that these questions are dependent on esoteric understandings of the eternities.

I wanted to answer this but I recently read a review by an ex-Mormon of “The Deep Things of God” by an that I think answers it. You should also see my review of the book.

In short, the book doesn’t make sense out of the Trinity as much as it shows that the Trinity makes sense out of everything else in Christianity. If you struggle to understand why Evangelicals are so hung up on the Trinity and are confused about why Mormons are excluded based on this esoteric doctrine, this book is a great place to start.

Advertisements

61 thoughts on “The Trinity is the Gospel

  1. As I’ve said before – Mormons are trinitarians.

    They just reject modalism – which for much of a century – they have mistakenly equated with the historic Christian doctrine of the Trinity (but in all fairness – the mistake has not been all our own fault).

  2. Relating to Joey Day’s review, its too bad that he starts out with his own misunderstanding of the Godhead and of the exaltation of God’s children. It ruins for me his whole review.

    But thanks for engaging me on this Tim – I may check out the book. I’m hoping it can answer how different faith communities can believe in the same Trinity while coming to very different conclusions on what that does to their view of Jesus. (ie. Calvinist/Armenian) – and how that seems to not matter to most Protestants.

  3. Seth, do you believe in Heavenly Mother? Do you believe that God the Father once was as we are?

    Christian, help me understand how you think Calvinists and Armenians view Jesus differently. I’ve never been exposed to a difference in views on the person of Jesus.

  4. Tim a counter-question:

    What is the more crucial aspect of this doctrine:

    The unity?

    Or the number three?

  5. I’ll answer but I still expect an answer from you. Quid pro quo.

    The word “trinity” requires a description of “three”. We call God a Trinity because the Bible only describes three persons. If the Bible had described more than three, I don’t see why the solution of ousia (sp?) couldn’t apply to more than three.

  6. I’m hoping it can answer how different faith communities can believe in the same Trinity while coming to very different conclusions on what that does to their view of Jesus.

    They don’t differ on the person of Jesus, but this is not a Trinitarian issue. All orthodox believers who subscribe to the Chalcedonian definition will see the person of Jesus the same, just as they are going to view the Trinity the same. Since both Calvinists and Arminians subscribe to Chalcedon, they view the person of Jesus the same.

    They will differ on theories of Atonement and the functioning of grace, but that’s a separate issue.

  7. Tim, David – I guess I’ll have to read the book to get the full argument – but saying the Trinity *changes everything* indicates to me that its not a separate issue (or shouldn’t be). In other words, I see the Trinity being presented as a foundational starting point, and yet the roads seem to stray quite drastically. I understand that Protestants generally look past these sort of differences (even in the heaviest of cases), but it seems to be at odds the main thesis of the book.

  8. “What is the more crucial aspect of this doctrine:

    The unity?

    Or the number three?”

    Neither. Both.

    “I cannot think of the One, but I am immediately surrounded with the glory of the Three; nor can I clearly discover the Three, but I am suddenly carried back to the One.”

  9. Maybe I’ll have to get the book to figure this out (I asked this on FB, and got some helpful responses, but not any that quite addressed this): what does it mean to be one substance/”ousia”?

    (I’ll also state that, like Seth mentioned, I was really blown when I “realized” that the traditional trinity is NOT modalism…I was like, “So, why does everyone get upset at Mormonism for asserting three persons?” I can get the controversy behind all sorts of other Mormon things: gender/body for God, Heavenly Mother, etc., but that’s not the only criticism I’ve heard of the LDS Godhead idea.)

  10. Christian,

    I think the book will be helpful to you based on your last comment because I think you might misunderstand the level of importance the different doctrines hold. Evangelicals and Mormons believe in many of the same things but they are clearly “weighted” differently. You may be weighting salvation and free agency in a Mormon paradigm and that doesn’t fit with the idea of the Trinity being supreme.

  11. To be clear the book does not discuss substance/ousia. It’s about how everything else flows out of the Trinity, it’s not a logical defense of the Trinity itself.

    “So, why does everyone get upset at Mormonism for asserting three persons?”

    We aren’t upset about three persons (we agree). We’re upset about a multitude of gods.

  12. Fair enough Tim.

    I do believe in a Heavenly Mother. So I’m not strictly speaking “trinitarian.” I don’t confine myself only to those specifically mentioned in the existing Bible translations. But I was talking about most Mormons – not me.

  13. But Tim, why aren’t we allowed to answer the charge of “multiple gods” the same way you answer the same charge from Muslims?

  14. I agree with Seth R.’s first comment.

    Tim, which gods are you referring to? The supposed God above the Father; the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; the future state of faithful Mormons; some other god or gods; or all the above?

  15. Seth, I would think Mormons are answering us the same way we answer Muslims if that were at all the case. Mormonism VERY clearly says that there is more than one god. If it doesn’t Jeffery Holland was attacking Mormonism when he said the doctrine of the Trinity was self-evidently false.

    Mormonism in no way teaches that there is an ontological unity in the godhead.

  16. Tim, I think if you look closely at Holland’s remarks, you’ll note he was actually attacking modalism and notions like homioousis.

  17. Just throwing my $.02 in here. I think it is an abuse of language to claim Mormons “believe in the trinity”. To say that Mormonism itself has an alternate trinitarian theology, I guess.

    Homoousian being a good example of this. The standard trinitarian conflict called a “mystical union” since it makes no sense is that:

    a) Jesus is consubstantial with the Father
    b) Humans are not consubstantial with the Father
    c) Jesus is fully human
    d) Jesus does not consist of two substances but rather is a single substance a union of two other substances (post on the hypostatic union).

    Mormonism correctly avoids the logical inconsistencies by denying (b). Mormonism denies that the Father is “without body or passions” that is asserts that even the Father is consubstantial with humans. By denying (b) they deny the need for (d). A much saner theology, absolutely, trinitarian… no.

  18. We’re not “trinitarian” under the definition it has accumulated over the centuries.

    But if you break it down to its root words – why not?

  19. We’re not “trinitarian” under the definition it has accumulated over the centuries.
    But if you break it down to its root words – why not?

    As James Gilchrist said, “etymologies are not definitions”. By the time the word “trinity” was used as a Christian theological terms it had lots of that other stuff you disagree with attached to it.

    Going deeper there is another layer however…. And I’d argue that a lot of that stuff Mormons disagree with predate Christianity by thousands of years. The idea that Vishnu is both distinct from and inclusive of Brahma and Shiva, Brahma is inclusive of Vishnu and Shiva… goes back well before the trinity. Brahma is the creator of all, including Vishnu and Brahma grew from a lotus in Vishnu’s navel. And similarly with Shiva and destruction (not wanting to get too much on a tangent here).

    The problem for orthodox Christianity is they are importing this notion into a context it conflict with, so the eternal wheel just becomes gibberish. In the context of eternal progression we can return to the Hindu eternal wheel. Thus one can argue that Mormonism is restoring the trinity to its true form, what it should mean. But that doesn’t change that Mormonism does not believe in the doctrine called “the trinity”.

  20. Seth,

    I was just trying to figure out what Holland’s objection to “homioousis” was. Is it homoiousios or homoousios?

  21. Tim

    The Trinity is a manmade notion. It is not found anywhere in the New Testament. The earliest writings of the sorts of ideas, which eventually became the Trinity, date from the Second Century. If the Trinity were the truth, Jesus would have said so himself. He would not have left Christians in ignorance for 325 years.

    I have read attempts to assemble snippets of the NT to try to “find” the Trinity in the NT. (A good one was done, at my request, by a very sharp young Catholic lawyer, here in my area, on his blog “Shameless Popery.”) It could not be more obvious from these attempts that the Trinity is not in the NT. In the first place, if the Trinity were the truth, it would not be necessary to look for snippets of scripture and “interpret” them. A doctrine as important as the Trinity, if it actually existed in the NT, would be laid out clearly and straightforwardly in the NT, so that no person would be left in ignorance. Second, these efforts start with the premise that the Trinity is true and the writer then finds whatever he can possibly squeeze into the Trinity theory while NT passages clearly to the contrary are “explained away” in torturous manners or simply ignored. There is no attempt to read the NT with an open mind in an honest search for the truth. The only way to find the Trinity in the NT is to say that you will find it come hell or high water, and the text itself be damned.

    The Trinity is a product of Neoplatonism, a Greek philosophical school of thought arising in the Third Century. The monotheism of Christianity (as opposed to the pagan pantheon), which they equated to their logos, appealed to the Neoplatonists. However, the divinity of Christ and the existence of the Holy Ghost certainly suggested polytheism, and the Trinity was their solution. The fact that the solution is expressly incomprehensible, shows that they were trying to square the circle.

    You might also consider the historical record of the Council of Nicaea. All of the 1,800 bishops at the time were invited to attend but, at most, 318 were present. We have no idea what the vote would have been if all, or at least more, bishops were present. Later, they murdered Arius, with poison, and said that his death was a miracle. They burned all of Arius’ writings, so that all that we know of the “Arian Heresy” is what his opponents wrote about it. If the Trinity were the truth, God would not have required murder and book burning.

    The fact is, there were no prophets, and no revelations, at Nicaea, only men trying to squelch controversy about the nature of God, at the behest of Emperor Constantine. The emperor thought that the controversy was exceedingly trivial, and did not care which way the vote went, but he did want unity and tranquility for the sake of his political objectives.

    You might also consider the larger history of three centuries of early church councils. For example, riots and bloodshed were apart of their decision-making process. Here is a book you could read and review: Ramsay MacMullen, Voting About God: In Early Church Councils (Yale U. Press 2006). I am pretty sure that the author is not LDS, he is one of the greatest living historians of the Roman Empire, and one of his specialties is Christianity in the Roman Empire.

    If you want to engage the Mormon view of this topic more directly, try reading and reviewing: Richard R. Hopkins, How Greek Philosophy Corrupted The Christian Concept of God (Horizon Publishers 2005).

    Tim, I know that 15 centuries of uniform and continuous teaching of error, in fact apostasy, is a huge weight for an individual to challenge. But I did it and you can too. Decide to find out for yourself and then do it. The preachers do not want you know how and when the Trinity came about. They want you to believe that the Trinity was always around. They want you to think that nothing happened between the time of Christ’s living ministry and A.D. 325. God gave you your own mind Tim. Use it. The emperor has no clothes.

    Murdock

  22. Murdock, the idea that Jesus wouldn’t have left people in ignorance of the truth for years is a rather tricky argument for a Mormon who believes in the Great Apostasy to make.

  23. Tim, I understand that Protestants weigh certain doctrines differently. My point was that I personally think a matter like “can I lose my salvation” is HUGE, and yet believing in the Trinity hasn’t cleared that one up for Protestantism. My quote in the OP was simply stating that believing in the Mormon Godhead (*even if its false*) still brought me to a place where I have faith that Jesus will ultimately save me and that he has the power to do so.

  24. homoiousios: of a similar substance

    homoousios of the same substance

    These terms were the heart of the Arian controversy. If the Son is homoiousios (similar substance) He would be a creature of the Father, not eternal, not equal in power.

    Since the Son and the Holy Spirit are homoousios (same substance) with the Father they exist eternally and are equal in power and deserving of worship.

  25. CD -Host said, “Thus one can argue that Mormonism is restoring the trinity to its true form, what it should mean.”

    Amen!

    Here’s a quote of Bruce R. McConkie (“Mormon Doctrine,” p. 319):
    “Each God in the Godhead is a personage, separate and distinct from each of the others, yet they are ‘One God’ (Testimony of Three Witnesses in Book of Mormon), 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. . . . The oneness of the Gods is the same unity that should exist among the saints (John 17; 3 Ne. 28:10-11).”

    Bruce is stating exactly what the Bible teaches—an ontological oneness among members of the Trinity as I understand ontological. (Someone who doesn’t understand the Trinity can’t claim to know what ontological oneness is [I’m thinking of Tim, here {Love ya, Tim}].)

  26. David —

    You see the idea of triune diety who is underlying a unity in all the cultures that came from proto-indo-european religions (map). The ideas are in the Old testament: Baal (the father), Tammuz (the son) and Ashtoreth (the mother / holy spirit). The idea is in Egyptian culture: Ra, Horus, Isis and before that other trinities like: Amun, Mut and Khonsu. For Romans: Tinia, Menrva, Uni.

    The structure isn’t unique or original to Christianity it goes back at least to about 4000 BCE. Brigham Young IMHO had a sort of Hindu mindset to his theology, not intentionally but his mind just seemed to run that way. This sort of infinite progression is common in trinitarian theology in many pagan faiths including those that influenced Christianity. Arguably it was to avoid the obvious polytheistic connotations of the trinity that doctrines like Arianism / Adoptionism were rejected which solves most of the theological problems.

  27. Murdock,

    Your description of the Trinity and the history of its formulation is on par with the Mormonism described by “The Godmakers”. It’s laughably cartoonish.

    It’s amazing that with all the divisions and schisms within Christianity over the last 2,000 years the bulk of the faith as over and over again affirmed the doctrine of the Trinity. Personally the more I study it and the more I understand it the more I’m profoundly secure in it’s accuracy.

    If it’s such a pushover I encourage you to study some sources that are convinced of the Trinity. Start with “The Deep Things of God”. I’m sure you’ll have no problem conquering it.

  28. Christian J said

    My quote in the OP was simply stating that believing in the Mormon Godhead (*even if its false*) still brought me to a place where I have faith that Jesus will ultimately save me and that he has the power to do so.

    Yes and I think “The Deep Things of God” and the doctrine of the Trinity will take that faith even deeper and give you greater confidence on why Jesus has the power to save you.

  29. It’s amazing that with all the divisions and schisms within Christianity over the last 2,000 years the bulk of the faith as over and over again affirmed the doctrine of the Trinity

    Except it didn’t. There was a few hundred years where the religion was all over the place in terms of trinitarianism with a wide multiplicity of views. Then there was a very successful Arian sect that lasted for centuries and thrived along with trinitarian Christianity in the North. Collyridian Christianity had an entirely different trinity and doctrine of it, doing quite and did quite well in the middle east. Islam broke off from that with a full denial of the divinity of Jesus.

    In the east the Nestorian controversy arose and those sects continue to this day. As soon as religious diversity existed once again in the west unitarianism exploded in popularity becoming an important part of western diversity. In the east modalism started to thrive.

    Modalism has been making a huge comeback in Pentecostalism out of the US, and may be functionally the actual beliefs of huge numbers of Protestants, as the recent success of The Shack demonstrates. And of course there was the massive success of the 19th century Arian movement in the US whose influence Jehovah’s witnesses, some adventists and Mormons is obvious.

    Certainty I think it is fair to say that trinitarianism is the dominant view, but the idea that there is 2000 years of essentially uninterrupted uniformity just ain’t so.

  30. Never mind Nestorian Christianity and the Eastern Christian traditions.

    In the days of the mythical King Arthur, the city of Baghdad alone had more Christians in it than the entire British Isles.

  31. Never mind Nestorian Christianity and the Eastern Christian traditions.

    Nestorian and Eastern Christians are Nicene Christians and therefore Trinitarian. Nestorians left after the Council of Ephesus and the Eastern Christian traditions generally hung their hats on Monophysitism, which was rejected by the Council of Chalcedon. Both councils postdate both Nicea and Constantinople I, and both dealt with Trinitarian issues, not Christological issues. Therefore, both Nestorians and Monophysites disagree with orthodox Christians on Christology, though they agree on Trinity.

    In the days of the mythical King Arthur, the city of Baghdad alone had more Christians in it than the entire British Isles.

    And they were Trinitarian.

  32. You might be right David, but personally the sheer scope and sweep of the eastern traditions would make me hesitant to make blanket generalizations.

  33. A question I’ve often had is: if the Israelites were strict Monotheists, why was there not a huge freak out when this whole Trinity idea was introduced? I have read some heretical approaches to this. (Margaret Barker seems to suggest that the seamless transition from One God to Three in One is evidence that Israel was not so Monotheistic after all) However, I have yet to read a thorough treatment from an orthodox Trinitarian.

    You can read the Trinity into certain parts of the OT of course (however flawed the argument is), but you can’t really say that Israel worshipped a Trinity – can you? (Mormons have there own questions in this area, of course)

  34. Nope. You can only see shadows if the Trinity in the OT. But there was a Jewish ruckus over the idea. They got the first guy who suggested it killed.

  35. Jesus was killed for claiming he was God and that he was one with God. That’s the beginning of trinitarian thought.

  36. Either way it answers Christian’s question about whether or not the Jews were upset about the violation of strict monotheism.

  37. Jesus was killed for claiming he was God and that he was one with God.

    Not according to the bible. All 4 gospels say that written over his head was the accusation for which he was executed, “King of the Jews”.

    So for example in Luke the charges before Pilate are that he is riling up the nation to
    a) riling up the nation to refuse to pay taxes to Rome
    b) that he has declared himself king.

    He was challenging Herod (current king) and Pilate (Roman governor). Messiah, the anointed one, king. Now the underlying motivation as presented in the gospel is that the Jews believe he was blasphemous for declaring himself messiah and son of God. Which wouldn’t have been punishable by crucifixion since Romans don’t care about blasphemy against Jewish gods.

    This is the point of John 19:15 Then they shouted out, “Away with him! Away with him! Crucify him!” Pilate asked, “Shall I crucify your king?” The high priests replied, “We have no king except Caesar!” By rejecting Jesus as King “the Jews” fully accept a secular king completing the prophecy of 1 Samuel 8.

  38. Bullsh#t Tim, sorry, that isn’t going to fly here. We simply are not going to let you get away with uncontroversial statements like that, especially coming from an Evangelical. . . typical.

  39. For the record:

    1. The color wheel is not biblical.
    2. Green and red are theologically equivalent. (see Leviticus 13:49.)
    3. Evangelicals are essentially the same as Mormons on this topic, except the Mormon color wheel contains multitudes of colors that theirs doesn’t have.

  40. Christian J —

    A question I’ve often had is: if the Israelites were strict Monotheists, why was there not a huge freak out when this whole Trinity idea was introduced?

    I’m not sure what you mean by Israelite. The kingdom of Israel as described in the Old Testament fell in 930 BCE. If you put the trinity at about 200 CE that’s around the time of the Destruction of Byzantine and you. If by Israelite you mean Jews (Judeans) then…

    there was a huge freakout. Judeans rejected the idea of triune gods throughout the entire history. Christianity has always been Hellenized. But when you look at early Christian literature that has a judaic slant you see a monotheistic diety that has either named properties (similar to the Sephirot today). They hold beliefs totally contrary to trinitarian theology for example that the Logos/Christ is a spirit / emanation of God that inhabited the man Jesus (adoptionism); or that messiah is mythic (docetism).

    It is from there you get something like Arianism, Jesus Christ as an incarnate divine mediator between God and the world though himself not fully divine. The counter argument becomes that such a being is not intrinsically unique, “a word” not “the word” and hence Jesus needs to of one substance with the father and… you are off to the races for the trinity.

    But no mistake every step down this path there was widespread rejection. Many of the debates from the early history of the church is in many ways the history of this very rejection being overcome. There is almost no trinitarian doctrine that doesn’t have a widespread history of its early rejection.

  41. I’m not sure what you mean by Israelite. The kingdom of Israel as described in the Old Testament fell in 930 BCE. If you put the trinity at about 200 CE that’s around the time of the Destruction of Byzantine and you. If by Israelite you mean Jews (Judeans) then…

    What?

    The Assyrians destroyed the kingdom of Israel in 722 BCE. Byzantium was a small village in 200 CE.

  42. The Kingdom of Israel broke off from the southern kingdom in 930 at which point it started to develop religiously separately (at least according to the bible). I agree it fell to Assyria 2 centuries later. As for Byzantium, the point was the number of years between Byzantine and today is very roughly about the same as Israel and the time of the trinity. It was to put that distance in perspective.

  43. Tim: Thanks for the link.

    Christian J: I am willing to admit I _might_ have a skewed understanding of LDS views on the Godhead and exaltation. I grew up in the LDS church, served a mission, and then left the church at the age of 22. I’d like to think that’s enough time to develop a pretty solid understanding of Mormon thought, but the reality is it isn’t. I simply wasn’t mature enough back then to have come to a full understanding of Mormon theology and philosophy to be able to speak about it very intelligently.

    Before I hit the “publish” button on my review of Sanders’s book, I did briefly wonder how others might perceive what I wrote. I almost put a footnote in there saying my way of explaining exaltation ten years ago is perhaps not the way many Mormons would explain it. It certainly isn’t the reason Mormons believe what they believe. They believe it because their modern prophets have revealed it, not necessarily because they’ve come to the conclusion by any kind of mental or philosophical gymnastics. My thinking about God and explaining things the way I did back then was a hypothetical illustration that helped the doctrine seem more logical and palatable to me. It wasn’t the end-all-be-all reason I believed the doctrine. I didn’t explain that very well in my blog post, and I’m sorry that’s the thing that turns you off to the rest of my review.

    Though I have admitted my views _might_be skewed (after all, I’ve spent the last ten years immersing myself in evangelical theology, and I can testify my worldview has become quite thoroughly re-oriented), I don’t really think I’m that far off. I’d like to think I can still place myself into the worldview of the average Mormon. I’d like to think I could pretend to be a Mormon and maybe even hold my own in a debate with an evangelical. And I think the conclusion I came to as I read Sanders’s book is correct. Regardless of my philosophical or theological rigor ten years ago, there was room in my theology for the idea that I could become an exalted god precisely because there was not room in my theology for Trinitarianism. As soon as I accepted Trinitarianism, I had to put away my other ideas. The Trinity changed everything for me.

    I’d love to talk with you more about this. Sincerely and in all honestly, I’d like you to help me figure out whether I really do understand exaltation or not. I’m confident in what I believe now, but I’ll admit that on more than one occasion I have wondered whether I really ever understood Mormonism in the first place. Maybe if I understood it better I would accept it again, or maybe not. I’m not afraid to find out.

  44. Pingback: John Dehlin, Joanna Brooks, and the Secret (Combination) Mormon Stories Cabal « Irresistible (Dis)Grace

  45. Sincerely and in all honestly, I’d like you to help me figure out whether I really do understand exaltation or not.

    In a nutshell:
    Exaltation is Joseph Smith (and others) extended description of through Jesus, God allows humans to sit on his throne. (See Rev. 3:21.) “Sitting on the throne of God” is tantamount to exercising God’s authority and creative power in keeping with the celestial law. The exalted becomes one with God through the atonement and through “overcoming” by keeping the covenants of baptism, the temple endowment, etc. Exalted children of God never become fully equal with God in some sense, they are not worshiped by other children of god, but they participate in godhood through the grace of God and Jesus. Exaltation involves the complete and eternal uniting of the spirit with a perfected physical body. The Holy Spirit is the gift and helper that assists saints in overcoming the world to gain eternal exaltation.

    Although detail has been revealed, Mormon prophets have taught that God himself was exalted in some manner at some point in time. This, not really the concept of exaltation of humans, perhaps, is the most striking difference between LDS and most traditional Christians.

    Mormons don’t believe that exaltation is a “free gift”. The revelation of Jesus given through the angel in Revelation explains that the gift is given to those who “overcome” and are worthy, not merely those who accept the sacrifice of Jesus. This is in keeping with the LDS understanding of the afterlife. Jesus and his Father were worthy/and always have been worthy of exaltation, others depend on what they have done.

    Exaltation is separate from salvation in the Evangelical sense. Mormons believe that nearly everyone will ultimately be saved by faith in Jesus (they believe that “every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is the Christ”, including all those who did not hear of Jesus in this life.) However, only those who endure to the end and overcome will be exalted.

  46. So, here’s what I know about exaltation. Many Latter-day Saints aren’t aware the church teaches anything like it. (And I’m not saying that to be sensational or vitriolic. I don’t think the church is trying to hide anything. It’s a deeper doctrine that just isn’t covered in church on any given Sunday.) I know this first-hand because I didn’t know anything about the doctrine of exaltation until I was on my mission in Louisville, Kentucky. My companion and I were riding our bikes down the street and a disgruntled gentleman yelled out to us that we were wrong to believe we could become gods someday. I smiled and yelled back to him, “We don’t believe that. Have a nice day.” Later that afternoon my companion pulled me aside and said to me, “Actually Elder Day, we do believe that,” and proceeded to explain to me at least his understanding of exaltation, the scriptural support, etc.

    Let me explain a little further what I meant when I said my illustration was hypothetical (the illustration I related in the blog post that Tim linked to in the OP; if you haven’t read it, go read it and this will make more sense). Latter-day Saints, as you pointed out, Jared C., believe that at some time in the far distant past, God himself became exalted. So, Mormons do not subscribe to the idea that God was ever alone in the beginning. There has always been this race of gods in existence, going back for generations. But mainstream Christians say that God was alone in the beginning. I was willing to accept that premise for the sake of argument, and that’s where I proceeded to build my hypothetical illustration.

    Actually, what I just said isn’t entirely accurate. Some Mormons don’t believe there is a race of gods going back for generations. My father, for instance, working off some ideas he read from Blake Ostler in his multi-volume work, “Exploring Mormon Thought”, believes that our God is the very first one, that there were no gods before him and that he figured out on his own how to achieve exaltation and has now devoted the rest of his existence to helping other intelligences achieve the same thing. Do you subscribe to that idea Jared C.?

    I can’t tell whether you’re being entirely forthcoming with me or if you’re purposefully leaving out one very important detail. You said that exalted children of God “are not worshiped by other children of God,” which is technically correct, but skirts the important question of whether they’ll have their *own* spirit children who *will* worship them. Am I to understand you don’t believe that since you omitted it from your explanation? Or do you believe it and either purposefully or accidentally left it out?

    My whole point in my original blog post, though, was that no matter which of the several nuanced understandings of Mormon exaltation you subscribe to, you make God dependent on other intelligences, other souls, to further his own exaltation and eternal progression. He becomes more glorified and more perfected as he first brings intelligences into existence as his own spirit children, and further as he helps them to proceed through a mortal life to eventually achieving exaltation themselves. There’s therefore a deficiency in God. He requires other intelligences, other souls, to further his own purposes. I’m not trying to say that God is “using” us, though. Of course, in the LDS understanding, what God is doing for these souls is furthering their own happiness, too. It’s a mutually beneficial arrangement. Both parties profit from the relationship.

    In the trinitarian perspective though, God is entirely independent from his creation. He doesn’t need us to make him who he is, or even in order to continue being who he is. Therefore everything he does he does not from necessity but from his own free choice, in and of his own good pleasure. And that’s the definition of grace. And that’s how the Trinity is the gospel and how it makes all the difference. Our relationship with God in the trinitarian understanding is not a mutually beneficial agreement. To me, worship makes no sense in the context of a mutually beneficial relationship—respect and gratitude maybe, but not worship. But when you understand that God already possesses all that is good in his own nature and doesn’t need anything from us, and further that he freely chooses to share with us all that he has, when you understand that He is the benefactor and we are the beneficiaries, then worship starts to make sense.

    Wow, this comment is getting long. I could keep talking but I’ll stop here. How ’bout it Jared C., where do you come down on whether God had a father god before him? And where do you come down on whether exalted children of God can have their own spirit children who will worship them? I guess it doesn’t really matter, though, because like I just said, no matter which nuanced view you subscribe to, you still believe in a God who is tied to and dependent upon the material universe in some way, and that’s the only point I was trying to make in my original blog post.

    Grace and peace.

  47. Be advised that although I was a deeply devout and believing Mormon, I do not believe that the LDS church is literally true in the way that believing Mormons claim. That said, I think I can answer like one.

    Many Latter-day Saints aren’t aware the church teaches anything like it.

    I agree, its comparable to the fact that many Protestants don’t understand the trinity. For those Mormons that are interested in understanding Mormonism, its pretty easy to find out about the idea of eternal progression, the King Follet discourse and exaltation. I can see how these things are missed by the average believer. Most missionaries come to the field with essentially a limited understanding of Mormon. If I told the average Evangelical that they really believe that they will sit on the throne of God and will be like God when they see him they might balk as well, but that is literally what the New Testament says, it is just downplayed and other teachings that minimize man in relationship to God are pushed harder. That said, nobody, including Mormons, can really fathom or explain what it would really be like to sit on God’s throne with him or to inherit all that God has.

    My whole point in my original blog post, though, was that no matter which of the several nuanced understandings of Mormon exaltation you subscribe to, you make God dependent on other intelligences, other souls, to further his own exaltation and eternal progression.

    This argument against Mormonism only makes sense because unlike Protestants and Catholics, Mormons don’t a priori believe that God is utterly complete and outside the world. If you define God as unable to be dependent on anything, then you will believe he won’t be and you will shudder at the thought that you could add anything to God’s glory. It would make sense to think that God’s saving of souls through Jesus would be furthering his glory if you didn’t think that was not possible because God was greater than anything you could conceive.

    when you understand that He is the benefactor and we are the beneficiaries, then worship starts to make sense.

    To me, Worship makes sense at a level of greatness far less than greater than anything which I can logically conceive of. I can conceive of all kinds of beings that would be worthy of worship. If there was a being who could bring this world and all of Humanity into existence,it would be worthy of worship, even if it had nothing to do with the Big Bang. Deciding what is worthy of worship is an arbitrary standard. Mormons do not believe God is greater than the Universe, they believe he is the greatest part of the Universe. If you don’t believe anything can be beyond the universe, then the greatest being is certainly the logical focus of true worship. The dependency argument you make is specious because it imposes an artificial view of God. Its impossible to tell if God is actually inside or outside the universe without some specific revelation to that effect. Mormons have that revelation that clears up the question.

    How ’bout it Jared C., where do you come down on whether God had a father god before him? And where do you come down on whether exalted children of God can have their own spirit children who will worship them?

    Most Mormons don’t have a strong view about these questions, because they are not really pressing and purely speculative. There is nothing in revealed scripture that gives even a foggy answer to these questions. There has been all kinds of speculation because Mormons are not constrained by creeds that shut down this speculation, but few really pay much attention. Why? Because these questions don’t have a lot of bearing on how to live life and worship God in this world. Exaltation is a fantastic thing that is worth working toward, the precise contours are impossible to fathom, so few worry too much about them.

  48. If I told the average Evangelical that they really believe that they will sit on the throne of God and will be like God when they see him they might balk as well, but that is literally what the New Testament says, it is just downplayed and other teachings that minimize man in relationship to God are pushed harder. That said, nobody, including Mormons, can really fathom or explain what it would really be like to sit on God’s throne with him or to inherit all that God has.

    I agree. I can’t fathom it either, but I and many evangelicals I know do not downplay it. It is a glorious truth that as God’s adopted children we will sit on his throne, inherit all that he has and have a share in the oneness and eternal fellowship of the Trinity. And it is all the more inexplicably amazing when we contemplate that it is undeserved and freely given to those who believe.

    If you define God as unable to be dependent on anything, then you will believe he won’t be and you will shudder at the thought that you could add anything to God’s glory.

    Note that I do not arbitrarily define God this way. Maybe you read these verses another way, but to me the Bible is clear:

    “For every beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills. I know all the birds of the hills, and all that moves in the field is mine. If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and its fullness are mine” (Psalm 50:10–12). “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool; what is the house that you would build for me, and what is the place of my rest?” (Isaiah 66:1). “The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything” (Acts 17:24–25). “From him and through him and to him are all things” (Romans 11:36).

  49. Joey, I am not sure if you get what I am characterizing as the main difference between how Evangelicals see God and how Mormons do.

    Mormons see God the way he is depicted in art. A glowing man, a father, a grandfather with unspeakable power and abilities due to his faith and righteousness .i.e. a being in the world, operating in history, with attributes, emotions, even psychology. A being very much in the physical world in some way. This view is, of course, to view God as something unfathomably amazing, a being who can be somehow like a person, yet capable of organizing worlds, creating all life. Its impossible to understand quite how a being like that exists. It would seem that all our efforts to explain Him would be vain. His glory may depend on the actions of others, co-eternal beings who he has begotten as his children, but he is clearly worthy of worship. His glory is beyond description, his power unending, his Spirit fills the universe. He fits the description of everything you quoted from the Bible. He is still the benefactor, he is still the source of all Good, the creator/organizer of all we know. However, for Mormons, God is fully reified, and completely anthropomorphized. This allows Mormons to believe that when the Bible says we will be like Him when we see Him, it means that we will be looking at a person, a being like ourselves, and to believe that God can give a person all that he has, i.e. the power and attributes. However Mormons believe that we do not really know what it will really be, but that we will be like Christ, who is God with his Father. Mormons take literally Johns words: “what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.”

    Catholic and Protestant theology sees God as outside the universe, a being greater than any that can be conceived, outside of History, everywhere, completely one, inexplicably three. God is not at all like humans, we are essentially nothing to Him, deserving of death. He is equally beyond our understanding, but, almost by definition, he is better than anything that we might think is good to be. Ultimately both his glory and his attributes are unexplainable and foreign to those of humanity. The bulk of western theology is focused on explaining how humans can have any relation to God, and the utterly amazing nature of the event when God touches the world as a man, Jesus. In fact, surrender to mystery is the central fixture in theology (and well it should be, it can only be mysterious how a God defined as traditional Christianity has defined Him could also be fully human, essentially indistinguishable from you or I.

    I think that the Mormon conception is markedly different at its very roots. Mormons believe God is a thing within the Universe and we have always existed with God. He is not capable of anything we could conceive, He is bound by the celestial law, the natural laws that allow a being who was once human to wield all power in the Universe. His plan, given by His grace, effectuated by Jesus, is the astounding thing that allows things such as humans to live the celestial law and to become like Him, to sit on his throne.

    Evangelicals believe that such a conception is absurd, God is beyond the universe, not a thing in any way we understand, and greater than anything we could conceive. Believing that a human could actually be like God is, in essence, a logical impossibility for Evangelicals and it would seem to be an utter lie to preach that humans could.

    These are very different views. However both can be supported well by the Bible (IMHO). (To me ignoring the multiple interpretations of the text is delusional, and mainly functions to maintain stability of theology.) It is clear that the God depicted in the Old Testament is closer to the Mormon view on some level, which is closer the pagan/hindu view. Yet the Bible clearly allows for the conception of something that fits the description of the God of Catholics and Protestants, i.e. the God posited by philosophical extrapolation from the text. The plausibility of the two views in light of the text is what leads me to call your choice of the Evangelical view “arbitrary”.

  50. To me, worship makes no sense in the context of a mutually beneficial relationship—respect and gratitude maybe, but not worship. But when you understand that God already possesses all that is good in his own nature and doesn’t need anything from us, and further that he freely chooses to share with us all that he has, when you understand that He is the benefactor and we are the beneficiaries, then worship starts to make sense.

    The Christian assertion that “only a god who fits the attributes of the Christian god is worthy of worship” is pretty much the definition of begging the question.

  51. Pingback: The Deep Things of God « David's Commonplace Book

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s