Three Mormon Reactions to “The Gift of Grace”

LDS President Dieter Uchtdorf delivered a talk on Easter morning that I found to be different than the way Mormons typically discuss grace.  I reached out to a number of Mormon friends and message boards to gain an understanding out how they viewed his talk.  I’ve come away with four general reactions

1) At Last

This is the reaction of those who have become convinced by the writings of Stephen Robinson and Robert Millet or have appreciation for a talk by Brad Wilcox.  They clearly hear a difference and are grateful to have the understanding pronounced by someone in the First Presidency at General Conference.

2) No Difference

Some hear no difference between what President Uchtdorf said and what they have always heard in Mormonism.  I would classify these respondents into two camps Continue reading

Why Mormonism is only for those who desire it, and why it matters.

In our discussion about the LDS temple ritual.  I mentioned that I do not believe the endowment is for everyone, nor was it meant to be.  It is only for those who desire it.

While this seems to be a somewhat technical/semantic point. I think it is important in the context of the “Mormonism-seems-to-be-a-cult-because-it-has-secret-Rituals” discussion. By saying that endowment is ONLY for those that really want it, I underscore how different this position is from any sort of cult-like view of the ritual. Mormons are not forcing people to do weird things against their will. This seems akin to the same fallacious argument that Mormons are somehow disrespectful for performing rituals for the dead or that they disrespect holocaust victims by baptizing them. It makes no sense in context of Mormon thought and doctrine. It seems that among the pervasive misunderstandings and/or misrepresentations regarding the religion are that Mormons are a cult that pushes people or brainwashes them into making crazy commitments and weird secret rituals against their will.  This is unsupportable by the doctrine or the scriptures.

Continue reading

Talking with Mormons

Talking with Mormons - Richard MouwRichard Mouw has released a new book entitled “Talking with Mormons: An Invitation to Evangelicals“. I haven’t read the book so I don’t intend to review a book I haven’t read. I respect Richard Mouw and his influence on me is evident.

I do wish to respond to something attributed to Dr. Mouw in an article by Peggy Fletcher Stack.

Too often, Evangelicals pick up little-taught LDS beliefs — such as humans becoming gods or having their own planets — and put them at the center of Mormon theology, rather than at the periphery.

This quote isn’t directly attributed to Mouw so I don’t know if it’s something he said or if it’s Stack’s attempt to collapse a larger thought offered by Mouw. Without having read the book, I’m tenuously willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. But I find this troubling.

Mouw was correct to call out some Evangelicals for previously mischaracterizing Mormon ideas and beliefs. But I think this too is a mischaracterization of Mormon beliefs. Dr. Mouw has been meeting for many years with various Mormon scholars and thinkers. He may have been given the impression by those Mormons that Exaltation is a doctrine at the periphery of Mormon thought but it is a mistake to believe so.

In my own dealings with some Mormons (though not by any means all) I have experienced a reshaping of Mormon teachings that makes them more palatable and less offensive to Evangelical ears. In particular I have experienced this with missionaries and those more bent toward Neo-Orthodoxy. But when I listened in on “in-house” discussions of Mormonism I discovered that those teachings were not as they were originally presented to me, and in some cases were the opposite of what I was told. This has happened frequently enough that I sometimes wonder if there is an unwritten rule of Mormon culture; make the church appear to be whatever the outsider needs it to be. [Some former members have taken to writing long articles on this phenomenon]

I firmly believe that Evangelicals need to listen to Mormons and let Mormons define their own beliefs. But I do not think Evangelicals should be content with how Mormons define their beliefs to Evangelicals. To really understand Mormonism it’s important to go a step further and understand how Mormons define their beliefs to other Mormons. In some cases Evangelicals will discover something entirely different. I think that may be the case here in regards to Dr. Mouw’s understanding of Exaltation.

Exaltation is a core belief of Mormonism. The idea that humanity can become deity is emphatically a core belief. The nature of God as a human and the “plan of salvation” (in which we can become gods) are essential ideas in Mormonism. If Richard Mouw thinks that these are periphery issues, he either doesn’t understand Mormonism or he’s been woefully misinformed about Mormonism. I don’t need to reach back into the archives of 19th Century sermons to show this to be the case. I can direct him to current publications and sermons from recent General Conferences to provide evidence.

I probably advocate for much of what Dr. Mouw discusses in his new book, but this snippet from “The Salt Lake Tribune” leaves be concerned and skeptical.

I just discovered this Catholic review of Mouw’s book.

This part is relevant to my post:

Mormons fail the Calvinist test because they believe that, as Mouw puts it, God and humans are “of the same species ontologically.” Mormonism went wrong not with the Book of Mormon but with a flawed metaphysics.

Mouw argues that a “metaphysical gap” between God and us is essential to Christian faith and that Calvinism offers the best protection against any attempt to close that gap: “Judaism and Christianity have been united in their insistence that the Creator and creation—including God’s human creatures—are divided by an unbridgeable ‘being’ gap.” Mouw means that God’s existence is so different from our own that it can be said that God is beyond being altogether. Put another way, God is so “other” that God cannot even be said “to be.”

So it appears that Mouw is indeed aware and concerned about the Mormon view of the nature of God.

Salvation or Exaltation

This is Part 2 of a review of Spencer W. Kimball’s “The Miracle of Forgiveness” Part 1 can be found here.

One of the most fallacious doctrines originated by Satan and propounded by man is that man is saved alone by the grace of God; that belief in Jesus Christ alone is all that is needed for salvation. Along with all the other works necessary for man’s exaltation in the kingdom of God this could rule out the need for repentance. It could give license for sin and, since it does not require man to work out his salvation, could accept instead lip service, death-bed “repentance,” and shallow, meaningless confession of sin. [page 206]

The above quote would have most Evangelicals barring the doors and rejecting Mormonism in total. I noticed something in it though that may indicate how Kimball could so utterly reject the plain words of Paul. Indeed Kimball seemed to recognize the tension himself and acknowledges:

Of course we need to understand terms. If by the word “salvation” is meant the mere salvation or redemption from the grave, the “grace of God” is sufficient. But if the term “salvation” means returning to the presence of God with eternal progression, eternal increase, and eventual godhood, for this one certainly must have the “grace of God,” as it is generally defined, plus personal purity, overcoming of evil, and the good “works” made so important in the exhortations of the Savior and his prophets and apostles. [page 207]

I wonder how Kimball was taught that the word “salvation” could be synonymous with the word “exaltation”. It seems a considerable amount of confusion would be cleared up if he recognized that the words mean different things. In fact he agrees that the “grace of God” (as people call it) IS enough for salvation. But then he adds a number of rewards to it as if there is “Salvation Jr.” and “Real Salvation.” This conversation has come up in this space before and now more than ever I’m curious where this started in Mormon thought. Kimball quickly departs from this “mere salvation” and consistently uses the word “salvation” to mean “exaltation” in the rest of the book.

I think he does this to the detremint of his own understanding of Mormonism. Late in the book he struggles to help a woman who had committed adultery and has given up hope for salvation because of something Joseph Smith stated in the disciplinary council against Harrison Sagers. Smith stated:

If a man commit adultery he cannot receive the celestial kingdom of God. Even if he is saved in any kingdom, it cannot be the celestial kingdom.

Kimball clearly wrestles with this himself and presents over a dozen Mormon scriptures that indicate that adultery can be forgiven. He asserts that words should be inserted into the quote so that it insteads says:

If a man commit adultery (and remain unrepentant) he cannot receive the celestial kingdom of God. Even if he is saved in any kingdom, it cannot be the celestial kingdom.

But this is clearly not what Joseph Smith stated. He was in no way saying adultery can’t be forgiven and salvation is lost for any who sin in this way. He was quite clearly differentiating between salvation and exaltation. Kimball puts a fog over his own understanding of Mormonism by equating the two.

D&C 76:103 agrees with Smith in his condemnation of adultery and his pronouncement that adulterers will not enter the Celestial Kingdom.

This is not the first time I’ve encountered this confusion. Does anyone know or understand when “salvation” and “exaltation” began to mean the same thing for Mormons?

You can read part 3 of my review of “The Miracle of Forgiveness” here.

Maximally Perfect in Every Way

In his book The God Question, JP Moreland sets out to give a basic overview of why someone should consider becoming a Christian and what her life should look like in following Jesus.

In his chapter on Worship he states:

Christian philosophers call God a “Maximally Perfect Being.” This sounds pretty heady, but in reality, it is a crucial concept. To see why, think of people who are phenomenally gifted. Now, these folks deserve respect for their attributes, abilities, or whatever. How much respect? They deserve a degree of respect proportionate to their excellence in their area of giftedness, such as intelligence. But these people do not deserve our complete or full respect. Why? Well, if someone more intelligent came on the scene, the new person would deserve more respect. So even if a more intelligent person is not around, we know such a person undoubtedly exists, so we hold back our respect a bit.

A Maximally Perfect Being is one who could not possibly be surpassed in wisdom, mercy, love, power, and so on. God is not the greatest being who happens to exist. He is the greatest being who could possibly exist. The implication should be clear: God is worthy of our complete, full, deepest, total commitment. Worship is the act of giving admiration, respect, affection, honor, reverence, and adoration to God. And given the nature of God, worship should be unreserved and total.

I think his thoughts give a good overview of why Evangelicals are so scandalized by Mormon teachings on the nature of God. To view God as someone who may have once been a man, might have been a sinner, or even someone who is in the process of progressing robs Him of something integral to His character. To the Evangelical ear, Mormonism states that God is not a Maximally Perfect being.

This is part of the reason Evangelicals often ask Mormons why they don’t seek to worship the god of God. We want to give respect and worship to the one who deserves it most. We are seeking out the greatest possible being. If there is one greater than Heavenly Father we want to offer him our praise.

The Pre-Existence of Jesus

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

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

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

Philippians 2 (The Message) puts it this way:

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

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

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

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

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

Denial is a river in Utah

Approximately 1.75 years ago, I published my second guest-post at this blog, a little number entitled “Evangelicals, Theosis & Exaltation.” Quite unexpectedly, that post sparked an immense discussion that got to 281 comments, brought in numerous first-time commentators, and seemed well-received by most. In February of this year, I was contacted by the Mormonism portal gatekeeper at Patheos with a request that it be re-published there, and after making some minor modifications, it was.

As you may recall, I used something of a gimmick at one point in the article. I quoted a lengthy excerpt which I attributed to The God Makers film by Ed Decker. This excerpt taught that:

  1. Mormons believe in becoming God. Not just a god, or a God, but becoming God.
  2. Mormons believe they will one day rule over their own universes.
  3. Mormons believe women are needed for exaltation so that they can give birth to the spirit children who will populate these universes.

After citing this excerpt, I pulled a “just kidding” and came clean that the dialogue comes from an LDS Institute manual called Achieving a Celestial Marriage, and I did not get it from Ed Decker or any anti-Mormons. I purchased it from the Distribution Center in the basement of the Joseph Smith Memorial Building on Temple Square during my first trip to Utah in August 1999.

I had my reasons for this ploy. Continue reading

Mormons believe in a Mother in Heaven

Since Tim is gone, I thought I would back him up by writing a Tim-Style Post.  i.e. throw out a controversial LDS doctrine in sort of a challenging way and then open it up for comments.

Few Mormon doctrines are more radically paradigm-shifting than the believe in the existence of a Heavenly Mother.

What equally interesting to me is what this particular doctrine tells about how Mormonism works.

I think Evangelicals often stand with open-mouth when they read that those crazy Mormon’s believe such things because they are nowhere to be found in the Bible.  Aside from being a radical shift in understanding of God and Man between Protestants and Mormons, the doctrine also shows a fundamental difference in the way Mormons form their personal theology vs. the way Evangelicals seem to go about it.  This is what I want to explore with this post.  To try to explain to bible-focused (limited?) Evangelicals why Mormons believe in a Mother in Heaven, even when its not in the bible.  For this I am going to have to call on the usual bunch of commentators.

Few people, if any, know the ultimate origin of the idea that we have a Mother in Heaven.  Joseph Smith does not seem to have spoken directly about it in his life and there is no reference in the LDS Canon.

The first time we see it in writing comes from a woman, Eliza R. Snow, in a hymn, “O My Father”  President Kimball acknowledged that “O My Father” was a “doctrinal hymn” and dozens of prophets and apostles have reiterated this idea.

President Lorenzo Snow explained that Eliza Snow got the doctrine from Joseph shortly before he was murdered.

President Spencer W. Kimball in a general conference address:

“When we sing that doctrinal hymn … ‘O My Father,’ we get a sense of the ultimate in maternal modesty, of the restrained, queenly elegance of our Heavenly Mother, and knowing how profoundly our mortal mothers have shaped us here, do we suppose her influence on us as individuals to be less?” (Ensign, May 1978, p. 6.)

The doctrine of the hymn is pretty straightforward, there is a mother in heaven and we will return to live with Her and the Father, and that they together sent people on their mission to earth:

I had learned to call thee Father,
Thru thy Spirit from on high,
But, until the key of knowledge
Was restored, I knew not why.
In the heav’ns are parents single?
No, the thought makes reason stare!
Truth is reason; truth eternal

Tells me I’ve a mother there.
Let me come and dwell with you.
With your mutual approbation
All you sent me forth to do,
Then, at length, when I’ve completed
When I leave this frail existence,
When I lay this mortal by,
Father, Mother, may I meet you
In your royal courts on high?

So there we have it, a revolutionary new way of looking at God and heaven that turns traditional notions on their ear.

Mormons believe it, but I can see the Evangelicals left scratching their heads:

  1. The doctrine is not found in scripture, including Mormon Scripture
  2. The doctrine was not explicitly taught or explained by Joseph Smith (even though it is pretty clear that he was claimed that he originally  taught the doctrine)
  3. It really shifts away from all traditional interpretations of the Bible.

I can see how an Evangelical is probably left dumbfounded:  “You can’t win with those Mormons, how can I teach them correct theology whenthey are going to beleive stuff like this with such slim support or understanding?”

Here we have, in my mind, the genius as well as the vulnerability of  Mormonism. . . our willingness to believe in things that are not in the Bible.  To some Mormons, this doctrine is very uncomfortable.  We sometimes downplay it and even reproach those that make “too much” of it due to the little we “know” about it.  To others, agreeing with Eliza R. Snow, it makes religion make more sense: i.e. “If man is made in the image of God, why wouldn’t there be family in heaven as well as on earth. ”

I think if we can give a good explanation to our Evangelical friends  of why we believe this doctrine, they will be a lot closer to really understanding Mormonism.  (and we might have a clearer way of understanding our own view of how “doctrine” is born).

So Mormons, explain to Evangelicals :

1. Do you believe in a Mother in Heaven? and

2. Why?

3. What is the significance of the doctrine to you, to the Church, and to the world?

Evangelicals, we know you don’t believe it, and we know its not in the Bible, if you try to understand why we believe you may learn a lot about Mormonism in general that will enlighten you on how we do religion in other areas.

Lifting The Veil of Polygamy

It is no secret to anyone who reads this blog that modern day “Mormon” polygamy is alive and well in America today. I call it “Mormon” because these particular polygamist say they following “true” Mormon teachings though the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has banned the practice. I thought this video was really interesting. In particular I thought it was fascinating to hear how polygamous groups “evangelize” mainstream Mormons and convince them to join with them. I recommend a viewing of the video.

I will be upfront that the video is made by Living Hope Ministries. At the one hour you can expect a Protestant evangelical message. That’s not really the point of my posting the video.

I’m most interested to hear how you think polygamy today is substantially different in practice than in Joseph Smith’s time. I’m sure a number of you are already typing in the words “it’s no longer commanded by God”. Let’s just concede that point and talk about how the effects and lifestyle are similar or different.

Changing Focus?

There’s a persistent question that keeps popping up over the last 10 years or so: “is this LDS church attempting to mainstream?” If so, why? Is it just to appear more “acceptable” to the general public? Is it an attempt to reconcile LDS theology with classical Christianity?

We had a new visitor to our blog yesterday that pointed me to his blog. I took great interest to see if what he states in his title is “for real”. Is the LDS church changing focus? If they are, what are they now focusing on? Is there a renewed focus on Jesus Christ and the Bible?

Check out the blog Latter-Day Saints Changing Focus. And tell me what you think (or better yet, tell him what you think). It’s full of quotes and talks by Robert Millet and Blake Ostler (two LDS scholars who I know have spent a great deal of time talking with Evangelical theologians). I think a number of the posts are way too long for blog postings, but I appreciate the effort to make sure these lectures are posted in their entirety somewhere on the internet.

It actually is my hope that LDS church is mainstreaming. Not so that it no longer is unique and is just like every other Protestant denomination, but just so that it no longer holds onto heresy. I actually would love to see an LDS church that continues to practice temple ordinances, sealings, and baptisms for the dead. I would love to see an LDS church that continues to teach that families are eternal and that there are degrees of glory and that lay ministry is vital to healthy ministry. All of these things are wonderfully unique elements of LDS worship. I doubt many would have huge complaint against the LDS church if they continued these practices if they also no longer believed in a plurality of gods, or that man can become a god or that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are 3 separate gods instead of 1. I’d even be happy to see them continue to use the Book of Mormon if they discontinued using the Pearl of Great Price and the D&C.

Does God Have Sex?

In the comments section of another post, Jayleen asked:

Personally, I don’t think Satan can create anything. Therefore I must believe that God created sex. While Satan can pervert it, he can’t create it. So my question is this…

Dando, can God create something he has never experienced?

If families are forever but there’s no couples or sex involved in the eternities, and there is no heavenly mother…

Why didn’t he simply create Adam? Why would it not be good that man was alone if ‘femaleness’ isn’t eternal?

What would make God think it wasn’t good that Adam was alone?

Why not just have made everything self replicating instead of making a male and female of things?

What’s wrong with sex when it’s not perverted? Why would’t God have sex?

This question doesn’t really have anything to do with that other post, so I’m turning it into it’s own topic. Katy Jane also asked:

Dando, why do you believe that God doesn’t have a body? And that He doesn’t have a wife?

First off I’d like to clarify and agree with a number of things that Jayleen stated. I don’t believe that Satan has the power to create either. His own power is to twist and corrupt. Also I agree that sex is good (at least in my house).

I don’t understand how it follows that God can only create what he has experienced. There seems to be a chicken and an egg problem here. Does God need to experience something before he creates it? If so, how did He experience something He had not yet created? If it existed prior to His creation then, can you properly say that He created it? Or did someone else?

Even without that conundrum, does God experience his creation the same way we do? I don’t believe that God needs to eat so I don’t think he’s ever eaten a potato. Did He really create potatoes if He doesn’t know the experience of eating them? I don’t believe that God needs to breathe oxygen to live, so why did He create it if He doesn’t need to experience it? The answer to all of these things is that God created sex, potatoes and oxygen FOR US. He’s a good God and He gives us good things. For whatever reason He decided that He wanted to create us with the need and capability to experiencing these things. That’s all up to His own creative license (and I appreciate what a good job he did). God didn’t need to create Eve for Adam, but He chose to because He saw that Adam was lonely and loneliness wasn’t good. Notice that Eve’s creation wasn’t a solution to procreation, it was a solution to loneliness.

So why wasn’t God lonely Himself? I believe that the Bible teaches that God is a self-sufficient being. He doesn’t need anything for his own existence. He is contingent on nothing. God was already (and always) in relationship with Himself. That relationship is expressed in the doctrine of the Trinity; 3 personalities in continual relationship making up 1 essence. God doesn’t need anyone to love because the Father loves the Son loves the Spirit. The Creator doesn’t need his creation like the creation needs its Creator.

I believe that there is only one family that is forever. And that is Adam’s family. We are are all sons and daughters of Adam and Eve and thus will always be in relationship with ALL of our relatives in eternity. Why assume that we will only be limited to relationship with those we happen to be in legal proximity to here on earth? That seems to be selling the beauty of eternity really short to think otherwise. Why would you want to be just with your “family” the way it’s described in temporal terms? I think God’s offering us so much more than the way the LDS church describes “forever families”.

You can read more about my thoughts on this subject here Jesus, the smartest man to ever live and here Don’t You Want to Be With Your Family Forever?

. . . . We Teach That

This is Lesson 47 from the Gospel Principles class taught in all LDS ward houses across the world. I’m just posting it because apparently some members are confused about what the church still teaches when it comes to the doctrine taught in the Lorenzo Snow couplet, “As man is, God once was. As God is, man may become”.

Blessings of Exaltation
Our Heavenly Father is perfect. However, he is not jealous of his wisdom and perfection. He glories in the fact that it is possible for his children to become like him. He has said, “This is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39).

Those who receive exaltation in the celestial kingdom through faith in Jesus Christ will receive special blessings. The Lord has promised, “All things are theirs” (D&C 76:59). These are some of the blessings given to exalted people:

* 1. They will live eternally in the presence of Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ (see D&C 76).
* 2. They will become gods. [emphasis added]
* 3. They will have their righteous family members with them and will be able to have spirit children also. These spirit children will have the same relationship to them as we do to our Heavenly Father. They will be an eternal family.
* 4. They will receive a fulness of joy.
* 5. They will have everything that our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ have—all power, glory, dominion, and knowledge. President Joseph Fielding Smith wrote: “The Father has promised through the Son that all that he has shall be given to those who are obedient to his commandments. They shall increase in knowledge, wisdom, and power, going from grace to grace, until the fulness of the perfect day shall burst upon them” (Doctrines of Salvation, 2:36).

And also. . .

This is the way our Heavenly Father became God. Joseph Smith taught: “It is the first principle of the Gospel to know for a certainty the character of God. … He was once a man like us; … God himself, the Father of us all, dwelt on an earth, the same as Jesus Christ himself did” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pp. 345–46). [emphasis added]

Our Heavenly Father knows our trials, our weaknesses, and our sins. He has compassion and mercy on us. He wants us to succeed even as he did.

Whether or not it’s still true doctrine. It’s clearly still taught by the LDS church.