Let me direct your attention to the Authorcast series at the Greg Kofford Books site. These are interviews with Kofford authors, most recently a discussion of the development of the LDS doctrine of the Godhead with Charles R. Harrell. That’s Part 3 of 4, all based on Harrell’s book “This Is My Doctrine”: The Development of Mormon Theology (Greg Kofford Books, 2011). They start as Facebook Live discussions with live comments, then are posted at the Kofford site. Part 4 of the Charley Harrell series is scheduled for this Thursday at 8 pm Mountain Time. You can find it somewhere on the Greg Kofford Books Facebook page.
The book as a whole takes the various strands of Mormon doctrine — the Restoration, the Godhead, the Atonement, the Priesthood, and so forth — and reviews their Christian origins, the earliest Mormon view, and the change and expansion of that doctrine over time within LDS pronouncements. There is really no LDS doctrine or practice that gets “restored” then doesn’t change. Everything changes. Official LDS discussions work hard to avoid that approach. Quotes from LDS scripture and early LDS leaders invariably appear to endorse current LDS teachings. But a careful review of the historical sources suggests change over time is the rule. No doubt most readers can cite several changes to practice and doctrine they have observed in real time during just the last generation or two.
The discussion in the cast and in the book on the Godhead, for example, notes the following phases of LDS Godhead doctrine (and the LDS use of the ungainly term “Godhead” itself is worth an entire discussion by itself):
- Book of Mormon trinitarianism, as depicted in the familiar phrase “of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, which is one God, without end” (2 Ne. 31:21).
- The Kirtland period view of the Father and the Son as separate persons, with the Father a spirit (as held by other Christians), the Son an embodied God, and the Holy Spirit a manifestation or emanation of the mind of God, as depicted in the Lectures on Faith.
- The Nauvoo period in the 1840s, in which Joseph Smith announced the bold view of the plurality of Gods, including God the Father and God the Son as embodied and God the Holy Ghost as a personage of spirit. Various speculations circulated about other Gods (the father of God the Father, and so forth).
- Brigham Young’s Adam-God views, which made waves in the early Utah period but quietly disappeared after about 1860.
- The First Presidency’s doctrinal exposition “The Father and the Son,” first published in 1909, which tried to clear up some of the confusion created by the earlier doctrines and identify a new orthodox position, essentially walking things back to the Kirtland view but with God the Father embodied. The link is to the April 2002 Ensign reprint of that doctrinal statement, a hint that the LDS Godhead doctrine was fairly stable across the entire 20th century.
- The latest development seems to be the inclusion of Heavenly Mother as sort of an ex officio member of the Godhead. The Proclamation on the Family, issued in 1995, used the phrase “heavenly parents.” The Gospel Topics Essays included one titled “Mother in Heaven.”
Another source for discussion of the development of LDS views of God is Thomas Alexander’s classic essay “The Reconstruction of Mormon Doctrine: From Joseph Smith to Progressive Theology.” You can access it at the Sunstone archive in pdf form. A shorter version of the essay is available online at the Signature Books Library as Chapter 5 in Line Upon Line: Essays on Mormon Doctrine, ed. Gary James Bergera (Signature Books, 1989).
So here are three things you can talk about in the comments:
- Any other good podcasts, LDS or otherwise, that you are listening to lately? I’ve been listening to the History of England podcast (as recommended by a co-blogger) and Philosophy Without Any Gaps when I work out at the gym. Well, when I used to workout at the gym. It has been closed for a month now, so I listen to podcasts when I take a walk.
- What do you think of the developing LDS doctrine of the Godhead?
- Has Mother in Heaven made it into the LDS Godhead yet, or is she still knocking on the door? It’s interesting that, in current LDS doctrine, God the Father has a name (Elohim), God the Son has two names (Jehovah and Jesus Christ), but God the Mother has not a name. Neither does the Holy Ghost.