As promised in my earlier post, let’s now look at the first few chapters in The LDS Gospel Topics Series: A Scholarly Engagement (Signature Books, 2020), edited by Matthew L. Harris and Newell G. Bringhurst. In this post, I’m going to look at the Introduction, by the editors; Chapter 1, “Are Mormons Christian?” by Craig L. Blomberg, a professor at the Denver Seminary; and Chapter 2, “Becoming Like God: A Critique,” by Richard Sherlock, a Catholic professor of philosophy at Utah State who was formerly LDS. I’m going to try to limit my discussion to two or three paragraphs on each essay, and let readers bring up more particular points of interest in the comments.
Introduction, by Matthew L. Harris, a history prof at CSU-Pueblo, and Newell G. Bringhurst, an emeritus history prof at the College of the Sequoias in California. Here is a link to the LDS Gospel Topics Essays page at LDS.org, where the current versions of each essay are now easily accessible. They weren’t always so easy to find. I know that some and possibly all of the essays have been updated and modified since their first publication. The current versions of the essays, however, do not indicate what those edits or modifications are. If anyone has links to sites that give more information on the edits, please give them in the comments.
The Introduction starts with the Swedish Rescue in 2010, covers discussions between concerned Latter-day Saint lay members and a couple of interested General Authorities, and winds up with the publication of the Essays between 2013 and 2015. It’s well worth reading, of course. It gives readers a sense of why the leadership decided to commission the Essays, which were drafted by LDS scholars, then edited by internal staff and reviewed by senior leaders before publication. The problem is that different leaders likely had various ideas about why the Essays were a good idea, and I’m guessing many of them now have changed their mind about what use, if any, the Essays serve.
But the relevant questions now are what we make of the Essays in 2021. How accurate and transparent are they? What is the target audience for the Essays? What use, if any, are the Essays to local leaders or to the rank and file members of the Church? Those are the relevant questions, and the answers you and I give in 2021 may be quite different from what the Introduction tells us about what LDS leadership thought about these questions back in 2012. I’m sure you’re familiar with the fact that many projects and initiatives take on a life of their own. I think the Essays fit that pattern.
Chapter 1, “Are Mormons Christian?” by Craig L. Blomberg. Discussing the Essay “Are Mormons Christian?” at LDS.org.
Let’s summarize every discussion on this topic you have ever heard. The Mormon says, “Of course we’re Christian. Look at our name. Read our baptismal prayer and our sacrament prayers. We talk about Jesus all the time in church. Look at our new logo. Do you have a statue of Jesus in your church logo?” The Evangelical Christian responds, “You claim extra-biblical scripture. You proclaim extra-biblical doctrine. You disclaim connection with historical Christianity, which you deride as apostate right back to the first century. You reject the efficacy of Christian baptism. Hey, you are nice people and do great service projects, you’re just not Christian in the standard sense of the term.”
The LDS Essay and the response by Blomberg recapitulate that discussion in somewhat more elevated language and in more detail. It’s worth noting that it’s really only Evangelical Protestants who get hung up on this issue. That’s because we share adjacent space on the religious map. We appeal to the same people and compete for their allegiance. Evangelicals don’t like Mormons because we are so much like them. In the broader world of Christianity, which includes Catholics and Orthodox churches, not to mention the wide variety of Christian groups in early Christianity (see Bart Ehrman’s Lost Christianities for a good review), Mormons are just another variation on how to do Christianity. The whole “Are Mormons Christian?” discussion says more about Evangelical Protestants than it does about Mormons. Here in 2021, with Evangelicals supporting The Loser Donald Trump in even greater numbers than Mormons, the better question to ask is: Why would anyone want to be an Evangelical? In 2021, Evangelicals stand for the prosperity gospel, cheap grace, and Donald Trump. In 2021, Mormons stand for the prosperity gospel, works righteousness, and Donald Trump. Take your pick.
Here are some quotes from the next essay, “Becoming Like God: A Critique,” by Richard Sherlock, that make better points on this topic than the main essay. Sherlock says,
If those of us who are traditional Christians were limited in our assessment of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to the theology found in the Book of Mormon, we could reasonably conclude that Mormonism is a somewhat robust version of free will Baptist theology that was pervasive in early America. … Catholics such as I would find many things to contest in this theology, but we could not say that the theology was out of the broad Christian orbit. … Imperfect though Catholics would find Book of Mormon theology to be, we might well see it as broadly Christian.A Scholarly Engagement, p. 51
Sherlock does go on to find “a difference of kind not of degree” between Mormonism and Christianity because of “plural marriage, temple rituals, and the [LDS] teaching about God and humankind” (p. 52). But clearly Catholic scholars don’t get as worked up about the issues as Evangelicals do. Stephen H. Webb, another Catholic scholar, wrote the book Mormon Christianity: What Other Christians Can Learn From the Latter-day Saints. (Webb is cited and quoted at the end of Blomberg’s essay.) At the end of the day, almost any informed person without a dog in the fight is likely to see Mormons, Evangelical Protestants, Mainline Protestants, Catholics, and Orthodox as representing different versions of Christianity, all with as good a claim to the generic term “Christian” as any other.
Incidentally, Sherlock has given us a road map for the LDS Church to gain broader acceptance within the Christian community. Turn temples into visitor’s centers. Give a clear and public repudiation of the doctrine of plural marriage rather than an ambiguous repudiation of its practice. Acknowledge that the Mormon view of heaven or salvation is about being with our families in the hereafter, not attaining Godhood and creating our own little worlds. Then we’ll be accepted as full members of the Christian Club.
Chapter 2, “Becoming Like God: A Critique,” by Richard Sherlock. Discussing the Essay “Becoming Like God” at LDS.org.
If you read the Essay and the response by Sherlock carefully, it quickly becomes evident that the point of dispute is not about whether, in the hereafter, you or I or anyone else “becomes like God” and what that means. The discussion is really about what it is you or I or anyone else is going to be doing in the hereafter. Christian theologians talk about the Beatific Vision, “contemplating God in His heavenly glory,” which is tied to the Christian doctrine of theosis. I think lay Christians think about holding hands and singing hymns. Mormon theologians talk about the Celestial Kingdom and eternal increase and try not to talk about plural marriage. I think lay Mormons think about hanging out with family and enjoying an eternal potluck dinner, possibly wandering off to create a new world now and then and possibly doing some procreating to people those new worlds.
So Mormons add some color to the hereafter. What Christian theologians don’t like (on full display in Sherlock’s essay) is the creating new worlds part. In Christian theology proper, God is the Creator and we are all part of His Creation. To claim that we as humans, even as saved and resurrected humans, would exercise powers of Creation in the hereafter flips the script, so to speak. Christian theologians don’t like that at all. Their vision of hereafter is about somehow continuing to worship God, who in turn is just very happy to continue being worshipped by his saved and resurrected creatures. Okay, that’s fine for a day or two, maybe even a couple of weeks, but doesn’t anyone who ponders this vision of the hereafter come around to thinking, “Okay, but at some point don’t we, like, get to do something else? Something fun or productive? Maybe write a poem?” It’s that “what do we do after the first two weeks” part that Mormons try to fill in with something fun and productive. I honestly don’t know what the average lay Christian would say about what Heaven has to offer after the first two weeks.
I employ a fairly casual tone in blog posts, but I don’t want you to think I’m treating the issues lightly or misrepresenting the speakers in any way. When I suggest Christian theologians think salvation in Heaven amounts to an eternity of worshipping God, just happy to be in the room with the Celestial Being, I’m not exaggerating. Here is Sherlock’s own statement:
For our purposes, a useful description of deification is given by Orthodox priest and scholar John McGukin: “The concept of deification is the process of sanctification of Christians, whereby they become progressively conformed to God; a conformation that is ultimately demonstrated in the glorious transfiguration of the just in the heavenly kingdom, when immortality and a more perfect vision (knowledge and experience) of God are clearly manifested in the glorification of the faithful.”
Like I said, Mormons take that view and run with it. Here’s what Sherlock says about the expanded Mormon view: “‘Becoming Like God’ makes so many contestable claims that one chapter cannot treat all of them” (p. 52). He especially takes issue with the first part of the Lorenzo Snow couplet, “As man is, God once was.” He makes the quite reasonable objection that if this is true, then “God” might be an advanced intelligence, a powerful being, but he wouldn’t be God in the sense that theologians speak of God (timeless, eternal, all-powerful, and so forth) and as such he would not be deserving of our worship. As Sherlock puts it, “Christians reject this picture of God because this cannot be a god in which we can have absolute trust for our salvation” (p. 60). Sherlock quotes a lot of prior Mormon leaders who endorsed the problematic doctrine, but I think recent LDS leaders have backed away from the claim (Gordon B. Hinckley: “that gets into some pretty deep theology that we don’t know very much about,” quoted by Sherlock at p. 60).
That darn couplet. Let’s just chop off the first half, since as Pres. Hinckley notes we don’t know very much about that, so Lorenzo Snow didn’t know very much about that, so we can safely ignore it. And let’s modify the second half of the couplet to read, “As God is, man may sort of become.” Sort of, as in resurrected and even glorified but not fully deified. Then we can read all the Church Fathers and medieval theologians quoted by Sherlock in his essay who talk about the Beatific Vision and mystical union with God, and we can nod along with Sherlock and the rest of Christendom.
Let’s wind this up with a discussion prompt or two. If you can resist weighing in on the question of whether Mormons are Christians, then consider this one instead: Do you now, or did you ever, believe in your heart of hearts that one day in the hereafter you would get to create your own worlds? Did you ever really think you would get your own galaxy (there are billions of them, after all) to play around with? Have you met a fellow Mormon who actually, truly believed this about their own future?
We are told that the Book of Mormon contains the fullness of the Gospel. And yet, so much of what LDS profess and believe comes from other sources (D&C, P of G P, etc.). And that includes the doctrine that outlines celestial marriage, forever families, three degrees of glory, etc. You would think that if those were so important and vital that the Lord would have revealed them to Joseph Smith along with the BOM, not years later. Do we really expect to get our key doctrine from discourses (shout out to King Follet) and general conference talks?
If your answer to my two questions is yes, you probably believe you’ll have your own planet some day.
Oh boy! I get to go first. Have fun with this one, everybody.
Here’s the thing. Eternity isn’t an actual thing in this universe. Either the expansion of the universe reverses and it ends in the big crunch, or it continues until all of the stars burn out and we all freeze. Maybe that’s the whole story. Maybe eternal life, being “God’s life,” ends when the universe ends. Or maybe we find a way to keep going–creating new universes into which we could escape would do the trick. I have no idea. But it’s not like I will be off on one cloud creating my own new universe while Dave B is off on another cloud creating a different one. If we’re going to make eternity real, it will be a collective effort (with the occasional break for a potluck dinner). Maybe once we figure it out, everybody will get their own universe or maybe we’ll all head to the same one. Don’t really care. But my point is, it’s much bigger than getting one’s own planet to play with.
Jeez, I even refreshed before posting to make sure I was really first and I still got beaten out.
Oh yes, I fully believed that, and frankly, on some level, if there is an afterlife and not just a mass of dead neurons that disintegrate, I still have hope in the ongoing evolution of individuals into a much higher form of wisdom and intelligence that contribute positively to the universe. It’s one reason I found the four season arc of The Good Place so deeply satisfying.
What I have learned over my lifetime is that “good Mormons” are the least likely candidates for this type of anthropomorphic change. Rather than gaining the wisdom to become Gods and the scientific knowledge to create worlds and improve human experience and evolution, a whole lot of “good” Mormons (the majority I know frankly) are as you’ve described, ignorant fools willing to vote for Trump–twice–who know very little about the scriptures and often even less about science, who are more obsessed with being obedient, worshiping human leaders, and being seen as “right” through outward observance than they are with wrestling with real moral dilemmas, improving their understanding and empathy for others, and contributing positively to the human condition beyond their own immediate circle.
To me, that doctrine is the most redeeming concept we have, the one truly unique (in how it is understood–yes, other faiths have reincarnation or other eternal progressive ideas) and the one truly good doctrine that elevates all the others.
Problem is, even those who openly preached it had a very limited view of what that would entail. Women were viewed as ineligible for godhood, instead being eternal sexual slaves in a cosmic baby farm, creating endless offspring for male egos which would constitute their glory & godhood (obviously without any heavy lifting beyond impregnating worshipful nameless wives). That may be a cynical view of this doctrine, but it is pretty clearly how Brigham Young saw it.
I really need to post a link here to the W&T post by Rick B. that gives excerpts of his interview with Matt Harris, one of the editors. It gives great background to the Essays and confirms that (1) there were a variety of views among the leadership whether the Essays should be written or published, and (2) once they were published they were sort of hidden away for two or three years. The Essays were, at the same time, both need but also unwanted.
Funny enough, the Church has removed its “Becoming Like God” Gospel Topics essay from the website. It now simply states “See Are Mormons Christian? in the Gospel Topics Essays.” You can still find the essay in the Gospel Library app, though.
I issue my strongest possible condemnation to those who continue to attack the Church for identifying as Christian. The Church should stand up for its Christian doctrine, rather than cowering at the thought of criticism.
The Church will not be frightened into silence. To paraphrase those famous heroic words
“It does not matter what the press says. It does not matter what the pastors or the mobs say. It does not matter if the vast hordes decide that something wrong is something right. This Church was founded on one principle above all else: the requirement that we stand up for what we believe, no matter the odds or the consequences. When the mob and the press and the whole world tell you to move, your job is to plant yourself like a tree beside the river of truth, and tell the whole world — ‘No, you move.’”
Thanks for the comments, everyone.
Mary Ann, wow, I guess they really are rethinking the Essays. Either we are not becoming like God anymore (settling for merely being humble Christians, perhaps) or else that topic is now on the “beliefs we won’t talk about publicly anymore” list. I did a quick check and all the other Essays are still available at the website.
I absolutely believe I will join God or (the Gods) in the creation of worlds and will be considered the “God” of those worlds. This is the part of Mormon theology that really speaks to my soul. Not that I need to be a God, but that I will continue to learn, grow, create, and progress. Heaven and eternity would be boring if it was just gazing into the eyes of eternity all the time. The reason I suffer through hardship in this life is so I can empathize with those I help create in their own lives. I also don’t care if this means we don’t fit the definition of “Christian” among the catholic (little c) Christian church. I love how distinctive our theology is and that it really tries to answer the question of humanity’s purpose for existence.
As for the definition of God – early Hebrews saw God as one of the pantheon of Gods. Eventually monotheism came to be and God’s definition changed. Then the Trinity became all the rage, and God’s definition changed. So, Joseph Smith and the the early Mormons just did what others have done before and changed the definition of what/who God is.
Comparing the Church favorably with the Evangelicalism is deeply concerning. When I think of the latter, I think of biblical literalism, anti-evolution, anti-global warming, anti-mask, anti-vax, American exceptionalism, discrimination against gays and women, and being fanatic supporters of Trump. Oops, that’s modern-day Mormonism. It looks like the leadership has successfully turned the Church into just another Christian-Right church.
What happened to the church that believed the gospel includes all truth, not just ecclesiastical truth? What happened to the church that believed in eternal progression, and the belief that you can take knowledge gained on the earth into the great unknown? What happened to the Church that had an alternative view of the eternities.
I guess we ditched those doctrines to prove to the Christian Right that we are Christian. In this process they lost me and many more. And continue to lose members at an alarming rate. To make up those loses, the Church is baptizing in Africa and South America. The membership numbers are plateauing, but the demographics are changing dramatically.
There are many aspects of Mormonism that I”m not a fan of, but its take on deification is actually one of my favorite. Like Gilgamesh said, eternal learning and eternal service appeal to me more than being in charge.
This is a bit tangential, but the author of The Martian has a similar take on deification that others might enjoy: http://www.galactanet.com/oneoff/theegg_mod.html
Rogerdhansen, agreed. It’s an odd conundrum; were Church leaders motivated to purposefully de-emphasize our quirky distinctive doctrines of the eternities in order to better align with the Religious Right, or was the de-emphasis an unintended consequence of chasing a political agenda first? In any case, I’m tired of us Mormons being forced to do the Evangelicals’ homework so they will stop shoving us into a locker. Despite what our leaders believe, it is not a mutually beneficial relationship. I would much rather go back to the days of having them accuse us of not being “true Christians”, whatever that means. It’s easy enough to just roll your eyes and say, “sure, whatever…” and keep on doing your own thing.
Full disclosure: As a Utah Mormon who served a mission in the Bible Belt, I’m not an expert on what other Christians believe. But whenever I read counterarguments about becoming like God, it feels like the traditional Christian belief isn’t quite being represented correctly. For one, no mainstream Christian I’ve met has ever expressed surprise or wonder at the idea of eternal families. Their churches may maintain ambiguity on that score, but the idea doesn’t seem at all blasphemous from what I’ve heard.
Secondly, Mormon beliefs about becoming like God are, of course, predicated on our unique understanding of God’s being. It doesn’t make sense that an exalted man would want us to kneel down and worship him for time and all eternity and forbid us from becoming like him. Most Christians, however, don’t believe in that God. They believe in a God who’s incomprehensible and mysterious, ineffable, all-encompassing, omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent, etc. If eternity consists of trying to figure out this being, worshipping God would be a different experience.
Lastly, eternal progression ≠ becoming a God or creating one’s own planet or any number of folkloric ideas. I suppose it could, but again, if progression entails gaining an understanding of a being who’s majestic beyond all comprehension, it means much more.
I’m always amused by the irony that one of the most “non-Christian” (to outsiders) of our doctrines doesn’t actually come from the Book of Mormon, but from the New Testament. Here, I think, are the best scriptures to cite in favor of the doctrine of deification:
John 17:20-21 – “Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us.”
Revelation 3:21 – “To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne.”
Revelation 21:7 – “He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son.”
How I read these verses – and how I think that Joseph Smith read them – is that Jesus is promising his followers that, if the keep the faith, they will one day have the same relationship with him that he has with his Father. They will “be one” with the Father and Son in the same way they’re one with each other; they will sit in Christ’s throne “even as” Christ sits in his Father’s throne, they will “inherit all things” and will be God’s sons.
Nicene Christianity is a departure from (at least this part of) New Testament Christianity, in that it claims that the Son is united with the Father in a way that the glorified saints never will be, and shies away from taking promises like “to him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne” at face value.
If there are any (former) mainstream or evangelical Protestants here, I’ll happily take correction on my prior comment. This has simply been my experience when conversing with Protestants.
josh h, a couple of thoughts: It is possible to believe that the BoM contains the fulness of the gospel, understanding “gospel” to mean religious truth. The Pennsylvania Mormons/Bickertonites seem to fall into this camp, disavowing the D&C and other Restoration scripture. Personally, I lean towards the BoM’s “somewhat robust version of free will Baptist theology” mentioned in the post. That said, if we understand gospel to mean “the good news of Jesus Christ,” then the BoM’s “fulness of the gospel [good news of Jesus Christ]” can coexist with other teachings found in the PoGP and D&C.
“, not to mention the wide variety of Christian groups in early Christianity (see Bart Ehrman’s Lost Christianities for a good review), Mormons are just another variation on how to do Christianity.
The whole “Are Mormons Christian?” discussion says more about Evangelical Protestants than it does about Mormons.
Here in 2021, with Evangelicals supporting The Loser Donald Trump in even greater numbers than Mormons, the better question to ask is: Why would anyone want to be an Evangelical?
In 2021, Evangelicals stand for the prosperity gospel, cheap grace, and Donald Trump. In 2021,”
Wow. That is a really pointed way of framing it all. Gave me thought.
I completely agree with Jack Hughes and Roger D Hansen. The LDS church is bending to the Evangelical social pressure today on unique Mormon thought just as it did back in the 1800s when it caved to social claims that Mormons weren’t white enough and subsequently denied blacks entrance into the temple and the priesthood (Paul Reeve’s Religion of a Different Color outlines this very compelling argument). I think Most members would echo JCS’s rigid stance that the church doesn’t bend to anything while at the same time also believing the use of the word “Mormon” is now a victory for Satan and go on to condemn those members who continue to say “mormon” just a few years after having created their own “I’m a Mormon” story. However, I do think I think that remaining immovable and unyielding on doctrine can be just as dangerous as bending to social pressure. One relies on words and viewpoints of men who lived thousands of years ago, and the other relies on words and viewpoints of men living now. If an organization is unable to update archaic “doctrines” in the face of overwhelming evidence, such as still believing the earth is the center of the universe, there is no way the organization can incorporate new data. On the other hand, caving to social pressure leaves the organization only able to make changes based on what criticisms are levied against it, possibly in the wrong direction. Either approach I think is socially or organizationally immature. I think the only defensible approach is to be flexible to change based on scientific evidence and to accept the most reasonable data and conclusions. But I guess that wouldn’t be very Christian, or Mormon.
And to answer your questions, until a couple of years ago, I absolutely believed I would not only get my own planet, but would create worlds without end in eternal increase of posterity. As man is, god once was; as god is, I believed I could become. I paid attention and believed the words LDS leaders said.
In a recent General Conference address, Jeffrey Holland cheerfully acknowledged that Mormons are not credal Christians. He asserted that Joseph Smith restored a purer form of Christianity, not confining himself to versions of Christianity formed by often politically-inspired debates in historical councils.
As to my own personal beliefs, I consider myself to be a professing Christian, however imperfectly I follow Christ’s teachings. I choose to not let others decide whether I am a Christian or not.
Having tangled with too many Evangelicals over the years about the question, “Are Mormons Christian?”, I developed the following answer: some Mormons are Christian; some are not. Some Evangelicals are Christian; some are not. Everybody who asked me that question got my point.
I personally find Joseph Smith’s teachings about eternal progression to be a beautiful
expression of Christian belief, however much it might be overtly talked about in Church these days. Blake Ostler’s books on Mormon thought supply what I feel is a well-reasoned thesis that the doctrine of eternal progression is the best expression of Christ’s Gospel.
I completely agree with Jack Hughes and Roger D Hansen. The LDS church is bending to the Evangelical social pressure today on unique Mormon thought just as it did back in the 1800s when it caved to social claims that Mormons weren’t white enough and subsequently denied blacks entrance into the temple and the priesthood (Paul Reeve’s Religion of a Different Color outlines this very compelling argument). I think Most members would echo JCS’s rigid stance that the church doesn’t bend to anything while at the same time also believing the use of the word “Mormon” is now a victory for Satan and go on to condemn those members who continue to say “mormon” just a few years after having created their own “I’m a Mormon” story. However, I do think I think that remaining immovable and unyielding on doctrine can be just as dangerous as bending to social pressure. One relies on words and viewpoints of men who lived thousands of years ago, and the other relies on words and viewpoints of men living now. If an organization is unable to update archaic “doctrines” in the face of overwhelming evidence, such as still believing the earth is the center of the universe, there is no way the organization can incorporate new data. On the other hand, caving to social pressure leaves the organization only able to make changes based on what criticisms are levied against it, possibly in the wrong direction. Either approach I think is socially or organizationally immature. I think the only defensible approach is to be flexible to change based on scientific evidence and to accept the most reasonable data and conclusions. It I guess that wouldn’t be very Christian, or Mormon.
And to answer your questions, until a couple of years ago, I absolutely believed I would not only get my own planet, but would create worlds without end in eternal increase of posterity. As man is, god once was; as god is, I believed I could become. I paid attention and believed the words LDS leaders said.
Offspring grow up to mirror the parents. That’s what offspring does in any species. So it makes sense if God is your father…..
Amen to all the good comments (and Dave’s post) lamenting that of all the groups the Church could have sought approval from, we chose the evangelical Christians. I don’t care the tiniest bit whether they approve of us enough or not to consider us part of the Christian club. They clearly wouldn’t know Christianity if it bit them on the ass.
One approach I’ve taken to the question is to consider who’s asking. I was asked once while in school by a fellow student whether my religion was Christian. She was Chinese and a Buddhist. I told her yes, it was, because from the perspective of Buddhism vs. Hinduism vs. Islam vs. Christianity, the LDS Church clearly belongs with Christianity. If an evangelical Christian asks if my church is Christian, I’ll say probably not. To draw a comparison to a much more trivial example, it’s like the argument about whether the Book of Mormon is wrong when it says Jesus was going to be born “at Jerusalem.” From the perspective of living on another continent, Bethlehem is pretty much Jerusalem. From the perspective of someone living in Jerusalem, they clearly aren’t the same.
Oh, and on the question of whether we would create our own planets in the afterlife, I always thought this sold us short. It might just be my family or my ward growing up, but I fully expected to create an entire universe, with full control over laws of physics and anatomical tweaks for my offspring.
Oh, and Dave, I forgot to note that I really like you still referring to the Church website as LDS.org. After all, it still redirects to the new website, and calling it ChurchofJesusChrist.org just looks ridiculous.
Thanks for the comments, everyone.
lastlemming, someday you’ll get the first comment. Then we can call you firstlemming.
Taiwan, I really like your response: “Some Evangelicals are Christian, some are not. Some Mormons are Christian, some are not.”
Remember Nietzsche’s comment: “There was only one Christian, and he died on the cross.” Perhaps we could borrow that. “There was only one Mormon, and he was lynched in Illinois.”
I feel like this only superficially addresses the differences between the Mormon views and the traditional Christian views.
I’d ask a few different questions to get at the difference: what does it mean to you to be a child of God?
Pardon me if the Mormonism I grew up with was just more literalistic than y’all’s, but I don’t think it’s incorrect to say that in Mormonism, although we speculate about how this happens, there’s a strong undercurrent that we are *literally* children of God. We can question whether this involves a heavenly man loving a heavenly woman very very much or if there are other avenues of spirit procreation (and whether Adam is God), but there is an underpinning that no matter how you reckon it, humanity ends up being the same “species” or a comparable species as God.
It took me FOREVER to realize that when Christians talk about being “children of God,” they do not mean anything quite the same way. (So, the Bible talks about being *adopted* into sonship. And I mean, we can think in human terms of adoption as being like taking someone else’s biological child and bringing it into your own family, but we still think of it as a same-species concept. But traditional Christianity has a very different idea!)
The more I learn about traditional Christian ontology, the more I realized that it’s more like a master/pet relationship. (I’m sure traditional Christians may be aghast at that analogy, but still). We can talk of a pet being obedient or disobedient, but there’s no sense in which we ever talk about the most obedient pet ever jumping the species gap to becoming human. No, the pet can glorify its master by being the best obedient dog it can be in its nature (or being…whatever cats are in theirs), but pets don’t replace their nature as non-human beings at any point of their “progression.” They can conform to best of breed, but do not transcend it.
As a Mormon, this gap didn’t make sense to me because I didn’t think that there was an unbridgeable divide between human nature and Godhead. I viewed God as a maximal human (a human of maximal skill, power, etc.,), a “super man” better than Superman. (Exactly as Sherlock decries as not being worthy of worship.)
So, then, the question of “do Mormons believe we can become Gods” or “like God” starts with an earlier commitment to the idea that the difference between humans and God is one of degree, not of kind. I think *this* underlying commitment spills through in a lot of places in Mormonism that manifests as a very different outlook than that of traditional Christianity. Even if we drop the couplet, I don’t think Mormons are really willing to drop the underlying view of the ontological similarity or sameness between Godhead and humanity.
Take another one: when I was growing up, people joked by saying, “God isn’t actually a white guy with a beard in the sky.” And of course I’d go, “haha, yeah, very funny,” but I didn’t realize that for classical theists, this has a much different meaning, and theistic personalists (of which Mormons are some of the biggest, but Protestants often aren’t far away), this is murkier.
As a Mormon, I liked to believe that Mormonism “solves” the problem of an “amorphous” trinity by posing that the Father and Son have a body. While we can quibble about what race does God really have, what divine representation do women have if we don’t speak so much about heavenly mother, etc., these are ultimately questions that have any sort of meaning at all in Mormonism precisely because we view God as being physical like us humans. Like, if you say, “is God the father male”, the answer in Mormonism is unambiguous — yes, he is. Our use of male pronouns (He, His) and titles (Father, King) are not just metaphorical but indications of what Mormons believe is a crucial actual element of his being.
But traditional Christians (and especially classical theists), being made in the image of God doesn’t mean that we have two eyes, two hands, walk on two feet, and are generally not as furry as other animals. Everything becomes analogous precisely because of the radical difference between the Creator and everything else that is Created. Attributing traits like “gender” to God is only metaphorical because God is not embodied and doesn’t have human gender.
11 year-old me, 1971, on the top bunk after listening to Casey Kasem count down the Top 40:
1 – I will some day be a god
2 – Worlds without end, baby
3 – Populating those worlds – even with multiple wives – belied a 9-month spirit gestation. I developed the “Polaroid Theory” of clothing Intelligences in Spirit bodies. (patent pending)
I fell asleep trying to figure out how the first “exalted man” came to be. Still don’t have a good answer to that one.
Catholicism is different from protestantism in that protestantism has to cling to a few traditions to claim to be part of the small-c catholic (universal) Christian world. Catholicism on the other hand stands on its line of authority (just like the LDS) and seems largely content to consider the departures from the Catechism as almost routine heresy from other Bible-using sects.
Gotta bear in mind the perspective of who is speaking whenever dealing outside restorationist circles. Sola scriptura is huge in protestantism, and tradition and line of authority are huge in Catholicism. So it’s true that the LDS are not in what most of Christianity considers to be an unbroken line to Christ in the Roman Judea, and that having canon outside the accepted Protestant canon offends the Sola Scriptura crowd, many of whom also reject books in the Catholic text such as Tobit and Maccabees. I sometimes suspect what some of these people consider “christian” is a different definition when referring to an organization as opposed to an individual