Shameless double-shot of promotion!

sd02Last time I checked, our amazingly calm and constructive thread about that Los Angeles Times feature on basic Mormon doctrines was at 100-plus comments and still growing. Go for it.

However, let me step in here with a rare double-shot blast of shameless promotion for two online items linked to this topic. One is my Scripps Howard News Service column for this week, which focuses on (cue: drumroll) the controversial subject of the doctrine of “exaltation” in contemporary Mormon theology.

The other is a column by Rod “friend of this blog” Dreher, which ran in The Dallas Morning News. Dreher set out to say some blunt things in a kind way. He opened with some journalistic fireworks, underneath the headline “Mormons aren’t Christians … and other thoughts on religion and politics sure to get your blood boiling.”

Herewith, my views on religion and the politics of the present moment, with something to offend just about everyone:

1. Mormons aren’t Christians. I don’t mean that as a criticism, only as a descriptive phrase. When Mormons claim Jesus Christ as their savior, there’s no reason to doubt their sincerity and good will, or even to deny that they are in some way followers of Christ. Yet Mormonism rejects foundational doctrines of traditional Christian orthodoxy, such that it is impossible to reconcile with normative Christianity.

2. Anyway, the Latter-day Saints church teaches that all other Christian churches are apostate. A heretic is someone who rejects one or more doctrines of religion, but an apostate is someone who has rejected the religion entirely. How is it, exactly, that you can get mad when people you regard as apostates consider you to be … apostate? How does that work?

Meanwhile, my new Scripps Howard piece is based on some materials from my own files, but seen through the lens of an interview with Dr. Robert Millet of Brigham Young University, a major figure in dialogues between Mormons and evangelical Protestants. He was very kind and generous with his time, especially during finals week on his campus.

Here is how that column begins:

Few religious leaders on earth have as much power and authority as the “prophet, seer and revelator” who leads the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

But this life, on this world, is just the beginning. Consider this glimpse into eternity, drawn from a funeral eulogy for President Spencer W. Kimball in 1985.

“In the Colorado Rockies, I asked President Kimball a searching question,” recalled Barbara B. Smith, the 10th general president of the church’s Relief Society. “‘When you create a world of your own, what will you have in it?’ He looked around at those mountains for a few minutes before he answered and then he said, ‘I’ll have everything just like this world because I love this world and everything in it.’”

After all, added Smith: “What is our greatest potential? Is it not to achieve godhood ourselves?”

This is the question that will not die when Mormons face the leaders of traditional Christian groups to discuss that blunt question: “Are Mormons Christians?”

A fussy feud over doctrinal details? Ask Mitt Romney about that.

This concept of devout Mormons achieving godhood and creating worlds “is not an idea that would be foreign to Mormons today, but it is also not a concept we hear a lot about,” said religion professor Robert Millet of Brigham Young University, a veteran of many interfaith dialogues.

Still, it’s clear that this belief — called “exaltation” — is something that remains “conceivable to Mormons, while it is absolutely inconceivable to traditional Christians.” But for modern Mormons, he stressed, there is little or no difference between talking about “exaltation” and talking about salvation and “eternal life.”

LDS Jesus 01The column also includes a quote from one of the top leaders in the Mormon faith, focusing on whether it is accurate to use the word “polytheism” when describing the church’s view of the God of this world and the gods of other worlds that will be created by dedicated Mormons who achieve divine status.

I once made a reference, here at GetReligion, to this interview during my days at the Rocky Mountain News. However, this time I dug way back into the files and found my transcript. So here is the key quote from that discussion:

“I think ‘polytheism’ is used … to describe the multiple gods of, say, the Greeks and the Romans,” Boyd K. Packer, now acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, told me in a 1986 interview. “We are talking about something entirely different, and that word conjures up ideas that are not accurate.

“I suppose that technically, it means ‘many gods.’ Technically, the word is all right. … It carries a lot of baggage.”

In other words, the word is technically accurate, to describe a version of eternity that contains many gods, yet not a word that Mormons would like to use. Millet said that, if asked about the accuracy of the word “polytheism,” he would have answered in precisely this manner.

The key, Millet explained to me, is that Mormon doctrines on this matter have not changed or been abandoned. However, they are being clarified and the trend in recent decades has been toward a more “Christocentric” approach to faith that is more rooted in the Old and New Testaments, as well as in the unique Mormon scriptures. Interesting, to say the least.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • HiveRadical

    An overall good article.

    Props on the sources cited and context given.

  • Scott R.

    It is interesting how far off base you can become when trying to decipher Mormon thought and beliefs. Most Mormons don’t really understand what it means to gain “exalation” themselves let alone non-Mormons trying to figure it out.

    I’ll try to keep this short. In Genesis it says “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth”. Take the word God back to it’s Hebrew origins and that word translates into the plural form. Perhaps we should just overlook that. Now lets go a step further. Not only is it plural but it is also comprehensive of both a male and female duality. Again interesting very interesting.

    The reality is that when Mormons refer to obtaining Godhood it is a misunderstanding. I will be accused of blasphemy for saying this, but all mankind is really of the species “God”. This is what Joseph Smith envisioned. Earth life is an opportunity for our own advancement. We can achieve and learn here in mortality or do any number of things. Exalation is when an individual or couple have achieved and progressed to their greatest potential. This is the pathway that our elder brother Jesus Christ prepared for all mankind through the atonement.

    Lets see where are the stones that can be thrown at such fanatical teachings. Reference John 10:35.

  • http://markkelly.wordpress.com Mark Kelly

    We watched the Worldwide Church of God turn its back on unorthodox teaching and adopt a confession of faith in the mainstream of historic Christianity. One wonders, with all the evangelical Christians swallowed up by Mormon congregations, whether there is such a thing as an orthodox critical mass that persuades LDS leaders to repudiate Joseph Smith’s teachings.

  • Stephen A.

    I guess for me the money quote in that (thankfully) obviously labelled opinion piece is:

    Theologically, this is a big deal. But politically, so what? Mormons vote like Southern Baptists and come down on the same side of most issues of public morality like conservative Christians do.

    He nailed it with this statement. But for me, the article ends right there. Any further discussion by conservative Republicans on this issue of religion is simply irrational, since we already know Romney is promising to vote like any other conservative. So there must be other reasons to keep this discussion going in the media (and the media should question first the motives of those pushing further discussion and then their own motives.)

    I wonder whether the real concerns of evangelicals is being inflamed by 1) professional Mormon haters, and 2) the largely secular media, who simply love the idea that the Christian Right could tear itself into shreads over this if Romney is nominated. (And of course they’re enjoying painting Huckabee as a Theocrat, too, for some of the same reasons.)

    While I enjoy the endless discussion of theology and even Mormon theology, both in the media and here at GR, I guess because I’m a tolerant guy who wouldn’t ever say “you’re going to hell for those beliefs” I’m surprised by the casual atom bomb-like statements being thrown out, like Mark’s above. And of course, they don’t relate to media coverage, nor does the many other “your church is wrong on doctrine” or “maybe you’ll see the light” type of statements here.

  • http://www.notes.co.il/tomer Tomer

    I think Romney’s greatest contribution to the U.S. today is simply the fact that the press has to deal with theology. Suddenly reporters are back at the age of scholasticism, splitting soteriological hairs and trying to figure out who is “really” Christian and who comes close, but doesn’t quite make it (and will eventually burn in [electoral] hell). Personally I’m loving every minute of it. Thanks for the coverage.

  • http://thebyzantineanglocatholic.blogspot.com/ Joe Rawls

    I nominate “Christianoid” as a pigeonholing label for the LDS. Their dogmas are obviously outside the pale of what Catholics, Orthodox, Evangelicals, and even many liberal Protestants would consider traditional. OTOH, Jesus is of huge significance in the lives of individual Mormons, and their own self-definition cannot be entirely discounted.

  • Ty

    I am supporting Ron Paul for President, and am a Mormon. Most of my friends are not members of my church, and I often have attended meetings or vacation bible schools with them and their families. I have the utmost respect for all of these people – how they lead their lives, and their devotion to Jesus Christ. However, one experience I had a few years ago serves to illustrate why Mormons believe we are Christian, and why we have trouble understanding why some people do not believe we are Christian. While attending vacation bible school with some friends in Raleigh, North Carolina, the pastor divided the adults into two classes – the “advanced” bible class, and the “beginner” bible class. My wife and I both served Mormon missions as young adults, and though a little leery decided to attend the “advanced” Bible class. It turned out that of the 40-50 adults, 6 people, including us, went to the advanced class. The class over the course of the week turned out not to be about the bible, but about the creeds of the Christian churches.

    The first creed discussed was the Apostle’s Creed, which states:

    =-=-=-=

    I believe in God, the Father Almighty, the Creator of heaven and earth,
    and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord:
    Who was conceived of the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary,
    suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into hell.

    The third day He arose again from the dead.
    He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty,
    whence He shall come to judge the living and the dead.

    I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church,
    the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins,
    the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting.

    Amen.

    =-=-==

    The teacher, who was not the pastor, then asked each student around the table what they thought of this creed. One expressed some reservation about Jesus “rising from the dead” and the part about “the resurrection of the body”, in that it implied that Christ arose with a body and that there will be a physical resurrection. Another did not believe the portion of the creed that indicated that Christ descended into hell. Another questioned how he could sit at the right hand of God if he was God.

    My wife and I were the last ones to speak. Both of us answered that we felt the creed reflected the biblical teachings of Christ and the Apostles correctly, and we believed in the creed 100%.

    My point is that many people “cling” to the different beliefs of Mormons from other Christian churches, while ignoring the fact that the core Mormons beliefs match the creeds of the early Christian church closer than the beliefs of their particular sect.

    Even the controversy about Mormon belief/disbelief in the Trinity is enlightening. Mormons believe in the Trinity, although not in same way as most other Christian sects teach the Trinity. Mormons believe that the three members of the Trinity can be referred to as one God, as they are one in purpose, and never vary from one another in thought. Indeed, Mormons believe that if you have seen Christ you have seen the Father, because they look, act, think, and do exactly alike. The only difference between the beliefs, which is entire exagerrated, is that most other Christian sects believe the three members of the Trinity are three manifestations of the same being. But if the three are separate beings but think, act, and do as One, isn’t the net result the same thing?

    There are many beliefs in different sects that outsiders could call “bizarre”, but at the core, Christians, including Mormons, believe the same basic things. Some examples of “bizaare things” that are either shared beliefs that Mormons have with other Christians, or are believed and taught by other sects, are:

    Transubstantiation – (not a Mormon belief)
    Virgin Birth – (a Mormon belief)
    Worship of Saints – (not a Mormon belief)
    Earth created in 6000 years – (most Mormons don’t believe, but no official Church stance)
    Infallibility of the Bible – (not a Mormon belief)
    Faith Healings – (a Mormon belief)
    Prophecy – (a Mormon belief)
    Speaking in Tongues – (a Mormon belief)
    Jesus casting evil spirits into Pigs – (a Mormon belief)

  • http://leitourgeia.wordpress.com Richard Barrett

    In Genesis it says “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth”. Take the word God back to it’s Hebrew origins and that word translates into the plural form. Perhaps we should just overlook that. Now lets go a step further. Not only is it plural but it is also comprehensive of both a male and female duality. Again interesting very interesting.

    Two grammatical points:

    1) As far as the plurality assertion goes, “Elohim” governs a third person singular verb (“bara”).

    2) Since English has lost most if not all of its inflection, this is a point which is more often than not lost on English speakers: grammatical gender tells us nothing about physical/biological gender. The former is an abstraction which we describe as “masculine” and “feminine” for organizational purposes. This comes up quite often, for example, when one is talking about the word for “spirit” in Genesis; “ruach” is grammatically feminine, so the argument goes, so that speaks to an earlier feminine concept of the divine or divine creativity being a feminine characteristic or some such. “Ruach” is indeed grammtically feminine; “synagogue” is also a feminine word in Semitic languages (e.g., “knoushta” in Syriac); for that matter, so are “wisdom” and “Trinity”. On the other hand, “spirit” is masculine in Latin and grammatically neuter in Greek. It is a function of linguistic organization; trying to impute any more meaning to it than that doesn’t work. Otherwise, we could possibly conclude that Matthew intended to depict Jesus as calling Peter a woman when he said “on this rock I will build my church,” since “petra” in Greek is grammatically feminine (noting for the record that “kefa”, the word which would have been spoken in Aramaic, is grammatically masculine), or even that Germans believe that young women are without genitalia whatsoever, since “Maedchen” is grammatically neuter.

  • John in Dallas

    I am curious to know how the Mormon church has become more “Christocentric” than that of the ’50s. Can someone please illuminate me on that issue?

  • http://blog.muchmorethanwords.com gfe

    Despite the deliberately provocative headline, I don’t think that most educated Mormons would object too strongly to Dreher’s column. Dreher makes clear that his definition of “Christian” is disagreement with “traditional Christian orthodoxy,” and, using that definition, Mormons would run away from the label.

    One irony is that if you definite Mormons to be non-Christian because they don’t agree with “traditional Christian orthodoxy,” then an awful lot of mainline Protestants are non-Christian. I have to wonder why that label isn’t applied to them as well.

    As Ty says, if you look at one of the early litmus tests for who is a Christian, the Apostles Creed, then you’re looking at something that Mormons could enthusiastically agree with. Many mainline Protestants could not.

    Part of the problem in many discussions is that we apply various labels to beliefs — Christian, apostate, polytheist, trinititarian, conservative, liberal, and the list goes on — assuming that we all understand the terms the same way. Journalists (and many others) would be best to avoid such terms without defining them first.

  • Martin

    Just call Mormons “non-traditional christians” and it will end a lot of pointless arguements.

  • JLFuller

    Martin – The term heterodoxic fits.

    Mark Kelly asks – “One wonders, with all the evangelical Christians swallowed up by Mormon congregations, whether there is such a thing as an orthodox critical mass that persuades LDS leaders to repudiate Joseph Smith’s teachings.”
    The answer is yes, on the member side and no on the leader side. It happens all the time. Usually those folks find comfort in another denomination with our blessing, sometimes whether they want to or not.

  • Julia

    Virgin Birth – (a Mormon belief)

    Does this mean only that the conception of Jesus was accomplished without the involvement of any physical human intimacy? Or does it also mean the notion that Jesus was born miraculously without tearing her virginally-intact hymen; because being intact is the age-old “proof” of virginity?

    So what exactly is it that Mormons believe about this?

    In other words: did Mary remain remain a virgin when she conceived with the help of the Holy Spirit, but delivered Jesus the same way all of ther women deliver their children? OR does the “virgin birth” also mean that Jesus passed miraculously from within the womb to without the womb without travelling down the birth canal?

    I’ve heard that it included the first but not the second and also that it includes both. However, I can’t find anything in Scripture saying that Jesus had no need of the birth canal like the rest of us. [excepting Caesarean births, of course]

  • Julia

    Worship of Saints – (not a Mormon belief)

    I don’t know any Christians who go in for this either.

  • JLFuller

    I have not read a post here defining the LDS view of what a Christian is. It is different than some historic Christians claim it to be. Christians are those people who accept Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the living God and savior of our souls. We do not accept that in order to be one you have to accept the fourth and fifth century creeds as many historic Christian claim. Certainly Christians at Christs time didn’t have the creeds and no where in the New Testament do such proclamations exist.

  • Ivan Wolfe

    One irony is that if you definite Mormons to be non-Christian because they don’t agree with “traditional Christian orthodoxy,” then an awful lot of mainline Protestants are non-Christian. I have to wonder why that label isn’t applied to them as well.

    One of the more interesting episodes in Stephen Robinson’s book “Are Mormons Christian?” was when he related the following story:

    I had been invited by one of the large Protestant churches in town to teach a lesson on the beliefs and practices of the Latter-day Saints. Some of my professors were members of that church, and I was very pleased when they attended my lecture. At the end of the lesson I bore testimony to the restored gospel, to the divine call of the Prophet Joseph Smith, and most of all to the saving work of Jesus Christ.

    When I was done one of my professors raised his hand and said, “Well, Steve, that was wonderful and informative, but I think you have left us with the incorrect impression that you Mormons are a Christian denomination, when, of course, you are not.” Now, I knew this man fairly well, and consequently I knew what he meant by this statement. It was not a malicious pronouncement, but it had absolutely nothing to do with what Latter-day Saints believed or didn’t believe about Jesus Christ. The man was a liberal Protestant historian [. . .]

    Thus, being aware of the background of this professor and his views, I understood what he meant when he said, “Mormons aren’t Christians,” but I also was aware that the congregation did not understand his meaning correctly. To them it sounded as if he were denying that the Latter-day Saints believed in Jesus Christ. And so for their benefit I initiated the following exchange:

    “Do you personally believe that Jesus Christ was the literal Son of God, that he had no mortal father?” I asked.

    “No,” he replied, “not literally.”

    “Do you believe in the divinity of the historical Jesus?”

    “No.”

    “Do you believe that Jesus had the power to perform miracles?”

    “No.”

    “Do you believe that he took upon him the sins of the world in some literal way, as a real transfer of real guilt?”

    “No.”

    “Do you believe that in some literal way Jesus died for us?”

    “No.”

    “Do you believe in the literal, bodily resurrection of Jesus?”

    “No.”

    “Do you believe in a final judgment?”

    “No.”

    “Do you believe in an afterlife at all?”

    “I think so.”

    “And are you a Christian?”

    “Of course I am.”

    “How can you say that?”

    “Because I accept the New Testament as containing God’s word, even though I do not interpret it literally, and because I am an ordained minister in a denomination that traces its Christian heritage back to the New Testament period without a historical break.”

    “All right, now, as a Latter-day Saint I believe that Jesus Christ is the literal Son of God; that he was and is divine; that he had the power to work miracles; that he took the sins of the world upon him in Gethsemane and on Calvary; that he died for us; that he was literally, bodily raised up on the third day; and that he will raise us up to judgment and a glorious afterlife. Now, am I a Christian?”

    “Absolutely not.”

    “Why not?”

    “Because you are a member of a church that is not theologically derived from and dependent upon the councils and creeds of the historical church, and because you reject traditional Christianity and its theology after the second century.”

    “Does your definition of ‘being Christian’ have anything to do with my personal belief in Jesus Christ?”

    “No.”

    Now, when it was laid out like this, the congregation could see that the man was using a specialized definition of the term Christian, and consequently that he was not really saying what they had at first thought. After the lecture several people approached me to say that according to how they defined “being a Christian,” the Latter-day Saints certainly qualified, but that they weren’t so sure anymore about the professor.

    So, why do the Rod Dreher’s of the world seem cool with the idea of these liberal protestants being “Christian”, but not Mormons?

    As said above (and as I’ve said elsewhere), it’s getting so that the term “Christian” will always need a modifier.

    “I’m a protestant Trinintarian Christian”

    “Well, I’m a Evangelical Social Trinitarian Christian”

    “I’m a non-traditional Christian”

    “I’m from an alternative Christian tradition”

    or something like that. It’s getting so that “Christian” is a meaningless term without a lot of qualifiers.

  • Stephen A.

    Even I know enough about LDS beliefs to know that this little exchange Ivan has shared with us contains falsehoods or at the very least misleading statements from this supposed Mormon. Among them…

    “Do you believe that in some literal way Jesus died for us?”

    “No.”

    “Do you believe in a final judgment?”

    “No.”

    “Do you believe in an afterlife at all?”

    “I think so.”

    From Mormon.org (official site), the first two are utterly exposed as untrue, even granting the (likely) clever insertion of the word “literal” in the first question:

    Jesus Christ is the Son of God. Under the direction of your Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ created the earth (John 1:10; Hebrews 1:1–2). Through His Resurrection, Jesus Christ overcame death for you. Everyone, the righteous and wicked alike, will receive the gift of resurrection. When life on this earth is over, Jesus Christ will serve as the final Judge ( Acts 17:31; John 5:21–22; Acts 10:42). Through the Atonement — performed by Jesus Christ with His suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane and by His suffering and the voluntary surrender of His life on the cross–He saves you from your sins as you sincerely repent and follow Him.

    I find it impossible to believe that a Mormon would say “I think so” to the question about the afterlife, because they obviously do (with all of the discussion and controversy about the Mormon doctrine of eternal progression AFTER death on this site, it’s hard to get away with that one.) This is clearly someone putting words in another person’s mouth.

    This is why I prefer people to speak about their own religions, not seek out “debunkers” like this Mr. Robinson who clearly have an agenda.

  • http://blog.muchmorethanwords.com gfe

    Julia asked: In other words: did Mary remain remain a virgin when she conceived with the help of the Holy Spirit, but delivered Jesus the same way all of ther women deliver their children? OR does the “virgin birth” also mean that Jesus passed miraculously from within the womb to without the womb without travelling down the birth canal?

    The former. Jesus is considered to be fully human (as well as divine), and that includes being born like anyone else. And unlike some Christians, Mormons don’t believe that Mary remained a virgin. In the Mormon scheme of things, sex is a good thing (if it’s with a spouse). The assumption is that Mary and Joseph, after they were married, had sexual relations just like any other couple. Jesus almost certainly had siblings (such as James).

    Ivan Wolfe asked: So, why do the Rod Dreher’s of the world seem cool with the idea of these liberal protestants being “Christian”, but not Mormons?

    I can’t speak for Mr. Wolfe. But some of the same groups that freely apply the “cult” label to Mormons, such as the Christian Research Institute, are also highly critical of liberal Protestants, and they similarly consider the United Pentecostal Church and churches such as that “cultic” as well even though they historically came from the Christian mainstream (the UPC believes that Father, Son and Holy Spirit are three manifestations of one God). Some of these groups (I’m not saying CRI) also have claimed that Catholics aren’t Christian, so Mormons aren’t the only ones who have been criticized.

  • Ivan Wolfe

    Stephen A. -

    Your reading comprehension must be way down. The “I think so” and other answers were being said by the Liberal Protestant guy. The point was that Robinson, the Mormon, could answer yes, but wasn’t considered a Christian, whereas this liberal Protestant guy was considered a Christian despite not believing in the literal divinty of Christ.

    Pay more attention next time. Robinson is a Mormon. He was the one asking the questions, not the other way around.

  • Julia

    Just occurred to me. I think I read that Mormons believe that Jesus Christ is the physical son of the Heavenly Father or the Holy Spirit – both of whom have bodies. If that is so – how does that jibe with the part of the Apostles’ Creed that says:

    was conceived of the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary

    How can Mary still be a virgin after conception by a god with a physical body?

  • chris g

    How can Mary still be a virgin after conception by a god with a physical body

    I guess it would imply gfe’s assumption of mormon beliefs is, crudely speaking, off base.

  • http://www.millennialstar.org Ivan Wolfe

    Julia -

    because, other than saying that it was done through the Holy Spirit, the Mormon Church takes no stance on how the conception took place.

    Plenty of Mormons speculate on this, but it’s all speculation.

  • Stephen A.

    Ivan: whatever. Pronouns were a bit sketchy in your intro. The facts, in that case, seem just about right, but attacking liberal Christians is as bad as those trashing the LDS faith. I prefer them to answer for their own religious beliefs, rather than have it defined by others, often incorrectly, as Mormons know all too well.

  • http://www.millennialstar.org Ivan Wolfe

    Stephen A.–

    Touchy, touchy. You’re engaging in logical fallacies now.

  • Julia

    gfe & Ivan Wolfe:

    Thanks for your serious answers. I’ve never really grasped the mainstream Christian answers on Mary’s virginity, either – particularly why it was necessary for Jesus to pass through Mary’s body leaving her “intact” as they say.

    In these days of better biological and medical knowledge, we know that many girls who are not “intact” are nonetheless actually virgins. Over the ages in less informed times, many women really suffered for the consequences of various kinds of accidents, physical anomolies and other innocent reasons for no longer being (or never having been) “intact”. It’s my guess that’s why the intact claim is made by some Christians for Mary after Jesus’ birth.

  • Stephen A.

    Ivan, “you’re making logical fallacies” is a poor defence, and is usually called by the most eggregious offenders. In this case, though you’re not wrong, necessarily, just far off topic.

    I totally disagree with Terry/Tmatt here that the other thread is “amazingly calm and constructive.” It has sunk to rather savage attacks several times (“voodoo-hoodoo-weirdo religious claptrap” for example, which I think MUST have been referring to the Catholic Mass, or maybe the Muslim Hajj. I don’t remember.)

    Frankly, I have no idea why wuch intense theological debate is occurring on GetReligion, unless we’re using the media’s ill-advised foray into theology in order to tarnish Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee as reasons, and then we should shine a light on the media’s motives, not on the theological cans of worms they are opening. Just my view.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    The theology seminar is closed here, too, unless it has to do with press coverage of the actual topics IN THIS POST.

    Thanks folks!

  • JLFuller

    Terry Mattingly’s quote at the top of this page was not addressed so far in this thread. Rod Dreher in the Dallas Morning News posited ” Anyway, the Latter-day Saints church teaches that all other Christian churches are apostate. A heretic is someone who rejects one or more doctrines of religion, but an apostate is someone who has rejected the religion entirely. How is it, exactly, that you can get mad when people you regard as apostates consider you to be . . . apostate? How does that work?”

    It is a good question asked by a lot of people. It takes a bit to answer though. I’ll give it a shot. First, Mormons do not consider all other churches to be apostate. It is more correct to say that after the apostasy in the first century, false teaching found their way into the common Gospel of the time and over time more and more of the principles of original Gospel were dropped. Partial error is not total apostatsy. By the time of the fourth century many non-Christian and even pagan beliefs had been incorporated into the Gospel which then became codified in the canon by design and by accident or improper translation and interpretation. The creeds are emblematic of the error. The fundamental elements of the Gospel remained though. The people were still Christian. In fact the Church of the time kept the Savior’s name alive through the centuries. They still bring people to a belief in Christ. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints brings the rest of the story and builds on what is extant by filling in what was lost.

  • http://www.millennialstar.org Ivan Wolfe

    Well, my original comment was about the post, so I’m not sure why Stephen A. is so worked up about it (since it was on-topic – my latter comments to Julia, I admit, were not).

    My entire point was not that Mormons should be called Christians, just that the Rod Drehers (and others) of the world claim to have a fixed, static definition of “Christian” that seems to be quite flexible when it comes to certain denominations, but closed off when Mormons come along. So, it seems to me that perhaps we should declare “Christian” a meaningless term and only use it when we add a modifier. Or something.

    [And Stephen A. - it seems odd you would decry the lack of cordiality in this thread, when your misreading of/rant about my initial comment was an off-topic attack that had nothing to do with the substance of my comment.]

  • Rathje

    The questions that usually get asked about the Mormon-Christian? question seem a bit ancillary to me.

    Are Jesus and God the Father separate or the same? Depends on what you mean by that. To some degree both Mormons and traditional Christians believe the two are separate.

    Do you worship Jesus? Depends what you mean by “worship.” Again, we descend into matters of degree.

    Can humans become God? Well, yeah, both groups believe so. Traditional Christians, by saying that Christ – a human – became God. Mormons, by extending the privilege to a wider audience. And then traditional Christians do believe we become “one” with God in some sense or other. So do Mormons. Again, we’re just talking about differences of degree.

    And what about the labeling game? Traditional Christians think the word “Christian” ought to meet a detailed laundry list of theological parameters. Mormons think it ought to simply mean anyone who follows Christ and believes he was the Son of God. Pretty simple.

    To an unbiased and uninformed outsider, it all looks rather trivial.

    This is because none of these little spats constitute the central divide between traditional Christianity and Mormonism.

    The real divide is over the idea of creation ex nihilo (creation from nothing).

    Traditional Christians believe in it. Mormons don’t. It changes everything. When you get into the metaphysical implications, it’s a really big deal.

    Mormons believe that there was something there, independent of whether God created it or not. We believe God ORGANIZED the universe out of pre-existing matter. We don’t believe He just spoke and shazzam! there’s the universe! We also consider both matter (at its most elemental form) and our own identities to be co-eternal with God. We have always existed. God didn’t just wave us into being out of nothing.

    You’ve got to realize that the whole business with Nicea, Chalcedon, etc. was to resolve the problem of an Old Testament God – singular – with this idea of Christ being divine as well. Old Testament monotheism didn’t seem compatible with the idea of God having a son and sharing the glory. This is because philosophically, the first Christians made a few assumptions about the universe that forced this to be a problem.

    For a traditional Christian theologian, the universe has two kinds of things in it: The Creator (God) and the created (everything else). Everything in the universe has to be one thing or the other thing and nothing can be both at the same time. Nicea was an attempt to decide which of the two Jesus was. For these early theologians, it was vital that God be designated as creator and separated ontologically from every other thing in the universe. It was also vital that we somehow shoehorn Jesus into that same category with God. That’s where the commonly accepted notions of the trinity came into the picture. It was an attempt to get Jesus on the right side of the universal dividing line and harmonize the Christian God with the Jewish (and later Islamic) idea of monotheism and make everything fit into their cosmically assumed paradigm of creation ex nihilo.

    By rejecting creation ex nihilo, Mormonism undermines the entire infrastructure of traditional Christianity. It ruins the entire theological framework they’ve painstakingly constructed over 2000 years. All this talk of godhood and labels is just background noise to the real (often undiscovered) problem between Mormons and the rest of the Christian world.

  • http://ww.ecben.net Will

    I prefer to take an observational approach, asking what are the characteristics of “all who profess and call themselves Christians” which are not shared by “Jews”, “Hindus”, “Buddhists”, etc. But apparently this does not offer the fun of declaring who is In and who is Out based on some a priori checklist.

    And the alleged “definitions” keep giving silly answers. I have here in this room the four published volumes of Piepkorn’s PROFILES IN BELIEF (where the posthumous publication seems to have been abandoned.) Volume IV includes “…Other Christian Bodies”, so by implication all varieties of “Christians” are covered in the four published volumes. Whereupon I find that the standard of “Christian” being presumably used includes Unitarians, but not Mormons; does not include the Watchtower/Bible Students/Millenial Dawn (“Jehovah’s Witnesses”); but DOES include numerous minor Arian sects. The Theosophist-dominated Liberal Catholic Church is in volume I with the other “Catholic” and “Orthodox” hierarchical churches. But its’ Anthroposophist counterpart, the Christian Community, is not even in “Other Christians”. Something is wrong here.

    When we look at the volume divisions, it gets even worse. The New Church is in the “Protestant” volume with “other churches of the Reformation”. But the Christadelphians, who are at LEAST as “Protestant” as we are, are relegated to the limbo of “Other Christian” with Unitarians and Friends.

    I hope to understand this some day when water is less wet.

  • Stephen A.

    Actually, I prefer to look at this entire issue of “who is/who isn’t” from a journalistic point of view.

    While some here think it’s wonderful that theology is suddenly being debated in newspapers, I find it horrifying, because it’s not being put there by theologians. Instead, theological issues are being raised by politicians and political spin doctors, as well as unwitting reporters who are dutifully repeating what they’re told by them.

    A great religion story isn’t one in which the reporter defined all 50 theological terms he used in the story correctly. It’s one in which the greater issues are discussed, such as why theology is being thrust into the election campaign in the first place, and why theological issues are being raised (and sometimes mischaracterized) to smear candidates.

    A journalist’s job isn’t to sort out whether Mormons are Christians or not. Only a very few reporters are suited to that task. Their job is more properly relegated to performing specific tasks, such as 1) noting that some Christians are rejecting a candidate based on his religion; and 2) refusing to be drawn into complex theological discussions, which are NOT the issues on which we elect presidents, anyway.


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