Comment of the Day

Seth R., a practicing Mormon, weighs in on the Trinity and, in particular, my chosen trinitarian formulation:

Tony, it’s interesting in the same article where you conclude that
Mormons are not Christians, you admit that you yourself are a “Social
Trinitarian” in bent.

You ought to check out Mormon scholars like Blake Ostler and David
Paulsen. Their central argument and thesis is that Mormonism is
actually social trinitarian. They make a pretty compelling case based
on Mormon scripture in the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants.
The idea is that there are three distinct individuals who are perfectly
united in love. Perichoresis I believe is the term. A perfect unity of
will and purpose such that each member of the godhead literally
inhabits the mind of the others. To know one is to know the others.

I myself am an active Mormon and consider myself Social Trinitarian.
I find it to be completely compatible with Mormon scripture and the
statements of Joseph Smith and other LDS leaders. Most Mormons would
not know the correct theological term for their beliefs. But I believe
few would find much to criticize in the language of social
trinitarianism. Some Mormons do tend to lean more tri-theist. But then
again, I’ve found modalism to be pretty darn prevalent in Evangelical
and Protestant circles – even the ministers are almost outright
modalists (though they’d never admit it).

Problem is that both modalism and tri-theism are at least logically
coherent statements about God. Classical trinitarianism tries to have
it both ways and ultimately makes sense neither way. It’s an utterly
illogical and incoherent mess. Social Trinitarianism gets around the
problem by making the unity of the three not one of “substance” (a
purely philosophical innovation the theologians at Nicea beggared from
the Neo-Platonists), but rather a profound unity of purpose, will, mind
and love.

This same sort of unity or perichoresis is at the very heart of the
highest aspirations of every Mormon. I ultimately seek the same sort of
perichoresis with my wife. I hope ultimately to experience it with God
as well. “If ye are not one, ye are not mine.”

Anyway, Social Trinitarianism is very much a possibility for any
Mormon, and indeed, I think various passages in the Book of Mormon
about the unity of God all but demand a Social Trinitarian read on
Mormon theology.

Anyway, I just found it rather odd that a professed Social
Trinitarian would have a problem with Mormonism’s views on trinity. We
basically are social trinitarians, even if we don’t know the correct
term for it.

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  • EricW

    What about the textual variants at Revelation 4:8 (either 8 or 9 “holy”‘s) that, combined with Revelation 1:4 and 3:1, may suggest that there are 9 members of the Godhead – i.e., the Father, the Son, and the Seven Spirits? :^)

  • Jim Fisher

    Christology aside, isn’t Mormonism works-based? I seem to remember reading somewhere that Mr. Smith considered Grace a “pernicious doctrine.” Doesn’t the belief that we are saved by the Grace of our Creator far outweigh the belief in the Trinity?

  • Larry

    It should also be pointed out that Christian social trinitarians don’t deny that the persons of the Godhead are of the same substance. There is also nothing illogical about the classical trinitarian formulation, it may be difficult for us to comprehend, but that does not mean that it is illogical.

  • Alan K

    Tony, I don’t know if you are familiar with the story of the Worldwide Church of God, of how it changed course theologically and is now perhaps the most “Trinity-conscious” denomination in the land. This is a great little read on their history.

  • Mormons are Henotheists they believe that MANY MANY MANY ‘gods’ exist but they worship only the ‘gods’ that apply to us (our specific social trinity) AND if you are worthy enough that you can become a ‘god’ yourself.
    Mormonism’s central doctrine is what they call the Law of Eternal progression. They believe that “As man is, God once was, and as God is, man may become.”
    These doctrines fly directly in the face of what the ONE TRUE God has revealed.
    Isaiah 43:10 “You are my witnesses,” declares the LORD,
    “and my servant whom I have chosen,
    that you may know and believe me
    and understand that I am he.
    Before me no god was formed,
    nor shall there be any after me.
    Mormons ARE NOT Christians by any stretch of the imagination.

  • John B.

    I’d rather not get into a trinitarian debate which seem often to spiral eternally never reaching any conclusion, but I have two comments.
    Jim, at least from a Nicene perspective, no, the doctrine of grace is not as important as the doctrine of Trinity. Trinity is how we experience God and thereby receive grace so if your doctrine of God is not Trinitarian it has a systematic effect of the doctrine of grace. This is also evident in the fact that the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed is nearly all about the doctrine of God. So in this way of thinking, the doctrine of God is the starting place of all theology and is therefore the most important coming before any talk of grace.
    Second, to Seth R., since you find the classical doctrine of Trinity incoherent, I was wondering if you had read the Five Theological Orations by St. Gregory Nazianzen. I recommend it very strongly before making such a harsh logical claim about Trinitarian theology. This is the most comprehensive and yet clear doctrine of Trinity that I have personally read. It was a major source for the Council that amended the Nicene Creed in Constantinople in 381–what most would call a “classical trinitarian” stance. It is difficult to call the doctrine of trinity “incoherent” after having read these orations.
    And now I see that my initial statement (that I would rather not get into a debate) has been made to look a bit silly. I’m too argumentative!

  • Irritable

    This just in: having grown weary of anathematizing the LGBT community, the defenders of orthodoxy commenting over at The New Christians have set their sites on Mormons. Film at eleven.

  • Rats. I thought I provided my URL, which would explain my moniker and provide plenty of evidence to write me off as a liberal. So much for being smooth.

  • I never understood how the Creedal view on the trinity could be ultimately defended. For example what happened to the homoousian trinity when, as Christ says (and regardless the fact that he’s verbatim quoting OT scripture doesn’t mean he means the words any less, or that the words are not applicable to his condition) “My God My God why hast thou forsaken me?”
    Had the Father forsaken the Son? How can something of the same substance forsake itself? Why did Christ say “Touch me not, for I have not ascended to my Father”?
    There was a clear and complete separation if we take Christ at his words. And if we’re not taking him at His words then I think there are bigger issues than mere ontology that we have to address. If you think there was some mystery meaning in why Christ said those things then you’ve got some clever explaining to do.
    Anywho. That’s one of the biggest befuddlements I have about trying to figure out why everyone is ready to trust an extra-biblical council on the final word on the nature of God when it’s in such stark contrast to actual events and statements in the Bible given by Christ himself.

  • Chris you are in error. You say–
    “These doctrines fly directly in the face of what the ONE TRUE God has revealed.
    Isaiah 43:10 “You are my witnesses,” declares the LORD,
    “and my servant whom I have chosen,
    that you may know and believe me
    and understand that I am he.
    Before me no god was formed,
    nor shall there be any after me.
    Mormons ARE NOT Christians by any stretch of the imagination. ”
    The problem is that you do not understand LDS doctrine, if you did you’d see that there is no conflict with that scripture.
    You see we believe that all humans are co-eternal with Christ and God. The doctrine of gnolaum
    “these two spirits, notwithstanding one is more intelligent than the other, have no beginning; they existed before, they shall have no end, they shall exist after, for they are gnolaum, or eternal.”
    –Abraham 3:19
    You see just as–
    “Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.”
    –Luke 5:52
    So, too, can we. I believe that Christ’s Atonement covers us to the point of rendering us as though we had never sinned, that’s why-
    “Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:”
    Ephesians 4:13
    is possible and why
    “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.”
    Romans 8:16-17
    is also possible. Just as Jesus was not formed before the Father neither were we. Just because Christ grew in knowledge and stature does not mean that he was at any point insufficient. And when Christ purges us of our sins he does so to such a completeness that it is as though we’d never sinned. Sharing thusly both perfection and the co-eternal attributes of Christ we become “joint-heirs” and we come to the fullness of the stature of Christ.
    We take Christ at his word more literally and completely than any other faith I’ve ever seen.

  • HiveRadical

    If we take those mentioned by Eric from revelations and consider–
    “That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.”
    John 17:21
    We may have more than a mere 9.