Mormons as Trinitarians

April 6, 2008
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Mention the word “Trinity” to a group of Mormons and the response you’ll get probably will be “I don’t believe that false doctrine of Satan!” [1] Mormons often even feel more kinship with religions like the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who also reject the Trinity doctrine, than we do with orthodox Christians on this topic. But do we Mormons even understand what the doctrine of Trinity really is?

I had an interesting experience recently. I was engaged in an ongoing discussion with a Protestant friend on the internet. I described my beliefs about God and “the Trinity” and she described hers. I went to great lengths to explain exactly what I believed. At the end of it all, she said “I think it’s only fair to mention though that your belief in the Trinity and my belief in the Trinity are a close as you can get without them being the same.” My Mormon instincts wanted to shout “No they aren’t!” But after time to think about it, I’m now convinced that she’s right. [2]

It helps to understand that the actual doctrine of Trinity can be summarized as “one God in three persons.” This might shock some Mormons that think the Trinity doctrine is “one God that takes three forms.” No, sorry, that doctrine is actually called “Modalism.”

“But wait!” someone might cry, I’ve been told by an orthodox Christian while on my mission that God is like water: He can take the form of a liquid, solid, or ice! Well, it would seem that the doctrine of Trinity, as taught by Catholic and Protestant Churches, is difficult to understand and so many Christians finally just settle into Modalism in an attempt to wrap their heads around it. But orthodox Christians aren’t supposed to be describing God in this way because it’s a misunderstanding of what their Churches teach. [3]

So armed with a more correct understanding of what the doctrine of Trinity is, I want to pose a question: Why do we Mormons run from the term “Trinity,” even going so far as to use a replacement word: “Godhead.” [4] Don’t Mormons believe in one God? Don’t Mormons believe in three persons in this God? Of course we do.

I assume the reason we dislike the word “Trinity” is because it carries with it connotations of the Athanasius Creed and substance theology (i.e. the Nicean Creed). Of course we should reject these Creedal extensions to the doctrine of Trinity, but I think it’s wrong for us to assume that “the Trinity” itself equates to them.

What is it we reject about the Athanasius Creed and substance theology? The biggest issue is that they have been elevated to being the same as or above scripture. But Mormons have issues with some of their content as well.

In the case of the Athanasius creed, the offending point seems to be “And yet they are not three Gods: but one God” complete with anathema curse if you ever claim otherwise, in any sense. [5] Our issue here is that this is a verifiably logical contradiction. [6] The Athanasius creed is more or less Mormon doctrine up until it insists that there is a damning ban on referring to the Trinity as numerically three Gods, even in a sense. [7]

In the case of the Nicene creed our rejection seems over the idea that the Trinity is “one of substance.” I sometimes feel this is like requiring everyone to believe “God is Abracadabra” or they are damned. I have no idea what it means, nor does the person damning me for not believing it. I can’t realistically claim that I do or don’t believe in it, but I feel that a loving God would never require such a profession of me.

But does Mormon rejection of the Athanasius formula and the Nicene Creed equate to a rejection of “the doctrine of Trinity?” Consider this Wikipedia article on “Social Trinity.” Do you see anything in Social Trinitarianism, at least a Wikipedia defines it, that Mormons object to? If Mormons were Social Trinitarians, wouldn’t we still be Trinitarians?

Now let’s do a quick exercise. I think many Mormons believe that Jehovah’s Witnesses are closer to Mormon theology on the nature of God than orthodox-Christians. But look over this list and compare:

Orthodox-Christians:

  1. Believe in one God
  2. Believe in three persons that make up that one God
  3. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are three separate persons
  4. Believe the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are one
  5. Believe Jesus is fully Divine and fully God.
  6. Believe Jesus was also fully a man.
  7. Affirm to creedal formulas that reject as damning any wording that involves there being numerically three Gods.
  8. Affirm to creedal formulas that claim the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are “one in substance” though they don’t define what that means.

Jehovah’s Witnesses:

  1. Believe in a greater God, Jehovah (the Father), and a sub god, Michael the Archangel or Jesus.
  2. Jesus is not fully divine. That is to say, Jesus is not God.
  3. When they say Jesus “is divine” they mean it more in the sense that a being created by God to be holy, like an angel, might be said to be “divine.”
  4. Jesus and the Father are separate persons
  5. The Holy Ghost is not a person at all, just the power of God

Looking over this list, I see a lot more in common between Mormon theology and orthodox Christianity than I do with Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Should we, as Mormons, avoid the word “Trinity” or “Trinitarian” when describing our beliefs? Or do we have as much right to it because of our belief in a Tri-Unity God? Perhaps we should claim these terms as our own but with our own unique twist whereby we reject the Athanasius creed and substance theology as a way as understanding that Tri-unity better? Or should we just avoid the term all together?

Similar thoughts on the Bloggernacle:

http://millennialstar.org/2008/02/27/trinitarian-mormons-orson-pratt/

http://www.libertypages.com/cgw/2008/03/07/problems-with-mormons-and-the-trinity/

Notes: 

[1] I exaggerate

[2] Lest some of you think I didn’t really fully explain the Mormon view of the Trinity, our discuss included: 1) An argument over the meaning of every “Trinity” verse in the Bible, 2) a discussion about how Mormons believe the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are not only three separate persons, but they are physically separate and the Father is even embodied just like Jesus is, 3) an explanation that Mormons are comfortable with calling the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost “one God” in a certain sense and “three Gods” in a different sense, 4) a thorough review of what the Apostolic/Early Christian Fathers taught about the doctrine of Trinity, 5) a discussion about divine investiture, though I didn’t call it by that name.

Interestingly, our main point of disagreement was over whether or not Jesus could, in some sense (a lesser sense), be considered as the same person as the Father. In other words our main disagreement was over a slightly modalistic and non-Trinitarian twist that she personally held, not with the actual doctrine of Trinity.

[3] In fact, Modalism is a condemned heresy by every major Christian denomination. Just as some Mormons don’t understand all Mormon doctrine, we need to cut other Christians some slack over not understanding all of their doctrines. However, I find irony in the fact that such modalistic Christians often condemned my views of the Trinity as making me a non-Christian when in reality my views are closer to what their Churches teach than what they believe.

[4] “Godhead” is really just a word that means “divine nature.” “The Divine Nature” to a Mormon is the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, thus the connection.

[5] There are other points we could quibble over, such as “The Father incomprehensible” or “three Persons are coeternal, and coequal.” But I would argue that if understood in a certain way, Mormons could agree with such statements.

[6] If God is made up of three persons, each divine, than in a logical sense they are each a God and thus numerically we have three Gods, even if you choose not to normally speak of it that way. As was shown in this post, this is provable logic. If there is some other way to think of these words such that it’s not a contradiction, the burden is on the orthodox-Christian to explain himself better prior to using such a statement as a way of defining others as non-Christians or as anathema.

[7] Owen and Mosser, two Evangelical Christian scholars, argue about the orthodox view of the doctrine of Trinity: “We agree that a number of the church fathers developed theories to explain the oneness and threeness of the members of the Godhead that were unorthodox. However, these various theories were insufficient for very good reasons, the main one being that they simply did not incorporate all the relevant biblical data, just as we do not think the Latter-day Saint view does.” (linkBut of course there would always be an infinite number of contradictory ways to incorporate a set of data. What they miss is that there could never be a compelling case to emphasize one contradictory explanation over another. So how could they possibly know substance theology or the contradictory Athanasius formula better represent the truth than the Mormon view that they feel contradicts the Biblical data? At worst, Mormons are as bad off as they already are.

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89 Responses to Mormons as Trinitarians

  1. April 6, 2008 at 1:55 am

    Wonderful post, Bruce! I would say that point number eight, under Orthodox-Christians, could also be agreed to, as it is not defined, so I would think I’m free to define it as I want, right? I can think of a way to define it to make it fit with my understanding of the nature of God. As for point seven, I’ll just make sure never to mention the word “three” when talking to Christians about God. Besides, the standard works always refers to Father, Son and Holy Ghost as “one God,” not three, so that would be easy enough to do. All in all, I feel confident now that I can more or less answer in the affirmative if anyone asks me if I believe in the Trinity. Thank you for the post.

  2. Rigel Hawthorne
    April 6, 2008 at 4:01 am

    I had a discussion with a friend on this topic and he attempted to clarify his understanding of my belief with a question about how a belief that God the Father and Jesus were separate beings could be reconciled with his scriptural interpretation that Jehovah (the Old Testament God) and Jesus were the same being. My reply that I did believe that Jesus and Jehovah were the same God confused him even more. When I explained that Jehovah had a form of pre-existent spirit and there existed concurrently God the Father who generally did not visit the earth after its transition from the fall, he understood what I explained, but it seemed completely foreign to him. The complexity that made it so foreign seemed to be the difference in pre-earth doctrine. To him, there were no pre-existent spirits; all of us existed pre-mortally in the “mind” of God without a “spirit body”. He believed that spirit and physical body are born simultaneously when we arrived on earth.

  3. Kevin Barney
    April 6, 2008 at 7:38 am

    A few thoughts:

    - I used to think that the word “trinity” was a contraction of tri- + unitas, and held within itself the concept of “three in one.” I actually got this from Barker’s The Divine Church, an old priesthood manual on the apostasy. But when I tried to nail that down, I couldn’t; it isn’t true. The word trinity simply derives from Latin trinitas, which existed in secular Latin. It means “the quality of threeness” by analogy to unitas “the quality of oneness.”

    - I think the Mormon understanding of what we call the Godhead is basically Plantinga’s social trinitarianism. So I have no problem with the word trinity, properly understood.

    - Having said all of that, I’m not sure I would characterize Mormon theology as “trinitarian” in discussion with other Christians without explanation or modification (such as by adding the modifier “social”). We already have enough of a need to have to translate theological thought from one tradition to the other without adding to the confusion by using the same term with our own nuance (i.e., a non-ontological relation among the persons).

  4. April 6, 2008 at 7:55 am

    Rigel, that’s because it was touching on the created or uncreated nature of the universe – which is the real bone of contention between Mormons and other Christians.

    Believe it or not, the trinity isn’t the real dispute between our religions. As Bruce pointed out, it’s a distinction without much of a difference.

    The real spot we part ways on is the ontological nature of the universe. Traditional Christian theology is premised on the central assumption that there are two things in the universe – that which is uncreated (God) and that which is created (by God). Of course, anything created cannot be “God” – who must be self-sufficient. The creeds were primarily an attempt to reconcile what looked to them like a created human being – Jesus – with the notion of Jesus being “God.”

    Mormonism turns everything on its head by declaring this central ontological divide to be null and void. We claim all creation was simply “organized” from pre-existing matter. We also claim that all people are eternal (the verse in D&C on “intelligences”). So this need to divide the created from the uncreated simply isn’t an issue for us. And that really is a fundamental difference. The Trinity is just a sideshow dispute that has gotten far more attention than it deserves – even so far as to appear to actually BE the central divide. But it’s creation ex nihilo and ontology that really divide us theologically. Not grace-vs-works, not trinity, not continuing revelation, not scripture.

  5. Ray
    April 6, 2008 at 8:46 am

    I read the post and was going to add my 2 cents worth, but Kevin and Seth wrote almost everything I was going to add. The critical difference, imo, rests almost solely on our conception of the nature of God as actual Father Organizer, not in the semantics of competing versions of trinitarianism. It’s our view of matter that really separates us, since intelligence, spirit, resurrection, eternal increase, creation, atonement, perfection, etc. all deal at the most fundamental level with how we view matter.

    It’s more than a little ironic that the most critical aspect of the Restoration can be classified as the restoration of scientific understanding.

  6. Bruce Nielson
    April 6, 2008 at 8:46 am

    Kevin says: “I’m not sure I would characterize Mormon theology as “trinitarian” in discussion with other Christians without explanation or modification (such as by adding the modifier “social”).”

    Kevin, you are so right. This is the same issue as this post I made here, only in reverse. I believe we should call ourselves Trinitarians but with a full explanation (if the person will let us that is) as to our modified view of Trinity. Of course if the person I’m explaning it to is an anti-Mormon that is refusing to let me get a word in edgewise, I see no moral reason to explain myself further. :P

  7. Bruce Nielson
    April 6, 2008 at 8:54 am

    Rigel Hawthorne, I had a similar experience with the same woman I was corresponding with on the internet. She said “Well, if Jesus is Jehovah to you, then who in the world is the Father?”

    Here was part of my answer back:

    Okay, the problem I’m having answering your question is that there really isn’t an answer that isn’t so straightforward you might think I’m being evasive. So I was trying to find a way to say it in your language. This helped a bit, but not as much as I hoped. So let me try anyhow.

    You asked, “who is the Father?” to me. The answer is “He is the Father.” See what I mean? I’m not being evasive, there just isn’t any other answer to give.

    Is the Father God? Yes
    Who is the Son? He’s Jesus, the Firstborn of the Father and the Only Begotten of the Father.
    Is the Son God? Yes

    Who or what is the Holy Ghost? He’s a person just like the Son and the Father. He is not embodied like they are.
    Is the Holy Ghost God? Yes

    What does the word “God” mean?
    We’re puny mortals have to put our thoughts into words. Words are imperfect. When it comes right down to it, I don’t believe in the words, I believe in the underlying thought. Thus I accept the idea that any word in the Bible may be used in different senses. This is something I have to keep reminding myself. “God” has three senses:
    1. It’s the Father
    2. It’s the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost together as one Godhead
    3. It’s any member of the Godhead.

    So when I read the scriptures, I understand the word “God” as meaning any of the above or possibly more than one at a time. Why do I believe this? Because they are ONE. Not “one” numerically (not yachid) but “one” unity (i.e. echad).

    Is Jesus the first and the last? Of course!
    Is the Father the first and the last?Of course!
    Is the Holy Ghost the first and the last? Well, the scriptures never call him thus, but since they are one the only logical answer is, of course!

    Why are they all the first and the last? Because they are one
    (to borrow from the Athanasius creed now…)
    Is the Father the Lord? Yes
    Is Jesus the Lord? Yes
    Is the Holy Ghost the Lord? Yes
    Why? Because they are one!

    Are there three Lords or one Lord? Don’t make any difference how you answer this question. Why? Because they are one. It’s all the same. Call them three, call them one. It just plain don’t matter so long as you don’t err and decide they have separate wills and agendas. (i.e. start to believe they aren’t one, i.e. echad.)

    Is the Father God? Yes
    Is the Son God? Yes
    Is the Holy Ghost God? Yes

    Why? Because they are one!

    Are there three Gods or one God? I already answered this when I defined God, but in case you’re still wondering, the answer is it just plain doesn’t matter how you answer this question. Athanasius was completely wrong on this point. That’s why he ended up with a logic contradiction. (And that’s how he was supposed to know he was wrong in his formulating.)

    You can think of them as one God (definition #2) or you can think of them in a lesser sense as logically/numerically three Gods (definition #3), though this is not the preferred way to say it, or you can think of the Father as God and the Son and the Holy Ghost as sharing in His divine nature (definition #1). So how many Gods are there? There are one (echad) unified God no matter how you slice it or dice it. There is only three Gods in a logical/numerical (yachid) sense. So long as you don’t err and try to think of them as having separate agendas or wills there is no way you can go wrong here. Why would that be true? Because they are one!

    If I might take an aside here, I’m convinced from talking to Catholics and Protestants that there is a strong belief that God will be offended or jealous if we ever say, even in a logical/numerical sense that there are three Gods. Scandal! Blaspheme! I’ve been told over and over again.

    But what type of God (definition #1) would He be if He got jealous and angry for thinking of Jesus and the Holy Ghost as “Gods” in the sense that they are Divine and numerically separate from Him? He’d be frankly very ungodly. Or to put it another way, He’s be someone other than who He is. And that’s just it. He is GOD and they are ONE so there is no possibility that God would be jealous or angry over this. This is merely a misunderstanding of God’s oneness and his nature. If you think of it logically, getting jealous over a complement given to someone you are one with would be like getting jealous of yourself. It makes no sense.

  8. Ray
    April 6, 2008 at 9:00 am

    Btw, I avoid the term as much as possible, simply because of the interpretive baggage it carries. If someone asks, I usually respond with the following:

    “That means different things to different people. I believe in three Gods that form one Godhead, acting together as one just like my wife and I, though separate people, act as one parenthood with our children. We are united in everything we do for and say to them, just as the Father, Son and Holy Ghost are united as one in everything they do for and say to us.”

  9. Bruce Nielson
    April 6, 2008 at 9:04 am

    Seth R,

    I agree with you that the doctrinal divide between Mormon view of Christianity and the Protestant/Catholic view is creation ex nihilo and the ontological divide between creator and created.

    Interestingly, I’m not longer convinced that Mormons do in fact disbelieve in creation ex nihilo, in a sense.

    I had a Christian (in a book I read or something) point out that the Big Bang was creation ex nihilo in that it was originally no time and space (i.e. “nothing”) and then was suddenly the whole universe. Creation ex nihilo, right?

    But here’s the weird thing. I had always used that very same example to demonstrate creation out of pre-existing “matter” (I don’t necessarily take that word here to mean “matter” in the 21st century physics sense of the word. I just take it to mean something pre-existing and it was real.) After all, the reason why it was no time and no space was because it was *everything* and it was all there and thus the universe was collapsed on itself. (Incidently, my physics professor friend tells me that he equates this with spiritual creation before physical creation.)

    That’s when it hit me: creation out of nothing and creation out of pre-existing can actually be one and the same! (If you understand them in a certain way.)

    So I’d get a bit more technical with you and say that the real divide between Mormonism and Western Christianity (i.e. Catholic/Protestant Christianity) is actually the belief that God lacks the power to bridge the creator/created gap.

  10. Bruce Nielson
    April 6, 2008 at 9:05 am

    LDS Anarchist says: “I would say that point number eight, under Orthodox-Christians, could also be agreed to, as it is not defined, so I would think I’m free to define it as I want, right?”

    Can’t say I disagree. :P Just make sure (for the interest of integrity) you explain that you don’t know what it means. Then innocently ask them to define it for you. :P

  11. April 6, 2008 at 9:17 am

    Look, “The first PRINCIPLE of REVEALED RELIGION is to know the nature and kind of being we worship and that we may converse with HIM as one may converse with another.” (Jos Smith). There is the Trinity and then there is the Godhead. There are philosophies of men mingled with scripture and then there are “EYE WITNESSES”–pure diamond truth!

    There is the communion and then there is the true sacrament. We, as LDS, will never be ecumenical. No Way! We testify that ‘we are the only true living church on the face of the WHOLE earth.” That should be GOOD NEWS to any truth seeking person who has a real desire TO SEEK the RIGHT rather than to make themselves RIGHT.

    Lucifer, the great opposer, has a way of infiltrating and perverting the minds and hearts of mankind through compromises, distortions, and constant disparities away from the simple truths of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

    “Ole Scratch” will take things that are literal and make them figurative and things figurative and make them literal. True knowledge (TRUTH) forsakes the evils, sophistries, and lies of Satan.

    We can’t pat error on the back and expect just because people are sincere that means they are truthful for “No amount of sincerity can ever compensate for a lack of the spirit of the truth.”

    Think about it! Communion, some think is the LITERAL eating of the flesh and blood of Christ; however, the true sacrament is PURELY SYMBOLIC (not literal).

    As far as the Nicean Creed i.e. Trinity that is about the biggest definition of nothing one can even imagine and to say they are nearly the same (Trinity vs The Godhead) is just fooling yourself and trying to broad brush what is truly a LITERAL DOCTRINE re: the GodHead if truth be known to those who seem to have no initiative to seek out the truth with real intent, with true determination, and with all their heart.

    Rather many are easily conditioned to believe what is the common idea which economizes the very God of Heaven and mocks Him with the falsehoods and untruths perpetrated by the dishonest who see usually to get gain through flattery over the ears of their gullible followers (Gal 6.6-8)

    To say the Father is Jesus and Jesus is The Father, and the Holy Ghost is the Father, and the Father is the Son and the Holy Ghost is the Son is about the biggest mish-mash idiocy one can imagine and it will keep you confused and to think you can increase in faith by worshipping a spiritual essence or an ambiguous cluttered idea is delaying your own journey to a much MORE PROMISED land than to segue into what the world would rather hold on to as false ideas than to change and embrace what is right and true. This is sort of like bureaucracies that would rather fail than change.

    There is no need to sit there content with a mere 5 watt bulb of truth. Today, you can KNOW FOR SURE what the truth of the matter is with religion. I testify that God the Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as mans the Son also; yet, the Holy Ghost has NOT a body of flesh and bones; were it so, he could not dwell in us (dc 130.22). We don’t have much time on this earth to waste it prancing around 1/2 truths and confusing religious dogma. That is not very wise!

    The scriptures are replete with instances where the Father introduced the Son and the Son teaching that when He leaves He will send the Holy Ghost to “Testify of Him and bring all things to our remembrance whatsoever He has said.” (Jhn 14.26/15.26).

    The closer one gets to ABSOLUTE TRUTHS the more simply they can be expressed. To think that you can sit there, oh so sincere, yet devoid of the truth of the matter and emotionalize yourself to be validated by others becuase you want to be RIGHT rather than seek the right is your own road to stubbornness and foolishness. It is your choice you have your agency yet someday you will berate yourself for the time you wasted in not getting a better attitude TO SEEK THE RIGHT rather than to make yourself RIGHT. It takes initiative with Lucifer he will always take the initiative; yet, with God the initiative lies with us (Rev 3.20; 2 NE 2.13).

    To honor truth takes personal integrity of the highest order and not seeking to fool yourself let alone others who may also be naive enough to follow your own foolish/thoughtless path you are bent on holding to because you have not the honesty to admit to yourself that you are holding religion, in your mind, as more a play thing to banter back and forth than to realize The gosopel of Jesus Christ is serious business. It is the work of God not the work of men and we do well to take heed and be true to the trust it requires if we are to really raise our mediocre human performances to a much more divine standard (II Pet 1.4-12) and to be the manner of man that Jesus set the example for as the true prototype of salvation/perfection (3 NE 27.27; dc 4.5,6).

    If we do this, and truly seek our Eternal Father with all our heart, might, mind, and strength, I testify you and I will have great peace and that is one emotion that the old Dragon cannot duplicate for he is the author of confusion.

    May you find the Lord blessings in kinkdly lighting the TRUE doctrine of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost in your own heart and mind rather than think you can embrace ambiguity and hope to worship with increased faith an ethereal essence the molds the true God Head into merely different manifestations of the same person. If you will embrace the true doctrine and go about BELIEVING and DOING IT then you will know, as a reward for your faith, that it is the truth as you continue in His word (the Master’s words and works) then you will be a true disciple indeed (Jhn 8..30,31) and you will know the truth and it will free you from the fallacies and illusions that the cunning put there as Lucifer’s minion to trip up the good and the noble who would seek the right if they only knew WHERE to find it (dc 123.12,13) and you will understand how revelation works and that is the natural inheritance of the righteous.

    Remember, you cannot justly justify yourself that is the job and role of the Spirit of the Lord to justify if we be in conformance and compliance to the Holy Word of God and align ourselves with Celestial Law, the Laws of God. For, when we do that, we won’t have to tell all how good, righteous, truthful, or Holy we are the Spirit of the Lord will witness to others the peace that passeth understanding. Peace and Honor are things Lucifer knows not of he’d like to have them; yet, he wants them on demand not based on righteousness (dc 29.36), truth, integrity, or honor. Lucifer knows not the mind of God he can’t seem to understand that you can’t have true power without first having true honor (Moses 4.6).

    We are so fortunate to have Holy Writ after the standard of the LDS edition of the scriptures that was the crowning event of Pres Kimball’s adminstration back in ’73 to ’85 were those scriptures he helped to bring about in a manner of organization that was facilitaeted not only by the revelation of TRUE prophet’s (Amos 3.7) receive to act but because the time was right according to the tehcnological advancements that had finally come in vogue to fulfill Ezekiel’s prophecy, 37.15-19, which has increased to these powerful forms of communication, as we can now share back and forth in these blogs, to the point that all who WILL hear MAY hear the truth; yet, if they persist in their own notions and become a law to themselves then they end up with their own reward and not what a very MIGHTY and POWERFUL Eternal Father has prepared (Jhn 14.2) for those who TRULY love Him with their acts, what they DO (jas 2.14-17) not just what profess in word (Mt 7.21); yet, actually embrace the true and living Gospel with all the power and authority by those called by the Lord to administer in behalf of the Lord to help advance the affairs of mankind in the existence with the true Gospel that is infinite, universal, and eternal in scope.

    Jacob 6.12

    Your friend at heart (Prov 17.17)

  12. Bruce Nielson
    April 6, 2008 at 9:51 am

    I think Your Friend at Heart’s post deserves some attention.

    I personally have a really big issue with people misrepresenting other people’s beliefs and speaking for them. While I think Your Friend at Heart had the best of intentions, it really is very offensive when Mormons go around representing other Christian religions with words like this: “To say the Father is Jesus and Jesus is The Father, and the Holy Ghost is the Father, and the Father is the Son and the Holy Ghost is the Son is about the biggest mish-mash idiocy one can imagine ”

    Not long ago I had an argument/discuss with Doug G about how he believed it is offensive to other Christians when we Mormons say we believe God said other Christian religion’s creeds are an abomination.

    While I do not doubt that Doug is right that such wording is offensive to them — and I’m going to be very frank here — the issue is theirs, not the Mormons. They are choosing to be offended by the existence of our religion. There is nothing I can do to help them with that. If Mormonism is to exist at all, it is to exist as what it is: with a claim of being restored Christianity. Being offended at me for believing that is to be offended at me for being me. Nothing more and nothing less.

    For me to give up the claim that God believes the creeds to be an abominiation is nothing more or less than to cease to believe in the truth claims of Mormonism. Period. Thus it’s tyranny to try to force me to give them up. (And it’s also hypocrisy since the Christians offended by this teach Mormonism is a doctrine of the devil. You know what? I think they really believe that when they say that. I don’t think they are trying to be offensive, I think they are just telling me what they really believe. If I’m offended, it’s my fault, not theirs!)

    What Your Friend at Heart is doing is very different. He is misrepresenting other people’s religions and putting words in their mouth that they have never said. I find this very offensive, though I’ll assume it’s being done innocently, not with malice.

    Your Friend at Heart, you need to stop doing this. There is no Christian religion out there that believes “the Father is Jesus and Jesus is The Father, and the Holy Ghost is the Father, and the Father is the Son and the Holy Ghost is the Son” No Christian religion teaches this! This is the heresy of modalism, not the Trinity doctrine. You need to cease and desist from teaching this about other Christian religions.

    It’s as offensive for you to say such things as it is for other Christians to claim you believe Satan is a second begotten of God with Jesus, or whatever lies and misrepresentations they cook up. Please do unto others as you’d have them do unto you. Thanks.

  13. Cicero
    April 6, 2008 at 9:57 am

    Interesting, as I was raised in the Church and I was never taught that we reject the Trinity.

    Instead I was always told that we reject the Nicaean Creed. That we believe in the Trinity but interpret it differently then other Christians.

  14. April 6, 2008 at 10:07 am

    In James E Talmage’s “Articles of Faith,” chapter two is called “GOD AND THE HOLY TRINITY,” and Talmage uses the word “Trinity” unapologetically throughout, where most modern Mormons would only feel comfortable saying “Godhead.”

    I think its just semantics, really. Our theology really does affirm that the Father Son and Holy Ghost are in fact one in every imaginable way except physical substance. I think getting hung up on bodily distinctness at the expense of grasping the unity of the three qualifies as “looking beyond the mark.”

    Thanks for the post Bruce.

  15. Clark
    April 6, 2008 at 10:23 am

    I had a Christian (in a book I read or something) point out that the Big Bang was creation ex nihilo in that it was originally no time and space (i.e. “nothing”) and then was suddenly the whole universe. Creation ex nihilo, right?

    Nope. For two reasons. For one the big bang says nothing about what caused it. Creation ex nihlo is a metaphysical doctrine relating God and creation. The physics of the big bang does no such thing.

    Second, most modern theoretical physics talks about a multiverse (whether in string theory or loop quantum gravity). While not everyone accepts this it is pretty mainstream. In this case the big bang talks about the temporal first point of our particular membrane within a much larger multiverse. So the big bang is anything but an ontological creation.

    I should note that social trinitarianism is often not considered compatible with the Trinity proper for a variety of technical reasons. While I think Mormons at a minimum adopt something like a social Trinity I think D&C 93 & 88 suggest something a little more robust.

  16. April 6, 2008 at 10:30 am

    To say the Father is Jesus and Jesus is The Father, and the Holy Ghost is the Father, and the Father is the Son and the Holy Ghost is the Son is about the biggest mish-mash idiocy one can imagine

    Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? the words that I speak unto you I speak not of myself: but the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works. Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father in me: or else believe me for the very works’ sake. (John 14:10-11)

    And after this manner shall ye baptize in my name; for behold, verily I say unto you, that the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost are one; and I am in the Father, and the Father in me, and the Father and I are one. (3 Ne 11:27)

    I am in the Father, and the Father in me, and the Father and I are one — The Father because he gave me of his fulness, and the Son because I was in the world and made flesh my tabernacle, and dwelt among the sons of men. (D&C 93:3)

    I am Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who was crucified for the sins of the world, even as many as will believe on my name, that they may become the sons of God, even one in me as I am one in the Father, as the Father is one in me, that we may be one. (D&C 35:2)

    And the Father and I are one. I am in the Father and the Father in me; and inasmuch as ye have received me, ye are in me and I in you. (D&C 50:43)

    And because he dwelleth in flesh he shall be called the Son of God, and having subjected the flesh to the will of the Father, being the Father and the Son — the Father, because he was conceived by the power of God; and the Son, because of the flesh; thus becoming the Father and Son — and they are one God, yea, the very Eternal Father of heaven and of earth. (Mosiah 15:2-4)

  17. April 6, 2008 at 10:33 am

    To add, the way Augustine formulated the Nicene Creed was as follows:

    1. The Father is God
    2. The Son is God
    3. The Holy Spirit is God
    4. The Father is not the Son
    5. The Son is not the Holy Spirit
    6. The Holy Spirit is not the Father
    7. There is only one God

    Note how this is condemning what you are saying is the creed.

  18. Bruce Nielson
    April 6, 2008 at 10:39 am

    Clark,

    I think you are missing the point. The other Christians of the world have every right to define their doctrine of creation ex nihilo any way they please. If they want to define that creation “out of nothing” as meaning “out of no time and space” they have every right — every right — to do so. If that definition happens to match yours (and apparently mine) view of “creation out of pre-existing” than that is that. We are in agreement with them. End of story.

    I think the point you are actually trying to make is that not all Christians would agree with that characterization of creation ex nihilo. Okay, fair enough. But it’s up to them to decide what that means to them and I’m not going to assume one way or the other without asking them to explain what they mean.

    So, in summary, some Christians understand creation ex nihilo to be the same as the Mormon concept of creation out of pre-existing matter and some Christians don’t. Fair enough.

  19. Bruce Nielson
    April 6, 2008 at 11:05 am

    Clark,

    Thanks for the assist on explaining the Trinity doctrine.

    I came down hard on Your Friend at Heart, but I’m actually glad he posted. I was worried some people would argue with me that I was grossly exaggerating when I said Mormons tend to react with to the term “Trinity” by saying “I don’t believe that false doctrine of Satan!”

    It would seem that even when there is a post like mine that is (I’ll be blunt here) actively attacking the creedal doctrine of Trinity, that some Mormons simply can’t see past the word itself. I think this is unfortunate. Of course other religions have the same problems, but I expect more of Mormons.

    Clark said: “I think D&C 93 & 88 suggest something a little more robust”

    Clark, I agree with you on this completely. The real reason I stopped short of saying Mormons are social Trinitarians is because I think we are more than that. I think Mormons believe in a oneness that goes far beyond the traditional Trinitarian point of view, resurrected physcial bodies being separate not withstanding.

  20. Cicero
    April 6, 2008 at 11:54 am

    Thanks Kern, that makes sense then because my father is a Talmage fan

  21. April 6, 2008 at 12:49 pm

    There seems to be some misunderstandings. I would desire that we all not only understand, together, but NOT misunderstand.

    I hope this helps I will post a formal definition so we don’t become up to our eyes in controversy or end up steeped in a quagmire of semantics. Just because we have a doctrine of certitude, as Latter-day Saints, doesn’t mean we don’t love all others or are tolerant of their views. I certainly do not mean to put down anyone’s religion. That was not my desire at all; yet, I am not complicit with a LIE when others are taught by so called preachers things about our Eternal Father which are NOT true and are made up because of so called orthodox Christianity’s tradition. Others like Martin Luther were persecuted for going against the status quo of his time and men who were truly honest with themselves: Roger Williams, John Calvin, and many others frankly admitted during that long period of the apostasy that the true church was no longer on the earth (II Tim 4.3,4; II Thes 2.2-4) and they looked for a day of restitution as Peter prophesied of (Acts 3.19-21). That day is hear and of course we, as LDS, invite all mankind everywhere to “Come and See!” We welcome you with love and all that we have to include you in the household of faith and enjoy adventures of the spirit that few have an idea of on this earth and which many walked hungry never able to taste of in prior ages (Amos 8.11-13).

    I thoroughly realize the Lord loves Catholics for we baptize about 35,000 of them every year on average. What the only TRUE CHURCH on earth teaches is the Fatherhood of God and the Brotherhood of man and because of the pure doctrine of Christ I have a love for you and it pains me to think any should suffer in not being able to ‘come unto Christ’ and in Him be perfected. Others have felt this way also (Mosiah 28.3).

    I certainly desire no malice or emnity between any of us. I think that would waste the oppty we have, together, to come to a unity of the faith as the Master desired (Eph 4.11-14) and Paul also taught of his desire that we be ONE. I agree that the GodHead are ONE in purpose as Jesus uttered quite clearly this fact in His great intercessory prayer (John 17).

    The things I am sharing are NOT my opinion. If they were my opinion then my opinion would be as valued as your opinion would be as well; however, these are absolute truths as revealed through living prophets of God. We know there is not value in opinion when compared to absolute truths.

    When the Savior said that all sects, parities, and denominations were an abomination in His sight and that they have a FORM of GODLINESS yet deny the POWER thereof are no my words. The fact is Your God and My God does not mince words He speaks as plain as word can be especially through modern day Holy Writ that has not been tampered with re: one xlation after another.

    As I noted above, to reason things out with the mind, is fairly short-sighted because the secular without the spiritual is like the foam upon the milk or the fleeting shadow that will sooner or late dissipate and disappear as Pres Kimball noted so eloquently. Our prophets are amazing they are men of God and if you receive them I promise you will receive a prophet’s reward (Mt 10.41).

    I look forward to share whatever I might with you that I feel may help. I pray it will help you as it helps me to share and do the best I can to GIVE as the Master noted in Luke 6.38. May the Lord bless us all in our efforts I humbly pray. I wish He were here, personally, to share on these blogs for then we would feel of the MOST powerful of all. Yet, I am a mortal of limitations, and personally, am rarely, if ever, satisfied with my performance. Thank you for your patience and please excuse my weakness in writing at times. My heart is to try and share and it would hurt me inside if I felt I hurt another purposely I only desire to share and invite to come forward and feel the joy this true gospel of Jesus Christ has given me here on earth for nearly a 1/2 century now.

    It is the greatest gift in my life this Gospel of Jesus Christ. Were I to have not a penny and only my membership in this The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints I would still feel VERY, VERY, VERY RICH indeed. I feel so humble and fortunate to live in these times to have the opptys we have to sup from the pages of Holy Writ, to live in a day when there is a prophet on the earth, and to enjoy these latter-days the dispensation of the fulness of times, Eph 1.10.

    Again, please forgive me if I said things that looked like I tried to shatter another’s beliefs; yet, to leave a person with only the Niceen Creed/Trinity (so called) assumption is to sell you my brother or sister short and that hurts me to think any of you cannot have all that is yours to seek after and obtain. By your receiving the truth we are all so much the richer. I love you all!

    Gal 6.11,

    Your Friend (at heart).

    P.S. Here is that definition I found it interesting as I find each of your comments and thank you for your input and efforts which give us oppty of these moments to express things that mean so much and are so deep in the soul (dc 88.15)-

    The Trinity is a Christian doctrine, stating that God is one Being Who exists, simultaneously and eternally, as a mutual indwelling of three persons [1]: the Father, the Son (incarnate as Jesus Christ), and the Holy Spirit. Since the 4th century, in both Eastern Christianity and Western Christianity, this doctrine has been stated as ” three persons[2] in one God,” all three of whom, as distinct and co-eternal persons, are of one indivisible Divine essence, a simple being. The doctrine also teaches that the Son himself has two distinct natures, one fully divine and the other fully human, united in a hypostatic union. Support of the doctrine of the Trinity is known as Trinitarianism. Most denominations within Christianity are Trinitarian, and regard belief in the Trinity as a mark of Christian orthodoxy.[3][4]
    Opposing nontrinitarian positions held by some groups include Binitarianism (two deities/persons/aspects), Unitarianism (one deity/person/aspect), the Godhead (Latter Day Saints) (three separate beings, one in purpose) and Modalism (Oneness).
    Historically, the post-New Testament[3] doctrine of Trinitarianism is of particular importance. The conflict with Arianism, as well as other competing theological concepts during the fourth century, became the first major doctrinal confrontation in Church history. It had a particularly lasting effect within the Western Roman Empire where the Germanic Arians and Nicene Christians formed a segregated social order.

    [The rest of the description of the Trinity from Wikipedia removed by moderator for space reasons]

  22. Bruce Nielson
    April 6, 2008 at 1:09 pm

    Your Friend at Heart,

    I felt the need to reduce the length of your post a bit. The first couple of paragraphs off of Wikipedia did a good job of explaining the Trinity doctrine. I apologize, but it was a really long post.

    Your Friend at Heart, I hope you’ll spend some time very carefully reading my original post. It is 100% pro-LDS church and it is being highly critical of the traditional Trinity doctrine.

    I believe you reacted to the word “Trinity” without really trying to understand what was being said. Please read everything here very carefully and I think you’ll be shocked at what was actually being said by everyone. In particular, pay attention to posts #13 and #14. The LDS Church does not reject the word “Trinity.”

  23. April 6, 2008 at 1:25 pm

    Thank You Bruce,

    I apologize for making the post so long. Please forgive me. I will keep that in mind in the future. That is interesting the ‘word’ Trinity as you pointed out in “Jesus the Christ.” In the definition I pointed, yes, as you astutely noted was from Wickipedia. It noted that term as one that was crafted during the apostasy era of ‘dark age’ so called Christianity as far as the etymology of the word. Bruce did you equate that the Trinity is synonymous with the NiCene Creed?

    Do you think the word Trinity is more characteristic of protestant churches? Trying to use theological words to describe the pure doctrines of the restored church is something that doesn’t feel right with me. It feels like trying to put an old patch on a new garment or trying to put the true gospel of Jesus Christ into old bottles. Sort of like it would be if we called our sacrament the holy communion or the emblems of our sacrament a process of transubstantiation.

    Why is it you have a high propensity to want to inculcate this word into the Restored Church vernacular? This word “Trinity?”

    Do you find the leading LDS brethren use this word, “TRINITY” a lot in their conference talks? I always find its best to hear what the leading brethren say today and then take that in a weighted faction when going back retroactively to seek other quotes and in this case a term that is
    centuries old yet located no where in Holy Writ do we find the word ‘trinity.’ I am talking about the NEW LDS version of the scriptures as well as the KJV of yester-year.

    I certainly have no interest to interrogate you with these interrogatives I am curious why this is a hot button word ‘right now’ in vogue that you are focusing on in your blog re: “Trinity?” Might you refer me to some quote up above I may be missing to try and understand why you are implicit about this word ‘trinity’ at the moment?

    Heb 13.1!

  24. April 6, 2008 at 1:47 pm

    YFAH, I mentioned earlier about James E. Talmage using the word Trinity freely after having defined what he does and doesn’t mean by it. May I refer you here:
    http://books.google.com/books?ei=_yf5R_TjB4rysgP2mqCFCg&id=KikT6wFDDBAC&dq=isbn%3A0964069601&q=trinity#search

    It’s a collection of quotes from early and mid era Church leaders, and you’ll see that they had little inhibition using the word trinity either, even though most leaders today avoid the word and use “Godhead” instead, to refer to the same thing.

  25. Bruce Nielson
    April 6, 2008 at 2:13 pm

    YFAH,

    You are now holding the very discussion I wanted. Should we avoid the word “Trinity” because of the baggage associated with it? That’s what I’m asking.

    You asked: “Bruce did you equate that the Trinity is synonymous with the NiCene Creed?”

    Read my post and then you tell me if you think I equate the word “Trinity” with the Nicene Creed. I think it’s pretty clear where I stand on this. (You may also want to read: http://mormonmatters.org/2008/01/12/whats-wrong-with-the-creeds-of-christendom/)

    But YFAH, the issue isn’t whether we should add Trinity back into common usage or not, it’s if we should reject it as you did at first. That’s not the same question. Prefering to use “Godhead” but also *accepting* “Trinity” is proper in my opinion. But some Mormons now avoid “Trinity” all together and treat it like it’s evil. But it’s a very effective word to describe our beliefs. “Godhead” emphasizes God’s divine nature. “Trinity” emphasizes the unity of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. (You might argue that “Godhead” is found in the Bible… but remember the KJV is a Protestant Bible that we use. Also, the Bible *does not* use the word “Godhead” in the Mormon sense of the word, as refering to the “Trinity.”)

    Also, you said “Do you think the word Trinity is more characteristic of protestant churches? Trying to use theological words to describe the pure doctrines of the restored church is something that doesn’t feel right with me.” But of course “Godhead” is also characteristic of protestant churches and is using a theological word from the Catholics to describe our beliefs. I’m afraid it’s impossible to not use words originating from other religions.

    You believe “excommunication” is a true doctrine, right? That actually means “ex-communion” or in other words it’s the Catholic term for denying someone the communion… what we LDS call the sacrament. We borrowed it from the Catholics. I could give you hundreds of words used in the LDS church that are borrowed from other religions to express our beliefs.

  26. April 6, 2008 at 2:21 pm

    The other Christians of the world have every right to define their doctrine of creation ex nihilo any way they please. If they want to define that creation “out of nothing” as meaning “out of no time and space” they have every right — every right — to do so. If that definition happens to match yours (and apparently mine) view of “creation out of pre-existing” than that is that. We are in agreement with them. End of story.

    Only to the degree any individual can believe what they will. however all established mainstream Christian sects define creation ex nihilo in a certain way. Likewise presumably Mormons could accept the definition of those groups in opposition to Joseph Smith. But I think we can say that in terms of Joseph Smith’s theology (and not just the King Follet Discourse) that creation ex nihilo is not Mormon doctrine.

  27. Dave B
    April 6, 2008 at 2:22 pm

    I agree the the doctrine on God is tied to the concept of creation and infinity and understanding who is Christ (What think ye of Christ). Because understanding who Christ is reveals to us the nature of God and the nature of man. LDS Doctrine on God is not modalism or Arian. Our doctrine is that Jesus Christ is seperate from, yet one with and equal to God the Father. I like the term “social Trinitarianism.” But Isaiah says that before God was no god formed neither any God after him. So, that’s where the doctrine comes from that there can be only one being in the universe that can be considered God or even god. However, LDS doctrine doesn’t conflict with Isiaah at all when one realizes that Gods and gods are not created by definition. Jesus Christ was God, co-existent, and co-eternal with the Father from eternity to eternity. What the scriptures refer to as intelligences were not created but have always existed. Men were created sons and Christ was created the Only Begotten Son, but Christ has always been God and we have always been gods( and co-existent with the Father ye are gods).

  28. April 6, 2008 at 2:25 pm

    The things I am sharing are NOT my opinion.

    Not only is much that you are saying your opinion but it is demonstrably wrong.

    I’d add that quoting wikipedia isn’t terribly helpful especially since it often has errors relative to LDS doctrine.

  29. Dave B
    April 6, 2008 at 2:30 pm

    The Bible doesnt differentiate man and God based on His Godhood but based on his Eternal Fatherhood. Men are already Gods, but God through the grace of Christ would make us fathers.

  30. Bruce Nielson
    April 6, 2008 at 3:00 pm

    Clark says “Only to the degree any individual can believe what they will”

    Yes, this is what I meant.

    DaveB said: “The Bible doesnt differentiate man and God based on His Godhood but based on his Eternal Fatherhood. Men are already Gods, but God through the grace of Christ would make us fathers.”

    Yes, I think you are right. One can think of “God” as being a status (i.e. Jesus is God) or one can think of it as being a relationship (i.e. Jesus is our God). Is it really just a coincidence that Jesus never refers say to his followers “Our God”?

    John 20:17 Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.

    When Joseph spoke of other exalted beings called “gods,” he meant only in the status sense of the word, not the relationship sense of the word.

  31. April 6, 2008 at 3:39 pm

    Bruce, great post. We seem to have a knee jerk reaction to run away from terms, phrases, or practices that exist among other churches when we think they’ve been misused or misapplied. For example, when I was growing up it was rare to hear one of the most common words used in other Christian churches: “grace.” We didn’t like what the “Born Agains” had done with that word, so we avoided it like the plague. Thankfully, “grace” has been making a comeback in Mormon conversation over the past several years.

    I see the word “Trinity” falling into the same category with words and phrases like “grace” or “I’ve been saved” or “I’ve been born again,” or the symbol of the cross or the observance of Good Friday. Some of those are making a comeback among Mormons, others still haven’t. It seems that if we feel others have misused something, we treat it as something that has become polluted and corrupt, and we touch not the unclean thing.

    I like the idea of reclaiming these old Christian terms, phrases, and practices and restoring to them the meaning we believe is correct. That isn’t assimilation. It’s called Restoration.

  32. April 6, 2008 at 3:53 pm

    This is sort of the ‘fussy diner’ approach to religion going on in here.
    Pick what you like make up your own church, then, I suppose!
    Detail a religion like one would a hot rod with preference exclusive from principle. The one chap up there claimed I was TERRIBLY WRONG. There is a lot of irresponsibility going on with blogs. He says I am terribly WEONG yet can’t name ONE THING that is terribly wrong. A lot of intellectual laziness, here, let alone some very odd ass-u-mptions, to say the least.

    One fellow told me there are hundreds of words we borrow from other religions and yet he found two he is assuming have been brought back in like ‘trinity’ which isn’t even a word of any reputation. It was a word made up in the 4th century during the “Great Apotacy.” More contemporary with men who sat around a table to try to figure out what God was which was all made up nothing of revelation involved where any special witness was in vogue at that time. There is a lot of straining at a gnat while trying to swallow a camel in these blogs, to say the least.

  33. Bruce Nielson
    April 6, 2008 at 4:25 pm

    YFAH,

    I would appreciate it if you wouldn’t belittle others. That is intolerance and it’s not acceptable behavior in my mind.

    I don’t want to offend you away. In fact, I appreciate what you’ve added to the conversation. But calling everyone that disagrees with you “intellectually lazy” goes too far.

    Clark, at #28, did not call you “terribly wrong” he said “demonstratably wrong.” But that’s a fact. You did make a comment that has now been proven wrong. Look at post #12 and #17. You presented a misrepresentation of other religions, though we believe you did so innocently. We are objecting to that, not to your opinions or the valid points you made. Have you even really thought about this yet? Are you okay with misrepresenting other religions the same way they misrepresent the LDS faith?

    And the LDS faith gets almost all of it’s words from religions that came before. That makes perfect sense, doesn’t it? Someone had to come up with the words we use in English, and let me tell you it wasn’t the Greek speaking 12 apostles. All those words… they came from somewhere didn’t they? Some other religion invented them before us. Everything from “God” (which actually comes from the same root as “good”) to “Godhead” to even “Priesthood.” They are all words from other religions, YFAH. (You also seem to be missing the point that “Godhead” is a word from other religions as much as “Trinity”. Do yourself a favor and look up “Godhead” in the dictionary. It doesn’t mean what you think it means. Mormons have co-opted that word for their use and changed the meaning, somewhat.)

    And again, it seems to me that you are missing the point that the LDS Church *does* use the word “Trinity” and historically has. Is James E. Talmage “picking what he likes and making up his own church” in your mind?

    Within my life time “Trinity” was often used as a synonym for “Godhead” in the LDS Church without embarassment. We were always careful to explain the difference between the LDS view of Trinity and the traditional view. Trinity is still used as a synonym for “Godhead” sometimes, but usuage has definitely died down.

    But here are a few older quotes:

    Henry D. Taylor: “Do we think or remember that [Jesus] is a member of the Godhead or Trinity, together with God our Eternal Father and the Holy Ghost, the three personages comprising the great presiding council of the universe? ”

    Robert E. Wells: “Let there be no confusion—our Heavenly Father is the Father of our spirits. He is also the Father of the spirit of Jesus. The Holy Trinity is not a blur, but rather three separate and distinct personages.

    J. Rueben Clark: “To the Latter-day Saint, Jesus was the Christ, the Only Begotten, the Son of God, a member of the Trinity. All our modern scriptures are to this point, and the true ancient scriptures will neither take away from, nor destroy this everlasting truth.”

  34. Bruce Nielson
    April 6, 2008 at 4:42 pm

    Okay, I want to make one more point. This was implied in my post, but let me be explicit now. I was impressed by my friend deciding that her belief of the Trinity and mine were so close. Our discussion was no holds bared and yet she came away feeling that the LDS view of the Godhead was very close to her view of the Trinity.

    This left me with the impression that maybe a lot of the disagreement Protestants have with Mormons is imagined in their minds based on stereotypes and misunderstandings of what Mormons actually believe (and vice versa obviously.) We should try to explain ourselves more clearly (as should they) and that might mean we have to get over the fear of a word so that they can understand us better. As Andrew said, words aren’t polluted or corrupt. They are just words used to try to describe an underlying thought.

    I have no concerns about the LDS Church’s move away from the word “Trinity” internally. I have a lot of concern of us reacting badly to it externally without any thought on how to clarify what we really disbelieve about it. (i.e. substance theology)

  35. Ray
    April 6, 2008 at 4:59 pm

    Thanks, Bruce. I was trying very hard to find a way to respond in the spirit of Elder Christofferson’s example.

  36. Bruce Nielson
    April 6, 2008 at 5:05 pm

    >>> It’s more than a little ironic that the most critical aspect of the Restoration can be classified as the restoration of scientific understanding.

    Ray, you crack me up (in a good way.)

  37. April 6, 2008 at 5:08 pm

    Bruce: When Joseph spoke of other exalted beings called “gods,” he meant only in the status sense of the word, not the relationship sense of the word.

    I’m not sure that’s true. I’m not sure it’s entirely clear how he meant it. Once Blake’s book is up at Amazon I may comment on this more – at least giving my views. But I think Joseph’s view is at least somewhat vague.

    I think your right about stereotypes. What’s so funny, as at least one commentator demonstrated, is that both sides have erroneous views of the other.

  38. Bruce Nielson
    April 6, 2008 at 5:13 pm

    Clark says “But I think Joseph’s view is at least somewhat vague.”

    Well, I guess I can’t argue with that since technically everything in history is vague. (A point that I very strongly believe.) So I will concede that point.

    That being said, I wish to now change my statement to be “When modern Mormons leaders in authority interpret (as is their right by their calling) Joseph speaking of…” and the rest of the statement is now what I actually meant. :) I will defend my statement as the current way Mormon leaders seem to understand that doctrine. I guess I feel no need to go further than that.

  39. Bruce Nielson
    April 6, 2008 at 5:25 pm

    >>> Thanks, Bruce. I was trying very hard to find a way to respond in the spirit of Elder Christofferson’s example.

    Ray, I was trying to be very careful to not repeat the error of my ways when it suddenly struck me! If I scare of a TBM with my opposition to intolerance, that would mean I’d scared off one NOM and one TBM by calling them on their intolerant statements. Doesn’t that mean my sins have canceled each other out? :P

  40. Joe Geisner
    April 6, 2008 at 5:52 pm

    I have been Mormon most of my life, but I don’t know what Mormons believe when it comes to the Trinity/Godhead. According to McConkie Mormons worship only the Father (was he Binitarian?). In the Book of Mormon there is only one God we worship and he is all three at different times(modalist). Many General Authorities today seem to suggest we worship Jesus. As modern Mormons we believe the Father created us as spirits, Jesus created the planet we live on, and the Holy Ghost is a spirit who does spiritual things. Joseph Smith moved though many stages/concepts and seems to finally attach himself to tritheism and this might be what Mormons believe today.

    If we really want to make it fun we dive into Brigham Young and Orson Pratt!

    But then that would be bad since I have no clue as to what the New Testament teaches about the Trinity/Godhead either, though on this I think I am in good company since it has been debated for centuries and concluded that it is a mystery.

  41. Bruce Nielson
    April 6, 2008 at 6:23 pm

    Joe,

    Giving my full opinion on LDS view of deity (which, btw, I personally believe to be fully realized and internally consistent once you get past the words and get to the real meaning) is beyond the scope of what I can do in this post. I have up coming posts that will address it over time. (It’s a large subject, really.)

    However, I feel most “differences” you mention are really word games. We need to dig deeper into the meaning the person intended and not get hung up on words. That’s my whole point with the word “Trinity” and it applies here too.

    For example, McConkie DID teach that we “worhip” Jesus. From Mormon Doctrine, “The Father and the Son are the objects of all true worship… No one can worship the Father without also whorshiping the Son. … It is proper to worship the Father, in the name of the Son, and also to worhship the Son.” (He then quotes 2 Ne 25, 16, 29 – “Believe in Christ, and deny him not; and Christ is the Holy one of Israel; wherefor ye must bow down before him, and worship him with all your might, mind and strength…” This seems pretty clear to me.)

    What McConkie DID object to was “worshipping” Jesus in the sense of praying directly to him instead of or excluding the Father, unless Jesus is physically in your presence. But then again, Jesus himself objected to this as per Matt 26:39, John 15:16, John 16:23, etc. So McConkie was correct as per the Bible.

    I think McConkie was correct, but I think he used a poor choice of words to explain himself. But he deserves that you cut him some slack. Communication is difficult even for the best people at it.

    If I hear another person claim McConkie taught “we don’t worship Jesus” without making an attempt to nuance their explanation, I’m going to scream! :P It’s a misrepresentation and it needs to die.

  42. April 6, 2008 at 9:45 pm

    For the record “Your Full of yourself!” Please excuse me from any further communication with your Sanhedrin.

  43. April 6, 2008 at 9:53 pm

    #41:
    Anyone who reads McConkie’s words in the oft-quoted BYU devotional, and who is honest with themselves, knows that he specifically taught that the Father is the object of true Mormon worship, rather than the Son. McConkie taught the correct Mormon doctrine on the subject, but it’s no longer accepted by the modern LDS church, since it interferes with the “we’re just like all you christians, plus a little” rhetoric of today. The ascendancy of the “we worship Jesus” heresy is part of the reason I left the LDS church.

  44. Just for Quix
    April 6, 2008 at 10:06 pm

    This is an interesting discussion, and since I’m late to read it there’s not a lot to add. However, Christian theology not only affirms the basic tenets of the three distinct Biblical paradoxes, that is there are 3 distinct persons, but each is fully God, and there is but one God. But it also affirms the nature of God–who is spirit; Jesus, who is both fully man and fully God; and The Holy Spirit. LDS theology disagrees with more than one of these biblical assertions–and more. Now it’s fine to assert the foundation of LDS theology ultimately rests on Joseph Smith. That is honest, forthright and fair. But for orthodox Christians, like me, who do not accept Joseph Smith, then there is little that Mormon theology can claim on this subject on a biblical foundation, IMO, to make it reasonable for an LDS use the term “Trinitarian”. And, in particular, since Mormon doctrine is not technically monotheistic but henotheistic, co-opting the Trinitarian term would continue to irritate the dialogue between faiths, IMO. This continuing effort on Mormon apologetic parts to co-opt and redefine words in order to establish more similarity with early Christianity that really exists, is frustrating. (A study of the LDS redefinition of deiosis, and the erroneous presentation of early fathers’ teachings to support a Mormon concept of deification is another such example.)

    It is also inaccurate to continue to perpetuate the myth that the Athanasian/Nicean creed “established” doctrine. It did no such thing. It _affirmed_ doctrine. The biblical nature of the triune God was the predominant doctrine since the earliest days of the church; the Arian heresy made a lot of stink in its day but never had much support behind it, in terms of the number of churches who taught the traditional doctrine that the creed affirmed. (12 fathers out of more than 300 in attendance at the Council.) Athanasius did not “create” any doctrine. He argued why the dominant theology was better established by the Word of the Bible–and this is why he is revered for his _sola scriptura_ argumentation, rather than playing the Neoplatonic wordgames that was affirmed by the Arians. Certainly the Arians politically gained some short-lived sway due to their politicking after Constantine — and how did that establishment make Athanasius pay for his loyalty to the Word, tradition and the church! The Arians gained this sway by their willingness to subordinate the church to the authority of the emperor–which the Nicean council plainly did not. Once the Arians again lost their heretical theological and political clout, the orthodox doctrine was reaffirmed again 56 years after it was done in Nicea. That I hear LDS so commonly misrepresent Nicea over and over goes to show how little productive dialogue and early Christian study is happening within the LDS faith.

    I think more is to be gained building bridges between practiced Mormonism and that of practiced Christianity, for in this respect we share many common morals, ethics, goals, and ironically, perhaps, faith. But on matters of the pulpit, scripture and doctrine, the divide is distinct. I don’t think it helps when Mormons appropriate and attempt to redefine words that have clear, historical and traditional definitions.

  45. Rigel Hawthorne
    April 6, 2008 at 11:02 pm

    Re #7

    I don’t disagree with anything you’ve said there and I agree that this is a complex doctrine that sometimes suffers injustice when the typical practice of simplyfing doctrines to such degree that anyone can teach them applies. If you were to throw in the further factor that time is only measured by man (Alma 40:8), then you could deepen this complexity. Nevertheless, in discussions with protestant friends that are for the purpose of understanding, and not for attempt at conversion, I don’t see it being all that helpful in summarizing this topic as our beliefs, though inexplicable, are the same. Is
    that essentially how you have left this discussion with your friend?

    “The Father and the Son are the objects of all true worship”

    I actually found a church pamphlet in one of my missionary apartments that stated exactly this, and this is what I taught. (And its been ‘awhile’ since those days.

  46. Ray
    April 7, 2008 at 12:01 am

    #44 – JfQ, the nature of the creeds, their evolution within Christian theology, and how they inform Catholic vs. Protestant doctrine is a very complex discussion, which varies radically according to which creed is being cited and which creed each Christian accepts. Just for the record, I believe strongly that the “creeds” mentioned in the First Vision are NOT the Apostles Creed, the Nicene Creed and the Athenasian Creed, but rather are the Westminster Confession and other more modern Protestant Creeds. Those were the primary creeds of the religions about which Joseph prayed, and those are the statements that are anathema to Mormon doctrine. I wish that was better understood, so we (Mormons) could move away from silly arguments over ancient creeds with which we actually agree more than disagree. (There is nothing within the Apostles Creed that is opposed to Mormon doctrine, and there is very little in the Nicene Creed that even is questionable.)

    I agree with what was said today in conference by multiple speakers: We need to embrace others no matter their beliefs, practices and religious affiliations, but we can’t compromise our doctrinally unique beliefs. The “mysteries” of the trinity can be argued ad infinitum; personally, I think we are very similar in the way we can talk about this issue. However, as Seth and Kevin and I said in #3-#5, those similarities pale in comparison to the underlying difference encapsulated in how we view eternal matter – since that belief influences our belief that God, the Father, is an actual, physical father, we are His actual children in some real way, we have the capability of becoming like Him, etc.

    Nick, We can discuss how we “worship” or “don’t worship” Jesus, but I also see that discussion as a largely semantic one. The real distinction, imo, again is how we view our eternal joint-heirship with Him. Having said that, to claim that Mormons worship Jesus in comparison to Protestants is beyond belief – if that’s what you are claiming in #43. If not, I still don’t understand it fully, but I can accept it broadly. However, compared to many mainstream Protestants’ conception of worshiping Jesus, Mormons almost deny His divinity. It really isn’t close.

  47. Bruce Nielson
    April 7, 2008 at 8:59 am

    I am only supposed to post on weekend, but I think I’ll do one more this morning to wrap it up for Rigel since he asked me a question — and maybe leave a few comments or two to everyone else:

    Rigel, I have already discussed that this was only part of the discussion with my friend. See footnote #2. The issue here was that she was going down a polytheistic path where she was imagining Mormons believing in a whole bunch of distinct God with separate wills that had no oneness. She was also confused on why we see the Godhead as sharing titles so much. One aspect came across polytheistic to her and the other Trinitarian. It seemed contradictory to her and this was the best I could think of to tie them back together again in the very way I thought of it.

    JFQ:
    “That is there are 3 distinct persons” Check!

    “but each is fully God” Check

    “and there is but one God.” Check

    “But it also affirms the nature of God–who is spirit;” Check (He has a body just like humans are spirit that have a body)

    “Jesus, who is both fully man and fully God;” Check

    “and The Holy Spirit.” Check

    Guess I’m Trinitarian!

    JFQ, I’m not kidding about this. If you think I don’t believe any of those assertions above because I’m orthodox Mormon, you sorely misunderstand my beliefs.

    Now I would be happy to admit that I don’t understand those above statements in the same way you do. But then you need to tackle the question in that way rather than putting words into my (or other Mormons) mouths for us, please.

    Nick,

    Speaking of putting words into other people’s mouths: “Anyone who reads McConkie’s words in the oft-quoted BYU devotional, and who is honest with themselves, knows that…” And yet you didn’t even respond to McConkie’s own words on the subject where he said we did (at least in some sense of the word).

    I just (apparently) chased away YFAH (a TBM!) by pointing out his intolerance by putting words in other people’s mouthes. (I was defending Protestantism that time because truth demanded I did.) I find putting words into other people’s mouth offensive. I know I shouldn’t react to it so strongly because we all do it sometimes including me, so I apologize for my over reactions. I am working on not being so harsh when people do this since I owe it to them to be gentle about it since I make the mistake reguarly too. And I don’t want to get in a fight over who is more or less tolerant here. I’ll volunteer and say I’m the more intolerant one usually compared to you guys.

    That being said, that doesn’t change that it’s wrong to speak for others. You are free to express your own point of view (i.e. “I read McConkie as meaning…” or “When I was a Mormon I didn’t believe…”) but let’s be tolerant by not representing/misrepresenting what other’s believe for them. Let’s let people speak for themselves. It’s a big world and things are nearly as clear cut as all that you guys are suggesting.

  48. Just for Quix
    April 7, 2008 at 11:37 am

    RE: Bruce (47):

    I do find this thread an interesting thing to consider. I wasn’t trying to put words into Mormons (individual practicing believers) mouths. I also apologise if my tone seemed too strong. I was trying to distinguish Mormon doctrine, and why I think it is not sympathetic to the label “Trinitarian”. Just as Bruce may have found Christian believers who wax Modalist in the description of Trinitarian doctrine — which is a non-biblical doctrine — I also cut individual Mormons the same sway that they may not believe in strict accordance to traditional LDS theology. Like I said before, I think in religious practice there are many commonalities between our faiths; I was trying to restrict my argument mainly to one of biblical theological accuracy.

    The major areas I think are challenging to reconcile a “Trinitarian” label for LDS doctrine:
    a) An embodied Father. This is incompatible with traditional Christian orthodoxy and non-biblical. I’m fine with LDS theology landing squarely on the authority of Joseph Smith; I just disagree when we interpret the doctrine in light of Christian doctrine and orthodoxy, which rests only on the Bible. The LDS doctrine of the Father’s exalted physical embodiment (at least if one ignores the Lectures on Faith and the light in which the BoM was interpreted in that day) has other ramifications into other areas of doctrine that revolve on God’s nature — for example, as Ray articulated very well regarding matter and creation. It also extends into differing understandings of what omnipotence, omniscience, benevolence, etc., means, but those are different — if connected — topics. Lastly the hotly debated “soft” LDS doctrine that God is, furthermore, an exalted Homo sapiens, is a further departure from biblical doctrine.

    b) Mormon doctrine leans Arian, in that Jesus is secondary to the father, literally begotten in the sense that it creates a distinct creation path that renders him hierarchically below the father, even if united in a “oneness” of purpose. In Christian doctrine, Jesus is not a literal brother of mankind, a spirit brother of Lucifer; he is fully God, as this is what the Bible claims about Him.

    c) As others have pointed out, the debate of sameness of substance. While much of the debate that the Arians stirred up revolved around homo_i_ousianism, the predominant doctrine, as affirmed by Athanasius’ sola scriptura argument, was one of what the scripture literally says: God and Jesus are “homoousian” meaning: literally the same, on the same level, substantively the same. It may seem a small matter, this argument over the placement of a single letter “i”. However if one accepts Athanasius’ argument from the scripture text (homoousness) which was also backed up by the dominant tradition, history and orthodoxy, and this same position that was affirmed by the Council of Nicea, then the debate becomes settled: homo_i_ousness is unscriptural, if philosophical, and heretical. Therefore, it is a significant distinction that LDS theology considers this the most controversial point of Trinitarianism, as if the biblical assertions (albeit paradoxical ones) about the nature of God could be divided out and accepted piecemeal. At least for biblical Christian doctrine this cannot be.

    d) Lastly, that Mormon doctrine is distinctly henotheistic, not monotheistic. While it may seem that Bruce can claim LDS doctrine agrees with the basic monotheistic assertions of Trinitarian doctrine, doing such is playing on the surface word games and staying blind to the biblical teachings orthodox Trinitarian doctrine affirms: There is no other God before God. That Mormon doctrine teaches that Homo sapiens of this earth will ultimately never worship any God other than “Eloihim,” it also affirms that there are other Gods (whether on the same level or hierarchically above or below the level of Eloihim) with which mankind has no relation. And it allows that exalted Homo sapiens from this earth can ultimately become gods themselves, even if hierarchically subordinate to God the Father whom is worshipped. That this LDS doctrine brings up other contradictory issues of what the infinite nature of Godhood really means, this henotheistic doctrine plainly teaches additional things that the Bible does not affirm. (I don’t think it useful to debate the canon of Smith’s Follett discourse; as a former Mormon, and a studied Mormon theologian, I understand how deeply it informs both pulpit Mormonism and practiced Mormonism. Until it is summarily taught as heretical, and the practical implementation of it is also taught as such, and connected doctrines to it also refuted, I consider the “debate” over its canon a smokescreen. It is one of several pieces of henotheistic doctrinal evidence I think make Trinitarian an inaccurate LDS doctrinal term.)

  49. Ray
    April 7, 2008 at 12:24 pm

    JfQ, just to say this, it is not apparent to me that the idea of becoming like God, in a very real way, and the idea that God is “embodied” in a very real way, are anti- or extra-biblical. Neither of those ideas are taught in the Book of Mormon, but I think they definitely are taught in the Bible.

    I had a fascinating experience in a class at the Harvard Divinity School. For a particular seminar, we were asked to write a paper on something we believed that was not conventional to Christianity at large. I wrote my paper about the physical nature of the resurrection, that it produced an outcome that could be considered “tangible” in a real, literal way. I received an “A” from the professor (a noted Catholic theologian), but his remarks included words to this effect (over 15 years ago, so the exact words are faded into the mist):

    “While there are no logical fallacies in your argument, and while the body of biblical verses you present make a compelling argument, this is not a belief to which I would hold tightly – **as it simply is not true**.” I think you will understand and pardon my incredulity a bit when discussing the nature of God with others when this summary is quite typical of my experiences over the last twenty-plus years. I get that answer *all the time* – that:

    “your argument makes sense when put that way, but . . . darn it . . . it just isn’t right . . . ’cause . . . you know . . . the Bible doesn’t really mean that . . . ’cause . . . you know . . . the fathers who wrote the creeds clearly didn’t believe it . . . and . . . you know . . . they were right . . . ’cause . . . you know . . . they were right.”

    I even had one evangelical friend tell me that it doesn’t really matter what is “implied” in the Gospels, since Paul “repeatedly” taught otherwise. My response – that I think my view is the dominant theme of the entire Old Testament, that it is taught even more clearly in the words attributed directly to Jesus, and that, therefore, the words of Paul and the other disciples should be interpreted in that light – was answered by citation of the creeds and the later Church fathers. and around and around and around we went.

    I respect your point of view greatly; I really do. I’m NOT arguing that I am right, and you are wrong; I’m really not. I’m just saying that I find it highly ironic that those who tell me I can’t be sure of my position “because it isn’t Biblical” say that essentially by focusing on different verses and authors than I do – not by illustrating that my interpretation of the Bible is, in fact, undeniably wrong. To add to that irony, they deny my ability to be sure in the surest, most confident tones – essentially saying, “You can’t be sure, because I’m sure you can’t be sure.”

    I view these conversations as on-going chances to learn and develop understanding, and I view “missionary work” as the attempt to find others who can and will see and *feel* things the same way I do – NOT as a battle within which the best argument or sharpest intellect will win. What you see as contradiction, I often see as support (and occasionally as true contradiction) – and we both got there as the result of years of intense study and focus and effort. If nothing else does so in this world, that alone argues, imo, for the more universalist view of grace and salvation articulated within current Mormon theology than any other evidence available.

  50. April 7, 2008 at 12:30 pm

    This continuing effort on Mormon apologetic parts to co-opt and redefine words in order to establish more similarity with early Christianity that really exists, is frustrating. (A study of the LDS redefinition of deiosis, and the erroneous presentation of early fathers’ teachings to support a Mormon concept of deification is another such example.)

    I don’t think this is fair. The ultimate issue is how context bound terms are. For instance the context of the Trinity is creation ex nihilo even though it’s never a formal part of the creeds for the Trinity. So if a Mormon rejects creation ex nihilo but accepts Augustine’s presentation of the Trinity do they believe in the Trinity?

    I’d argue the same thing is true of divinization. The main difference between the LDS conception and the tradition of at least the latter early Fathers is the ontological gap between man and god. That is creation ex nihilo.

    The problem of the relationship between denotation, connotation and context is non-trivial. I think those who say Mormons are redefining terms are quite wrong. However I think the argument for a more holistic sense of meaning is much more fair.

    The question becomes though the history of creation ex nihilo and what these doctrines would look like if creation ex nihilo were removed. I think that if you reject that idea you end up with a lot of theology that looks remarkably like Joseph Smith taught.

  51. Just for Quix
    April 7, 2008 at 12:33 pm

    Ray (46):

    I appreciate your distinction about creeds. I hope when I addressed creeds before I was clear in speaking only to the Athanasian and Nicene issue, which was raised earlier in the thread. I was seeking to state why I considered the antagonistic position to these particular creeds based on a myth about such creeds “establishing” doctrine, and that there was really more of a doctrinal debate about the affirmed doctrine than there was. (It certainly grew to be a powerful and divisive debate because of political issues, but from the point of the fathers who assembled to affirm Trinitarian doctrine, there was a very loud, but small minority on the side of Arian doctrine.)

    I do think the doctrinal differences are very distinct –even where we are talking about creeds with which there seems less difference between LDS and traditional Christian orthodoxy. However I appreciate your more lucid point about practical realities: in practiced faith there is very much that can be shared between our faiths. It’s a point I tried to make, but obviously fell secondary to my attempt to distinguish why I don’t think Trinitarian is an accurate LDS theological term. (Still, I don’t think interfaith relations and shared goals, morals, etc., is a secondary issue to doctrine; I just don’t wish to de-emphasize that doctrine has its place of importance also.)

    I like what you’ve said throughout the thread about issues of matter & creation; it seems connected to the teachings that affirm the traditional Trinitarian doctrine and may seem to distinguish LDS theology from it. You are probably already aware of this, but I will point out that intramurally the creatio ex nihilo argument among Christians is considered still a valid point of discussion and debate, even if the former is generally favored over ex materia arguments. Ex nihilo is ultimately more of a philosophical (ultimately historically Gnostic) issue. Scripture (the Bible) does not firmly establish that this is how creation happened–albeit it can be argued that it seems to _favor_ it. While there are other creation arguments I am not detailing here, ultimately either point (ex nihilo or ex materia) have many valid points that, one way or the other, do not materially change the Trinitarian doctrine the Bible teaches. Anyway, I think creation is an interesting discussion that I am glad to have LDS teachings weighing in on as well.

  52. Ray
    April 7, 2008 at 12:33 pm

    JfQ, just to say this, it is not apparent to me that the idea of becoming like God, in a very real way, and the idea that God is “embodied” in a very real way, are anti- or extra-biblical. Neither of those ideas are taught in the Book of Mormon, but I think they definitely are taught in the Bible.

    I had a fascinating experience in a class at the Harvard Divinity School. For a particular seminar, we were asked to write a paper on something we believed that was not conventional to Christianity at large. I wrote my paper about the physical nature of the resurrection, that it produced an outcome that could be considered “tangible” in a real, literal way. I received an “A” from the professor (a noted Catholic theologian), but his remarks included words to this effect (over 15 years ago, so the exact words are faded into the mist):

    “While there are no logical fallacies in your argument, and while the body of biblical verses you present make a compelling argument (hence, the grade you received), this is not a belief to which I would hold tightly – **as it simply is not true**.”

    I think you will understand and pardon my incredulity a bit when discussing the nature of God with others when this summary is quite typical of my experiences over the last twenty-plus years. I get the answer *all the time* – that (The following is a bit over-the-top, but, in some instances, it is a gentle version.):

    “Your argument makes sense when put that way, but . . . darn it . . . it just isn’t right . . . ’cause . . . you know . . . the Bible doesn’t really mean that . . . ’cause . . . you know . . . the fathers who wrote the creeds clearly didn’t believe it . . . and . . . you know . . . they were right . . . ’cause . . . you know . . . they were right.”

    I even had one evangelical friend tell me that it doesn’t really matter what is “implied” in the Gospels, since Paul “repeatedly” taught otherwise. My response was that I think my view is the dominant theme of the entire Old Testament, that it is taught even more clearly in the words attributed directly to Jesus, and that, therefore, the words of Paul and the other disciples should be interpreted in that light. My friend answered by citing the creeds and the later Church fathers. (and around and around and around we went.)

    I respect your point of view greatly; I really do. I’m NOT arguing that I am right, and you are wrong; I’m really not. I’m just saying that I find it highly ironic that those who tell me I can’t be sure of my position “because it isn’t Biblical” say that essentially by focusing on different verses and authors and authorities than I do (when my main focus in the NT is Jesus Himself) – not by illustrating that my interpretation of the Bible is, in fact, undeniably wrong. To add to that irony, they deny my ability to be sure in the surest, most confident tones – essentially saying, “You can’t be sure, because I’m sure you can’t be sure.”

    I view these conversations as on-going chances to learn and develop understanding, and I view “missionary work” as the attempt to find others who can and will see and *feel* things the same way I do – NOT as a battle within which the best argument or sharpest intellect will win. What you see as contradiction, I often see as support (and occasionally as true contradiction) – and we both got there as the result of years of intense study and focus and effort. If nothing else does so in this world, that alone argues, imo, for the more universalist view of grace and salvation articulated within current Mormon theology than any other evidence available.

  53. April 7, 2008 at 12:42 pm

    The major areas I think are challenging to reconcile a “Trinitarian” label for LDS doctrine:
    a) An embodied Father. This is incompatible with traditional Christian orthodoxy and non-biblical.

    I mentioned this back in my own posts. However if one adopts a Thomist view of the soul then I don’t see how this is a problem. After all any angel or even Jesus can become embodied without problem. One can debate the issue of essential embodiment. But that gets problematic since at least some major LDS theologians such as B. H. Roberts appear to reject essential embodiment. So this discussion becomes problematic simply because an Augustinian or Thomist notion of embodiment is more subtle than many realize and because there’s actually a wider range of views in the LDS tradition than it first appears.

    Put simply, what do we mean by the embodiment of the Father?

    b) Mormon doctrine leans Arian, in that Jesus is secondary to the father, literally begotten in the sense that it creates a distinct creation path that renders him hierarchically below the father, even if united in a “oneness” of purpose.

    I disagree strongly here. In formal Trinitarian belief the Son is begotten whereas the Father begets. This should not be taken as to entail one being lesser than the other even if as relation it implies a kind of hierarchy. I’d argue the same is true in LDS theology. To impute a stronger sense in Mormon theology demands a logic that creates the same problem within the Trinity. If you feel otherwise I’d be willing to debate this with you in a rigorous way.

    I’d also say it’s ridiculous to call Mormons Arian.

    In Christian doctrine, Jesus is not a literal brother of mankind, a spirit brother of Lucifer; he is fully God, as this is what the Bible claims about Him.

    Yes, but this is due to the different conceptions of ex nihilo and not the Trinity proper.

    So we’re back to the issue of context.

    As others have pointed out, the debate of sameness of substance. While much of the debate that the Arians stirred up revolved around homo_i_ousianism, the predominant doctrine, as affirmed by Athanasius’ sola scriptura argument, was one of what the scripture literally says: God and Jesus are “homoousian” meaning: literally the same, on the same level, substantively the same.

    Most Mormon theologians simply don’t address the substance of God. The closest is Orson Pratt who does have a homoousia even if it is in a metaphysics I doubt any Trinitarian would accept. I’d say that most contemporary Mormon theologians see the substance of humans as being akin to how Duns Scotus conceives of the ousia of the Trinity. (This is at least in part due to the influence of Levinas and Heidegger)

    Now one can critique here whether Duns Scotus’ conception of the Trinity is orthodox. But I’d argue strongly that the real issue here is, again, the issue of creation ex nihilo and whether the substance of humans ought be considered akin to the substance of the Trinity.

    That Mormon doctrine teaches that Homo sapiens of this earth will ultimately never worship any God other than “Eloihim,” it also affirms that there are other Gods (whether on the same level or hierarchically above or below the level of Eloihim) with which mankind has no relation.

    I’d argue that this conflates discussion of God in its ousia with God qua the persons. That is if we speak of the Godhead in LDS theology we speak of all gods in their unity. Thus one can, in that sense, say that other gods are very much in relation to us. (This is much more prominent in Brigham Young’s theology) Now with respect to the persons (which is what Mormons usually focus in on) our relations are different. Thus our relation with the Father is different from the son and arguably outside of the three members of the Godhead talked of in scripture are the only persons we have relationship with. (Brigham would expand that considerably but the Church largely rejected his theology here)

  54. Just for Quix
    April 7, 2008 at 12:48 pm

    Clark (49): I see your point.

    One of the many dominant evidences on behalf of the _creatio ex materia_ argument is precisely the writings of many influential church Fathers, many of whom worked tirelessly to distinguish orthodoxy from the Gnostic influence. I appreciate your emphasis that if the _ex materia_ teachings had influenced Christian culture as much as the _ex nihilo_ argument has, perhaps we might find a more sympathetic environment to the theology of Joseph Smith. I can’t say this wouldn’t be true. For my part I disagree that it would, because the holistic writings of these Fathers like Origen, Philo and Justin the Martyr, for example, many of whom I have read, do not teach a God nature and deiosis that is sympathetic to traditional Smith doctrines — at least Nauvoo-era Smith doctrine. But they certainly do seem to favor more strongly an _ex materia_ creation perspective.

    I concur my articulation earlier may not have been as fair as it should have been. Either way, I do not think either perspective (ex materia or ex nihilo) would radically change Trinitarian doctrine from where it stands today, as it was affirmed in the time before ex nihilo had really began to take sway in the debate. Trinitarian doctrine, furthermore, was affirmed with a sola scriptura argument, which, in the debate of creation, does not settle the issue in the way I think it does for Trinitarian doctrine.

  55. April 7, 2008 at 12:53 pm

    Just to add, I listed what I perceive as the problems with Mormons as Trinitarians here. But I think there are far fewer than first appears unless one demands that the contextual connotations of the Trinity from 400 AD on up be considered.

  56. April 7, 2008 at 1:01 pm

    Quix, the issue of gnosticism and the debates about it are quite pertinent.

    One thing about LDS theology is that often theology develops as leaders are working against some particular movement. However I think that, unlike the creeds, Mormons wisely rethink their theology and then correct any excesses that may have occurred during the oppositions.

    To give one example until around the time Pres. Hinkley became so prominent most Mormons went to pains to distinguish our theology from Evangelicals. This often led to leading to a lack of clarity on some terms (such as grace) simply because they were rhetorically so important to Evangelicals. Yet many of these ideas, such as Grace, are key LDS conceptions and arguably the main teaching in our LDS scriptural texts.

    Now that we’ve been focused on building more bridges with Evangelicals the pendulum has perhaps gone too far the other direction. So some thinkers are devaluing way too much texts like the King Follet Discourse.

    My point is that because Mormonism is quite a bit more flexible in how we treat doctrine we can make corrections. In the history of mainstream Christianity once something has one a battle (often a political batter) and established in a creed it’s much, much harder to rethink the issues.

    What is interesting in all this is that I think the Mormon position on ultimate substance ends up being much closer to the Platonists than mainstream Christianity precisely because of the rejection of creation ex nihlo. Mormons tend to over-emphasize the platonic roots of mainstream Christianity (especially Augustine). But the main place I think we differ is precisely the place mainstream Christianity made such a decisive break with Platonism.

  57. Ray
    April 7, 2008 at 1:19 pm

    and in an era when the favorite, over-used political invective is “flip-flopper”, doctrinal fluidity drives many Christians nuts. That can’t be emphasized enough. (How many times have you see arguments that essentially boil down to, “I’ll see your Young, Pratt and McConkie and raise you a Smith, Hinckley and Monson”?)

  58. April 7, 2008 at 2:18 pm

    It’s interesting as there was a panel discussion of this at the SMPT conference, albeit more focused on authority. But it was very interesting and highlighted the very different approaches between Mormons and Catholics on these matters. I think Mormons tend to be much more distrustful of formal theology and the Church’s position, even at the time it emphasizes some doctrinal point, is still “figure it out yourself.”

  59. Just for Quix
    April 7, 2008 at 2:41 pm

    Clark–

    You have given a very lucid argument, both here, and your off-site posts about how the term Trinitarian fits and doesn’t fit LDS theology. Without carrying the multi-branched discussion to a level where we would lose site of the point I think Bruce was first trying to make, I’ll concede some issues, and address a couple more, at least to further the point of mutual understanding and respect rather than working further to try and settle the, perhaps, unsettle-able. ;-)

    I agree with your point regarding context, both connotative and denotative. I disagree that 400 AD (I think you probably meant 4th century) was the point at which Trinitarian context was established. From my study of the early church, certainly it was a vibrant history of fracture, practice and debate, namely –for this discussion– against the influence of the Gnostics, Neoplatonists and the (neo)Arians. The Marcan Gospel and Pauline epistles are certainly our best early texts, in my view, to establish the lens thru which to consider Christian christology, God’s nature, the interpretation of the Tanakh, etc. Nevertheless that John became the most favored Gnostic Gospel certainly bespeaks the vitality thru which different communities of believers interpreted different Christologies. (Certainly there were traditional communities who also saw John more traditionally than the Gnostics did, too.) Nonetheless, the tradition of Trinitarian context was for hundreds of years firmly on the side of what eventually became affirmed in the 4th century. Again, context was not “created” at Nicea. Nevertheless, the context through which you interpret, which seems to favor the anti-establishment spirit of the revolutionaries like the Gnostics and Arians, I would do well to respect, even if I disagree partly, like I do with postmodern Transformationalist interpretation of scripture. Therefore, since I favor what I see is the more clear doctrine evident in the earliest Pauline epistles, I tend to be less persuaded by the revolutionary theologies, and hence, object more than you do to the LDS use of the term Trinitarian.

    I didn’t say LDS theology is Arian, only that it “leans Arian.” On one level “Arian” can be used as an inflammatory doctrinal epithet, which was not my intent — just so you know. It seemed appropo in this context to address the parallel because of the traditional LDS opposition to Athanasius and Nicea. Also because I think LDS theology does affirm a relationship with Father and Son (and Holy Ghost), supported by its modern scripture; traditional theology of literalness such as “child of God” and “Jesus as brother”, etc.; the temple ceremony; interpretation of post-resurrection kingdoms; etc., that I think is more compatible and parallel with the Arian and neoArian Eastern homoiousness than traditional “Athanasian” homoousness.

    Lastly, my position _could_ be a matter of preference. Where you seem to enjoy a flexibility of theological emphasis, I do not see LDS theology as quite so flexible, per se. Certainly I agree it is “pendulum-like” in its marketing and emphasis, but since so much soft-canon doctrine is treated canonically where needed, and where it is de-emphasized it is largely and seldom clearly refuted, it leaves a lot of play in what is “real LDS doctrine” from generation to generation. It raises major questions to me what real value an LDS prophet is.

    I do like the vibrancy of Christian church development, especially in the early church, but I will admit to being much more comfortable with an alliance to positions that have tradition and history of weathering (even if not winning) centuries of debate and affronts generation to generation– and, perhaps, is a less flexible to “rethink[ing] the issues.” As Bob Millet emphasized on NPR in January that Mormonism is a young faith in the “religion making business,” perhaps my position, while it seems to my mind and heart to be more biblical, could be merely a basic discomfort with the malleable, still-in-evolution, young history of the LDS faith. I can say for certainty, once I ceased to accept Joseph Smith as a prophet, but yet had a profound attraction to the Christian message, it seemed necessary to me to align more with traditional Christian perspectives. In that sense we are each coming at this from an apologetic perspective, not an objective one. [So we should be able to get along, yes? :-) ]

    P.S. Ray (51): Your critique is fair. I _was_ letting myself get carried a little too far on the definition of “biblical” and “unbiblical” especially considering Mormons and traditional Christians generally have such divergent amount of authority and weight they place in the text. BTW, I would love to read your paper, were it available in electronic format.

  60. April 7, 2008 at 2:58 pm

    I disagree that 400 AD (I think you probably meant 4th century) was the point at which Trinitarian context was established.

    I didn’t mean to imply that. I was more thinking that by 400 AD the modern notion of Trinity with most of its creation ex nihilo context was largely stable. Before that point it’s still developing. If we are including connotation as well as denotation then that’s important. However I’m well aware of the pre-400 history. (Well, a bit rusty – I’d hate to have to debate it without some texts handy to refresh my memory)

    Regrading your point of contexts which (what became) mainstream Christianity found itself up against I agree. I suspect I’d say that some of those other movements had strong parallels within Christianity proper. (i.e. neoPlatonic influences which are unmistakable in Augustine, the issues in the Gospel of John, and so forth) But that’s ultimately neither here nor there.

    Regarding Arianism I get a bit ruffled simply because I think there’s so much misunderstanding here. I’d blogged about this quite some time ago. There’s really not much in common between Arians and Mormons. To say “we lean Arian” seems to miss the assumptions that are driving LDS thought. Given so little parallel between Arians and Mormons it’s just not a helpful metaphor or analogy. For discussion clarity, if nothing else, one probably should simply point at what one sees in both Arians and Mormons. My experience is, though, that usually such views are hinged upon misreadings of Mormon thought.

    Also because I think LDS theology does affirm a relationship with Father and Son (and Holy Ghost), supported by its modern scripture; traditional theology of literalness such as “child of God” and “Jesus as brother”, etc.;

    But there’s nothing like that in Arianism. I should add that while certainly the Utah period theology and after takes quite literal the “child of God” even there exactly what that entails isn’t certain. However the main divide over the relationship of God to his children ontologically is certainly unclear. The one thing I think we can say is that Mormons reject ex nihilo (which if nothing else puts us against Arius)

    Let me also say that while I favor a more traditional 19th century view of the theology here in terms of more formalized LDS teaching there really isn’t a clear doctrine. Thus Blake Ostler can argue against the distinction between spirit and intelligence and argue for “children” as being more metaphoric and implying a relationship between creator and creature. Even with Brigham Young it appears the spirit birth was the forming of some prime-matter like substance into spirits. The latter 20th century view of intelligence – spirit – body came largely from B. H. Roberts who was infusing the spirit birth doctrine with a heavy dose of Carestianism.

    I bring this up merely to suggest we make a distinction between social inquiry into what Mormons believe (i.e. what a given collection of Mormons believe) versus what is more formal or at least semi-formal Church doctrine independent of the laity. I think the latter discussion is more interesting and in that case things are much more open than it first appears.

    … but since so much soft-canon doctrine is treated canonically where needed, and where it is de-emphasized it is largely and seldom clearly refuted, it leaves a lot of play in what is “real LDS doctrine” from generation to generation. It raises major questions to me what real value an LDS prophet is.

    Just because some things are left vague doesn’t mean everything is left vague. (And isn’t this true within mainstream Christianity? I can list a dozen issues for which there’s no formal doctrine.)

    Also I think Mormons don’t see the main emphasis of religion as being propositions about theology. Rather the main emphasis is Christlike living and then the unity of the community of Saints. Given that different emphasis we shouldn’t be surprised that this is also the emphasis of prophetic direction – even in Joseph Smith.

  61. April 7, 2008 at 3:04 pm

    To add, the main concern there at the end of your comment is whether a prophet who is fallible is useful. This, to me, gets at the heart of a basic divide between many (although not all) Evangelicals and Mormons regarding scripture. I can but say I find fallible prophets more useful simply because I don’t believe there have ever been infallible ones.

  62. Just for Quix
    April 7, 2008 at 4:32 pm

    Clark (61): It is a straw man to define the reason Christians don’t revere Smith and his successors as prophets as an issue of mere fallibility. I don’t want to detail my objections with Smith here. But Christians do not view the prophets of the bible as perfect. This is not the scriptural testimony on which the differing Christian flavors of “biblical infallibility” rests — that God needed perfect men and women to advance His relationship with Man. I certainly didn’t bring up LDS prophetic confidence on the matter of doctrine, like Trinitarianism, etc., because it rests merely on issues of dismissing Smith, Young, et al, for reasons of being imperfect humans.

  63. April 7, 2008 at 4:49 pm

    I’m not making that argument and I certainly agree it would be a strawman. I was more talking about your comments about “soft-canon doctrine” and the problem of refutation.

    The issue isn’t human perfection but rather doctrine perfection.

  64. Just for Quix
    April 7, 2008 at 5:03 pm

    Okay– got’cha, Clark — though I’d still need to give your point some thought. I’m not sure “doctrine perfection” is the most precise term, either.

    I like your post on your blog addressing the differences with Mormonism and Arianism. I can appreciate your “ruffledness” to my use of the term as I did. Even though I tried to quality my use, it wasn’t the most precise of persuasive analogies. Still, I disagree that creatio ex nihilo was as a defining philosophy to the affirmation of Trinitarianism that you seem to be arguing in that article, as well as here in this thread. [Though it certainly _is_ a point of difference between Mormonism and much (not all) of Christendom.]

  65. April 7, 2008 at 5:38 pm

    I don’t know that I’m making quite that argument. Rather I think I was more making the point you were making earlier about context and meaning. While we can (as I have) discuss the Trinity one always has to consider how creation ex nihilo affects how we view it and more particularly the implications of the doctrine.

  66. Bruce Nielson
    April 7, 2008 at 6:24 pm

    I can’t stick around, but I wanted to just say one thing. My objection wasn’t to JFQ defining my personal beliefs as they differ from orthodox Mormonism, as per the example of some Christians being modalists; my objection was to JFQ and Nick defining orthodox Mormonism/LDSism itself for Mormons.

    My original objection to JFQ was this statement: “LDS theology disagrees with more than one of these biblical assertions–and more” That is simply not true for “orthodox Mormonism.”

    I am not playing a word game when I say that I literally and straightforwardly believe that God’s nature is “that there are 3 distinct persons, but each is fully God, and there is but one God. But it also affirms the nature of God–who is spirit; Jesus, who is both fully man and fully God; and The Holy Spirit.” Granted that there is more than one orthodox Mormon view, mine is not out of the ordinary or even rare.

    I also objection to these statements from JFQ:

    “While it may seem that Bruce can claim LDS doctrine agrees with the basic monotheistic assertions of Trinitarian doctrine, doing such is playing on the surface word games and staying blind to the biblical teachings orthodox Trinitarian doctrine affirms”

    “Mormon doctrine is distinctly henotheistic, not monotheistic”

    JFQ is defining what Mormon doctrine is and in my opinion he is doing so incorrectly. I can’t say for certain if all Mormons would reject these statements and labels as I do, but this orthodox Mormon does. Orthodox Mormonism is certainly broad enough that there may be some henotheists amongst us, perhaps. But even Mormons that might accept such statements at first, if I had 30 minutes to discuss it with them privately, would probably often end up rejecting such statements once I explained them. (Or more likely they might say they accept the terms if defined a certain way and reject the terms if defined another way, which is probably what I’m really saying here.)

    What I am trying to say is, I have a certain very orthodox understanding of Mormon doctrine and it is monotheistic. Period. I reject the henotheistic label JFQ is placing on me because I believe it to be an incorrect understanding of my orthodox Mormon beliefs.

    Now JFQ may have been henotheistic when he was a Mormon, but I am not and orthodox Mormonism isn’t either.

    Let me sum up my point this way. I believe Mormon doctrine is made up of millions of data points that have to be interpreted. Mormons allow for a lot of different interpretations that are orthodox. There are millions of data points that make up the Bible. There are multiple ways to interpret them as well.

    I believe JFQ, that you are taking one possible interpretation of Mormon doctrine (perhaps one of the orthodox views even, I can’t say for sure at this point in time) and one possible interpretation of the Bible and you are showing that they are contradictory or at least paradoxical.

    While I agree with you that that one particular view of Mormon doctrine and that one particular view of the Bible seem to be at odds with each other, this doesn’t mean much to me because I personally accept neither of them.

    So what I am asking is that you don’t state what Mormon doctrine is and isn’t in broad sweeping statements/judgments. I don’t mind you saying “When I was Mormon I believed…” or even “many Mormons seem to believe…” And of course, you are free to hold my feet to the fire and make me define my terms better or ask me probing follow up questions. :) And if you believe my views to be paradoxical or contradictory, you are free to call them that and state why you feel that way. But please don’t define them for me.

    Just for the record, I completely and literally believe this statement: “There is no other God before God.” I very literally believe that and believe orthodox Mormonism teach exactly that and nothing but that. (And, yes, it’s a paradox with the plurality of gods doctrine.)

  67. Bruce Nielson
    April 7, 2008 at 7:15 pm

    Also, I want to ask one final question. JFQ, you state: “as if the biblical assertions (albeit paradoxical ones) about the nature of God could be divided out and accepted piecemeal”

    This is a strange argument to me, as per my footnote #7. You are using the word “paradox” instead of “contradiction.” One man’s paradox is another man’s contradiction, I suppose.

    That being said, let me use your very own argument right back: I find it “paradoxical” that there is exactly one God and also a plurality of gods. I do not see it as contradictory at all. You see the assertions of the Bible as “paradoxical” just like I see the assertions of Mormon scripture (including the Bible) as “paradoxical.” So we are on even footing logically speaking.

    What possible arguement could you logically make whereby you can reject my “paradox” as somehow worse than your “paradox?” What is your basis for claiming my “paradox” is wrong and yours is right?

    In other words, on what grounds are you objecting to Mormon doctrine being “contradictory” (or is that “paradoxical?”) to the Bible when your own doctrines within the Bible (as you read/interpret them) also seem to contradict each other? I think this is a fair question and it is the crux of my objection to orthodox Christian doctrine.

    However, I could take this further and state that they are not actually equal because I wouldn’t mind sitting down with you and using predicate logic and showing beyond doubt that my beliefs on this subject are literally “paradoxical” and not “contradictory.” That is to say, I could prove via a logical proof that there is no logical contradiction. (Namely through use of how I define words.) But I have my doubts that any orthodox Christians could do the same over their view of the Trinity, which I believe really is a bona fide contradiction.

    I once worked out the predicate calculus on the orthodox Trinity doctrine and found it (by logical proof) to be a contradiction. If you want to take my predicate logic proof (I still have it) and show me where I went wrong (either in my assumptions or in my logic) feel free to clarify your meaning better for me and I’ll very quickly change my point of view about how I understand the orthodox Trinity. (And I’m serious about this. I would *really* appreciate it if an orthodox Christian could help me understand how I am misunderstanding the orthodox Trinity doctrine if in fact I am. It seems like looking over predicate calculus, if understood, would be a sure fire way to get to the bottom of any misunderstanding I might have.)

  68. Ray
    April 7, 2008 at 7:21 pm

    JfQ: I wish I had an electronic copy of that paper, but I am old enough that my very first computer was just a glorified typewriter with word processing capability, and the paper was recorded on an old floppy disk. I have absolutely no idea where that disk is now, so many years later.

    Thanks for the comment, though. I appreciate it.

  69. April 7, 2008 at 8:35 pm

    #66:
    my objection was to JFQ and Nick defining orthodox Mormonism itself for Mormons.

    I did nothing of the sort, Bruce. You see, for 26 years, I was an “orthodox Mormon.” Because I was an orthodox Mormon, I found modern LDS-ism frustrating. Your attempt to equate “orthodox Mormonism” with the present positions of the modern LDS church is truly objectionable. To me, it’s essentially a game of identity theft.

    What I am trying to say is, I have a certain very orthodox understanding of Mormon doctrine and it is monotheistic. Period. I reject the henotheistic label JFQ is placing on me because I believe it to be an incorrect understanding of my orthodox Mormon beliefs.

    No, your monotheism is not a “very orthodox understanding of Mormon doctrine.” Rather, it’s a very orthdox understanding of LDS doctrine. Actual Mormonism, the religion taught by Joseph Smith, is unquestionably henotheistic, as Joseph quite clearly taught a plurality of gods, and worship of one deity (Hint: That one deity wasn’t Jesus).

    Just for the record, I completely and literally believe this statement: “There is no other God before God.” I very literally believe that and believe orthodox Mormonism teach exactly that and nothing but that.

    Thanks for unequivocally stating your beliefs, Bruce. You are free to believe as you choose, of course. Just know that any person who actually believes what Joseph Smith taught will never agree that your doctrine is “orthodox Mormonism.” Your “no other god before [our] god” theory is completely and utterly at odds with the teachings of Joseph Smith. You should be honest about that, rather than trying to convine others, against all evidence, that Joseph taught your particular theory.

  70. Bruce Nielson
    April 7, 2008 at 8:58 pm

    Nick,

    I ask kindly that you practice some tolerance here and stop calling me dishonest. It’s inappropriate and it’s insulting.

    If you want to argue that LDS doctrine has changed since Joseph Smith, that’s fine. Since you believe it’s a false religion from the beginning anyhow, it seems odd to me that you are ardently defending against change as you do. God could care less about how a false religion changes to be some other kind of false. Since supposedly you believe it’s false from the beginning, it’s logically inconsistent for you to care that I am now interpreting Joseph Smith differently than how he intended it. Furthermore, if Jospeh Smith DID mean what you think he means, than all that means is I believe in a fake Joseph Smith and I am happy to be blissfully ignorant of that fact since it’s the modern Church I believe in, not your take on Joseph Smith.

    That being said, I don’t believe you have any way of knowing what Joseph did or didn’t mean and, objectively speaking, you have no basis for your assertion that my interpretation of Joseph Smith goes against all evidence. It is just as possible that you are deeply bias and that you are interpreting him wrongly.

    And let’s keep this in perspective. If I’m wrong and you are right, there is no reason for you to be upset and insulting as you are being because it was all false to begin with and my non-Joseph Smith based religion (as you suppose it is) should be seen by you as the same as, say, the Prebyterian religion or some other religion. Hardly something worth getting worked up over as you are.

    But discussing what we LDS believe today is still a valid subject for discussion, and make no mistake, that was the dicussion. You are off topic and so I won’t be going down the path of arguing with you whether or not Nick or the LDS church interprets Joseph Smith more accurately.

    Since this is, in fact, a disucssion about what the modern LDS orthodox view is compared to orthodox Christian views, if you are not interested in particpating in that discussion, please bow out respectfully and gracefully and stop the insults and accusations of dishonesty, please.

  71. Ray
    April 7, 2008 at 9:12 pm

    There is no “orthodoxy” when it comes to Mormon doctrine. Perhaps there is Smithodoxy (x2), Prattodoxy, Youngodoxy, Talmagodoxy, McConckodoxy (makes me laugh just pronouncing it as I type), Nibleydoxy, Hincklodoxy, etc. – but there is no orthodoxy. Things change too much to pin down almost anything as orthodoxy, unless it is defined specifically as what is taught generally at a particular time or by a particular person – which is what I think Nick is saying.

    Even the Articles of Faith are flexible enough as a whole to allow for multiple interpretations and differing emphases at varying times. I love that; it flummoxes others; it really, really torques some.

  72. Bruce Nielson
    April 7, 2008 at 9:21 pm

    Ray,

    As I stated previously: “Granted that there is more than one orthodox Mormon view, mine is not out of the ordinary or even rare.”

    I am not trying to assert my views are the only orthodox Mormon view. I’m merely asking that I am not defined by outsiders as not being within the range of “orthodox” (which clearly I am.) There are many ways to interpret scripture. There are many ways to interpret “Mormonism.” There are many *valid* ways to do so, in fact.

  73. Ray
    April 7, 2008 at 9:22 pm

    Bruce, Nick can speak for himself, but I think you are overstating Nick’s rejection of Mormonism – that he believes it is “false” from the start. I read it as believing Joseph was inspired just as other religious figures have been inspired throughout history. As a hardcore parser, I think Nick makes the same type of distinction that I make when I explain the First Vision – that “false” or “wrong” simply means “not completely right”. Nick doesn’t reject Mormonism; he doesn’t agree with the direction the Church has taken on many doctrinal and social issues. He still has a lot of admiration for the Church in some regards, and for many Mormons as people, but he just doesn’t accept the evolution of the Church over the years.

    I would have left this to Nick to answer, but, frankly, this exchange is getting a bit heated and turning personal – and I respect both of you too much to want to see that happen, especially after such pleas this weekend for tolerance and acceptance and understanding for those with whom we disagree.

    Nick, if I have mis-characterized your beliefs, I apologize.

  74. Ray
    April 7, 2008 at 9:30 pm

    Bruce, my #71 was not pointed at you. It was a generic statement, although my reference to Nick might have made it look like I was directing it at you. That was not my intent.

  75. Bruce Nielson
    April 7, 2008 at 9:41 pm

    Nick makes one point I want to acknowledge. I was using “Mormonism” and “LDS” as synonyms. Both I and JFQ (the ones holding the discussion) both accept these as synonyms. But Nick doesn’t.

    I would ask Nick, in the interest of tolerance, to not get bent out of shape over a widely accepted usuage of terms. But in the interest of tolerance I will, from this point forward, no longer use those two words as synonyms in this discussion. But old habits die hard, so I do the best I can. In a worst case scenario I have merely departed from Joseph Smith as you did, but happen to be ignorant of that fact. But so what? I’m free to believe whatever I wish. So is the LDS church as a whole.

    Ray,

    You are right that Nick accepts Joseph Smith was often inspired.

    While I do not want to speak for Nick, I will explain myself more fully: What I meant by “false” was that Nick also accepts (as per his comments elsewhere) that Joseph Smith was often a liar, sexually abused women, was drastically wrong about a good many doctrines, etc. Now Nick believes he has sorted through all this and has formed his own belief system partially based on, but different than exactly what he believes Joseph originally taught.

    That is to say, if I really believed in the Joseph Smith Nick believes existed it would still be an incorrect religion compared to the belief system Nick believes is correct. Does that make sense?

    So perhaps (again, I’ll let Nick talk for himself) I am too hasty to assume that Nick doesn’t differientiate between “wrong” and “more wrong.” Maybe that is what I am misunderstanding about Nick. But whether or not I have departed from the teachings of Joseph Smith (as Nick defines that) either way Nick would believe my religion is “not true.” (i.e. that’s what I actually meant by “false”)

    And I do think that is a valid question for Nick. I do not understand, Nick, why you care so much about departure from Joseph Smith’s original teachings because you too have departed from them by your own admission.

    Update: Actually, I’m going to take this one step futher. If Nick is correct in his understanding of Joseph Smith, then I see no reason to accept anything Joseph taught nor anything in the LDS Church at all. Nick subscribes to a different view of what revelation from God is than I do. So naturally we would come to different conclusions about this. But if Nick is in fact correct about Joseph Smith, then I reject all of Joseph Smith. I do not believe I have anything to learn from him and would rather not waste my time studying his doctrines. ThatI believe the whole “cafeteria” approach to Mormonism and/or Christianity is a flawed approach, so that would be natural for me to believe that.

  76. Ray
    April 7, 2008 at 9:44 pm

    Bruce, that’s fair – at least to me. *grin*

  77. April 7, 2008 at 10:02 pm

    Actual Mormonism, the religion taught by Joseph Smith, is unquestionably henotheistic, as Joseph quite clearly taught a plurality of gods, and worship of one deity (Hint: That one deity wasn’t Jesus).

    Nick, hopefully the discussion here has pointed out how this is a narrow way of thinking. Part of the problem was that clearly Joseph thought the Trinity was equivalent to modalism. (Reread the Sermon in the Grove and the King Follet Discourse and it leaps out at you.) In terms of the persons of course there is a plurality of gods. But that’s what the Trinity teaches.

    The issue isn’t the plurality of gods but rather their unity (if any).

    Now Joseph was very clearly teaching that there was an unity to the gods. (There’s a section on this in the Sermon in the Grove)

    As to the point I think you are making with respect to the persons it is this one from the Sermon in the Grove.

    the word Eloiheam ought to be in the plural all the way through– Gods—the heads of the Gods appointed one God for us–& when you take a view of the subject it sets one free to see all the beauty holiness & perfection of the God–all I want is to get the simple truth–naked & the whole truth–Men say there is one God–the Far. Son & the H. G. are only 1 God–it is a strange God any how 3 in 1 & 1 in 3. it is a curious thing any how–Far. I pray not for the world but I pray for those that thou givest me &c &c all are to be crammed into 1 God–it wod. make the biggest God in all the world–he is a wonderful big God–he would be a Giant

    (I quoted the fun stuff about all being crowded into God too)

  78. April 7, 2008 at 10:06 pm

    Bruce: Just for the record, I completely and literally believe this statement: “There is no other God before God.” I very literally believe that and believe orthodox Mormonism teach exactly that and nothing but that. (And, yes, it’s a paradox with the plurality of gods doctrine.)

    Could you explain what you mean here Bruce? Like Nick I think Joseph already answered this issue. (Rather clearly in the sermon I quoted from above) But then I think Paul did too.

    Ray: Nick doesn’t reject Mormonism; he doesn’t agree with the direction the Church has taken on many doctrinal and social issues. He still has a lot of admiration for the Church in some regards, and for many Mormons as people, but he just doesn’t accept the evolution of the Church over the years.

    I suspect Nick ought speak for himself but while he may have felt that way initially I believe he has much stronger views now towards the LDS faith and religion in general.

  79. Bruce Nielson
    April 7, 2008 at 10:14 pm

    Clark says: “In terms of the persons of course there is a plurality of gods. But that’s what the Trinity teaches. The issue isn’t the plurality of gods but rather their unity (if any).”

    Bingo!

    This is probably what I meant when I said “There is no other God before God” (assuming I understood *you* correctly.) But I sort of have this up coming post where I’m going to address it further. Can I email you and run ideas past you and get feedback as a way of appeasing you earlier? I’d be happy to explain and explain and explain myself to an interested listener.

    But yes, I very much do understand LDS doctrine as being the same as “there is no other God before God.”

  80. April 7, 2008 at 10:33 pm

    #75:
    What I meant by “false” was that Nick also accepts (as per his comments elsewhere) that Joseph Smith was often a liar, sexually abused women, was drastically wrong about a good many doctrines, etc.

    Bruce, I think you may be conflating the comments of others with mine here. It’s certainly true that I believe Joseph lied at times (as even many faithful, believing LDS acknowledge). It is not true that I believe Joseph Smith “sexually abused women,” nor do I think I have ever made that allegation. That idea is usually advanced by critics in connection with the youth of some of Joseph’s wives, but any educated person knows it was entirely accepted in Joseph’s day for a young teenage girl to marry a more mature man. I think it’s a miscarriage of justice to impose modern ideas of child sexual abuse on Joseph’s era, in order to condemn those who simply followed marital norms of the time.

    And I do think that is a valid question for Nick. I do not understand, Nick, why you care so much about departure from Joseph Smith’s original teachings because you too have departed from them by your own admission.

    Bruce, even though I now differ from Joseph’s theology in some respects, I still admire his teachings as a particularly beautiful system. In particular, I find beauty in some of his more esoteric and unusual ideas. Sadly (to me) these are the very aspects of Joseph’s theology that I have observed the LDS church discarding, at an ever-increasing rate. It’s fair to say that I resent what I see as the callous dismantling of a brilliant legacy. I don’t have to embrace Joseph’s theology in order to admire it, nor do I have to embrace Joseph’s theology in order to bemoan its passing away.

  81. Bruce Nielson
    April 7, 2008 at 10:48 pm

    Nick,

    Got to go to bed and I can’t keep posting :P But let me acknowledge:

    1. “I think you may be conflating the comments of others with mine here.” Fair enough. Apparently I was. But regardless of my poor example, I think it’s fair to say that I’m a correct that you “don’t… embrace Joseph’s theology” which is the underlying point of my statement.

    2. “It’s fair to say that I resent what I see as the callous dismantling of a brilliant legacy. I don’t have to embrace Joseph’s theology in order to admire it, nor do I have to embrace Joseph’s theology in order to bemoan its passing away” Also fair enough. Please understand, I don’t care about the Joseph you believe in. I have no interest in him at all. And I apparently disagree with it on many points of doctrine. So I don’t care if I’m departing from his “original teachings” as you view them. This is fair enough too, right?

    So while I now understand why it bothers you so much when people disagree with you about what Joseph taught, please understand that I can’t depart from what I believe and still be true to myself. I *am* going to continue to understand Joseph as I already do. You need to let me without insulting me.

    If it helps, think of my as a prebyterian instead of a Mormon. Or think of me as believing in a “different Joseph” if you like. I don’t care.

    This situation is a real test of tolerance: we have fundamentally different views of what Joseph did teach (on some or many points anyhow, perhaps we agree on much also) so we both need to be able to talk about “what Joseph taught” and it needs to be understand implicitly as “Bruce’s view of what Joseph taught” or “Nick’s view of what Joseph taught.”

    I shouldn’t have to say over and over “as I understand Joseph.” That’s implicit. Everyone understands that my views of Joseph are what I understand about Joseph.

    I merely ask that you don’t barge into a conversation and say that I’m being dishonest. I’m not being dishonest, because I really do not interpret Joseph the same way you do.

    Now in private you may feel that the reason I’m (from your point of view) misunderstanding Joseph is because I’m stupid or lying, or whatever. But tolerance is not saying that about me publicly.

    Of course tolerance means you can directly attack my position. (After all, you are only “toleranting” my view, not “accepting” it.) For example, you can factually point out what I’ve missed. You can explain your alternate view or alternate interpretation. You can tell me you believe I’m wrong. You can tell me “no, Joseph taught this!” (and I’ll implicity understand that you mean “Nick’s view of Joseph Smith taught this!”)

    But please don’t say I’m being dishonest or I don’t have a brain or some other insult. It doesn’t matter one whit whether or not I’m, in fact, lying or don’t have a brain. Who knows, maybe I’m both lying AND don’t have a brain. What matters is that you don’t say it because it’s insulting and not tolerant.

    Thanks. And thanks for the non-angry tone in your last post.

    Oh, by the way, I appreciate your point of view about “it’s a miscarriage of justice to impose modern ideas of child sexual abuse on Joseph’s era, in order to condemn those who simply followed marital norms of the time.” This is very fair of you. You often suprise me with your points of view.

  82. Just for Quix
    April 8, 2008 at 12:53 pm

    I can see why Bruce got so worked up, because the way I interpret “orthodox” is reflective of why I am now Christian. I find comfort in theological tradition that, as Clark said, is less prone to “rethink[ing] the issues.” But let that not be seen that I dislike consideration and debate upon issues–I just value theology highly and prefer to check my heart against the standard of orthodoxy as a way to keep my questioning nature “centered.” While I will contend there is a lot of context, vibrancy and competing claims that has led to divergency in Christian practice, it is the universal church creeds, and strong reverence for what the Bible means, that binds them in fellowship. These are the creeds that Mormonism has historically opposed–but obviously now there seems to be some sway if Bruce is any evidence. There is a basic Christian trust of the Bible as authority, and while there is some divergency here to how that is interpreted, that divergency is nowhere as prone to disregard, dismiss and “proof text” as commonly as the LDS experience does toward the Bible. But obviously this can not be true in every regard as some LDS believers here — Ray and Clark are great examples — have been eager to establish how they do respect and regard the Bible as authoritative. It is just quite different from me because they also appeal to modern scripture, which I reject. But I can respect those differences.

    Ray was wise in pointing out that LDS “orthodoxy” is really not a doctrinal one. Clark further noted, “I think Mormons tend to be much more distrustful of formal theology and the Church’s position, even at the time it emphasizes some doctrinal point, is still ‘figure it out yourself.’” It is rigid praxis that binds divergent LDS believers together into an “orthodoxy”, IMO, such as: are you loyal and obedient to the Church? (Which is the same as the ‘Lord’ though not clearly defined how so.) Do you attend your meetings regularly and attend temple? Do you follow the WoW, pay tithing, etc., etc., etc. As Ray noted it is absolutely correct that this, “doctrinal fluidity” to Christians with whom modern LDS would seek to find fellowship, is frustrating, mildly. LDS theology is so hard to nail down. The LDS theological “tradition” to which an “orthodox” believer adheres could be no older than a decade (or younger). And it is quite alienating to many Christians that the allegiance is in praxis rather than doctrine, because that is the standard by how the universality of Christian fellowship is measured.

    When you get down to the LDS faith experience, there is no external authority to appeal to. How one interprets the scriptures, what prophets or authorities one listens to or not, etc., are easily changed and dismissed. The _only_ authority is the personal revelation one has had, and _if_ that revelation results in allegiance to the Church organization. Ironically, this binds the LDS believer quite in fellowship to his Christian brothers and sisters more than it would seem. When we left the LDS church my mother-in-law complained that we were “being deceived.” My wife asked how? MIL couldn’t say. I told my MIL she could just as easily be deceived, because she knows her LDS theology so poorly that anything she didn’t agree with in scripture, or with any prophet or authority, she would freely dismiss as being a mistranslation or a teaching no longer applicable. The rub with her is that we were giving up tradition and “orthodox” praxis — corporate loyalty. But her spiritual manifestation is no more valid than ours. We both have strong spiritual witnesses to why we believe as we do. I did have more confidence in that I am aligning myself to centuries-old Christian creeds, debates, thought and, especially, a stronger trust in foundational exegetical Bible study than the “moment in time” doctrinal Mormonism to which she seems to be firm, which is pretty close to “McConkiedoxy.” (thanks, Ray *smile). (And she would definitely not consider Bruce to be an “orthodox” LDS theological believer but that’s obviously neither here nor there.) Still, when I get down to it — and this thread has helped me see that — that doesn’t necessarily mean we can’t find commonalities of faith, that the most binding spiritual witnesses to which we cling are remarkably similar experiences. They just affirm very different faith practices. We both have loyalty as a nature of our faith, even if to what we are loyal differs. And even with differences, we share a loyalty to Christ, and the life that calls us to live.

    Like Nick, it is very frustrating to me that Mormons disregard and reinterpret Joseph Smith doctrines to such a degree that I’m quite certain Smith would not recognize the modern Church. As Bruce has fairly noted, if I do not accept Joseph Smith then why do I care that modern Mormonism doesn’t adhere strictly to his doctrine? I guess it comes down to the fact I can’t reconcile these inconsistencies, nor can I reconcile how the LDS church can so firmly cling to “exclusive truth” and claim they believe Joseph Smith was a prophet yet so malleably commit to what prophethood really means. In the end the theological orthodoxy of any iteration of Mormonism seems no more than a generation old. Similarly, my discomfort that follows is a basic discomfort with the nature of the modern LDS faith being just what it is. Like Utah weather, if you don’t like what the LDS believe, wait 15 minutes.

    But does it mean I have it figured out, that I am on more sure footing? I thought I was, but now I’m not so sure. I see a modern LDS faith that is grasping toward many Christian-like scriptural interpretations to which I now hold dear. Why should that bother me? We’re so close … yet so far apart. Exclusivity claims, and a belief that traditional Christianity is corrupted without really showing strong evidence for why this is so separates us. A rejection of theological alignment with orthodoxy separates us. I can’t reconcile this, but similarly, I can, and have, been guilty of a similar emotional dismissal of LDS. Just because my dismissal is based on allegiance to an older, more historical standard, does that _de facto_ make me right? It may not. In the end, we are each grasping for divinity. Perhaps the post-modernists have it right that we are both right … and wrong.

  83. Just for Quix
    April 8, 2008 at 1:13 pm

    Ray (52): Since I always have a soft spot for pragamtism, perhaps the answer is not a post-modernist one but what you summed up well many comments ago, “I view these conversations as on-going chances to learn and develop understanding, and I view “missionary work” as the attempt to find others who can and will see and *feel* things the same way I do – NOT as a battle within which the best argument or sharpest intellect will win.”

  84. April 8, 2008 at 3:46 pm

    Let me say that I think folks exaggerate the “move away from Joseph.” But even those who do this (say Blake Ostler, Stephen Robinson, etc.) tend to be careful about how they do it. Regardless of our theological positions it is undeniable that some things Joseph believed must have been his personal views and others were not. How are we to decide? Just because some aspects of Joseph’s thought were taken as inspired doesn’t mean they were. There is a treating of Joseph in a way people are unwilling to treat Brigham Young, Joseph F. Smith, or others. I’m not sure that view can be justified.

  85. Bruce Nielson
    April 8, 2008 at 4:02 pm

    #82: JFQ – I just realized that what you are saying in post #82 is very similar to what I said in footnote #3.

    My point was that “credal Christians” tend to affirm another person’s loyalty to Christ based on either if I would affirm that I believe a creed or if I would at least affirm certain phrases from a creed (i.e. “of one substance.”) It didn’t matter if I understood it correctly or even if they understood it correctly. It didn’t even matter if my non-creedal view was closer to what the creed taught than their misunderstanding of the creed. In other words I perceived “orthodoxy” in Protestant Christianity as being determined by creedal affirmation (or catch phrases) rather than by doctrine.

    It would seem that JFQ is saying we have a parallel in the LDS Church. “It is rigid praxis that binds divergent LDS believers together into an orthodoxy.” In other words it seems to JFQ that Mormons determine orthodoxy by paraxis rather than doctrine.

    While I need to give this more thought, I think we might both be right.

    If there is a lesson learned out of this, I think it’s that it’s unfair for me to compare myself with inner city (and less educated) Christians I interacted with on my mission and that it’s unfair for JFQ to compare himself to his MIL. We can debate numbers, but I think it’s a fair statement that most members of most religions don’t have more than a basic doctrinal understanding of their own religion. Few are really deeply studied.

    Perhaps we should really be comparing ourselves to each other on this very blog.

  86. Just for Quix
    April 8, 2008 at 6:15 pm

    Creeds are important to some Christians merely out of tradition. Other Christians consider the creeds important, because 1) they came into being, like scripture, based on the rigid orally instructive culture of spiritual Judaism, as well as ‘Greek’ intellectual culture. (It’s one evidence, among others, that it is silly to say the Nicean creed, for example, ‘created’ Trinitarian doctrine.) 2) The unifying creeds of Christendom formalizes the assertion of the Word. Therefore I think there are thoughtful reasons to contend why those who consider themselves Christians should consider affirming allegiance to the creeds.

    For a long time, even though I am a philosophically and theologically-minded, I considered that beliefs shouldn’t matter, only behavior. (It’s one reason I considered myself a humanist for several years after I ceased a strict belief in Mormonism.) Yet as I tried to reconcile a continuity of faith between “old school” Mormonism and modern Mormonism, I found out that behavior alone wasn’t sufficient faith defense to me. Yet, while praxis certainly has many common expressions among faiths, when the Mormon tradition seemed to undermine my faith, then, once again, I found myself taking my doctrinal allegiances more seriously. Still, once we decided to become practicing Christians, it really was out of a matter to seeking an environment for us and our kids where the practice nurtured our faith better. Doctrine is important, but it was faith experience we mainly sought. Afterward we would focus on the shared Christian practice and beliefs with family, and some were just not content to leave it there. Once they started to affirm the salvific necessity for our LDS allegiance, then doctrine _had_ to be stressed as important, even though it wasn’t our main motivator. And here, again, it became terribly frustrating to pin it down to have a constructive dialogue. Basically, we found our extended family had/have a tough time honoring our decision , whether based on our grounds of spiritual experience or of doctrine.

    What I realized though, with my family, and especially my MIL, that I have more in common than I first was willing to realize. And even in comparing ourselves on this blog (or in this thread per Bruce #85), many of us tend to be very thoughtful in our beliefs. Blogging also tends to make it very convenient to get into very mindful and detailed proofing of our positions, something that would not enflame as likely were we talking in person. I am persuaded strongly by the cogency of historical Christianity, but I realized that I also need to have greater respect for LDS who have very thoughtful commitments to their faith. As Ray said, even though we “embattle” one another for the “best argument or sharpest intellect” we can each reach very intellectually thoughtful, logical AND spiritually persuasive positions that are going to be beneficial for those who tend to think similarly. To the extent that Bruce was making an olive branch statement in #85, and I’m interpreting it that way, I wish to reciprocate by saying I also appreciate the dialogue, and learning a bit more about myself.

  87. Ray
    April 8, 2008 at 8:51 pm

    Fwiw, I just typed a LONG comment and realized I wanted to post it on my own blog instead. If anyone is interested, it is here:

    http://thingsofmysoul.blogspot.com/2008/04/for-what-do-i-hunger-and-thirst.html