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Criticism of Mormonism/Books/Mormonism 101/Introduction
Introduction to Mormonism 101: Back to School
by David Waltz
Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch.1
I have been an ardent student of Mormonism since 1987. It has been my intent, from the beginning of my studies, to be as objective as humanly possible in my examination. I have seriously studied Mormonism from many different angles. In the process, I have accumulated more than 1,700 books on Mormonism, including more than 150 anti-Mormon books. Add to this my collection of BYU Studies, Dialogue, Sunstone, and the vast majority of FARMS publications, and one could say I have a fairly substantial Mormon collection. I guess word of my studies has "gotten around," and I have been asked to contribute to FAIR's review of McKeever and Johnson's Mormonism 101.
It was back in May of 2000 that I ordered Mormonism 101. It was my hope that this book would build upon the recent Evangelical/Mormon dialogue of Blomberg and Robinson,2 and the excellent reviews of their work in Farms Review of Books.3 The title had an academic ring to it, and I waited with anticipation that the book would live up to my initial expectation. My wait was extended into early July, when the book was finally delivered to my doorstep. Was it worth the wait? Did the book live up to my expectations? I was less than fifteen minutes into the book when any hope of an objective, academic look at Mormonism had all but disappeared. Alas, the book, now in my hands, was nothing more than another ill-conceived, subjective, polemical, anti-Mormon publication.
I am sure that many, if not most. non-Mormons will think that my above statement may sound too harsh. But, in my defense, I will ask the readers to suspend their judgment until they have finished my contribution to this review. I believe that I will clearly demonstrate that McKeever and Johnson repeatedly use polemical methods against Mormonism that are defective. I will also demonstrate that McKeever and Johnson's brand of Christianity has no greater claim to "historic," "orthodox," pre-Nicene Christianity than Mormonism. Once the historical data that I will present is honestly examined, I believe it will become clear that McKeever and Johnson's approach to Mormonism is severely flawed; and importantly, their approach is a double-edged sword, which when turned on Evangelicalism, inflicts a much greater wound.
The two authors of Mormonism 101 begin their book with a quote from Bruce R. McConkie's Mormon Doctrine:
Mormonism is Christianity; Christianity is Mormonism; they are one and the same, and they are not to be distinguished from each other in the minutest detail…Mormons are true Christians; their worship is the pure, unadulterated Christianity authored by Christ and accepted by Peter, James and John and all the ancient saints.4
Now, what is wrong with this statement? I would hope McKeever and Johnson believe that the form of Christianity which they practice "is the pure, unadulterated Christianity authored by Christ." If they do not believe this, then perhaps they had better choose another form of Christianity from the more than 30,000 denominations that exist today. McConkie's statement reminds me of the words of two highly distinguished Evangelical scholars, Cornelius Van Til and Benjamin Warfield. Van Til wrote, "We are not to define the essence of Christianity in terms of its lowest but rather in terms of its highest forms. Calvinsim is 'Christianity come into its own.'"5 He also states, "Only in the Reformed Faith is there an uncompromising statement of the main tenets of Christianity. All other statements are deformations."6 Warfield penned the following, "Calvinism, I have said, is religion at the height of its conception…Calvinism is evangelicalism in its pure and only stable expression."7 Keeping the words of McConkie, Van Til, and Warfield in mind, should not all honest Christian's believe that the form of Christianity they practice is, in fact, the purest form Christianity? (It must be noted that although McKeever and Johnson use the terms "mainstream," "historic," and "orthodox" for the form of Christianity that they espouse, they never inform the reader which denomination they belong to).
Continuing, McKeever and Johnson write the following:
Of course the big question is just what constitutes Mormonism? Are we to judge the LDS Church by the opinion of the average lay member? While on the surface this may sound like a good way to evaluate a religious system, our experience has shown that far too many have not taken the time to do an in-depth investigation into the history and doctrines of their faith.8
I assume that McKeever and Johnson would hold to the same when dealing with "the average lay member" of their denomination. On page 10 we read:
Should we study the latest trends coming out of Brigham Young University? We admit that BYU has employed some great minds, but do professors at the church-owned school have the authority to interpret doctrine for the rest of the LDS Church?9
What kind of question is this? The professors at BYU have as much "authority" as the leading professors at leading Evangelical seminaries. Do McKeever and Johnson have the "authority" to speak for Evangelicalism? I am truly amazed at how many times anti-Mormon writers have to be told that the only official, authoritative writings for the LDS Church are its scriptures (i.e., the Standard Works). And how many times does the anti-Mormon need to be told that, "a prophet was a prophet only when he was acting as such."10 Throughout their book McKeever and Johnson quote past Mormon authorities who held opposing opinions on many issues and doctrines. McKeever and Johnson give me the impression that they are professional anti-Mormons, yet they cannot seem to grasp the elementary LDS doctrine on what constitutes official doctrine.
On page 11 McKeever and Johnson inform their readers that Joseph and early leaders "prided themselves on their uniqueness and they boldly and publicly proclaimed their differences…" and "They made little or no effort to associate with what they considered 'apostate Christiandom.'" First, because of the intense persecution that early Mormons faced at the hands of professed Christians, is it any wonder that they limited their associations with the surrounding non-Mormon populace? Second, if one believes that their particular form of Christianity is the purest and true form, would not, in some sense, all other forms by implication be in a state of apostasy? McKeever and Johnson seem to lose track of the fact that when LDS authors write about "total apostasy," the "total" referred to is the authority to act in the name of God (i.e., the keys of the Kingdom of God). I know of no member of the LDS Church that holds to the view that all truth was lost. In fact, most believe that many truths still existed in a scattered form throughout the years between the loss of the "keys" in the early second century and the restoration in nineteenth. The following are just a few examples of what LDS authorities have taught. First, Brigham Young:
It is the Lord's privilege to give the Holy Ghost to whom he will, and it is not for us to question him in his right, power, and privilege??in the extent of his doings. He blesses the human family; he raises up nations, kingdoms, and governments, and controls in the armies of the world. He rules in the heavens, and makes the wrath of man praise him, and gives his Spirit when and to whom he pleases. Shall I say that he has given it to his Saints all the day long? Yes; for I know that he has. Have they enjoyed the light of the Spirit of revelation? Yes; and so, more or less, has every being that has been born upon this earth. I never passed John Wesley's church in London without stopping to look at it. Was he a good man? Yes; I suppose him to have been, by all accounts, as good as ever walked on this earth, according to his knowledge. Has he obtained a rest? Yes, and greater than ever entered his mind to expect; and so have thousands of others of the various religious denominations.11
Second, Lorenzo Snow:
There is a great difference between the possession of the Holy Ghost and the mere possession of the Spirit of God. Everybody has the Spirit of God, that is, the honest?hearted, those who are living according to the best light they have. All Christian churches have it, those who seek truth and righteousness. The Baptists, if they are honest, have it; so have the Presbyterians and the Methodists.12
Third, B.H. Roberts:
Our position is this: While there was this universal apostasy, while the Church of Christ as an organization was destroyed, and replaced by the churches of men, yet just as when the sun goes down, there still remains light in the sky??so, too, notwithstanding this apostasy from the Church, there still were left fragments of truth among the children of men, and some measure of truth thank God, through his mercy, has always remained with man, not only with Christians but with all God's children. He has not left himself in any of the ages of the world without his witnesses, and he has sanctified all generations of men with some measure of the truth; therefore, when we proclaim this apostasy from the Christian religion and the destruction of the Church of Christ, it does not follow that we hold that all truth, that all virtue, had departed from the world, or that God had absolutely withdrawn from his creation. Not so. The light of truth burned in the bosom of good men; but it does not follow that because these fragments of truth remained there was necessarily the organized Church of Christ and divine authority in the world. These fragments of the truth could remain in the so?called Christian parts of the world, as we now know them to exist in what is called the heathen world.13
Lastly, LeGrand Richards:
The mission of the true church, under divine inspiration and leadership, should bring together into one church all the truths that are to be found in all other Christian churches, as well as those that have been overlooked or ignored, and to eliminate all error and man?made doctrines. This was what the Lord did in restoring his church to the earth through the instrumentality of the Prophet Joseph Smith.14
Do McKeever and Johnson expect their readers to accept the premise that they do not believe that the "historic" Church become apostate? Their book was published by Baker Books, so I think that it is safe to assume that they are not Roman Catholic nor Eastern Orthodox. By implication they have to hold that the Church became apostate, since they don't belong to either of those denominations.
Continuing on page 11 McKeever and Johnson seem to make reference to the book How Wide the Divide? when they write, "Some Mormon apologists have even declared that the divide between Christianity and Mormonism is not all that wide." Actually, that is the joint conclusion of Craig Blomberg, an Evangelical Christian, and Stephen Robinson, a Mormon. Although they found many points of agreement, they also acknowledged that all differences have not been settled. But, of course, this can be said of all Christian denominations.
Closing out page 11 we read, "The logical question should be, Can an individual or organization willfully deny or distort the basics of the Christian faith and till(sic) be considered Christian?" I strongly believe that this is not the "logical" question that needs to be asked. The question that must first be addressed is, "What are the basics of the Christian faith?" I think I know what McKeever and Johnson believe they are-doctrines such as the Trinity, sola scriptura, sola fide, and sola Christi.
Such answers, however, raise many questions. First, what form of the Trinity do McKeever and Johnson hold to? Do they affirm the "eternal generation" of the Son? Was the Son begotten before all time, or at his incarnation? Does the Holy Spirit proceed from the Father and the Son, or the Father alone? Do they hold that the Father alone is autotheos? Does the Son owe his existence to the Father? Are the Father, Son and Holy Spirit real persons (i.e., three centers of self-consciousness), or are they three relative modes of being? Is there a technical difference between ho theos and theos as used by the early Church Fathers? Are the Trinitarian views of the pre-Nicene and early post Nicene Fathers "orthodox" enough for McKeever and Johnson, in so far that they can call Justin, Tertuallian, Tatian, Eusebius, Athanasius, and a host of other Church Fathers Christians? Further, we know that McKeever and Johnson do not believe that baptism is necessary for salvation,15 yet this is what the vast majority of Christians today, and throughout Church history, have held to. (The same can be said for the baptism of infants.) Do McKeever and Johnson know that informed, conservative, Evangelical scholars admit that the Reformation teachings on justification (i.e., imputation vs. infusion, and faith alone) were sixteenth century inventions?
Now, let us see how McKeever and Johnson close out their preface. On page 12 we read:
Finally, it is unfortunate that some Latter-day Saints may assume that we were motivated to write this book out of hatred or bigotry. Be assured that we are moved with the same compassion felt by the LDS missionaries and lay members who attempt to defend what they believe to be true. While the facts as presented in this book may be ignored by certain readers who would question our motives, we echo the apostle Paul when he addressed the church of Galatia: "Am I therefore become your enemy, because I tell you the truth?"16
I hope that McKeever and Johnson, and all readers of this review, will keep the above in mind. I will not bring into question the motives of McKeever and Johnson, and in return, I hope they will do the same if they happen to read my comments. While I won't question their motives, I will question what they term "facts."
The Nature of God
The first chapter of McKeever and Johnson's book is titled "God the Father". On page 23 of this chapter we read, "If two people hope to consider themselves of the same faith, they need to agree on their definition of Almighty God. If they cannot agree on this vital point, they would be deceiving themselves and others to say that their faiths are the same." Now virtually all Mormons and Evangelicals who have compared the two groups' teachings on the doctrine God know that differences exist, but the real question one must ask is, "Are the differences great enough to exclude one of the above groups from the Christian religion?" To assist honest-hearted readers in making that decision, we are going to have to look at what Christians have believed about God, Jesus Christ, and the doctrine of the Trinity throughout the last 1,900 years. This also means that McKeever and Johnson's chapters on "Jesus" and "The Trinity" will be examined in conjunction with the chapter "God the Father". Any legitimate look at who God is must include the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.
Before I start my historical survey, two comments are in order. First, Mormons know that some LDS authorities in the past, and today, have held, and now hold, differing opinions on certain attributes pertaining to God. (But, it will also become patently clear that "historic" Christians in the past and Evangelicals of today have differences). Second, most of the major differences between conservative LDS scholars and conservative Evangelical scholars vanish when one takes into account the following quote from Stephen Robinson:
I suggest that no biblical passage intends to inform us about the condition of God before the beginning or after the end of eternity. The Bible neither affirms nor denies what God may or may not have done or have been in any theoretical prior eternity.17
Since the Bible does not address what God was doing before "In the beginning," critics in all fairness should limit themselves to addressing who/what the Mormon God is after "the beginning." Now, let us proceed with our historical survey.
All informed, honest scholars know that the particular doctrine of the Trinity held to by most, but not all, Evangelicals was not developed until after the Council of Nicea. Bettenson writes, "'Subordinationism', it is true was pre-Nicene orthodox."18 Hanson wrote:
Indeed, until Athanasius began writing, every single theologian, East and West, had postulated some form of Subordinationism. It could, about the year 300, have been described as a fixed part of catholic theology.19
The following are a few examples from the early Church Fathers. First, Justin:
Our teacher is Jesus Christ…and we reasonably worship Him, having learned that He is the Son of the true God himself, and holding Him in the second place, and the prophetic Spirit in the third.20
Justin further stated that the Son is "the first-born of the unbegotten God,"21 and, "next to God, we worship and love the Word, who is from the unbegotten and ineffable God."22 Justin then says to Trypho, the Jew, "I shall attempt to persuade you…that there is said to be, another God and Lord subject to the Maker of all things."23 The Son "was begotten of the Father by an act of will,"24 and, "this Offspring, which was truly brought forth from the Father, was with the Father before all the creatures (i.e. creation)."25
Tatian, a disciple of Justin, in his Address to the Greeks, wrote that God, 'was alone'; that the Logos 'was in Him' and 'by His simple will the Logos springs forth' and becomes 'the first-begotten work of the Father'; and that 'the Logos, begotten in the beginning, begat in turn our world.'26 Theophilus wrote:
At first God was alone and the Word was in Him…The Word, then, being God, and being naturally produced from God, whenever the Father of the universe wills.27
Athenagoras, a Christian apologist who resided in Athens, wrote:
We acknowledge one God, uncreated, eternal, invisible, impassible, incomprehensible...by whom the universe has been created through His Logos…Nor let anyone think it ridiculous that God should have a Son...the Son of God is the Logos of the Father…the Son, I will state briefly, that He is the first product of the Father."28
Leaving the second century Fathers, and moving on to the third, Origen stated in De Principiis:
That there is one God, who created and arranged all things…This just and good God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ…Jesus Christ Himself, who came (into the world), was born of the Father before all creatures."29
In Origen Against Celsus, Origen states the following:
We therefore charge the Jews with not acknowledging Him (Jesus) to be God, to whom testimony was borne in many passages by the prophets, to the effect that He was a mighty power, and a God next to the God 30 and Father of all things.31
Origen in his Commentary On John wrote:
He (John) uses the article, when the name of God refers to the uncreated cause of all things, and omits it when the Logos is named God…God on the one hand is Very God (Autotheos, God himself); and so the the Saviour says in His prayer to the Father, 'That they may know Thee the only true God;' but all beyond the Very God is made God by participation in His divinity, and is not to be called simply God (with the article), but rather God (without the article). And thus the first-born of all creation, who is the first to be with God, and to attract to Himself divinity, is a being of exalted rank than the other gods beside Him…The true God, then is 'The God,' and those who are formed after Him are gods, images as it were of Him the prototype.32
The following quote is from Origen's Dialogue With Heraclides and His Fellow Bishops On The Father, The Son and, and the Soul:
Origen said: "Since the beginning of a debate is the time to declare what the topic the debate is, I will speak. The whole Church is here listening. It is not fitting for doctrinal differences to exist from church to church, for you are not a Church of falsehood. I call upon you, Father Heraclides: God is the almighty, the uncreated One, who is above all things. Do you agree to this?" Heraclides said: "I agree; for this is what I too believe." Origen said: "Jesus Christ, though he was in the form of God (Phil. 2.6), while still being distinct from God in whose form He was, was God before He came into the body: yes or no?" Heraclides said: "He was God before." Origen said: "Was He God distinct from this God in whose form He was?" Heraclides said: "Obviously distinct from the other and , while being in the form of the other, distinct from the Creator of all." Origen said: " It not true, then, that there was a God, the Son of God, and only begotten of God, the first born of all creation (Col. 1:15), and that we do not hesitate to speak in one sense fo two Gods, and in another sense of one God?" Heraclides said: "What you say is evident. But we too say that God is the almighty, god without beginning, without end, who encompasses all and is encompassed by nothing, and this Word is the Son of the living God, God and man, through whom all things were made, God according to the Spirit, and man from being born of Mary." Origen said: "You don't seem to have answered my question. Explain what you mean, for perhaps I didn't follow you. The Father is god?" Heraclides said: "Of course." Origen said: "The Son is distinct from the Father?" Heraclides said: "Of course, for how could He be son if He were also father?" Origen said: And while being distinct from the Father, the Son is Himself also God?" Heraclides said: "He Himself is also God." Origen said: "And the two Gods become a unity?" Heraclides said: "Yes." Origen said: "We profess two Gods?" Heraclides said: "Yes, [but] the power is one."33
Before leaving Origen, it is important to note what he had to say about prayer. The following is from Origen's treatise Prayer:
If we understand what prayer really is, we shall know that we may never pray to anything generated-not even Christ-but only to God and the Father of all, to whom even Our Saviour Himself prayed, as we have already said, and teaches us to pray...For if the Son, as shown elsewhere, is distinct from the Father in nature and person, then we must pray either to the Son, and not to the Father, or to both, or to the Father only...There remains, then, to pray to God alone, the Father of all, but not apart from the High Priest who was appointed with on oath by the Father...The saints, then, in their prayers of thanks to God acknowledge their thanks to Him through Christ Jesus.34
Next, we shall look at Tertullian, whose writings are late second century through the first two decades of the third. From one his polemical works, Against Praxeas, we read that 'before all things God was alone,' and the Word 'proceeds forth from God.' The Word which is also called Wisdom was 'created or formed' by God and is His 'first-begotten.'35 From Against Praxeas:
I should not hesitate, indeed, to call the tree the son or offspring of the root, and the river of the fountain, and the ray of the sun; because every original source is a parent, and everything which issues from the origin is an offspring…I confess that I call God and His word-the Father and His Son-two...there must be two; and where there is a third, there must be three. Now the Spirit indeed is third from God and the Son; just as the fruit of the tree is third from the root, or as the stream out of the river is third from the fountain, or as the apex of the ray is third from the sun...Now, observe, my assertion is that the Father is one, and the Son one, and the Spirit one, and that They are distinct from Each other…Thus the Father is distinct from the Son, being greater than the Son…we…do indeed definitively declare that Two beings are God, the Father and the Son, and, with the addition of the Holy Spirit, even Three...36
Tertullian, like Origen, can speak of two, and three in one sense, and in another sense, of just One God. Eusebius, too, strongly asserts this same theme. We read the following in his Proof of the Gospel:
Remember how Moses calls the Being, Who appeared to the patriarchs, and often delivered to them the oracles afterwards written down in Scripture sometimes God and Lord, and sometimes the Angel of the Lord. He clearly implies that this was not the Omnipotent God, but a secondary Being...This same being who appeared to Abraham is called Lord and God. He teaches the saint mysteriously of His Father's rule, and speaks some things, as it were, of another God...surely there are Two...we have, by thirty prophetic quotations in all, learned that our Lord and Saviour the Word of God is God, a second God after the Most High.37
With the above examples from the pre-Nicene Fathers in mind (to which many more could be added), we can objectively concur with Bettenson and Hanson that subordinationism was in fact pre-Nicene orthodoxy.
When examining the Nicene period one discovers that the theme of subordinationism is not abandoned. In fact, it will be demonstrated that it continues as the dominant theme well into the fifth century. Evangelical apologists strongly suggest that when the term homoousion was put into the Nicene creed we have the triumph of "orthodoxy" over subordinationism. This "orthodoxy" is the affirmation that homoosios teaches the Godhead is one, single, identical substance shared by three Persons. Most Mormon apologists enforce this conception, seeing the Nicene Creed as an unscriptural departure from true doctrine. But is this really the case? Concerning the subject at hand, Philip Schaff wrote:
The term homoousion, in its strict grammatical sense, differs from monoousion…and signifies not numerical identity, but equality of essence or community of nature among several beings. It is clearly used thus in the Chalcedonian symbol, where it is said that Christ is "consubstantial (homoousios) with the Father as touching the Godhead, and consubstantial with us [and yet individually distinct from us] as touching the manhood." The Nicene Creed does not expressly assert the singleness or numerical unity of the divine essence…and the main point with the Nicene fathers was to urge against Arianism the strict divinity and essential equality of the Son and the Holy Ghost with the Father.38
The great Reformed theologian Charles Hodge admits that the term homoousios "may express either specific sameness, or numerical identity. In the former sense, all spirits, whether God, angels, or men, are homoousioi."39 Although Hodge believes that the Nicene Creed teaches the latter sense, he cites a German theologian who disagrees with him:
Gieseler goes much further, and denies that the Nicene fathers held numerical identity of essence in the persons of the Trinity. The Father, Son and Spirit were the same in substance as having the same nature, or same kind of substance. This he infers was their doctrine not only from the general style of their teaching, and from special declarations, but from the illustrations which they habitually employed. The Father and the Son are the same in substance as among men father and son have the same nature; or as Basil says, Father and Son differ in rank, as do the angels, although they are the same in nature. Gieseler says that the numerical sameness of nature in the three divine persons, was first asserted by Augustine. It was he, according to Gieseler, who first excluded all idea of subordination in the Trinity.40
Note that Gieseler made the assertion that it was Augustine "who first excluded all idea of subordination in the Trinity." As we know from history, it was Augustine's doctrine of the Trinity that eventually became the dominate view of Catholic theology. The reformers inherited, and for the most part embraced Augustine's view.
It is time for me to make few comments based primarily on the data we have just surveyed. First, I am not making the claim that the early Church Fathers taught a Mormon view of the Godhead. Second, I am claiming that there are many common points of contact between the Mormon doctrine of the Godhead and the early Church Fathers. Third, although there where common points among the Church Fathers concerning the Godhead, there was also much diversity. Fourth, the same can be said for both the past and present Mormon doctrine concerning the Godhead. Fifth, Mormon apologists do not have to reject the term homoousios if the original Nicene meaning is retained. Sixth, the Evangelical doctrine/doctrines of the Trinity was/were not explicitly taught by the early Church Fathers.
Finally, I am sure that some readers are wondering what I believe concerning the doctrine of the Trinity. As a Catholic Christian, I am currently what one would call an Augustinian Trinitarian-but one who has not jettisoned all vestiges of Eastern Orthodox theology-for while I currently reject a Patre solo and accept a Patre Filioque; I still retain the teaching that God the Father is fons totius divinitatis. However, I want to make it clear to our readers that while I believe that my belief is a logical development of the Biblical data, and the early Church Father's teachings, for one who is not a Catholic Christian, it is certainly not the only available option.
Going back to McKeever and Johnson, it is instructive to examine another of their assertions:
If two people hope to consider themselves of the same faith, they need to agree on their definition of Almighty God. If they cannot agree on this vital point, they would be deceiving themselves and others to say that there faiths are the same.41
Does not this maxim require one to exclude all pre-Nicene Church Fathers from the Christian faith? And does it not require McKeever and Johnson to exclude fellow Evangelicals that differ with their particular view of the Trinity? I have to wonder if McKeever and Johnson realize that differing views concerning the Trinity have existed, and still exist among Evangelicals? I do not know what McKeever and Johnson's view is, but the following are but a few examples of the different forms of Trinitarianism held within Evangelicalism:
- The Son and the Spirit are generated from the Father's essence, who is the source, fountain-head of the Trinity (Melanchthon, Jonathan Edwards)
- It is the person alone, not the essence and person which is generated from the Father (John Calvin, Francis Turrettin, and most Reformed theologians)
- There is no generation of persons within the Godhead; the Logos became the Son at the incarnation (Oliver Buswell, Walter Martin, Millard Erickson, early writings of John MacArthur)
- The Godhead is one person, and within the being of this one person there are three personal subsistences (Cornelius Van Til)
- The Trinity is not composed of persons in the modern sense(i.e. three distinct centers of conscious personal beings), but rather of three modes of existence (Donald Bloesch, Karl Barth)
- Social Trinitarianism (Cornelius Plantinga, Jr, David Brown)
It is now time to move on to some specific issues that are raised by McKeever and Johnson. On ages 25-30 they discuss two attributes of God: eternity and immutability.
First, McKeever and Johnson neglect to tell their readers that Evangelicals are divided among themselves over the issue of time and eternity. Some believe that God exists outside of time, while others believe that He exists in time. They argue that LDS leaders have taught that God was not always God, and cite numerous LDS authors to support their claim. In the entire section "Not Eternally God," they do not cite one verse from the uniquely LDS scriptures in support their claims. Why is this? It is because in the LDS official canon you will not find one verse that states there was a time when God was not God. The authors they cite are going beyond the LDS canon, and beyond the time frame of the LDS canon.
In the following section, "Not Immutable," after they cite LDS authors who have taught that God has progressed to God, they finally quote some uniquely LDS scriptures-scriptures that teach that God is immutable! What McKeever and Johnson do not want to admit on paper is the fact that nothing in the LDS official canon teaches that God is not eternally God, and that He is not immutable. I think we can allow LDS authors to speculate on what God was doing before He became the creator of this universe-what we cannot allow is a denial by LDS authors of what the LDS canon clearly teaches.
We must now look more closely at the issue of what God was doing before He became the creator of this universe. On page 28, McKeever and Johnson cite the Dutch reformed scholar Herman Bavnick who wrote, "Whatever changes ceases to be what it was." Later Bavnick develops this theme arguing that God is eternally the Father. He wrote, "If the Son is not eternal, neither can God be Father eternally."42 So far, so good; Bavnick is maintaining his premise that God does not change, even as a Father. But, what about as creator? Is God eternally creator? Bavnick does not address this- biblically He cannot, for the Bible is silent on this issue. If God's first creation was this universe, then in some sense God changed. If this is not His first creation, was there a first creation; or has God been creating eternally? I think we can safely say that the issue of immutability is not as simple as McKeever and Johnson make it out to be.
In the next section, "Not Self-Existent," McKeever and Johnson write:
Mormonism's view of God is both implausible and unbiblical. It is also illogical since it raises several questions as to how the first intelligence was able to elevate himself to the position of deity.43
It is certainly true that Mormonism does not explain "how the first intelligence was able to elevate himself to the position of deity," but neither can McKeever and Johnson explain why God 12 to 15 billion years ago chose to create this universe. Why not earlier? What was God doing before He created this universe? And again, is God eternally creator? Are McKeever and Johnson "unbiblical" because they cannot answer these questions? If a question is not answered, do we then have a violation of logic?
In their next section "Not Omnipotent," McKeever and Johnson cite LDS authors who reject the classical view of omnipotence. They then write:
While many leaders have taught that their God Elohim is omnipotent (all-powerful), several factors belie this thought. Since Mormonism has reintroduced polytheism to the modern world, the question is, Who among the many gods is the "most powerful"?
If Mormons are polytheists, then so are the early Church Fathers. As I have shown above, Augustine was the first Christian theologian to explicitly reject plurality within the Godhead. McKeever and Johnson, either through ignorance or deception, are not willing to admit that in Mormon theology God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost share the same attributes-they are certainly more one than they are plural, which is exactly what the early Church Fathers taught. On the issue of polytheism, note what Evangelical scholar Larry Hurtado recently wrote:
I suggest that for historical investigation our policy should be to take people as monotheistic if that is how they describe themselves, in spite of what we might be inclined to regard at first as anomalies in their beliefs...We should take as "monotheism" the religious beliefs and practices of people who describe themselves as monotheistic. Otherwise, we implicitly import a definition from the sphere of theological polemics in an attempt to do historical analysis…If we are to avoid a priori definitions, and the imposition of our own theological judgements, we have no choice but to accept as monotheism the religion of those who profess to be monotheists, however much their religion varies and may seem "complicated" with other beings in addition to the one God.44
Having examined the attempts by McKeever and Johnson, in Chapter One, used to "prove" that Mormonism is not Christian, I think it is safe to say that they have failed miserably. All they have proven is that Mormonism is not their narrow brand of Evangelical theology.
Chapter two has the heading "Jesus." Once again, it is the goal of McKeever and Johnson to prove that the Jesus of Mormonism is not the Christian Jesus. On pages 40-41 they cite three LDS general authorities in their attempt to demonstrate that Mormons worship or believe in "another" Jesus. The citations are, of course, pulled out of context in an effort to provide their readers some shock value. What are the facts? Are LDS general authorities making the claim that the Mormon Jesus is Christian while the Jesus of other Christian denominations is not? I think not. Although there are distinctions between the Christology of Mormonism and most other denominations, the distinctions are not of the sort that would place Jesus outside of the Christian camp. (A solid example of a conception of Jesus that would not be Christian would be the Jewish view).
The section "Jesus and The Virgin Birth" is almost not worth mentioning. I think it is safe to say that Mormons believe in the Virgin Birth. There has certainly been much speculation by Mormon authors as to the "what" and "how" of the Virgin Birth, but one thing is certain: the Virgin Birth is never denied. I find it interesting that McKeever and Johnson quote the following statement made by BYU professor Stephen E. Robinson in the 1997 Southern Baptist Convention video The Mormon Puzzle:
The official doctrine of the Church is that Jesus is the literal offspring of God. He's got 46 chromosomes; 23 came from Mary, 23 came from God the eternal Father.45
Robinson's statement is profound. McKeever and Johnson seem to deny that 23 of Jesus' chromosomes came from God the Father. If God the Father did not provide 23 of Jesus' chromosomes (miraculously through the power of the Holy Spirit), then who did?
Lastly, on the issue of the Virgin Birth, McKeever and Johnson could not resist the standard anti-Mormon claim:
Mormonism teaches that Mary did not have sexual relations with a mortal man but instead was impregnated by an immortal man…If Mormon leaders are telling the truth when they say that God physically impregnated Mary, then we have no other recourse than to assume the Jesus of Mormonism was created by way of an incestuous relationship.46
Let's read what former LDS President Harold B. Lee had to say on this issue:
You asked about…the birth of the Savior. Never have I talked about sexual intercourse between Deity and the mother of the Savior. If teachers were wise in speaking of this matter about which the Lord has said very little, they would rest their discussion on this subject with merely the words which are recorded on this subject in Luke 1:34-35: "Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man? And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God." Remember that the being who was brought about by [Mary's] conception was a divine personage. We need not question His method to accomplish His purposes. Perhaps we would do well to remember the words of Isaiah 55:8-9 "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts higher than your thoughts." Let the Lord rest His case with this declaration and wait until He sees fit to tell us more.47
Chapter Three, "The Trinity," has been pretty much been covered with my treatment of the doctrine of God. However, before leaving our discussion on the doctrine of God and the Trinity, I would like to supply a lengthy quotation from John Henry Newman; for it was Newman's study of the doctrine of God, and the Trinity, that ultimately led him to reject the Protestant principles of "private judgment" and "sola scriptura." Most Protestants adhere to a "historic" and "orthodox" view of God and the Trinity, not because of their Protestant principles of "private judgment" and "sola scriptura," but rather, via the Catholic principle of scripture plus tradition. Concerning the doctrine of the Trinity, Newman wrote:
First, the Creeds of that early day (pre-Nicene) make no mention in their letter of the Catholic doctrine at all. They make mention indeed of a Three; but that there is any mystery in the doctrine, that the Three are One, that They are coequal, coeternal, all increate, all omnipotent, all incomprehensible, is not stated, and never could be gathered from them...the six great Bishops and Saints of the Ante-Nicene Church were St. Irenaeus, St. Hippolytus, St. Cyprian, St. Gregory Thaumaturgus, St. Dionysius of Alexandria, and St. Methodius. Of these St. Dionysius is accused by St. Basil of having sown the first seeds of Arianism; and St. Gregory is allowed by the same learned Father to have used language concerning our Lord, which he only defends on the plea of an economical object of the writer. St. Hippolytus speaks as if he were ignorant of our Lord's Eternal Sonship. St. Methodius speaks incorrectly at least, upon the Incarnation; and St. Cyprian does not treat of theology at all...If we limit our view of the teaching of the Fathers by what they expressly state, St. Ignatius may be considered as a Patripassian, St. Justin arianizes, and St. Hippolytus is a Photinian...Again, there are three great theological authors of the Ante-nicene centuries, Tertullian, Origen, and, we may add Eusebius, though he lived some way into the fourth. Tertuallian is heterodox on the doctrine of our Lord's divinity, and, indeed, ultimately fell altogether into heresy or schism; Origen is, at the very least, suspected, and must be defended and explained rather than cited as a witness of orthodoxy; and Eusebius was a Semi-Arian...Moreover, it may be questioned whether any Ante-nicene distinctly affirms either the numerical Unity or the Coequality of the Three Persons; except perhaps the heterodox Tertullian.48
So, what does all this mean? Attempts by Evangelicals, such as McKeever and Johnson, to exclude Mormonism as Christian, via the principles of "private judgment" and "sola scriptura," are simply naive and misinformed-appeals to the early Church Fathers make the matter even worse-for history teaches us, at the very least, that apart from the great Ecumenical Councils, and an accompanying Catholic principle of infallibility, there can be no consensus on what truly constitutes "historic" or "orthodox" Christian doctrine. If one truly adheres to the Protestant principles of "private judgment" and "sola scriptura," one cannot, in all honesty, exclude Mormonism as Christian. Further, it makes perfect sense to me, any Christian who is not a member of the Roman Catholic Church, or one the Eastern Orthodox churches, must seriously examine the claims of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints-for if there truly was a great apostasy, the worldview of the LDS Church seems much more consistent than the traditional Protestant view.
There is so much more that could be said. For instance, the fact that Mormonism on the doctrine of faith and works is much closer to the early Church Fathers than Evangelicalism (The same can be said concerning the nature of the visible church); the interesting parallels between some Mormon doctrines and much of the inter-Testament literature; Blake Ostler's and David Paulsen's recent work on social Trinitarianism; and the recent scholarly discussions on creation ex nihilo. But, I have far exceeded my task of an introduction, and shall leave the rest of the review to our Mormon writers.
1 Matthew 15:14.
2 Craig L. Blomberg and Stephen E. Robinson, How Wide the Divide? (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1997).
3 Reviews of Blomberg and Robinson, How Wide the Divide?, Farms Review of Books, Vol. 11.2 (Provo, Utah: 1999).
4 Bill McKeever and Eric Johnson, Mormonism 101 (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 2001), 9.
5 Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith, Second Edition (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing, 1980), 71.
6 Ibid., 112.
7 Benjamin B. Warfield, "The Present Day Attitude Toward Calvinism," Calvin and Augustine (Philadelphia: Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing, 1956), 496.
8 McKeever and Johnson, Mormonism 101, 9-10.
9 Ibid., 10.
10 Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Vol. 1 (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1949), 265.
11 Brigham Young, "Nature of Man, Etc.," Journal of Discourses, reported by G.D. Watt 3 July 1859, Vol. 7 (London: Latter-Day Saint's Book Depot, 1860), 4-5.
12 Lorenzo Snow, "Progression, Etc.," Journal of Discourses, reported by David W. Evans 14 January 1872, Vol. 14 (London: Latter-Day Saint's Book Depot, 1872), 304.
13 B.H. Roberts, The Defense of the Saints (Salt Lake City: The Deseret News, 1907), 305.
14 LeGrand Richards, A Marvelous Work and A Wonder (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1976), 27.
15 See McKeever and Johnson, Mormonism 101, 200.
16 McKeever and Johnson, Mormonism 101, 12.
17 Blomberg and Robinson, How Wide the Divide?, 90.
18 Henry Bettenson, The Early Christian Fathers (London: Oxford University Press, 1978), 239.
19 R.P.C. Hanson, "The Achievement of Orthodoxy in the Fourth Century AD," The Making of Orthodoxy, edited by Rowan Williams (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 153.
20 Justin Martyr, The First Apology of Justin, in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 1, edited by Roberts and Donaldson (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans Publishing, 1979), 167.
21 Ibid., 180.
22 Justin, The Second Apology, Ibid., 193.
23 Justin, Dialogue With Trypho, Ibid, 223.
24 Ibid., 227.
25 Ibid., 228.
26 Tatian, Address of Tatian to the Greeks, in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 2, edited by Roberts and Donaldson (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans Publishing, 1979), 67.
27 Theophilus, Theophilus to Autolycus, Ibid., 103.
28 Athenagoras, A Plea for the Christians, Ibid., 133.
29 Origen, De Principiis, preface, in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 4, edited by Roberts and Donaldson (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans Publishing, 1979), 240.
30 This is one of many passages in which Origen contrasts Jesus Christ as "a God" (Te_?) with the Father who is "the God" (_ Te?).
31 Origen, Against Celsus, book 2.9, Ibid., 433.
32 Origen, Commentary On John, book 2.2, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 10, edited by Roberts and Donaldson (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans Publishing, 1979), 323.
33 Origen, Dialogue With Heraclides, in Ancient Christian Writers, Vol. 54 (New York: Paulist Press, 1992), 57-59.
34 Origen, Prayer, in Ancient Christian Writers, Vol. 19 (New York: Paulist Press, 1954), 57-58.
35 Tertullian, Against Praxeas, in The Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. 3, edited by Roberts and Donaldson (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans Publishing, 1979), 600-601.
36 Tertullian, Ibid., 602-604, 608.
37 Eusebius, Proof of the Gospel (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1981), 26, 27, 267, 271.
38 Philip Schaff, History of the Church, Vol. 3 (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans Publishing, 1981), 672-673.
39 Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, Vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans Publishing, 1981), 460.
40 Ibid., 463.
41 McKeever and Johnson, Mormonism 101, 23.
42 Herman Bavnick, The Doctrine of God (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1977), 309.
43 McKeever and Johnson, Mormonism 101, 31.
44 Larry Hurtado, "What Do We Mean by 'First-Century Jewish Monotheism'?" Society of Biblical Literature 1993 Seminar Papers, edited by Eugene H. Lovering, Jr. (Atlanta, Georgia: Scholars Press, 1993), 354-356.
45 McKeever and Johnson, Mormonism 101, 31. See also Blomberg and Robinson, How Wide the Divide?, 139.
46 Ibid., 45.
47 Harold B. Lee, The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, edited by Clyde E. Williams (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1996), 14.
48. John Henry Newman, An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine (South Bend, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 1989), 15-18.