Posts Tagged ‘LDS doctrine’


On the Alleged Clarity of Mormon Doctrine

   Posted by: Rob Bowman    in Mormonism, theology

In a recent blog piece entitled “On the Alleged Indeterminacy of Mormon Doctrine,” LDS scholar Daniel C. Peterson argues that “that Mormon doctrine is impossible to pin down.” Not so, according to Peterson. Even though they don’t produce detailed creeds, he argues, this doesn’t mean “that Mormonism lacks any and all doctrinal clarity.” As proof, Peterson rattles off a list of 50 questions he typed up quickly the night before: Does God exist? Is Jesus God’s Son? Did Jesus organize a church? And so on. He concludes:

Latter-day Saint teaching doesn’t aspire to be like a system of geometry, with propositions, theorems, and deductive proofs. But that doesn’t mean that Mormonism is a doctrinal free-for-all, a total chaos in which all is confusion.

Peterson’s blog article does a fine job—of diverting attention from the issue.

No one claims that Mormonism is unclear about absolutely everything. We all know that Mormons believe that God exists, that Jesus existed and rose from the dead, that Jesus visited the Americas, and so on. What Peterson has done here is to knock down a straw man. When evangelicals (like me!) talk about the difficulty of pinning down what Mormonism teaches, we are not talking about everything Mormons think but about key doctrinal issues on which clarity ought to be available in a religion that claims to have living prophets and an overabundance of scripture. Questions like these:

  1. Did the Father become God after passing through a period of testing and exaltation, so that he was not always God but rather became God? (Joseph Smith said yes, but some Mormons today say no.)
  2. Was the Father a sinner during his mortality? Could he have been a sinner? (The LDS Church doesn’t seem to have a position on this question. Some Mormons answer yes to one or both questions, some say no.)
  3. Is the Father still progressing in knowledge or power? (Famously, Mormon leaders in the late nineteenth century publicly disagreed with one another on this question. It still comes up.)
  4. What is the relation of the Holy Ghost to the Father? Is the Holy Ghost another spirit son of the Father? If not, who is he? (I was once accused of misrepresenting the LDS position on this question—because I repeated what was in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, which was written and edited by Mormon scholars.)
  5. Was there a God before our Heavenly Father who was his Father? Was there a Father before that one, and so in, in an infinite regress of divine Fathers? (Joseph clearly said yes to the first question and implicitly answered yes to the second. But the LDS Church no longer talks about these ancestors of Heavenly Father, and again different Mormons seem to have differing answers.)
  6. Is Heavenly Mother a God (or Goddess)? If so, why shouldn’t we worship her, since she is our divine Mother and is even the divine Mother of Jesus Christ? Why isn’t Heavenly Mother a member of the Godhead? (I don’t think the LDS Church has said much of anything on these questions. Indeed, they say as little as possible about Heavenly Mother except that one should not worship or pray to her.)
  7. Is worship properly given to the Father only, or to the Father and the Son? (Again, differing answers have been given. Since Mormons view the three Persons as three Gods, it is difficult to claim to worship only one God while affirming worship of both the Father and the Son.)
    (Note that Peterson doesn’t mention any of these first seven questions or anything close to them.)
  8. Were we actual self-conscious, individual persons from all eternity, or did we become such persons at some distant point in the past preexistence? (I’ve heard both answers from Mormons.)
  9. Did our heavenly parents literally procreate us as their spirit offspring, and again, what did that change about us if we were eternally preexistent? (Some Mormons say yes, some say no to the first question. Those who answer yes sometimes suggest that when we were procreated in heaven, we became individual persons or received spirit bodies.)
  10. If our heavenly parents literally procreated us as their offspring in the preexistence, why did they procreate us as spirits rather than as physical beings like themselves? Don’t physical beings have physical offspring? (I don’t know if any Mormons have even addressed this question.)
  11. If mortality and exaltation are essential steps in attaining Godhood, how did Jesus Christ become a God in the preexistence when he was Jehovah, before he had become mortal and attained exaltation? (He just did, okay? That seems to be the usual answer.)
  12. Mormonism affirms that Jesus Christ is the literal son of Heavenly Father and of Mary his mother in the flesh, actually “sired” by Heavenly Father. Is it consistent with this doctrine to infer that the Father impregnated Mary by physically uniting with her, i.e., is there anything in LDS doctrine that actually denies that this happened? If that is not how Jesus was conceived, how was he conceived such that he is the Father’s literal physical offspring? (Peterson’s “question” on this topic is, “Was Jesus the son of Joseph?” which neatly sidesteps the problem. Mormons usually take offense at these questions, however politely they may be asked, rather than offering any answers to them. Orthodox Christians don’t have this problem because their theology absolutely precludes the notion of God uniting physically with Mary.)
  13. Is the hill where Joseph Smith discovered the gold plates the same hill called Cumorah in the Book of Mormon? (The popular Mormon answer is yes, while most LDS scholars say no.)
  14. Is the Book of Abraham a translation of text that appeared on one of the papyri that the LDS Church bought in 1835? (The popular Mormon answer has until recently been yes; many Mormons still answer yes, but the scholars are divided on the matter.)
  15. Is the Bible missing any books that are actually extant today, and if so, why doesn’t the LDS Church include them in their editions of the Bible? (I’ve had Mormons tell me that the early church wrongly excluded books like Shepherd of Hermas or the Book of Enoch, but they can’t tell me why those books aren’t in the LDS Bible. Please don’t tell me that they aren’t included due to their not being copied or translated correctly, because you say the same thing about the books that are in the LDS Bible. Besides, y’all have prophets with the gift of translation, remember?)
  16. Why did the early church become apostate—because the Christians were bad, or because of persecution, or what? (Mormons have a tough time with this question. It’s a dilemma: if they say it was because the Christians were bad, that runs into the problem that Christians in the second and third centuries were renowned for their good works and willingness to suffer martyrdom for Christ; if they say it was because of persecution, that ignores the fact that the church continued to grow and flourish while suffering persecution.)
  17. If the purpose of polygamy is to “raise up seed,” then why did Joseph Smith apparently not have any children by his plural wives? (Mormons admit that Brigham Young and the Utah Mormons in the nineteenth century had large families with plural wives bearing numerous children, but argue strenuously that Joseph Smith had no children by any of his plural wives. Why not? Was he doing something different than the Utah polygamist Saints? Again, they claim that Joseph was simply restoring what the patriarchs of the Old Testament did, but those patriarchs had children by their wives. These questions often lead to Mormons coming up with all sorts of other possible reasons for the practice.)

Feel free to mention additional questions about LDS doctrine that you have found elicit varying answers from Mormons. If you are a Mormon, feel free to offer comments answering these questions.

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Mormon Belief: New Overview of LDS Doctrine

   Posted by: Rob Bowman    in Mormonism, theology

On IRR’s website, we now have a new resource giving an overview of Mormon doctrine. Entitled Mormon Belief: The Doctrine of the LDS Church, this web article lists 13 basic doctrines of the Mormon faith and provides select quotations from LDS Church publications documenting these doctrines. One notable feature of this article is that all of the quotations can be found at the LDS Church’s official website. For each of the 13 points the doctrine is briefly stated, then a paragraph of explanation is given, followed by the quotations. This article gives no critique or refutation of the Mormon doctrines, instead referring readers to other sources on the site. Thus, the article can be especially useful as a starting point for those who are looking for objective information on Mormon beliefs.

Constructive criticisms and suggestions for improving this or any other article on IRR’s website are welcome.


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Resurrection for Everyone in LDS Doctrine

   Posted by: Rob Bowman    in Mormonism, theology

On the FAIR Blog—a pro-Mormon blog operated by the Foundation for Apologetic Information & Research— Trevor Holyoak has complained that “some critics” of the LDS Church find fault with its teaching that everyone will be resurrected. He points out, correctly, that the Bible does teach this doctrine (John 5:28-29 and Acts 24:15 are applicable) and that the early Church Fathers did so as well. The Bible clearly teaches the resurrection of the righteous and of the wicked. Unfortunately, Mr. Holyoak does not give any examples of critics denying the resurrection of the wicked. Perhaps there are some, but I do not know of any.

What I and other evangelical Christian critics of LDS theology find objectionable (because it is unbiblical) is the claim that everyone will be resurrected to immortality in some glorious heavenly realm. According to the Bible, the wicked will be resurrected to face judgment and will then suffer “the second death,” which is eternal punishment (Rev. 20:6, 10-15; 21:8; see also Matthew 25:41, 46). Their resurrection is, as Jesus said, “the resurrection of damnation” (John 5:29b). Only the righteous will receive “the resurrection of life” (John 5:29a), the resurrection to immortality of which Paul speaks in 1 Corinthians 15. As I point out in my response to chapter 12 of Gospel Principles, “The Bible uses the words ‘immortality’ (athanasia) and ‘incorruption’ (aphtharsia) to refer only to the nature of God and of the future state of the redeemed (Romans 1:23; 2:7; 1 Corinthians 15:42, 50, 52-54; 1 Timothy 1:17; 6:16; 2 Timothy 1:10; 1 Peter 1:4, 23),” never to the future state of the wicked.

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What Does the Atonement Actually Accomplish?

   Posted by: Rob Bowman    in Mormonism, theology

This past week, Mormons throughout the world were studying the subject of atonement in chapter 12 of their doctrinal manual Gospel Principles. I offer a counterpoint in my response to chapter 12, another installment in IRR’s Gospel Principles Scripture Study Guide.

Perhaps one of the most interesting issues pertaining to this subject is the question of what the atonement actually accomplishes. As I argue in my response to Gospel Principles, LDS theology does not view the atonement as actually accomplishing what the word atonement means—namely, reconciliation with God the Father. The atonement in LDS theology does not reconcile us to God; it does not eliminate spiritual death; and it does not even eliminate the debt we owe because of our sin. Instead, as I try to show in that article, LDS theology views the atonement as merely making it possible for us to repay the debt, overcome spiritual death, and become reconciled to the Father by our good works. If you’re a Mormon, you might find my description of LDS doctrine surprising or even shocking. That’s okay—I was rather taken aback myself. Read the article and see for yourself.

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Apologists for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (or LDS Church) frequently take exception to the criticism that they believe in “another Jesus.” A common strategy for refuting this criticism is to list various beliefs that Mormons have about Jesus that agree with the Bible and even with traditional or orthodox Christianity. The LDS apologetics group FAIR, for example, points out that they affirm that Jesus is the Messiah promised in the Old Testament, that Jesus lived a sinless life, that he performed the miracles recorded in the Gospels, and other traditional beliefs about Jesus. Daniel C. Peterson and Stephen D. Ricks presented a table in their book that listed twenty points of belief about Jesus where they clearly agree with the Bible and traditional Christianity: Jesus was born in Bethlehem, Jesus was Jewish, Jesus’ mother was Mary, Jesus taught in the temple, Jesus held no public office, and more (Offenders for a Word: How Anti-Mormons Play Word Games to Attack the Latter-day Saints [Aspen Books, 1992], 58).

I think it is quite reasonable for Mormons to point out that they do share some beliefs about Jesus in common with traditional Christians. If it’s not sufficient for critics to list only the differences, however, it’s also not sufficient for apologists to list only the similarities. Perhaps it would be helpful to list both the similarities and the differences in order to get a more accurate picture of the situation.

That’s what I have tried to do in my response to chapter 11 of Gospel Principles. It’s the latest installment of our Gospel Principles Scripture Study Guide, a free online resource that provides a chapter-by-chapter analysis and response to the LDS doctrinal manual. I explain why Joseph Fielding Smith was correct when he stated that Latter-day Saints “part paths with historical Christianity” in their view of Jesus Christ on a number of crucial issues. I also agree with him that “there is no salvation in the worship of a false Christ.” I list a dozen different issues on which Mormons and orthodox Christians agree, and ten issues on which LDS doctrine differs from the teaching of the Bible.

By the way, I don’t think (and I don’t know anyone else who does, either) that Mormons believe in a literally existing but different Jesus than the one who is the central figure of the New Testament. That is, we don’t think that there’s some other guy out there named Jesus that the Mormons are following by mistake. When Paul warned about those who preach “another Jesus” (2 Cor. 11:4), he was warning about those whose teaching about Jesus fatally distorted the truth about him. In a sense, it’s “the same Jesus,” but a fundamentally different understanding of his identity, nature, work, or message, against which Paul is warning. Likewise, our concern about the LDS Church is that its teaching about Jesus Christ gravely distorts the truth about Jesus.

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