Joseph Smith

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Book Review: “Talking Doctrine: Mormons and Evangelicals in Conversation” edited by Richard Mouw and Robert Millet

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Talking Doctrine: Mormons and Evangelicals in Conversation is a collection of essays from both Mormon and evangelical scholars about the areas of convergence and divergence in their beliefs.

The essays touch on a broad array of topics, though they are organized under two general headings: the nature of the dialogue and specific doctrinal discussions. Each grouping has a diverse set of essays, from a series of reflections on Mormon-evangelical dialogue to the exploration of sacred space under the “nature of the dialogue” to the question of the Trinity and the nature of authority under “specific doctrinal discussions.”

It is quite interesting to see how Mormon and evangelical thought has developed through this dialogue and what areas are left open to explore. Some essays hint at convergence of the belief systems (the nature and efficacy of grace, for example), while others show how wide the divide remains (specifically the discussions on the Trinity and issue of theological anthropology).

I appreciated the calls to honesty in the dialogue on both sides, as well as the tone of each essay which suggested mutual respect even amidst a struggle to understand each other.

One thing that I am really left wondering is how much the Mormon side in this dialogue represents the “Mormon on the street.” That is, would the average Mormon hold to similar beliefs as those writing the essays herein? Often, it seems that the Mormons do not sound all that far from evangelicalism on some issues, but on others the chasm is very wide indeed.

Several of the essays were, frankly, overly optimistic. Sarah Taylor, in “An Evangelical at Brigham Young University,” has a conversation with a Mormon friend in which the Mormon friend affirms the possibility that God the Father sinned, but argues that Christ’s atonement would have canceled out even that sin. Shockingly, Taylor’s conclusion is that the Mormon friend was “the same amount Christian” as she is (emphasis hers) despite the affirmation of God’s sinning. Other head-scratchers like this are found throughout, such as when Brian Birch in “Divine Investiture: Mormonism and the Concept of Trinity” concludes that because Mormonism is similar in some ways to Arianism(though radically dissimilar in others), it can be seen as akin to some form of the Christian tradition (but why should a condemned heresy be concluded to be part of the Christian tradition? how broadly are these scholars painting to be inclusive?).

However, each essay has several intriguing points to take away alongside various insights and challenges. Whether you are an evangelical looking to broaden your understanding of Mormonism or an apologist looking to see some of the most challenging contrasts to evangelicalism found in Mormon thought (or anywhere in between), this is a book that will benefit you.

Talking Doctrine is a fascinating book with many challenging essays and avenues to explore.  Frankly, if one is interested at all in apologetics and Mormonism, one should read this book. Whatever shortcomings it has are outweighed by the amount of information found herein. Just be aware of some of these shortcomings.

The Good

+Interesting set of essays
+Tackles some of the tough questions
+Great concern with accurate representation of “others'” beliefs
+Provides insight into both sides of the dialogue

The Bad

-Very minimal space given to each essay
-Some difficult topics seemed to be skirted around or ignored
-Downplays some rather major areas of disagreement

Disclaimer: I received a review copy of this book from the publisher. I was not asked to provide any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.

Links

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Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

Source

Talking Doctrine: Mormons and Evangelicals in Conversation edited Mouw and Millet (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2015).

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Mormonism and God: A Philosophical Challenge to Mormonism

Central to discussions about God is the very concept of God itself. What does one mean when they refer to “God”? Suppose one is debating about the existence of God and in the course of that debate, one finds out that the other, when using the term “God” is thinking of a contingent, powerful but limited, and embodied deity; yet the other person has been trying to argue for the God of classical theism–infinite in power, wisdom, love, etc., omnibenevolent, omniscient, and omnipotent, transcendent, and the like. Clearly, there is a difference over who “God” is. Now talk about God can be meaningful between these two because they can choose to use “God” as a title, similar to that of “King” (this is suggested by Paul Moser in The Evidence for God, 22ff).

That said, for this post I will not assume that “God” refers exclusively to the God of classical theism. Rather, I’m going to turn to the Mormon concept of God and examine its coherence. If Mormonism’s concept of God is incoherent, then Mormonism faces a serious philosophical challenge. (As has been argued elsewhere, coherence is a central test of a religion’s truth claims.)

It is important to note that there is no single “Mormon concept of God.” As with Christianity, there is an array of beliefs about specific attributes of God. Thus, for this post, I’ll focus on just two concepts of deity within Mormonism.


Monarchotheism (Also Known as Henotheism)

Explication

Stephen Parrish and Carl Mosser take Mormon teaching to expound the concept of God known as Monarchotheism, “the theory that there is more than one God, but one God is clearly preeminent among the gods; in effect, he is the monarch or ruler of all the gods” (Parrish and Mosser, 195, cited below). This concept of God is embodied (see Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith cited in P+M, 201). Furthermore, this God is contingent, the organizer of a world that was originally chaos, and one of many gods (Ibid, 201). Furthermore, Joseph Smith himself taught that this “God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man…” (TPJS 345, cited in P+M, 202).

Critique

There are many difficulties with this Mormon concept of God. Perhaps most crucial is the inclusion of contingency in the concept of God. If God is contingent, then it does indeed beg the question “Who Made God?” Consider this against classical theism, which holds that God exists necessarily. Classical theists can respond to this question by simply saying, “No one made God, because God, as necessarily existent, never came into being.” Yet Mormons who hold God is contingent must answer this question.

That’s not the only difficulty with God as contingent either, for holding that God is contingent removes several of the reasons to believe that such a deity exists. Consider one of the classical arguments for the existence of God: that contingent things have all come into being, so there must be something which has always existed in order to terminate the infinite regress. Of course, if this deity which terminates the regress is, itself, contingent, then one must continue the regress to the next step. Thus, this Mormon concept of God provides no grounding for the universe itself.

Further, this Mormon concept of deity has no way to ground objective morals. While Mormons tend to hold that God is all good/omnibenevolent, they have no way to ground this goodness in God Himself. Rather, because God is contingent, there must exist some measure by which God is judged, and so one is left with all the difficulties of grounding morality without God. If, instead, morality is still to be based upon God, then it could only really be some form of extreme occamism/voluntarism–whereby things are moral just because God says so. The difficulties with such a view are extreme.

Of course, once more classical theism can explicate objective morality by grounding them in the nature of God. Because God is necessarily the greatest possible being, God is necessarily the source of all goodness, and therefore the grounds of morality are found in God.

Finally, there is the question of the problem of evil. Classical theism has a number of answers to this problem, but none of them are effective upon a monarchotheistic view of God. First, because there can be no grounding for objective morality on Mormonism, there remains the difficulty of explaining how actions could truly be evil to begin with (Parrish and Mosser, 215, see similar difficulties with naturalism here). Second, because evil is part of the universe and God himself is part of the eternal universe, evil can be seen as a natural part of the order of the cosmos (ibid, 215). Third, and most poignantly, because God is contingent and part of the universe, it seems that there is great difficulty with the notion that God would one day overcome evil. Because evil is part of the universe, and has therefore existed eternally rather than as a corruption of the goodness of nature, it seems that there is no way to finally overcome evil. Thus, the problem of evil is exacerbated exponentially on Mormonism (ibid, 216).

So, to sum up, monarchotheism appears to be one plausible interpretation of the Mormon concept of God. This concept is expounded by Joseph Smith in his Teachings and is also found in various theological works of Mormons (cf. McMurrin, Theological Foundations; Ostler, “Mormon Concept of God”; Paulsen, “Comparative Coherency”–these are noted in P+M, 457). However, this concept has been shown to be riddled with difficulties. It cannot explain many of the central features of our world, such as the existence of objective morality. Furthermore, it undermines reasons to believe in the existence of a God. Finally, this Mormon concept of God fails to even explain the existence of the universe itself. Thus, it seems to me this concept of deity is incoherence.

Polytheism

So much for Monarchotheism. But what about other Mormon concepts of God? There is one other concept which is attested in Brigham Young’s writings along with other Mormon writers. This view can fairly be referred to as polytheism.

Explication

Once more we find that the eternal existence of the universe is central to this view of Mormonism. Matter is eternal. God the Father organized the universe, but at least some laws of nature are outside of god’s control (see the discussion in  Francis Beckwith and Stephen Parrish, See the Gods Fall, 99ff, cited fully below).

Furthermore, the notion that there are innumerable contingent “primal intelligences” is central to this Mormon concept of god (P+M, 201; Beckwith and Parrish, 101). That there is more than one god is attested in the Pearl of Great Price, particularly Abraham 4-5. This Mormon concept has the gods positioned to move “primal intelligences along the path to godhood” (Beckwith and Parrish, 114). Among these gods are other gods which were once humans, including God the Father. Brigham Young wrote, “our Father in Heaven was begotten on a previous heavenly world by His Father, and again, He was begotten by a still more ancient Father, and so on…” (Brigham Young, The Seer, 132, quoted in Beckwith and Parrish, 106).

The rest of this concept is similar to the Monarchotheistic view, although rather than God the Father being a “monarch” over the others, he is more like one of many. As already stated, he is just one of a string of “Fathers.”

Critique

The logic of the Mormon polytheistic concept of God entails that there is an infinite number of gods. To see this, it must be noted that each god him/herself was helped on the path to godhood by another god. There is, therefore, an infinite regress of gods, each aided on his/her path to godhood by a previous god. There is no termination in this series. Now because this entails an actually infinite collection of gods, the Mormon polytheistic concept of deity must deal with all the paradoxes which come with actually existing infinities (for some problems with the actual infinite search “infinite” and check out the problems Craig points out in his Q+A’s section).

Now, polytheistic Mormonism would also seem to have to deal with all the difficulties of Monarchotheism, for this concept also carries with it the contingency of deity and eternity of the world.

Finally, it seems polytheistic Mormonism has a difficulty at its heart–namely the infinite regress of deity. While on Monarchotheism, the infinite regress was merely hinted at (and still extremely problematic), polytheistic Mormonism has infinite regress at its heart and soul. Each god relies upon a former god, which itself relies upon a former god, forever. Certainly, this is an incoherence at the core of this concept of deity, for it provides no explanation for the existence of the gods, nor does it explain the existence of the universe. Polytheistic Mormonism, it seems, fares even worse than its Monarchotheistic counterpart.

Addendum: The “Standard Works” and Classical Theism

It is worth noting that those who wish to adhere to a strict “Standard Works only” approach to Mormonism may object to the critiques I’ve given above. The reason being that in the Standard Works, it seems like a view much closer to classical theism is expounded. For example, God is referred to as “Lord God Omnipotent” (Mosiah 3:5 [and “Lord Omnipotent” in 3:17-18]; Mosiah 5:2). Further, God’s infinite goodness and mercy are affirmed (Mosiah 28:4, Moroni 8:3, 2 Nephi 1:10).

It is indeed the case that were one to only operate from this explication, one might come to believe in a God very similar to classical theism. There are three responses I would offer: first, I’d be very happy to welcome any others who do affirm mere classical theism. In that case, I’d like to discuss the finer points of differences between Christianity and Mormonism.

However, I think it is the case that many who object by showing a Standard Works reading of Mormonism do not themselves hold to a “Standard Works only” belief. Any who holds that, for example, humans can be exalted to godhood must accept the implication that God the Father would therefore be contingent, and would then most likely fall into one of the categories listed above. Second, I already noted how in Abraham 4 and 5 it seems quite apparent there are many “Gods” (any who disagree, feel free to simply read the Pearl of Great Price, Abraham 4… literally any verse between 5-31; it explicitly states “the ‘Gods'”). Because classical theism holds that there is only one who can occupy the title “God,” this places even the Standard Works alone reading outside the realm of orthodoxy regarding classical theism.

Finally, I’ve already quoted Brigham Young and Joseph Smith in other writings outside the “Standard Works” both affirming that God the Father is an exalted man and that God the Father was preceded by another Father. If Mormonism is to be conceived in a form akin to classical theism, Mormons must reject these writings, and with it discredit their prophets.

Conclusions

Central to the Mormon faith is God, just as God is central to any theistic religion. Yet, as has been seen, two of the major explications of the Mormon concept of deity fall victim to insurmountable philosophical problems.   The third, closer to classical theism, must contend with the fact that other Mormon writings (and indeed, even the Pearl of Great Price) are contrary to their position. The fact that Momonism’s concept of God is incoherent strikes a major blow to the truth claims of the Mormon faith. Without coherence in that which is central to the religion: God, the entire theological system falls apart.

Links/Sources

Check out other posts in my series on Mormonism:

The Book of Mormon: Introduction and Importance– This post is pretty self descriptive.

Genetic Evidence and the Book of Mormon: Did any Native Americans come from the Middle East?– Argues that the Native Americans are not Middle Eastern in ancestry. Because the Book of Mormon claims they are, the Book of Mormon is false.

Sources

Stephen Parrish with Carl Mosser, “A Tale of Two Theisms” in The New Mormon Challenge: Responding to the Latest Defenses of a Fast-Growing Movement ed. Beckwith et. al, 193-218 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002).

Francis Beckwith and Stephen Parrish, See the Gods Fall: Four Rivals to Christianity (Joplin, MO: College Press, 1997).

[I have edited this post to put back in several references to Mormon scriptures that I initially omitted for length. Further, I modified it to make more clear the difference between “finite” in mathematical terms and “contingent” in philosophical meaning.]

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

The Book of Mormon: Introduction and Importance

Mormonism is growing with great speed. There are few, however, who understand the limits of Mormonism’s truth claims. Mormon apologists have frequently made assertions which are either false or ungrounded. I have therefore decided to write a series of posts on the Book of Mormon, followed by a critique of Mormonism’s philosophical stances. This post will introduce the book of Mormon.

A man was born on December 23, 1805 in Vermont. He was known for digging for imagined buried treasure with his father and others.[1] He was also known for being a mystic,[2] for his conviction for disorderly conduct in a scam in which he tried to convince locals he had found treasure underground,[3] and for being the translator of golden plates: The Book of Mormon.[4] The man was Joseph Smith, Jr., the founder of the Mormon faith, “The Prophet.”[5] The Book of Mormon, according to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (the official name of the Mormon Church), is “another witness that Jesus Christ… was and is God’s Son… It supports and verifies the Bible.”[6] If this is true, then the Book of Mormon is as much the Word of God as the Bible. However, the Book of Mormon’s validity as the Word of God is strongly undercut by scientific and historical evidence which contradicts its claims.

The Mormon Articles of Faith describe the Book of Mormon as “a volume of sacred scripture which, like the Bible, embodies the word of God.”[7] The Book of Mormon is supposed to record other prophecies about Jesus.[8] Perhaps the most striking enunciation of the contents of the Book of Mormon is found later in the Articles:

The Book of Mormon is a divinely inspired record, made by the prophets of the ancient peoples who inhabited the American continent for centuries before and after the time of Christ, which record has been translated in the present generation through the gift of God and by His special appointment. The authorized and inspired translator of these sacred scriptures… is Joseph Smith.[9]

Furthermore, the arguments for the authenticity of the Book of Mormon often parallel those arguments used to justify the Bible: it is said to be “internally consistent,”[10] prophetically fulfilled,[11] and supported by archaeology.[12] Yet there are also arguments unique to the Book: it was certified as genuine by three men who signed a statement confirming they witnessed the translation of the Book,[13] eight other witnesses claimed to have seen the gold plates from which the Book was purportedly translated,[14] and the ethnic background of Native Americans is said to be Israelite, which would demonstrate the Book’s truth.[15] It is clear that the Book of Mormon is the absolute bedrock of Mormon faith. If the evidences for the Book do not hold the evidential weight required to confirm its truth, then Mormon faith is undone.

The Book of Mormon’s veracity hinges on the claim that the lost tribes of Israel came to America, settled there, and wrote their history on gold plates which Joseph Smith later translated. Such claims at the time of Joseph Smith seemed irrefutable; they simply couldn’t conceive of technology which could test such ideas. Today, however, such technology is available. Unfortunately for Joseph Smith and the Mormon Church, the evidence runs contrary to what the Book of Mormon claims.

Over the coming weeks, I’ll investigate each of these claims in turn, while finding them wanting. The next post will demonstrate that the Book of Mormon cannot be true based upon a genetic analysis of Native Americans. Future posts will argue that the Book of Mormon does not reflect ancient near eastern writing and that the Mormon concept of God is philosophically untenable.

[1] Walter Martin. The Kingdom of the Cults (Bloomington, MN: Bethany, 2003), 197; Jerald and Sandra Tanner, Mormonism: Shadow or Reality? (Salt Lake City, UT: Modern Microfilm Company, 1972), 32.

[2] Martin, Kingdom, 197

[3] Wayne L. Cowdrey, Howard A. Davis, and Arthur Vanick, Who Really Wrote the Book of Mormon: The Spalding Enigma (St. Louis: Concordia, 2005), 395f.

[4] Martin, Kingdom, 201.

[5] Ibid., 197f.

[6] The Mormon Church, “Frequently Asked Questions,” The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, http://www.mormon.org/faq/#Book+of+Mormon|question=/faq/what-is-book-of-mormon/ (accessed October 14, 2010).

[7] James Talmage. A Study of the Articles of Faith (Salt Lake City, UT: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1976), 251.

[8] Talmage, Articles of Faith, 252.

[9] Talmage, Articles of Faith, 255.

[10] Ibid, 278-279.

[11] Ibid, 274-275.

[12] Ibid, 283-293.

[13] Ibid, 270.

[14] Ibid, 271.

[15] Ibid, 283.

Image Credit: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Slc_mormon_tempel.jpg

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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