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Mormon Inquiry

This is the first of several posts on Blomberg and Robinson’s How Wide the Divide: A Mormon & an Evangelical in Conversation. The format of the book is its biggest strength — each chapter contains a joint conclusion in which the authors summarize the exchange, with an emphasis on restating the many points of belief that both share (despite the often confusing use of different terminology by Mormons and Evangelicals). That seems like a nice way to approach an interfaith exchange and accounts, I believe, for the success and continuing relevance of the book.

Here’s the first paragraph of the joint conclusion for the chapter titled “Christ & the Trinity”:

Both Evangelicals and the LDS believe in the simultaneous oneness and threeness of God, though Evangelicals understand God’s oneness as an ontological oneness of being, while the LDS understand it as a oneness of mind, will and purpose. Both sides accept the biblical data about Christ and the Trinity, but interpret them by different extrabiblical standards (the ancient creeds for Evangelicals, the modern revelations of Joseph Smith for Mormons).

In his own portion of that chapter, Robinson states the Mormon objection to the Evangelical formulation of the Trinity more directly: “That God is simultaneously three and one I have no doubt because the Bible and the Book of Mormon both tell me so, but I do not trust the intellectuals of the Hellenistic church to have figured out exactly how this is so (1 Cor. 3:19), nor do I invest their theories and conclusions with the authority of Scripture.”

Blomberg’s portion of the chapter is a very accessible summary of the Evangelical view of the Trinity, rather useful for Mormons who are unfamiliar with the delicate distinctions required in such a discussion. He also articulates a variety of objections to and critiques of the LDS view of the Trinity (for which the term “Godhead” is used in LDS discussions). In what appears to be a response to Robinson’s comments quoted above, Blomberg notes, “Few Evangelicals claim that everything in the historic creeds of the early church is demonstrably biblical in derivation. … We do usually claim that the heart of these creeds’ affirmations about God, Christ and the Spirit can be supported biblically and that other statements are logical corollaries of the Bible’s teachings.”

That’s a kind admission by Blomberg. So many Evangelicals charge that because Mormons don’t accept the “historic creeds” they are therefore unbiblical and not Christian. Blomberg seems to admit that it is the creeds that are, at least in part, unbiblical. So if the Mormons refuse to accept the creeds as binding doctrinal formulations because they are (at least in part) unbiblical, this makes Mormons more biblical than Evangelicals who accept them as definitive statements … right? It’s sort of a silly exchange, but it’s the turf many Evangelicals choose to stand on in their critique of the LDS view of God, so that’s where I’ll discuss it. As I see it, Evangelicals who continue to make this charge are either uninformed (if they don’t realize the creeds are in part unbiblical) or hypocritical (if they do realize this, but nevertheless call Mormons unbiblical for rejecting unbiblical creeds).

I’m not being harsh, just straightforward. I applaud the interfaith discussion model pioneered by Blomberg and Robinson, and carried forward by other scholars from both camps. Any Evangelical or Mormon who reads this book will likely be surprised both at what the other camp believes and what their own camp believes (when carefully spelled out as it is in this book).

I’ll round this out with a few quotes from LDS scripture that support Robinson’s claim that Mormons do accept both the threeness and oneness of God, although, as noted, the Mormon view of the nature of the threeness of God differs from the Evangelical-creedal-philosophical account of that threeness. The first article of faith from the canonized LDS Articles of Faith states:

We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost.

The Book of Mormon is equally forthright in portraying God in terms of both threeness and oneness. Here is an oft-quoted exhortation at 2 Nephi 31:20-21, concluding with a standard trinitarian formula.

    Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life.
    And now, behold, my beloved brethren, this is the way; and there is none other way nor name given under heaven whereby man can be saved in the kingdom of God. And now, behold, this is the doctrine of Christ, and the only and true doctrine of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, which is one God, without end. Amen.

Perhaps the most surprising passage on this topic in LDS scripture is D&C 20:21-28, which is a portion of what amounts to a short LDS creedal statement embedded in a longer revelation on church organization and government, given at the time of the initial formal organization of the LDS Church in April 1830. It, too, concludes, “Which Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are one God, infinite and eternal, without end.”

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