Mormon Inquiry

Mormon Inquiry


The Mormon Trinity

posted by Dave Banack

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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Your Name

posted December 28, 2008 at 8:21 pm


An excellent article; thank you for it. Over the past decades, as I have read the Book of Mormon and the Bible, I have thought many times that must be a lot about the nature of our Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost, that we on earth, know nothing of. First off, who is the Holy Ghost? Secondly, even as a believer in the Savior and LDS beliefs and as someone who has studied the LDS doctrines for decades now, there is so much that I don’t understand. And evangelical believers share that lack with me.
Here is what I focus on: Loving and serving as the Savior commanded us. The more esoteric questions about the exact nature of the Godhead can wait. Until I am keeping the commandments which I have received from the Lord, I don’t think my time is well spent in pursuing the more esoteric questions. I know that God is real, that I am His spirit son, that He loves me, and has made it possible for me to repent and obtain peace.
The other questions can wait, in my opinion.
My focus is on being kind, refraining from doing wrong things, serving my family and then others, praying fervently each morning and evening, studying the words of the Savior in the New Testament and the Book of Mormon, pondering and meditating as Jesus counseled, and helping other people to learn about the Savior.
That’s more than enough for me. And frankly, and in my opinion, I don’t think any of us have time for squabbling.



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Your Name

posted December 28, 2008 at 8:23 pm


I have never been to seminary school or Bible College but I have been to Calvary and I would like to ask LSD scholars what happens to person living today who kills or murders someone and then accepts Christ as his Savior? For sake of the question let us say that this person is as sincere a Paul the Apostle. What does LDS say to this man entering the Kingdom of Heaven?



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We don't know... but the Lord does.

posted December 28, 2008 at 8:31 pm


We don’t know what happens to a person who kills and then repents. Or I should say, attempts to repent.
Too many unknowns for us to judge. The Lord is our Judge, not anyone else here on the earth.
I don’t think anyone would choose to be so presumptious as to be able to judge that person.



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Seth R.

posted December 28, 2008 at 8:31 pm


Over at the blog New Cool Thang, I’ve heard Blake Ostler and others pushing the view that the creeds are not objectionable for their DOCTRINAL content (though I do think there are some objectionable doctrines in there), but more for the fact that they exist as such in the first place.
They cite Joseph Smith statements advocating a wide range of belief (“I never believed in condemning a man for believing too much”) and speaking against a narrowing of belief (“it feels good not to be so tramelled”).
Basically, it is the creeds themselves – the legal restriction on who is “in” and who is “out” based on mere intellectual beliefs – that are abominable, and not the theological content per se.
Interesting idea anyway.



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aquinas

posted December 28, 2008 at 8:46 pm


Dave, thanks for the post. I look forward to the rest of this series. I also agree the format of this book is one of its strengths. The sections “Avoiding Misconceptions” and “Misgivings” and “A More Positive Conclusion” are particularly useful. I can’t imagine a better format for discussing these issues.
I think it is more accurate to use the term “extrabiblical” rather than “unbiblical.” This is a deliberate term used in the joint-conclusion. Blomberg doesn’t admit that the creeds are unbiblical but rather that the creeds represent extra-biblical but ancient standards. To say that the creeds are unbiblical is to say that the creeds contradict the bible data, and I believe this is something that Blomberg would not accept.
Lastly, I do think Latter-day Saints should understand that discussions of philosophy is simply part of the historic Christian tradition and Latter-day Saints should not be turned off by Christians who speak in these terms. I think How Wide the Divide does an excellent job introducing such terminology to Latter-day Saints.



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Your Name

posted December 28, 2008 at 10:04 pm


Thanks for highlighting this excellent book, Dave.
To the first poster who said that he doesn’t have time for “squabbling” about the nature of God, and calls such an issue “esoteric,” I would say that Joseph Smith himself declared in the King Follett sermon that if a man doesn’t diligently search for and come to learn the true nature of God, “he will realize that he has not eternal life; for there can be eternal life on no other principle.” Perhaps Joseph Smith was being slightly rhetorical, but, still, I applaud Dave’s attempt to focus Evangelicals and LDS folk on our shared and not-so-shared views of God. Thanks.



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Cicero

posted December 28, 2008 at 11:59 pm


To the question about what happens to murderers who accept Christ:
Murder is a sin for which there is some ambiguity in scripture on the subject of forgiveness.
Christ clearly stated that sinning against the Holy Ghost is unforgivable, while other sins can be forgiven.
Other scriptures seem to indicate that all sins up to murder will be forgiven if the person repents.
So what about the person who murders?
There are several scriptural accounts of killers who repented and were forgiven. However, to my memory I believe all of them were without the law at the time they killed.
Worth examining is the case of King David in the Old Testament- who committed murder, in full knowledge of the law, and who sincerely repented afterward. David is probably were the ambiguity comes from. While it appears clear that David received some forgiveness it also seems from several passages that there was some kind of consequences that continued, possibly even after his death.
This has left many wondering if full forgiveness will be given to those who after having received God into their heart, then murder, and then repent.
My response has first been to wonder if we can appropriately generalize the case of David to apply to all men in similar circumstances, and even if we can, I do not feel that David’s fate is clear.
The only Mormon scripture that I can remember off the top of my head is that a murderer does receive forgiveness easily. What that means I am also unsure of.
In short I am left with only my faith that God is both just and merciful. If he feels a murderer should be forgiven, who am I to oppose God? Or if God refuses to forgive a murderer, who am I to oppose God?
Since I have never committed murder myself, I can not say with the certainty of experience that Christ will forgive murderers who sincerely repent. I can only say that for all of the sins which I have committed, Christ has forgiven me for them freely, and released me from guilt and bondage. Therefore I would encourage a murderer to repent, and urge them to hope that they might receive Christ’s grace- ever remembering how unworthy they are of it. (As are all of us).
That may be insufficiently cut and dried for you. I can only say that I recognize my imperfect knowledge of God’s plan, so what else can I say other than this?



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Sebujam

posted December 29, 2008 at 11:02 am


In response to Cicero: What about the possibility of forgiveness but qualifiying for a lesser Kingdom. I doubt murderers will get into the Celestial Kingdom.



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Seth R.

posted December 29, 2008 at 1:05 pm


Sebujam,
What about Moses and King Lamoni? Did they make the Celestial Kingdom?
Anonymous,
I never advocated avoiding debate on the nature of God. I merely pointed out that the whole concept of “creed” – drawing a dividing line between who is “in” and who is “out” on grounds of theological belief is what was objectionable to Joseph Smith.



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Your Name

posted December 29, 2008 at 8:26 pm


Excellent dialog. This is the kind of intelligent forum I have been looking for. As an active Latter-day Saint, I regularly find myself in these kinds of discussions with my Evangelical friends and find that most are very uninformed about this topic. I will be sure to tune them into this dialog. Thanks so much!



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Jamison

posted December 30, 2008 at 12:13 am


Along these lines, there was an interesting discussion about the “Mormon Trinity” in the bloggernacle a few weeks ago:
http://mormonmatters.org/2008/10/25/the-mormon-trinity/



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Theophilus

posted December 30, 2008 at 3:37 am


I am tired of this whole argument – even so, Mormon’s interpret Scripture (i.e. the Bible) according to their own extra-biblical books, doctrines and revelations, so they really have no business pointing their finger at Evangelicals and denouncing them for interpreting the Bible according to the ancient Creed of the Church and calling it unbiblical.
There is nothing unbiblical in the Nicene Creed – there are a few words and phrases that are not found in the Bible, but they were coined to further define concepts that are in the Bible. The Mormon Religion is full of extra-biblical terms and language, so one would think they would be less inclined to throw rocks – living in a glass house of their own construct. .
Moreover, in truth I really know very few Evangelicals who could even quote the Nicene Creed, let alone any who interpret the Bible according to any Creed. Evangelicals tend to use the Bible to interpret itself, (comparing scripture with scripture) only using extra-biblical terminology (Theological language) to help define concepts they believe the Scripture teaches… for example… the “Incarnation:” Incarnation is a theological word not found in the Bible… even so the Bible says that “the Son of God was manifested to destroy the works of the devil,” it says that “Jesus Christ came in the flesh,” it says that “the Word was made flesh” and that “God was manifested in the flesh.” Thus any reasonable man can easily see that theological terms have their rightful place in helping to conceptualize Christian doctrine.
In other words – your Mormon blogger is full of beans and the divide is actually far wider than the book seems willing to acknowledge. Robinson may have a certain clout within some Evangelical circles – but he’s spent any credibility he had as far as most Christian apologists are concerned. He should really stay out of apologetics because he’s really no good at it.
~ Theophilus



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pat grimm

posted December 30, 2008 at 6:49 am


you use too many extra Biblical references and concept. God has a wife? where is that in scripture? Jesus is an angel? Michael the arch angel? The Bible demand that not ONE WORD of the scripture be changed and you have done so. Joseph Smith? Who was he and why is he revered? He took God’s word and changed it, a renegade if anything.



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sinai

posted December 30, 2008 at 10:38 am


what about the god seen by moses at sinai? i ‘m talking about the literal description of the being who allowed moses to see his “posterior”. i never hear this referenced in other discussions.



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sloagm

posted December 30, 2008 at 11:20 am


Theophilus: I think the point being made with the “extra-biblical” definitions is to respond to the notion that anyone that does not accept the “extra-biblical” creeds cannot, by definition, be Christian. I understand what the ecumenical councils were trying to do to regulate and create uniformity and order to the early churches that were going off in all different directions, most notably the gnostics, arians etc. But in so doing, they created such a strict and binding concept on who is “acceptable” and who is “unacceptable” that today anything non-creedal is considered a cult and non-christian, which I do not accept. On the other hand, the LDS theology does not teach that all non-mormons are automatically shut out of the presence of God or non-christian. It is mormon belief that God will reveal to all his children, in this life or in the next, His entire plan for us from start to finish (this does not mean that just because someone has been in discussion with the mormon missionaries and told them to get lost, that they are damned to hell). But at some point, it will all be laid out in front of each individual to either choose to accept it, or not. Of course mormons believe that that all the essentials of that plan have been revealed in the Bible (not everything there is, but everything we need). They also believe that the Book of Mormon and other scriptures affirm Biblical teachings and bring clarity to others that are not so clear, and that living Christ’s teachings here and now are the best recipe for happiness.
I think Gordon B. Hinckley said it best when he said all we want to do is make bad men good and good men better. This statement presupposes that there is a ton of truth already revealed by God to men around the world and that they many are living it well. Hinckley was also saying to the world, “come and see what we have here, if you like it you can add it to what you already have, if not, that’s fine too.” More and more, I am becoming much less concerned with gaining converts to the church than I am just trying to help people understand what our true beliefs really are.



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Seth R.

posted December 30, 2008 at 12:24 pm


Theophilus wrote:
“I am tired of this whole argument – even so, Mormon’s interpret Scripture (i.e. the Bible) according to their own extra-biblical books, doctrines and revelations, so they really have no business pointing their finger at Evangelicals and denouncing them for interpreting the Bible according to the ancient Creed of the Church and calling it unbiblical.”
You’re missing the point. Mormons never believed in the Bible-only approach of other Christians to begin with. We always believed in additional books of scripture and modern revelations.
However, our Evangelical friends always like to strut around about how they ONLY and exclusively follow the Bible.
Mormons are perfectly within their rights to point out that these “Bible men” are actually adding their own extra-biblical stuff to the equation in the form of the creeds.
It’s merely a matter of calling out hypocrisy when we see it.



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frgough

posted December 31, 2008 at 11:41 am


Theophilus,
Let’s distill the two sides of this discussion down to their essential elements and you should be able to see the distinction.
Mormons interpret the Bible based on additional revealed scripture.
Evangelical interpret the Bible based on intellectual argument and debate.
It doesn’t matter whether or not you agree with the Mormon claim, it’s the substance of the claim that matters. To wit: Mormons interpret scripture within scripture. Evangelicals interpret scripture outside of scripture.



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aquinas

posted January 2, 2009 at 12:00 am


I agree with Theophilus that it is unpersuasive to argue that because a term is not found in the bible that it is unbiblical or that it would contradict the biblical data. This is an argument that individuals should either use less or use with more caution and care.
The point about interfaith dialogues is not so that in the end everyone will agree about everything. Rather, one of the purposes in my view is that where there is disagreement, the disagreement should be on the right things, where there is actual disagreement. But this can only happen when both sides are informed and seek to understand the other side. At times perhaps part of interfaith dialogue is allowing both sides to vent and express their frustration. However, we should also have the goal to move beyond venting and move beyond expressing frustration about how we have been treated, to increasing mutual understanding.
It is true that many Latter-day Saints say that they reject the historic Christian creeds. In fact, there are two main disagreements. The first is with the content of creeds, the second is with the function of creeds. As to the content, in reality there is very little in the creeds that Latter-day Saint must reject. Many of the creeds only make sense if understood in their historical context and once a person takes the time to learn the history the reason for the creeds become much less confusing. The only term in the Nicene Creed that most Latter-day Saints would feel they cannot accept is to say that the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost is “one being.” Latter-day Saints reject this only because they feel it violates their understanding of the Father and the Son being two personages of flesh and bone. In the orthodox Christian conception, God is immaterial. As to the second disagreement, that creeds serve the function of determining who is included in the Christian polity, historically this has happened. However, Latter-day Saints should at least acknowledge that most, if not all, religious communities have mechanisms to determine who is part of the community and who is not. Often doctrine is part of this determination. In addition, it is important for Latter-day Saints to realize that creeds also serve the function of preserving the historical understanding of the faith as it has developed in the history of the Church. To say that one accepts creeds is often to say that one accepts the historic understanding of the Christian faith. It is to say that one identifies oneself with the historic Christian Church. Here in lies one of the key points of miscommunication. On the one hand, many Latter-day Saints argue that they are “Christian” while simultaneously arguing that they are not Catholic, Protestant nor Eastern Orthodox, and that their beliefs do not correspond to the doctrines as developed within the historic Christian tradition. Latter-day Saints typically fail to see the difficulty with this position and fail to sympathize with the difficulty of readily understanding this position. On this point, further expressing frustration or disbelief at how any one can not understand this position does little to increase mutual understanding. Rather, we need to proceed with a genuine desire to increase understanding and to really try to see things from each others perspective. There are many who are not willing to do this. However, part of How Wide the Divide is to show what is possible when people make a good faith attempt to understand another.



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Megan

posted January 2, 2009 at 12:25 am


I have always thought that there are different degrees of murder. And the reason someone does so is important. For this reason I have come to the understanding (and been taught in church) that there is no forgiveness in this life for the sin of murder. It is something that will have to be dealt with after the killer dies. I was taught once that there will be some sort of punishment served in the next life between death and ultimate judgement for murderers. Even those that come to the knowledge of the gospel after their sin. Someone that is convicted of murder can not be baptized into the Latter-Day Saint church. Even if his/her prison sentence is finished (because convicted felons in jail also cannot be baptized). Taking a life in murder is such a serious action.
I don’t know if someone convicted of manslaughter has the same restriction on baptism in this life or not.
I am very interested in this book now. It sounds like it is a very good source for ways of approaching interfaith dialogue.



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sloagm

posted January 3, 2009 at 9:22 pm


aquinas:
Simply put and superbly written. I am humbled by your openness and objectivity. My response would simply be that in my view an ecumenical council that is comprised of religious scholars cannot make binding interpretations of scripture. The LDS view is that the authority of God does not reside in one’s own intellect (independent of God), or the result of a scholarly debate. At some point people, even smart people, will inevitably veer off course. To then turn that collective, possibly incorrect, opinion into doctrine is to then make that opinion a primary basis upon which one’s true acceptance of Christ is measured (by protestant standards). WOW, now that’s a stretch…and for what?
The Christian world has taken the words of these councils and branded an “it is so” beside the statements, when the subscript should only read “it could possibly be so.”
Most of the issues that protestants have with the LDS view are often from books and statements of past church leaders as though everything that came out of their respective mouths was official church doctrine. President Harold B. Lee refuted that idea when he said:
“If anyone, regardless of his position in the Church, were to advance a doctrine that is not substantiated by the standard Church works, meaning the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price, you may know that his statement is merely his private opinion. The only one authorized to bring forth any new doctrine is the President of the Church, who, when he does, will declare it as revelation from God, and it will be so accepted by the Council of the Twelve and sustained by the body of the Church. And if any man speak a doctrine which contradicts what is in the standard Church works, you may know by that same token that it is false and you are not bound to accept it as truth.”
The word of God to the Prophet and the existing standard works are the only official doctrine of the LDS church. Using that standard it is impossible to accept the opinions of the councils as doctrinally binding on LDS Christians because they contradict the official LDS scriptural view. That does not mean we redefine protestant men and women as non-Christian. It simply means that their understanding of some points is different that ours. To require someone to accept the creeds as an entry point to a belief in Christ is, in itself, non-biblical. If a man had nothing but the Bible (or the Book of Mormon for that matter) in his posession and believed that book and believed in Christ and prayed for a testimony of his divinity and recognized him as the Messiah and Savior of the world, he is Christian…ergo, the LDS are Christian. Perhaps not in your historical sense, which I accept. But why would historical/traditional precedent count for even one shekel in the eternal drama of God’s children?



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deseretlady

posted January 7, 2009 at 12:32 pm


sloagm
I appreciate your comments. Many people of the world today say that the LDS people are not Christians because they do not follow mainstream Christianity. I appreciate the fact that you get it. Disciples of Jesus Christ are Christians no matter what denomination they spring from. Thank you for bringing that point up.



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