It is sometimes difficult for Protestants and Evangelicals to understand that the LDS Church is not simply another Protestant denomination with a well-defined catechism or creed. It is expected to be well defined since, in the Protestant world, those with different doctrinal views quite easily split off to form their own denomination, movement, or megachurch affirming a slightly different set of well-defined doctrines. The idea that Mormonism is more like a religious tradition embracing a range of doctrines rather than a denomination with a narrow doctrinal range is not easily grasped. Views on inerrancy are a good example of this.
Some Mormons affirm a view of inerrancy little different from an Evangelical or conservative Christian view. From an earlier post titled Mormon scripture, here is a joint statement by an LDS scholar and an Evangelical scholar expressing their shared beliefs on the topic:
Both … agree that all Scripture is “inspired” (theopneustos) of God. Moreover, we are closer to each other in our views of the nature of Scripture than either is to liberal Protestantism, maintaining alike that Scripture is literally true in its teachings, both historically and morally. We hold the same understanding of “inerrancy,” though the LDS would use different terms to say the same things. We agree that the present biblical text is the word of God within the common parameters of the Chicago Statement and the Eighth Article of Faith. At least some Evangelicals believe the canon is open in principle, though virtually all believe it is closed in practice, while Mormons believe the canon to be open in both principle and practice.
Other Mormons take a more relaxed view of inerrancy, illustrated in a recent blog post, “An Alternative to Inerrancy,” which quotes at length LDS author and scholar Blake Ostler’s theory of “creative coparticipation.”
[R]evelation is experienced from within a divine-human relationship that respects the personhood and free agency of the prophet/writer. The human cognitive categories that the prophet/writer uses to organize reality and make sense of his experience are not obliterated by the revelation, and thus the revelation expresses both God’s inspiration and the prophet’s personality and limited understanding. The ultimate reality in Mormon thought is not an omnipotent God who causally determines passive and powerless prophets to regurgitate his words as dictated. God acts on the prophet/writer and imparts his will and message, but receiving the message and expressing it are, at least partly, up to the individual, who is also free to act for himself. In this view, scriptural inspiration is not an intrusion of the supernatural into the natural order. It is human coparticipation with God in creating the scripture.
I know that within the broad Protestant tradition there is wide variation on inerrancy. That’s why there’s a Chicago Statement — to distinguish those Protetstants who affirm it from those Protestants who don’t. Likewise, there are some Mormons who would largely agree with those who affirm it and some who would not. I’m not sure why this troubles some commentators.
Other posts related to this topic:
- Two Kinds of Christian, a post I did a couple of years ago summarizing Marcus Borg’s distinction between “earlier pardigm” Christians and “emerging pardigm” Christians.
- Does Mormonism Have Any Official Doctrine? by a frustrated LDS author.
- Why We’re Confused, by an Evangelical student of Mormonism, echoing some of the ideas from this post.