Thursday, March 3, 2011

A Brief Analysis of a Mormon Outlook

        This paper is to summarize, analyze, and present an apologetic for the worldview inherent to Mormonism. It will discuss their view of God, creation, Jesus Christ, salvation, and the eternal state; it will discuss how these views are divergent from Scripture: it fails to characterize God properly, it fails to posit God as the creator of all, it denies the deity of Jesus Christ, it applies works as an addendum to grace, and it fails to apply a consistent conception of justice. Finally, an apologetic for presenting the Gospel to the Mormon will be discussed. The paper will contend that Mormonism is opposed to biblical Christianity and its adherents should be given the Gospel.
            The Mormon worldview is explained in various sections of doctrine. These doctrines are taken from Mormon scriptures, the Bible, Mormon prophets, and founder Joseph Smith.[1] The Mormon view of God is that he was once a man named Elohim who came from another planet.[2] The Mormon view of creation is that Elohim brought his spirit-children (humans) to earth. This was done so man could become a god.[3] The Mormons hold that Jesus Christ is physical offspring of Elohim, and not himself deity.[4] Salvation is achieved by faithful Mormons only in paradise while non-Mormons go to spirit prison.[5] The Mormon view of the eternal state teaches all ultimately go to one of three heavens: the telestial, terrestrial, or celestial kingdoms (from lowest to highest).[6] For the Mormon, this outlook represents the origin, purpose, and destiny of man.
            This outlook, or worldview, should be evaluated according to Biblical standards of truth. In each doctrine represented above the Mormon worldview is inaccurate. First, it fails to characterize God properly. Isaiah 46:9 speaks of the Lord this way: “…I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me.” Yet according to Mormonism, God is merely a deified man who was once subject to other deities existing in various parts of the universe![7] Since every man had a beginning, it follows that if God’s mode of existence is identical to ours then God had a beginning, and thus is not eternal as biblically understood. Further, this view creates an infinite regress of sorts, where a Mormon is forced to confess that there are many gods, each preceding the other into the past ad infinitum, so that rather than one true God, there are literally an infinite number of such Gods. This surely denies the biblical view of God.
            In addition to denial of the biblical view of God, one should consider this worldview fails to posit God as the creator of all. Genesis 1 clearly has in mind not only the earth and solar system but the stars and planets as well. Yet if God came from another planet He could not have created it. If man is to become a god himself he will in fact create his own world. This violates John 1:1-3, where “without him [God] was not any thing made that was made.” The Mormon doctrine of creation flows into their doctrine of Jesus Christ in light of the fact he is a creation of Elohim.
            This doctrine of the creation of Jesus essentially denies the deity of Christ. Jesus is not one in essence with God the Father (John ), but rather he is a spirit-child of Elohim, as are every member of mankind.[8] Moreover, Doctrine and Covenants 93:12-14 expressly teaches the Mormon Jesus had to progress to his status as the Word, and thus cannot be the one true God in
 essence. Romans 4 explains salvation is by belief in God for salvation; thus if Jesus Christ is not God, he cannot be the basis for man’s salvation.
            This inability to account for salvation leads logically to the Mormon view of grace as an addendum to works. 2 Nephi 25:23 claims, “…for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.” This is in contrast to Romans 11:6: “And if by grace, then it is no more of works….But if it be of works, then it is no more grace.” In Mormon reality, then, grace is nothing more than merited reward. The standard for works has been met and grace is the given reward. One may argue he does not deserve the standard to be where it is, but this is a category error. The point is that the standard met is one of works; regardless of how high or low the standard is, it is works that earned the salvation. However, this raises an interesting point of grace and justice as they relate to God.
            James Walker mentions God’s grace in relation to Mormon salvation when he states, “those who trust in their own ‘obedience to the laws and ordinances’ or who add even one good work to the gospel are not trusting Christ alone as their Savior. That is not the gospel of grace.”[9] The Mormon God cannot be both gracious and just in this way. God could not be just, for nothing a sinful man could do would undo his own sin, much less anyone else’s (Romans 5). Yet to impute righteousness on the (even partial) basis of a work of a sinful man is not just; God is allowing salvation on an unpaid debt. God cannot also be gracious, for if He is just He cannot extend salvation on that basis. The Mormon God is faced with a dilemma: allow man into Heaven unjustly (and thus impugn His holiness), or deny him from it, and display no grace. The Mormon worldview attempts to assign all to an ultimate level of Heaven.[10] This does not avoid the dilemma for the consistency of the Mormon worldview.
            The doctrines of the Mormon worldview are inadequate for a consistent conception of God and truth. An apologetic to Mormonism must include the perfections of God. These perfections, like grace and justice above, should be used to demonstrate God is holy by nature. That is, God can no more lie (Titus 1:2) than He could cease to be God. Matthew informs “there is none good but God.” That is to say God is the standard of moral goodness. If this is correct, then God is good because it is His nature to be good. All have sinned against God, and because of this God is forced to impute sin to each and every man, and this means death and eternal separation from God (Romans 5:12; Revelation 20:13-15).[11]
            This death is avoidable, however. A Mormon apologetic should begin with the bad news, but display the good news as well. God must be holy and just, but He must also be loving. God loves mankind so much He sent His Son Jesus to pay the penalty for our sins. He is the only way of salvation (Acts 4:12; Romans 5:15-21). This should go hand in hand with an explanation of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. R. Philip Roberts explains, “show the Mormon that in God’s love, Christ died for all the sins of the world….If indeed this is God’s truth, then no one…can earn or merit their way into forgiveness with God. If Christ is the sole and complete sacrifice for sin, our works to achieve what he already has are vain and useless.”[12]
            Theologically, a Mormon conception of salvation is not a biblical one. One may object that the Mormon does not esteem the Bible to be as useful as their own scriptures. This may be true, but Mormons should be treated with respect. This method allows God’s Word to take root in their lives, and holds a logical and textual reason to hold both the Bible and the teachings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in tension. At this point the apologist should offer, kindly, evidences to support the Bible. In conjunction with this, he should also concur with Abanes when he mentions the lack of evidence corroborating the Book of Mormon. “Discrepancies between the BOM [Book of Mormon] and historical fact are so numerous that it would require an entire volume to catalog and explain them. But the most damaging strike against the BOM is the lack of any archaeological evidence to support it.”[13] (emphasis in original)
            In addition to the discrepancies between the Mormon scriptures and the Bible, and between the former and the historical record, the apologetic to Mormonism should display the fruit of the Spirit. The apologist should have love, meekness, self-control, and longsuffering. He cannot expect the Mormon to respond very well at first; this is a repudiation of his entire worldview. The apologist should endeavor to represent Christ well, both intellectually and spiritually. This would complete the apologetic to the Mormon worldview.
            This paper covered a summary, analysis, and an apologetic to the Mormon worldview. After listing the doctrines in summary form, the paper evaluated each doctrine in the areas of the supremacy of God, creation, the deity of Jesus Christ, works-based salvation, and the justice of God with respect to the eternal destiny of man. An apologetic to Mormons was also presented. Topics for further study are suggested as a Mormon conception of the origins of the universe, or the moral nature of God. This paper suggests Mormonism is opposed to biblical Christianity and its adherents should therefore be given the true Gospel.

Abanes, Richard. One Nation Under God: A History of the Mormon Church. New York: Four Walls Eight Windows, 2002.

Decker, Ed and Dave Hunt. The God Makers. Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 1984.

Roberts, R. Philip. Mormonism Unmasked. Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 1998.

Smith, Joseph. Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, Pearl of Great Price. Salt Lake City, UT: Intellectual Reserve, Inc., 1981.

Walker, James. “Mormonism.” In The Popular Encyclopedia of Apologetics, edited by Ed Hindson and Ergun Caner. Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 2008. 

                [1] James Walker, “Mormonism,” in The Popular Encyclopedia of Apologetics, ed. by Ed Hindson and Ergun Caner (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 2008), 357. It is interesting to note modern-day prophets are allowed to redact or even correct prior Mormon teachings of other prophets.

                [2] Ed Decker and Dave Hunt, The God Makers (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 1984), 25.

                [3] Ibid, 26.

                [4] Walker, 360.

                [5] Ibid, 361.

                [6] Ibid.

                [7] Richard Abanes, One Nation Under Gods: A History of the Mormon Church (New York: Four Walls Eight Windows, 2002), 286.

                [8] Joseph Smith, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, Pearl of Great Price (Salt Lake City, UT: Intellectual Reserve, 1981), Doctrine and Covenants 93:21-23.

                [9] Walker, 362.

                [10] Ibid, 361.

                [11] The latter passage shows if one has died in their sins, they will experience the second death, which v. 10 says is “for ever and ever.”

                [12] R. Philip Roberts, Mormonism Unmasked (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 1998), 168.

                [13] Abanes, 75.

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  1. Hello, Randy,

    With a paper of this sort, I would recommend relying more heavily on Mormon sources for a more balanced view of their beliefs. In particular, I'd caution against a reliance on the work of Ed Decker, which is viewed as highly problematic even by other prominent critics of Mormonism (e.g., the Tanners).
    In particular, one thing that must be kept in mind is that Mormon thought contains a great deal of diversity, and even where some strands of thought are more historically the norm, still those may not be the most prevalent today. (For instance, although Mormonism has traditionally stressed the view that God was once a man who became a God, there are Mormon thinkers today who believe that the Father was always God but became incarnate on some planet just as orthodox Christianity maintains that the Son did on ours.) Many of the characterizations of Mormon thought in your paper only apply to certain versions of Mormonism, and a few are more questionable. For instance, the claim that Jesus is "not himself deity" in Mormon thought is problematic. Contemporary Mormonism identifies Jesus as the Jehovah of the Old Testament, and thus believes that everything affirmed in the Old Testament about God is true of Jesus, including a sense of his deity (save that, in Mormon thought, the pattern of prayer they perceive in the New Testament gives them reservations about praying directly to Christ or giving him unqualified worship of the sort rendered to the Father). Also, in Mormon thought, the majority of people are ultimately, in the resurrection, going to attain to one of the kingdoms of glory. The exception here is the "sons of perdition" (e.g., those who have received witness from the Holy Spirit that the 'restored gospel' taught by Mormonism is true, and who then go on to reject it anyway), who are consigned to "outer darkness". The remainder of humanity goes to either the telestial, the terrestrial, or the celestial kingdom, as you noted. There is some historical diversity over whether all these should be referred to as "salvation". Ultimately, only those in the celestial kingdom have direct access to the Father's presence and only they can continue to grow and develop throughout eternity; those in the terrestrial or telestial kingdoms do not have this option.

    With respect to one of your early arguments against Mormonism, it should be noted that LDS thought steadfastly denies that "man had a beginning" - see D&C 93:29. And yes, there is an infinite regress problem in certain forms of Mormonism, though I think your argument could be strengthened by linking to some of your other work that explains why this is a problem. Also, with regard to the uniqueness of God, many Mormons who adhere to traditional Mormonism are wont to say that the biblical statements on our God's uniqueness and supremacy have a somewhat local scope of view - limited to either our section of this universe, or this universe among many universes. This should probably be noted as well. Also, Mormons are not as accustomed to think of God in terms of 'essence', so some further explication of that might be helpful. Some Mormon thinkers could claim that we and Christ and the Father are all of the same essence, in the looser sense of 'essence' used by, e.g., Gregory of Nyssa, which roughly matches the notion of 'kind-essence'. Some of your other arguments touch on valuable points as well - e.g., in regard to the qualified status placed on grace in Mormon thought - but don't really interact with the positions that an actual Mormon would be likely to take on the matter. That, I think, is one of the bigger drawbacks of relying heavily on non-Mormon polemical sources rather than a more balanced blend.

    God bless,

  2. Thanks for commenting JB! I myself have recently been made aware of the recent Mormon philosophers who have, essentially, rejected the older interpretation of Lorenzo Snow's doctrine of eternal progression, and thus believe God did not have a beginning, and whatnot. However, it seems Mormon scholars differ from "regular Joe Mormons," at least in my experience. This is to insinuate nothing but that I have interacted with Mormons who take these positions but who are also unaware of any difficulties therein. Your comments are appreciated and well-noted!

  3. Thanks! I've also found that a fair number of rank-and-file Mormons tend not to focus much on what we would term 'theology proper', and as a result of that, quite a few of them have a much milder heterodoxy in that area than would be expected from the remarks of previous presidents of their church.


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