The Problem of Mormon Christianity

It is a matter of ongoing, unresolved, and deeply irritating debate whether Mormons are a kind of Christians or an alternative to Christianity. Mormons sometimes believe that this debate is strictly due to either a lack of information or a presence of malice on the part of non-Mormon interlocutors. However, this is not the case. At issue is a contest of definitions — and a power struggle in which each of two competing religious camps is proposing definitions that put their rivals in the worst available strategic position.

For Latter-day Saints, the answer to whether Mormons are Christians is a simple “yes.” The root of the Mormon argument is that Christians are those who believe in and worship Jesus Christ, and that the worship of Jesus Christ is central to Mormonism. This position has been advanced, in more or less sophisticated presentations, in a variety of books, a large collection of sermons in church conferences, and even a very brief episode of the podcast This Mormon Life. For Mormons, the definition of Christianity behind this argument has a scriptural basis in a Book of Mormon passage that identifies true belief in Jesus Christ as the one and only prerequisite for the label of “Christian”:

And those who did belong to the church were faithful; yea, all those who were true believers in Christ took upon them, gladly, the name of Christ, or Christians as they were called, because of their belief in Christ who should come. (Alma 46: 15).

However, this definition is neither authoritative for nor generally acceptable to our informed non-Mormon interlocutors. Indeed, there are even reasons for Mormons to want to place additional qualifications on the bounds of Christianity, since this definition (when applied with suitable flexibility, so that “true” can be read as something like “sincere” rather than “in the correct church”) includes not only Mormons, Catholics, Protestants, Orthodox Christians, and a wide variety of Christian New Religious Movements, but also many varieties of Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, and members of other religious traditions that permit or teach belief in Jesus Christ as a true prophet, an incarnation of some deity, or one God in a large pantheon. So some other definitional traits are probably required if our definition of Christianity is to distinguish even between those who claim the label for themselves and those who do not.

Christians who would deny that Mormons are also Christian would typically suggest that the necessary conceptual clarity can be found in the early Christian creeds, particularly the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds. These creeds were originally formulated in part as a way of distinguishing what participants in the councils wished to define as legitimate Christianity from the many variants of the early years — particularly those more mystical variants that early church fathers derided as gnostic. So there is a long tradition of regarding assent to these creeds as the litmus test of Christianity. Our interlocutors are not inventing post hoc definitional criteria to exclude Mormonism from the Christian camp; rather, they are using post hoc criteria invented millennia ago to exclude quite different religious ideas from the Christian community.

It appears to me that, if we go to the trouble of understanding what Catholics, Protestants, and so forth mean by the words in these creeds, Mormons can easily assent to the large majority of the theological claims that they make. However, our basic posture toward these creeds has been one of rejection and sometimes even ridicule, rather than one of understanding and partial or substantial agreement. Our scriptures describe the creeds as “an abomination,” and our leaders not infrequently characterize these texts as confusing, incomprehensible, and possibly even a barrier to the development of saving faith.

So, rather than seeking genuinely available common ground with other Christians, by emphasizing the many clauses in these foundational documents that Mormons certainly do affirm, the Mormon strategy has been to draw attention to our points of difference — often mischaracterizing our interlocutors’ formal theology in the process. (For example, most Mormon rebuttals of other Christian views of the trinity are in fact rebuttals of the idea of modalism — the concept that God the Father and Jesus Christ are one person playing two different roles — which was rejected as heretical by the very church fathers who wrote the creeds. As the Athanasian Creed explains, the mainstream Christian theology of the past several centuries involves “Neither confounding the Persons, nor dividing the Substance.” That is, other Christian churches in theory believe that God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost are three separate persons with one shared divine substance — with the reference to substance being an Aristotelian concept not worth going into in any depth.) Thus, it is no mistake — and it should be no surprise — that many in other Jesus-centric traditions characterize Mormons as non-Christian.

Thus, this classificatory debate is based on genuine disagreement and not mere misunderstanding. Indeed, it seems to me that “Christianity” is what the philosopher W. B. Gallie described as an essentially contested concept. In brief, an essentially contested concept is one for which all speakers recognize some core definitional meaning — in this case, adherence to the message of Jesus Christ — but for which speakers have fundamental disagreement about how to offer specific definitions of the concept or to identify real-world instances of the concept.

Gallie and others working in his tradition suggest a variety of common traits shared by all essentially contested concepts — traits that are richly present in the case of the concept of Christianity. First, the concept must be evaluative in the sense of bearing normative loading for the speech community engaged in the definitional debate. For Mormons, Catholics, Protestants, and so forth, “Christian” is obviously regarded as a morally positive thing to be, so this first criterion is met.

A second criterion is a little harder to understand: the object being evaluated must be internally complex. By this, Gallie means that the object must have many distinct facets that can be independently evaluated. Clearly, a theology meets this criterion: one might discuss its overall orientation toward worship of Jesus Christ, or the details of its formal Christology, or its conception of God the Father, or its views of scriptural canon, and so forth.

Furthermore, for a concept to be essentially contested, different participants in the debate must disagree about how important the various components of the object to be evaluated are for the concept in question. Mormons, for example, regard overall orientation toward Jesus Christ as the fundamental component of a theology for applying the concept of Christianity, while other interlocutors emphasize Christology, the broader doctrine of God, monotheism, and so forth.

These traits, in combination with a set of other, in my view somewhat less important, characteristics that also richly apply to debates over Mormon Christianity, characterize the term Christian as an essentially contested concept. Gallie argues that, when a concept is essentially contested, any usage of the concept is necessarily, and to some extent consciously, performed in opposition to competing usages. Hence, any application of the term by actors on any side of the debate is always both aggressive toward other positions and defensive against counter-characterizations. Defining the term “Christian,” or answering the question, “Are Mormons Christian” in either the affirmative or the negative, is thus a power play.

When non-Mormons characterize Mormons as non-Christian, this exercise of power is intended to marginalize Mormons in society and to reduce Mormons’ ability to proselytize. Conceptual and definitional clarity may also be at stake, but it is clearly less important than these more tangible effects of classification. When Mormons characterize themselves as Christian, one relatively anodyne goal is to claim equal status in society. Another, more aggressive goal is to seize religious high ground: if Mormonism is Christianity, then Christianity has nothing to offer that Mormonism does not also offer. Yet Mormonism manifestly offers more and different beliefs, practices, and scriptures than do its competitors. Hence, by defining itself as Christian, Mormonism becomes “Christianity plus,” while relegating other churches to a lesser status. This power play is reflected in Gordon B. Hinckley’s often-cited invitation for Christian believers to come to the Mormons, bring their Christian faith and knowledge, and discover what we can add to it.

There is thus no answer to the problem of Mormon Christianity that is neutral, or self-evident, or free of strategic implications for social position and proselytizing efforts. Debates over this classification reflect genuine disagreements about definitions, but also the exercise of social power. As such, while we may want to continue to use our own preferred definition, we should recognize that those who use other definitions are not merely wrong and that the debate will probably not be resolved easily or soon.

Comments

  1. Latter-day Guy says:

    Yep. It’s a messy business. However, since LDS PR has become so committed to this argument, there will be no graceful bowing out any time soon. I think had we simply, consistently defined ourselves as tri-theist early on there would have been little to argue about.

    When I am asked whether I am Christian, I reply that I believe Jesus is God’s son and my Savior, and that I agree generally with all the points of the apostles’ creed, but that some aspects of Trinitarian doctrine I can’t swallow. Doing this avoids the definition problem altogether and gives others some basic facts to work from if they really feel the need to define my beliefs.

    (While we LDS do present Trinitarian belief as modalism, when speaking with the average evangelical protestant, their explanations of the trinity usually WERE modalistic; if they haven’t been to the seminary, the finer points of theology are not very clear… nor are they terribly important, frankly.)

  2. Steve Evans says:

    RT, you smarty-pants — it took you that long to say that there’s no answer?? I coulda told you that.

  3. LdG, I think your approach of succinctly summarizing our beliefs is a helpful one. I also agree that rank-and-file people often have modalist views of God and Christ, even though their formal theology is otherwise. I don’t agree that such theological distinctions are unimportant, though. It seems to me that ideas, especially ideas about God, have real power.

    Steve, yeah, well. I also explained why there’s no answer. So there.

    But also: one implication of this post is that our claims to be Christian are not more true, more valid, or more useful than others’ claims that we aren’t Christian.

  4. JNS, it is my nature to gripe. But I believe you are partially missing the point of Mormons saying that they are Christians, which is that on a cultural and practical level that is exactly what we are and how we act. It’s true that on a theological level things are far more difficult to reconcile, but I am not sure that is what the Church is interested in doing. Latter-day Guy’s approach is the Mormon one — that is, let’s look at how the problem manifests itself and deal with the consequences, rather than get bogged down in system-wide inconsistencies that leave an impassable gap.

  5. Kevin Barney says:

    In case anyone is interested, below are my published comments on this topic from my “A More Responsible Critique,” FARMS Review 15/1, reviewing The New Mormon Challenge:

    The only thing I found really annoying about the book was the continued insistence that Latter-day Saints are in no sense Christian. This is most disappointing since the idea that the Saints are generically Christian should not be that difficult a concept to grasp. Although the wording varies a little from dictionary to dictionary, a Christian is one who is a follower of Jesus Christ, “one who professes belief in the teachings of Jesus Christ.”6 This meaning is suggested by the Greek form from which the English derives: Christianos, the -ianos ending conveying the sense of “partisan” of Christ (analogous forms being Herodianos “Herodian” and Kaisarianos “Caesarian”). This is the public meaning of the word—the way it is used in public discourse and the way it is defined in dictionaries. Elsewhere Blomberg disparages this meaning of the word, calling it “some very broad and relatively meaningless sense by which every Protestant, Catholic, or Orthodox church member, however nominal or sectarian, would also be included.”7 Exactly! Blomberg or any other evangelical is more than welcome to devise a private definition of the word that will exclude Latter-day Saints, but when they do this they must immediately articulate what that private definition is8 and acknowledge that they are not using the word in its commonly understood sense. When they simply say Mormons are not Christian (using an unarticulated private definition), their hearers and readers understand them to say that Mormons do not believe in Jesus Christ (using the public definition, since words are understood to be used in their commonly defined senses unless another sense is indicated). Such evangelicals therefore regularly misrepresent and even defame LDS belief. This is truly offensive to Latter-day Saints such as myself, and I am puzzled as to why they cannot see that.9

    Blomberg attempts to exclude Mormons from even the “relatively meaningless” public definition of Christian in his chapter entitled “Is Mormonism Christian?” He correctly states that the Bible only uses the term three times and nowhere offers a formal definition (p. 317). He then strives to exclude Mormons from the normative definition by limiting who can be called a Christian, not by articulating a proper lexical definition of the term, but by quoting the World Book Encyclopedia article on “Christianity”: “Christianity is the religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. Most followers of Christianity, called Christians, are members of one of three major groups—Roman Catholic, Protestant, or Eastern Orthodox” (emphasis added). Blomberg then concludes, “Based on this definition, Mormonism is clearly not Christian, nor has it ever claimed to be so” (p. 317). While it is true that the Latter-day Saints do not claim to be Catholic, Protestant, or Orthodox, it is manifestly not the case that they do not claim to be Christian. In the broad and commonly understood sense of the word, the Saints have always considered themselves to be Christians. I am mystified how a scholar of Blomberg’s evident intelligence, talent, and sensitivity could so misread this encyclopedia text (which certainly does not make the exclusionist claim Blomberg ascribes to it), or for that matter why he would appeal to an encyclopedia rather than proper lexical materials to deal with this question in the first place. This methodology is more in line with sectarian propaganda than sound scholarship.10

    I recently shared the following example with Blomberg in an e-mail correspondence following the appearance of The New Mormon Challenge; I think it illustrates well why simply calling Latter-day Saints non-Christian is inherently misleading. A family with several young daughters used to live in my ward. This family was friendly with a neighbor woman, who would often babysit the girls. As Christmas was approaching, the woman gave each of the girls a Christmas gift, which turned out to be a coloring book featuring Jesus Christ. The girls enjoyed the gift and colored the pictures. Some time later this woman came to the family’s home, ashen, and apologized profusely for having given their daughters such a gift. It turns out that the woman had just learned at her church that Mormons are not Christian, and therefore she of course assumed that she had committed a grievous faux pas in giving the girls coloring books featuring a deity their family did not believe in. Now in this story the woman understood the claim that Latter-day Saints are not Christian the same way the vast majority of people would, as meaning that they do not believe in Christ. This is because she naturally applied the public definition to her pastor’s words.

    We can see by this story the mischief that results from the semantic legerdemain of calling Latter-day Saints non-Christian. The fact is, they are Christians in the generic sense of the word, even if, from an evangelical point of view, they are theologically in error and unsaved (i.e., being a Christian is not necessarily tantamount to being right). I personally would have no difficulty with certain shorthand distinctions that would make clear that Mormons neither are nor claim to be historic, traditional, creedal, or orthodox Christians. But to say they are not Christians at all without such a modifier is to fundamentally misrepresent the nature of their beliefs. Since one of the goals of The New Mormon Challenge was to avoid such misrepresentations, I was sorely disappointed that it took the position that Latter-day Saints are not Christian in any sense at all. I view this as an intellectually indefensible position, and in my view it severely undermines the credibility of the book

    6 This particular formulation derives from Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary (1987 ed.), s.v. “Christian,” which just happens to be the dictionary on my office shelf.

    7 Blomberg, “Sizing Up the Divide: Reviews and Replies: III. Reply by Craig L. Blomberg,” BYU Studies 38/3 (1999): 176–83 at 180.
    I suspect the reason that evangelicals are generally unwilling to articulate with precision their private definitions of the word is that at least some of such definitions likely would have the effect, whether intended or not, of excluding Catholics and the Orthodox, which neutral observers would rightly see as patently absurd. Indeed, some evangelicals expressly deny that Catholics are Christian. See Daniel C. Peterson and Stephen D. Ricks, Offenders for a Word: How Anti-Mormons Play Word Games to Attack the Latter-day Saints (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 1992), 183–84.

    8 Carl Mosser, in his chapter “And the Saints Go Marching On: The New Mormon Challenge for World Missions, Apologetics and Theology,” in The New Mormon Challenge, 413 n. 26, and 66, acknowledges that Latter-day Saints are offended when described as non-Christians, and he claims to “understand why Latter-day Saints feel offense.” Nevertheless, he does “not believe that at this time Mormonism can be categorized as Christian in any very useful or theologically significant sense.” This sentence illustrates my very point. Mosser appears to have in mind some sort of unarticulated doctrinal test. To use the word Christian in this fashion without clearly putting the reader on notice that a nonstandard usage of the word is meant (i.e., one subject to undisclosed evangelical theological limitation) is to perpetrate a linguistic “bait and switch.” Mosser may not find the public definition of the word “useful” or “theologically significant,” but it is by that definition that speakers and writers of English the world over communicate, which is very useful indeed.

    9 Contrast with this what I believe to be a proper approach to the issue, as reflected in a 1998 document of the United Methodist Church, entitled Sacramental Faithfulness: Guidelines for Receiving People from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day [sic] Saints, available online at http://www.gbod.org/worship/articles/sacramental/intro.html as recently as 17 March 2003. Rather than claiming that Latter-day Saints are not Christian, this document explains that they are not within the historic, apostolic Christian tradition, which is a both true and unobjectionable statement (the word apostolic being used here in its tertiary sense of referring to a tradition of succession of spiritual authority held, as by Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and Anglicans, to be perpetuated by successive ordinations from the apostolic age).

    10 See Benjamin I. Huff, “Of Course Mormonism Is Christian,” and Kent P. Jackson, “Am I a Christian?” reviews of Craig L. Blomberg, “Is Mormonism Christian?” in FARMS Review of Books 14/1–2 (2002): 113–30, 131–37.

  6. Steve, the Mormon approach is also to emphasize differences between us and other Christ-oriented churches. There are Mormon approaches here, and one is to make definitional power plays and to claim the high ground in a way that parallels the actions of our non-Mormon interlocutors. It seems to be a somewhat less common approach is to agree that we may or may not be Christian.

    On a cultural and practical level, there are serious differences between us and other Christians. One of the most obvious is that we don’t accept other church’s baptisms. But another is that we believe in and teach multiple gods, deification, etc.: ideas that are quite distant from what other Christians hear in their churches.

  7. All I know is that I get confused when protestants try to explain the trinity to me. I do not know how they can explain it to themselves.

    I also think generally that “most” of the secular society may not be worried about our Christianity but more about the so-called cultish nature, especially when it comes to their understanding of our ideas on leadership.

    If you had a video of a bunch of primary children singing “follow the prophet” in a slow disinterested way that would be quite the boon to those culty types.

    In my personal opinion however I think there is a large difference between the idea Jesus is a great prophet to our concept that he is God. That is where I see us as having common ground with Trinitarian Christians, as opposed to Jehovah’s Witnesses.

    I think what really started all this not Christian business is two angles.
    1. Jesus’ brother Lucifer argument from the Godmakers, because God creating evil is so much better than free will.
    2. the doctrine of becoming Gods. To me these are the biggest bugaboos for those groups, more than seperate distinct.

  8. Nick Literski says:

    I enjoyed your excellent, and very honest, essay. I have seen the debate over whether LDS are “christian” as largely a proselyting issue, a matter of packaging and marketing. There is little doubt that missionary efforts are affected by whether potential converts perceive the LDS church as “christian.” Mainstream christian critics wish to dissuade potential converts by presenting LDS theology as non-christian. The LDS church wishes to encourage potential converts by presenting its theology as christian. Simple enough, but I think your point with regard to social power is also important.

    I can’t help but contrast the ongoing argument with early Mormon leaders, who often distinguished Mormonism from christianity. Orson Pratt, for example, derided the concept of an unembodied diety to the point of declaring that christianity was “a pious name for atheism.” Early Mormons simply didn’t seem to place the same value on public identification with christianity, as modern LDS do.

    The efforts of the LDS church to publicly identify as “christian” have certainly intensified in recent decades. Given your point with regard to social power, I wonder whether this has any connection with the rise of right-wing christian political power? Arguably, the LDS church has been jumping onto the same bandwagons as evangelical political activists, such as supporting a constitutional amendment to ban marriage equality. Consciously or not, is the desire for social and political influence a driving force in the LDS church’s push for “christian” acknowledgement, particularly after a history of religious and political persecution?

  9. Every time I hear a ‘Are Mormons Christian?’ discussion, I can’t help but think about the ‘Are Mormons Mormon’ discussion Anderson Cooper had with Elder Earl Tingey last year.

    I found Anderson’s ‘true followers of Mormon’ was cute, and was glad he called out the hypocrisy (though I doubt he realized he had done so).

  10. RT,
    Can you explain the difference between modalism and “one ousia and three hypostasis”? I just read a couple of wikiarticles on the subject which made them sound one and the same. It is no wonder most modern creedal Christians are modalists.

  11. My biggest reservation comes when I see certain evangelicals (following strong evangelical historical precedent) defame Catholics as non-Christian. If Catholics aren’t Christian, then the entire discussion is merely ludicrous. But if Catholics are Christian (as I believe they are), the evangelicals are in a difficult situation in terms of restricting the flow of other voices into Christianity.

  12. So, essentially you are saying that because people have been using creeds to exclude people from being called Christians for a very long time, modern Christians who do this are not wrong to do so. Did I get it?

    It is simply unworkable for some group to decide that for them,
    “Christian” means someone who agrees with their Christology. Unless they are able to get that usage adopted in the mainstream of society (which they have not done), they are simply playing a shell game. We can just as easily say that being a “Christian” means adopting Mormon theology, and tihs would be equally problematic. After all, words don’t mean the things they do based on private definitions, but based on what they are understood to mean by the participants in the discussion.

    We all know that for the vast majority of people who are told that Mormons are not Christians, this means that Mormons don’t worship Jesus or believe he is the Son of God, or some such thing. The people telling everyone that Mormons are not Christians know this and, in fact, count on it.

  13. So, rather than seeking genuinely available common ground with other Christians, by emphasizing the many clauses in these foundational documents that Mormons certainly do affirm, the Mormon strategy has been to draw attention to our points of difference — often mischaracterizing our interlocutors’ formal theology in the process.

    I think that this applies in both directions. I think the Church is seeking to establish that common ground does exist under the umbrella of “Christianity” while those protesting the inclusion of Mormonism either do not understand our formal theology or define it as “merely wrong”.

    It is also a disservice to imply that every other Christian religion accepts any or all of the “creeds” or councils as authoritative for themselves.

    An even more interesting/controversial question might be “Are Mormons Catholic?” *evil grin*

  14. Can you explain the difference between modalism and “one ousia and three hypostasis”?

    Each have one substance. Modalism is 1 person with 3 different ways of understanding that 1 person (H20 as ice, water, steam is a sort of analogy). The latter is composed of 1 substance, but three persons (there are no appropriate analogies).

  15. I’m thinking a parallel is in Hinduism, with the various avatars of Vishnu. Of course, that was apparently an attempt to cobble together several separate religious traditions. In any case, I still think that is modalistic, not trinitarian.

    I have often thought that trinitarian doctrine is a kind of logic by fiat. It makes sense because we say it does; if you don’t agree, you cannot play. That said, I think we (LDS folk) engage in similar justifications all the time.

  16. Aaron Brown says:

    Excellent essay.

    It seems to me that a Mormon definition of Christianity could incorporate some element of Jesus Christ-as-THE-central-religious-figure in it, and avoid the overinclusiveness problem you describe (i.e., I don’t think it would be THAT hard to define Christianity to include us, but exclude Buddhists, Moslems, etc.).

    Also, isn’t one of the real concerns over this question, from an LDS perspective, that most mainstream non-LDS Christians aren’t going to understand the technical theological distinctions drawn by our “informed non-Mormon interlocutors,” and so are just going to assume that our “non-Christianness” means that Christ plays no significant role in our theology? Of course, maybe that’s just another way of stating one of your points: that we’re strategizing and trying to find a way to make our proselytizing more effective. But I think one can simply and legitimately be frustrated by the likelihood that non-Mormons won’t understand our view of Christ, without writing up that frustration as a manifestation of our irritation that we’ve got an impediment to our making new converts. I know that I can get irritated when people get basic tenets of Mormonism wrong, and it’s not just because I’m secretly plotting their immiment baptisms.

    Aaron B

  17. I think that Nick is largely right in #7 when he says this debate is essentially about marketing. Many Creedal Christians think calling Mormon Christians “non-Christian” is an effective marketing method against us. (Admittedly, we like slamming them too with our doctrines of the great apostasy.) I personally think this whole “Mormons aren’t Christians” shtick is mostly a form of dirty marketing akin to the kinds of negative political ads we see everywhere election year.

  18. Kevin Barney says:

    For my own (published) views on this issue, see pp. 99-102 of my “A More Responsible Critique,” FARMS Review 15/1, here. This was in the context of a review of The New Mormon Challenge. (I tried to paste the relevant section into a comment, but it was kind of long so the commen never showed up.)

  19. 7 – When you mention that our apostles used to make dramatic statements about us being different from Christians, I think it needs to also be understood as our reaction to being persecuted and murdered by so-called Christians. As one of my missionary companions used to say, it wasn’t the Jews who persecuted us!

  20. John C., there’s a lot of trouble to be had in the world of ousia and hypostasis. Aristotle uses ousia (“substance”) to come up with the concept of a phylum or species. A substance/ousia is a kind of entity: it is a combination of matter (the raw materials that make up the entity) and form (the idea or pattern that structures the raw materials). So to say that God is of one “ousia” is to say something like that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are of the same species — they’re made of the same raw materials and according to the same pattern, and they all have whatever the traits are that one inevitably has due to the fact of being a God. A helpful, non-theological discussion is here.

    In Christian thought from the 4th century onward, hypostasis is individual reality. (A useful theological discussion, including the ways that hypostasis might have been synonymous with ousia before the 4th century, is here.) When trinitarians assert that God consists of three hypostases, they are suggesting that God the Father is not a physically identical entity with Jesus or with the Holy Spirit. Thus, the various instances in which Jesus speaks to the Father are not even uncomfortable for trinitarianism.

    Jacob J., you say, “It is simply unworkable for some group to decide that for them, ‘Christian’ means someone who agrees with their Christology.” This is an assertion that, for you, there can be no definition of Christianity that excludes anyone. That’s fine. It’s just not common usage.

  21. “In Christian thought from the 4th century onward, hypostasis is individual reality. (A useful theological discussion, including the ways that hypostasis might have been synonymous with ousia before the 4th century, is here.) When trinitarians assert that God consists of three hypostases, they are suggesting that God the Father is not a physically identical entity with Jesus or with the Holy Spirit. Thus, the various instances in which Jesus speaks to the Father are not even uncomfortable for trinitarianism.”

    How is this not modalism?

  22. Kevin Barney, thanks for your link. I actually think that the “public” definition of Christianity that you mention is muddled and at best an incomplete statement of what the most shared definition of the term actually is. The definition you quote has the difficulty, as I note in my post, of including a large number of people from other religious traditions who don’t consider themselves to be Christians but who nonetheless “profess a belief in the teachings of Jesus Christ.” The fact that most of us immediately reject the idea of forcibly classifying Buddhists, Muslims, etc. as Christian because they accept (their understanding of) Jesus’s teachings suggests that this statement of the definition doesn’t really correspond with what we think the real definition is. So there’s a publicly-stated but not-believed definition, and then a roughly-shared-but-indefinable true public definition — which is the starting point for our essentially contested concept. But I think there’s really no legerdemain in calling Mormons non-Christian; everybody has to add additional definitional traits, so the fact that some people have added some just isn’t news.

  23. John, modalism is the belief that there is only one member of the Godhead. Roughly speaking, trinitarianism is the belief that there are three members of the Godhead, but that they are of the same species.

  24. If some evangelical or vatican theologian doesn’t think im christian then they can [CENSORED].

    The only opnion that matters on the issue of whether mormonism is christian or not is Christ’s.

  25. Kevin Barney says:

    I’ll just agree to disagree, JNS. I think calling Mormons non-Christian without more is simply ridiculous and is done for purposes of polemical religious politics. (I’ll admit that objecting strenuously to this is conversely done for purposes of apologetic PR politics, which I think is part of your point.) But I’m not signing on to simply and wholly ejecting Mormons from Christianity. As I articulated I believe it can be done appropriately with nuance, but not with a machete.

  26. Kevin, let me clarify that I also don’t sign on with ejecting us from Christianity. But that’s because I buy our definitions, and not theirs. The weakness of my position — and ours more generally, I think — is that our definitions aren’t any more objective or rationally based than theirs.

  27. JNS,
    Wittgenstein’s language games? It’s all rather hopeless, I fear.

  28. Ronan, indeed.

  29. JNS,

    This is an assertion that, for you, there can be no definition of Christianity that excludes anyone.

    Huh? I don’t have any problem with the word “Christianity” excluding someone. It really needs to exclude some people if it is going to mean anything useful. My assertion was that defining “Christian” as “someone who agrees with me about Christology” is very problematic since that is not what it means to the masses they are telling that Mormons are not Christians. Communicating one thing (Mormons don’t believe in Jesus) while justifying this mischaracterization by reference to a private interpretation is disingenuous.

  30. Thanks for the post. JNS, you do have me thinking about a number of things. Sometime, maybe I might offer my own take on this issue on my blog.

    Sidenote – Who do I blame for broadbrushing all evangelicals as “creedal Christians”?

    Authority for outlining theology goes way beyond church history creeds.

    I am sitting here this morning looking at the last phrase in Genesis 4. Certainly, what is it that distinguishes believers from unbelievers? The fact is righteous believers rightly call on/pray to the name of Yahweh like Enosh. But who is Yahweh? And if one firmly believes that the Father, the Son, and the Spirit are Yahweh . . . is this being a modalist?

    And Kevin, thanks for the link. I will read this.

  31. Jacob, what do you think the masses mean by “Christian”? I’m pretty sure the definition for at least a clear majority would include accepting the Bible as the whole canon, right? This isn’t a mischaracterization as much as a power struggle, I think.

    Todd, if Yahweh is a being, and you think that being is only one person who takes on three different names, then you’re a modalist. If Yahweh is a kind of being, like a species, and you think Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are that kind of being but are separate persons, then you might be a trinitarian — if you are also an Aristotelian.

  32. It seems to me that a Mormon definition of Christianity could incorporate some element of Jesus Christ-as-THE-central-religious-figure in it, and avoid the overinclusiveness problem you describe

    The problem isn’t just with self-referentially non-christian groups (Buddhists, Muslims, etc). I know plenty of Mormons who wouldn’t consider Marxist Christians (there are millions of them in Latin America, among other places) to be real Christians. I think it’s probably impossible to come up with a definition of Christianity that will a) appeal to relatively orthodox sensibilities (i.e. not parting with Incarnation, virgin birth, robust Christology, something like heaven and hell), b) include Mormons, and c) not include people like Hugo Chavez.

    I’m especially fond of Terryl Givens’ observation of the inherent irony of Mormons feeling slighted for not being included in a club, the members of which they view as being irredeemably Apostate.

    Convincing people we’re Christians, if it has any value at all, should be viewed as a means to an end. If we focus on proving to other christians that we’re just as christian as they are, we’ll be showing them in the process that we have nothing to offer. If, on the other hand, we point up the differences between us and them, we’ll be reinforcing the precise reasons for which they label us non-christians in the first place. Our primary goal should not be to convince them that we’re christian; it should be to convince them that we have something of value to offer them. If the former facilitates the latter, then, by all means, let’s keep playing “Wittgenstein’s language games.” But to the degree that it creates an obstacle, then let’s have the guts to admit that we’re not “christians” in the sense that most christians mean and move on.

  33. Who do you think the Bible clearly defines Yahweh as?

  34. Antonio Parr says:

    The Apostles Creed is set forth below. I am placing “LDS” next to each provision that I believe to be highly compatible with LDS theology:

    I believe in God, the Father (LDS) Almighty (LDS, with caveat that early LDS theology muddied the water with respect to “omnipotence”/”almighty”),
    the Creator of heaven and earth (LDS, with caveat that LDS’s accept Paul’s statement that the Father Almighty created all things through Christ),
    and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord: (LDS, with the caveat that LDS theology believes that Christ is the only begotten in the flesh, and that all people are children of God the Father)

    Who was conceived of the Holy Spirit (LDS, notwithstanding the rather scandalous speculation by some early LDS’s regarding the conception of Christ),
    born of the Virgin Mary, (LDS)
    suffered under Pontius Pilate, (LDS)
    was crucified, died, and was buried. (LDS)

    He descended into hell. (LDS, with caveat that “hell” is interpreted to mean “spirit world” as opposed to a place of fire and brimstone)

    The third day He arose again from the dead. (LDS)
    He ascended into heaven
    and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty,
    whence He shall come to judge the living and the dead.
    (LDS)

    I believe in the Holy Spirit, (LDS) the holy *catholic church, (NOT LDS — in fact, the only statement not LDS — although the spirit of this statement is captured in the LDS belief in the restoration of the “true” (i.e., catholic/universal/authorized) church”; the communion of saints, (LDS) the forgiveness of sins, (LDS)
    the resurrection of the body, (LDS)
    and life everlasting. (LDS)

    The only meaningful difference I see between LDS theology and the Apostles Creed is the belief in the uniquely true nature of our organization/authority. Everything else is, to paraphrase Neal Maxwell’s interview with Hugh Hewitt, “substantially compatibile”.

  35. I believe it really comes down to “you believe different from me, thus you aren’t a Christian.” I disagree with thus line of reasoning, hopefully for obvious reasons.

  36. Antonio, if we recognize that the “holy catholic church” has often been defined to be exclusive — it is the universal church of all people who believe the right way — even that problem may fall away. I think the Nicene Creed is somewhat tougher, but nonetheless a relatively similar exercise could be undertaken.

  37. Todd Wood, I think the Bible clearly defines Yahweh as the tribal (storm?) God of the Hebrews who the Hebrews later come to see as a universal God and then the universal God. Coordinating that with Christian belief is a nontrivial problem, and one for which Christians and Mormons have offered a lot of different solutions…

    BHodges, I’m afraid that the reasons aren’t necessarily obvious. Some differences of belief must clearly be sufficient to justify withholding the label “Christian.”

  38. Todd,

    Who do I blame for broadbrushing all evangelicals as “creedal Christians?”

    I suppose you blame who ever is doing that. I rarely use the term “creedal Christians,” but if I did it would be to describe Christians who are committed to the creeds, not the ones who are not. If I kept demanding that you were a creedal Christian after you had demonstrated that you are not committed to the creeds, I would expect you to accuse me of using words in a strange way.

  39. BHodges,
    Is Diane Drufenbrock a Christian? What about Camilo Torres Restrepo?

  40. I liked Helen Whitney’s observation in the August, 2007 Sunstone:

    “In all honesty, do Mormons truly believe that Christians are truly Christian? Not if you take your theology seriously. There is a sense that you want it both ways.”

  41. In all honesty, do Mormons truly believe that Christians are truly Christian?

    The answer to Helen’s question is yes, we do believe they are Christians. We just think they are theologically mistaken Christians.

    I don’t mind being considered a heretical Christian by creedal Christians. I certainly am that by their standards because I reject the creeds. But being a heretical Christian is different than not being a Christian at all. As I mentioned, accusing us of the latter amounts to little more that cheap and dirty marketing tactics in my opinion.

  42. I should also mention Kim Ostman’s essay on 19th century Mormon attitudes toward Christianity and Christian identity, published about a year ago in BYUS. While the argument is far from cut and dry, I think it’s fair to say that Parley Pratt, Brigham Young, et al, would be more than a little befuddled at the current Church PR campaign… among other things ;)

  43. Antomio,

    Very good analysis of the apostles creed thru an LDS lense. Spot on….

    JNS I think the Nicene creed is much more problematic. I invite you to try and reconcile it to LDS beliefs. Would be fun to read.

    I personally like to paint with a really broad brush what the definition of Christian is to include anybody who essentially believes in the virgin birth and the resurrection.

    Pastor Todd. Its interesting to note that most of my evangelical friends here in TX do not believe in the Nicene Creed. They simply cannot get their heads around the concept. I have sat thru long bible studies where they try and hash it out and come to no conclusion. Many will admit to envisioning God the Father and Jesus as 2 seperate beings

  44. Not to threadjack, bbell, but do you really consider the virgin birth to be as significant as the resurrection? I mentioned vb in an earlier comment because I know it’s considered to be a central belief by most traditional christians. I’m not concerned here with arguments about the veracity of vb claims, but would you really consider someone who believed in the resurrection but not the vb to not be a Christian?

  45. bbell and Brad, it’s worth noting that a meaningful group of Mormons — most famously including Brigham Young — don’t believe in the virgin birth, since they think Mary was physically impregnated by God the Father.

    bbell, here’s the Nicene Creed, annotated as Antonio did for the Apostle’s Creed above:

    I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible. [LDS acceptable, with the caveat that all this creating was via Jesus, Michael, etc. -- but this creed makes that same caveat in the next paragraph.]

    And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God [LDS acceptable], begotten of the Father before all worlds [LDS acceptable]; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God [LDS acceptable]; begotten, not made [LDS acceptable, although we'd also claim that all humans were begotten not made], being of one substance with the Father [probably LDS acceptable, since this is basically what we mean when we talk about Jesus and the Father being one in purpose, character, personality, power, etc. -- only in Aristotelian language], by whom all things were made [LDS acceptable].

    Who, for us men and for our salvation [LDS acceptable], came down from heaven [LDS acceptable], and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary [mostly LDS acceptable, although there is an important minority that would balk at this], and was made man [LDS acceptable]; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate [LDS acceptable]; He suffered and was buried [LDS acceptable]; and the third day He rose again [LDS acceptable], according to the Scriptures [LDS acceptable]; and ascended into heaven [LDS acceptable], and sits on the right hand of the Father [LDS acceptable]; and He shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead [LDS acceptable]; whose kingdom shall have no end [LDS acceptable].

    And I believe in the Holy Ghost [LDS acceptable], the Lord and Giver of Life [Strange vocabulary for LDS folks, but the sentiment is probably fine]; who proceeds from the Father and the Son [LDS acceptable]; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified [Maybe LDS acceptable, but maybe not; I don't think we have a consensus on this point]; who spoke by the prophets [LDS acceptable].

    And I believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church [LDS acceptable, if we understand that this has often meant something a lot like "one true church for all genuine believers."]. I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins [LDS acceptable]; and I look for the resurrection of the dead [LDS acceptable], and the life of the world to come [LDS acceptable]. Amen [Oh, wait, HERE's the blasphemy. It didn't close "In the name of..."].

    It’s a creed that most Mormons would almost entirely accept, right?

  46. By the way, the creed that I’m guessing bbell had in mind is the Athanasian Creed, which discusses the doctrine of God and of Jesus Christ. It’s even trickier than the Nicene Creed — but if you know about some of the Aristotelian philosophical preconceptions behind it and are willing to translate those concepts into Mormonspeak, even it is less problematic for us than it initially seems. In particular, bbell, your friends who imagine God and Jesus as two persons are good Athanasians. The creed explicitly defines them as two persons, but also as one God. They’re separate in person and being but unified in power and kind. It’s a lot like how we think of them as two people who are one in personality, priesthood, and purpose.

  47. JNS,

    As you know its the “one substance” part where we part ways with the Nicene creed. See section 130 for further clarification.

    As for the virgin birth I do think its important but not as important as the resurrection. They seem to go together. In practice many western mainline churches have done away with the VB and R. Its a line that essentially should not be crossed in my own view if you want to….

    A: Remain Christian in my own exalted view
    B: Retain members of your church

  48. I also think that people who take both the Lectures on Faith and section 130 seriously should probably exercise some restraint in describing any Christian creeds as “confusing,” or “incomprehensible.”

  49. Fwiw, I think the “creeds” mentioned in the First Vision are not the Apostles Creed (might as well be the preface to our Articles of Faith) – or primarily the Nicene Creed (some serious problems, but also some stuff that easily could come out of Sunday School) – but rather stuff like the Westminster Confession, which is really screwy from a Mormon perspective and doctrinally constitutes more “abominable effects of the Apostasy” than the ancient creeds.

  50. #46,
    Even if it’s treated by some as a single line, there is no principle, doctrine, or even formal assertion that I’m aware of that links the resurrection inextricably with the vb. I see two lines here, and would be much more inclined to question the “christianity” of someone who dismisses the resurrection than the vb.

  51. bbell, I think Mormons typically misunderstand the “one substance” stuff. We don’t really disagree with it, we just don’t know what it is. If we did, we’d be less directly inclined to disagree. In particular, nothing in D&C 130 contradicts the notion of “one substance,” which is a translation of the term ousia and really means something like “one species” not “one person.” Thus, Aristotle solved a problem of Platonic philosophy by explaining that humanity as a whole is one ousia.

  52. JNS,
    If “one ousia” doesn’t contradict sect. 130, does it implicitly contradict KFD, which arguably makes God and man one “ousia”?

  53. Latter-day Guy says:

    JNS, 44,

    Do you really think that most LDS would accept the “filioque”? Or that the Holy Spirit “proceeds from” anything, for that matter? I would need a more explicit explanation of that phrase to be able to get behind it.

  54. So, if we do actually accept the creeds after all, then NOW are they merely wrong for excluding us based on our not accepting the creeds?

  55. Brad, that’s a great question. The Nicene Creed doesn’t say that God and humanity aren’t one ousia. But it’s authors would probably reject the claim, even so. Nonetheless, our problem there isn’t with the content of the creed, but rather possibly with some other beliefs. Furthermore, some Mormons such as our own J. Stapley think that the KFD actually makes God and humanity two ousias.

    LdG, the fifth Lecture on Faith uses pretty similar language about the Holy Spirit. The filioque is probably not a particularly LDS sort of problem, since we have no problem with a “light of Christ,” and we want a very high Christology. So this probably is a set of ideas that falls within the Mormon tradition, even if not all Mormons would accept these ideas — although I don’t know if we really object to them or if we maybe just haven’t thought that much about them. We don’t have too much doctrine about the Holy Spirit, really.

    Jacob, no, because we still call the creeds abominations, incomprehensible, etc. So we reject them even though we agree with most of what they say.

  56. Antonio Parr says:

    The virgin birth part should not be tricky, as Brigham’s observations seem completely off-the-wall.

    Can I still be a good Latter-Day Saint if I am the kind that rejects the notion that God had sexual intercourse with his daughter Mary? I sure hope so, because that is the only kind of Latter-Day Saint that I am!

  57. JNS, true enough. I was only joking around in #53, hopefully that comes through.

  58. Cheers, Jacob. When will the internet get around to installing that irony font again?

  59. Adam Greenwood says:

    JNS,
    you seem to be arguing that if you can accurately characterize something as a power play, you therefore cannot judge the truth value. Disagree. For instance, the claim that Mormonism is Christianity plus is both a powerplay and also true.

  60. Antonio Parr says:

    Watch it, JNS. I detect a power play on the part of Adam Greenwood.

    That is, if that is his real name . . .

  61. Adam, it’s only true given your prior definitional commitments. But there’s nothing objective about those commitments. Definitions don’t have a truth value. (Even ones I share.)

  62. Antonio, that’s twice that you’ve made me smile today. Your grandpa Jack would be proud.

  63. Adam Greenwood says:

    JNS,
    maybe, but I don’t think truth and falsehood are totally a matter of private definition. Even if I define Christian as ‘addlepated vegan’ I’m still wrong to say that my Catholic neighbors aren’t Christians because my definition is so far from the range of meanings usually associated with the term.

    Given the range of meanings usually associated with ‘christian’ I think its misleading to say Mormons aren’t Christians, full stop, but its also misleading to say Mormons are Christians, full stop. I think saying Mormons aren’t Christians is more misleading, but you’re still better off saying something like ‘radically heterodox Christians’ or ‘marginal Christians.’ I wouldn’t use that last myself but I think it would be very accurate of Nicene christians to do so.

    No amount of argument, however, will convince me that there’s any justification for saying that Mormons believe in ‘a different Jesus.’

  64. Adam, I agree on the “different Jesus” argument, which seems very poor indeed.

    I’m not arguing that truth and falsehood are of private definition. But they are relative to a system of concepts. In the present debate, one relatively widespread system of concepts really does exist that doesn’t have any room for Mormons. Because a lot of people think that Christians have to accept the creeds, believe in only the Bible as scripture, be monotheists, etc., there really is a sense in which it isn’t misleading to say Mormons aren’t Christians, full stop. Because we violate several core definitional attributes.

  65. Nick Literski says:

    Heh..I always sort of enjoyed the “you believe in a different Jesus” remark. I always responded with, “Well, that may be. I believe in Jesus Christ, who is the son of god.”

  66. Adam Greenwood says:

    We’ll have to disagree, JNS. I think most people in this country have several elements in their definition of Christian, many of which we meet and many of which we don’t, and in my experience they tend to assume that we don’t meet any of them when told we aren’t Christian.

  67. When analyzing the creeds its all the caveats, the exceptions, the implications, and the between-the-lines stuff that sets us apart. These are exactly the issues that get focused on.

    I think that this whole discussion has demonstrated the impossibility of reconciliation. Just like you said in your original post “this is an essentially contested concept” which means that at its heart is aweb of fundamentally complicated issues that cannot be unraveled.

    Anyway, isn’t the whole idea of Christianity exclusionary? Christianity exists precisely because it excludes others.

  68. About 99 percent of the Christian world defines itself in terms of the Nicene Creed. Mormons should proudly proclaim themselves to be “ante-Nicene” Christians. Precision eliminates confusion.

  69. When I grew up in the Church in the 50s & 60s, Faith in Jesus Christ was not core. The Priesthood and Ordinances were, Works not Faith were, etc. But the earthly actions of Jesus (the Atonement) was not. It was your earthly actions, not Grace, that determined your Salvation. There was a different and wider view.

  70. When I grew up in the Church back in the same general time as Bob, faith in Jesus Christ was core. The Priesthood and ordinances were very important. Works were seen as the fruits of faith. The earthly actions of Jesus that many members associate with the Atonement were the very center of the core. It was your earthly exercise of faith that determined your degree of inherited glory, and it was Grace that gave you the foundational salvation upon which to work out your exaltation.

    I can’t address the last sentence, since I have no idea what it means.

  71. Kevin Barney says:

    On whether or to what extent Mormons can accept the Nicene Creed, you may find this post by Ronan of interest.

  72. Re 8: (From the CNN interview)

    Earl C. Tingey: “There’s no such term as Mormon fundamentalist.”

    Now there is an interesting metaphysical position… (smile)

  73. Assuming he was quoted correctly…

  74. Nick Literski says:

    I’m sure he was quoted correctly, since Gordon Hinckley has said publicly that there is “no such thing” as a Mormon Fundamentalist.

  75. and they are correct, based on our own definition of those words – which kind of brings us full circle back to the original post.

  76. Adam #65, by telling these people that we are Christian, we’re telling them to prioritize the definitional traits we do have over the ones we lack. You and I can agree that the ones we do have are the important ones, but we can’t necessarily make other people agree.

  77. #69: I can’t speak to your experience, but I know mine. Works were always more important than Faith. Churches that put Faith/Grace above Works, were looked down on. The Church was ‘true’ because it had power (the Restoration of Authority) to do needed Works: Baptism, Temple Ordinances, and taught you would be judged by your good deeds/works. You “worked out your exaltation”, though your Works or Temple Ordinances, and keeping your Covenants until the end. Seldom was Salvation though Jesus/Grace taught. Mother’s Day (works) was the big Holiday, not Easter of Christmas.

  78. My point, Bob, was that no individual can generalize about what the Church was “back in the day” or what it is “in this day and age” – since all of us view it according to the perspective we had “back in the day” or what we have “in this day and age.” I doubt seriously that MikeinWeHo, JNS, Steve Evans, Adam Greenwood, FMHLisa, Tracy M, you and I would describe the Church now in identical terms – so trying to assert that “back in the day” the Church was one particular thing just doesn’t hold up the roof.

    Frankly, that’s one of the things about Mormonism that dives evangelicals batty – that we couldn’t care less that we all don’t belief and vote in lockstep. They readily accept the hierarchical correlation, but they simply don’t understand the local lay latitude. When I lived in Alabama, it drove them stark-raving nuts when one “faithful” Mormon would say, “How dare you say that,” and another “faithful” Mormon would say, “So what?”

    JNS, is that an example of a broad and unfair stereotype – or is it a fair generalization?

  79. #77: My point is about why Jesus/Grace Christians might not think us Christian. Example: I was asked why it took Mormons so long to put a statue of Jesus in Temple Square?
    “No individual can generalize about what the Church was “back in the day”…That’s what Historians do.
    “We couldn’t care less that we all don’t belief and vote in lockstep.”..That’s a modern thought, and still not held by most Mormons. Most Mormons think they believe in the same things.

  80. Ugly Mahana says:

    And most do, at core. These things include the divine nature of Christ, the necessity of ordinances to tie ourselves to him, and the absolute lack of salvific power of ordinances without him. And, although I wasn’t there, I think this was true ‘back in the day,’ too. In fact, I think an apostle was excommunicated for suggesting otherwise.

  81. #79: I am just trying to stay on Topic: Why Christians don’t think of us as Christan.
    As I have seen and heard over time, The Bible and/or Christ have been the core for most (non-Catholic) Christan Faiths..it’s been their “draw’. Mormonism has had Mormonism as it’s ‘draw’, and only in the last few decades has moved to a more Christan Faith.

  82. Bob, if you are saying that only in the last few decades has the Church moved to a more focused public face that *emphasizes* the common ground we share with other Christians, then I can’t argue with that. If, however, you are saying that the Church didn’t teach Jesus (as our personal and collective Savior and Redeemer) and grace and the atonement and faith and our lost state without Him . . . until the last few decades, then we disagree.

  83. Bob is correct. As an investigating outsider, I can tell you that the grace v. works issue is a significant obstacle to mainstream acceptance of Mormons as Christian.

    The perception many Christian outsiders have — even if it is inaccurate, it is still the perception — is that Mormons place greater importance on their own earthly efforts to achieve salvation than they do on Jesus’ atonement. I was raised Lutheran, and it is true that the focus in Sunday school and in sermons was repentance of sins and accepting Christ as my savior and only means of salvation.

    However, after reading through many arguments on both sides of the issue, I’ve come to believe that much of the disagreement between Mormons and Protestants is semantic in nature, not substantive. No Protestant would say that a person’s actions are irrelevant to their salvation, and no Mormon (I don’t think) would say that Jesus’ sacrifice was is irrelevant. But the language used on either side could easily mislead the other. Without digging deeper and browsing the Bloggernacle, Protestants could reasonably conclude that Mormons think Christ’s sacrifice was merely incidental, not nearly as important as getting baptised in the correct church and paying tithe. Meanwhile, Mormons could reasonably conclude the Protestants believe that a person can commit whatever selfish deeds and sins he pleases so long as he remembers to pray to Jesus for forgiveness every night.

    Neither of those assertions would be accurate… But they wouldn’t be entirely INaccurate either. And I think that’s a significant barrier to understanding and acceptance.

  84. Well said, lurkgirl. It really is the perception that matters even more than the actual teachings.

    If you want another perspective on what you have articulated, send me an e-mail at fam7heav at juno dot com. I’ll give you a link.

  85. #82: I don’t know what it means when Ray and I both agree with you, only that you must be a great peace maker!

    #81: Yes the Church has moved, I don’t know why. I do know ‘Grace’ was not a word/part of the Mormonism I grew up in. Basically, we didn’t go beyond the Articles of Faith, (not Grace, but obeisance to the laws be saved)’ plus the Temple teachings/sealings for Exhalation. Everything else was a”Mystery”.

  86. I think we have come to a realization that most of our differences, which we each tended to emphasize in our earlier discussions, really are no more than semantic distinctions – that we now will be able to see and articulate those common areas that really form the majority of our views but were not expressed as openly and directly as in the past when we were arguing about our differences. I think we have moved away from the time when we had to define ourselves by highlighting our differences and toward an understanding that we both really are Mormons.

  87. Sorry, that last comment should have been addressed to Bob. It lost all of its intended humor when I forgot to make that explicit.

  88. I disagree with the conclusion made in the passage of the original entry[1] on the grounds that it takes things too far. The creeds were about discerning orthodox Christianity from heretical Christianity. In other words the Christianity of the losers who didn’t get to write history was never in question. The Christian baptism of heretical Christians was thought to be genuine. Therefore it would be incorrect to use a creed as part of an exclusionary definition, although that doesn’t stop those determined to do so.

    The real basis of the subjective definitions of Christianity among these groups is whether they consider one saved or not. There is no such thing as an unsaved Christian and failure to recognize salvific formulas as sufficient in between denominations or engage in sheep-stealing (a metaphor based on John 10:16) will get one excluded from the Christianity club.

    [1] These creeds were originally formulated in part as a way of distinguishing what participants in the councils wished to define as legitimate Christianity from the many variants of the early years — particularly those more mystical variants that early church fathers derided as gnostic. So there is a long tradition of regarding assent to these creeds as the litmus test of Christianity. Our interlocutors are not inventing post hoc definitional criteria to exclude Mormonism from the Christian camp; rather, they are using post hoc criteria invented millennia ago to exclude quite different religious ideas from the Christian community.

  89. I realize that I am oversimplifying in my second paragraph and it is better to let the other groups speak for themselves. But from an outsider’s perspective this is what many positions seem to boil down too. The Mormons don’t believe in X, Christians believe in Y juxtapositions are really just a front and can’t be maintained because it is always easy to find a non-Mormon Christian who also believes in X or a Mormon that believes in Y or that X isn’t a normative Mormon belief.

  90. What about Nestorian Christians?

  91. I think calling Mormons non-Christian without more is simply ridiculous and is done for purposes of polemical religious politics.

    I think you are right. What the Apostles object to is what is a denial that we believe in Christ, when we bear witness of him, his birth and resurrection.

    the grace v. works issue is a significant obstacle to mainstream acceptance of [Mormons] Catholics and Orthodox as Christian”

    I know, and that has always surprised me, how someone belonging to a group of 3-4 million can decide that the 400+ million Catholics and 200+ million Orthodox are not Christian because of the grace v. works issue.

    BTW http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nestorianism

    A very historically important branch of Christianity as many of the early Christians in history were Nestorians and they endure today, and are accepted as Christians.

    “The Assyrian Church of the East refused to drop support for Nestorius or to denounce him as a heretic. That church has continued to be called “Nestorian” in the West, to distinguish it from other ancient Eastern churches”

  92. Brad: Sure, if they believe they are Christian, believe they follow Christ, I won’t deny them their claim. I might strongly disagree with their particular agendas or views, but I’m not going to “kick them out of the Christian club,” if there was such a thing.

    I should also mention Kim Ostman’s essay on 19th century Mormon attitudes toward Christianity and Christian identity, published about a year ago in BYUS. While the argument is far from cut and dry, I think it’s fair to say that Parley Pratt, Brigham Young, et al, would be more than a little befuddled at the current Church PR campaign… among other things

    I’ve seen interesting views from them that would counter your approach. It seems it isn’t as black and white as we might like to believe.

    I tend to favor C.S. Lewis on this point:

    “It is not for us to say who, in the deepest sense, is or is not close to the spirit of Christ. We do not see into men’s hearts. We cannot judge, and are indeed forbidden to judge. It would be wicked arrogance for us to say that a man is, or is not, a Christian in this refined sense.” (Mere Christianity, Touchstone, 1996, pp. 10-11.)
    — C. S. Lewis

  93. Adam Greenwood says:

    JNS,
    no, I’m telling them that they need to stop spreading the impression that we don’t share the elements of their definition that we do in fact share.

  94. Adam Greenwood says:

    JNS,
    I’d really love to see you address the ousia/same substance and filioque points at greater length in a post.

    When it comes to the creeds being abominable, I think we have three options: the creeds in question are things like the Westminster Confession; it was the contemporary early 19th Century understanding of the creeds that was abominable; or it is abominable for men without authority to declare a doctrinal statement by which Christians shall be judged, even if their doctrine is correct.

  95. One question I have is if associating ourselves with the historical mantle of “Christianity” is really a net gain for Mormon proselyting efforts.

    Historical Christianity has an awful lot of ugly baggage attached to it that turns off a lot of people.

  96. Seth, I think the trouble is that people who hear “the LDS Church is not Christian” will have the impression that they don’t believe in, worship Christ, which is inaccurate. I doubt the common person who hears the assertion will take the time to consider theological implications. Rather, people are apt to just take it at face value: Mormons don’t believe in Jesus Christ, or Mormons don’t believe Jesus is God.

    In that regard, being thought of as “Christian” is important, because we do believe in Christ.

  97. My view is a little different: The real beef started when Joseph Smith’s claimed only he could make you a “Christan”. Only he had the power to Baptize, and you needed that/him (later his Priesthood holders) to be a Christan. He followed this by saying only he (or his Priesthood holders) could give someone the powers of the Holy Ghost and any of it’s charismatic figures.

  98. Stephen M, I don’t think anyone makes that call based on the grace v. works issue alone; I only meant to suggest that it is a relevant issue to many, as Bob suggested. And you’re right: the same issue is sometimes contentious between Protestants and Catholics as well, not just Mormons and [insert religion here].

    By the way, who’s the 3-4 million? Perhaps I have missed your point, but I don’t think the size of the membership of any religion is evidence of the validity of its doctrine. I’m not sure if you meant to imply such or not, but I sort of got that impression. Sorry if I’ve misunderstood.

    Ray, Thanks. I’ll send you an email.

  99. I accidentally deleted the part where I speculate that your 4 million is in reference to American Lutherans. If you meant something else, please share.

  100. #96 Bob: Your post regarding Joseph Smith shows a lack of understanding of his views on other religion; especially in the Nauvoo period.

    His sayings regarding other religions are in some of the most basic books regarding Joseph Smith the Church has published.

    Strangely, these views are seldom if ever (I’ve never seen them) presented by people strongly critical of Joseph Smith. I am forced at this point to conclude you have either missed key evidence to the contrary of your opinion, or disregarded it.

  101. I’ll only add that when Pres. Benson condemned the church for not reading and making the Book of Mormon central to our worship, Grace became a more acceptable term in the church. However, the teachings about the atonement and grace were there all along. We perhaps didn’t recognize it in the same way we do now.

  102. #99: The thread is about how non-Mormons feel.
    #96 is my view based on non-Mormon books or newspaper articles of the time.
    Also, #3,4,5 of the Articles of Faith seems to show Joseph Smith felt Salvation came by way of God giving Authority, not Grace. I am unclear as to his new views in Nauvoo.
    Yes..I do miss stuff, but I really try not to disregard anything.

  103. 101: You implied Joseph Smith would deny people the right or privilege to call themselves “Christian.” Thus far you have advanced evidence that Joseph Smith disagreed with certain doctrines of other faiths, but not that he has denied anyone the right to believe they are a Christian, or be called by that title. I have seen considerable evidence to the contrary.

  104. #102: If I have been unclear, I am sorry for that. I have always tried to be simple with/in my statements, and hopefully, kind in my tone.
    I firmly believe Joseph Smith believed as he stated in his #11 Article of Faith. I believe he worked hard on #13, but failed…as we all do.
    I don’t know what words Joseph would use today. I believe he would said to be a “Christan’, you must have Faith, Repentance, Baptism, and the Gift of the Holy Ghost. I don’t believe he denied ( or would deny) the right or privilege of anyone to *call* themselves whatever they want. ( Nor do I).

  105. I don’t believe he’d deny them Christianity.

    (Parenthetically, JS wasn’t the originator of the AoF, they were first written by Orson Pratt and later reworked by the prophet.)

  106. #104: And Talmage. Funny, I use to talk hours with my Evangelic friend who’s statement was: ” Believe in Christ and you are saved.” (Me)”You mean all this ‘stuff’ Mormons add does not “unsave” me/them?’…Nope.

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