This is the conclusion to a 3-part series from guest author Adam J. Powell, a PhD student at Durham University. His multidisciplinary work analyses the role of opposition in the development of identity and soteriological beliefs among second-century Christians and early Mormons. The first and second parts of this series can be found here and here, respectively.
Having recounted the shortcomings of Hugh Nibley’s use of Irenaeus in the previous post, three additional LDS figures will now be discussed. The 1970’s and 80’s witnessed two Mormon thinkers who significantly propelled the move away from an emphasis on the Great Apostasy to a focus on Patristic theology. Keith Norman and Philip Barlow both took on the task of drawing comparisons between the early Christian concept of theosis and the Mormon doctrines of eternal progression and exaltation. In doing so, each espoused the notion that the earliest forms of deification gradually morphed in order to become more compatible with the orthodox Christian belief in creation ex nihilo. In an article for Sunstone, Norman said, ‘…the principal reason the doctrine of Divinization could not survive in the church’s theology proper was that it conflicted with the doctrine of creation ex nihilo to which most “orthodox” Christians adhered by the middle of the third century.’ This followed his claim that Irenaeus was the ‘first explicit advocate of divinization’. In fairness, Norman published an article (‘Ex Nihilo: The Development of the Doctrines of God and Creation in Early Christianity,’ BYU Studies 17 (Spring 1977)) a bit later in which he explicitly claims Irenaeus as the first Christian to formulate a creatio ex nihilo doctrine. The confusion, however, still remains. How can Irenaeus be an early proponent of both creatio ex nihilo and theosis if the two doctrines are fundamentally incompatible? [Read more...]