God (by RJH)

I was asked a lot of questions on John’s Trinity post and will answer some of them here. Let me state from the outset that I do not claim certainties in matters of theology, and would have no authority to proclaim them anyway. I think my beliefs are genuinely Mormon but perhaps expressed in unusual ways; we can certainly disagree and remain fellows. Systematic theologies are impossible to fully attain, especially in Mormonism. Thankfully, we are not judged by what we know but by what we do.

Q: Are you a monotheist?


Q: I thought you were a Bible scholar? Isn’t the Hebrew Bible closer to henotheism?

In parts, yes, but not believing in biblical inerrancy I can believe that the theology of Deuteronomy 6:4 represents an emergent truth. Monotheism was the theism of Jesus’ Judaism and he does not challenge it.

Q: Do you believe in the Trinity?

Yes, inasmuch as it refers to the Godhead of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

Q: Mormons don’t believe in the Trinity though, do they? 

They prefer the term Godhead, but yes, they do: “God the Father, His Son, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost constitute the Godhead or Trinity for Mormons.”[1]

Q: You’re obfuscating a little, aren’t you? Mormons don’t believe in the “One Substance” Trinity! 

Most claim not to, although they probably don’t really know what that is supposed to mean (neither, incidentally, do most traditional Christians).[2] However, the absolute unity of the Father and the Son are very much proclaimed by Mormon scripture.[3]

Q: This surely refers to a social unity, but as they have separate physical bodies, they cannot be of one substance.

Depends. The council of Chalcedon is solidly orthodox and analogises the consubstantiation (homoousios) of the Father and the Son with the consubstantiation of the Son and humanity.[4] Jesus Christ has a divine nature and a human nature; He is consubstantial with us and with the Father. This does not mean that my body is literally Christ’s body, of course, nor that the Son’s body is literally the Father’s body. What many forget about the orthodox Trinitarian doctrine is that while the Father and the Son are One God, the Father is not the Son, and the Son is not the Father.

Q: So, the Father and the Son have separate bodies but are consubstantial?

Sure. I mean, who knows? I don’t claim this would satisfy the theologians at Tübingen but we all see through a glass darkly. Incidentally, an interesting proponent of Christ’s “heavenly flesh” is Stephen Webb whose Catholicism and belief in homoousios do not seem threatened by it.

Q: How can there be co-inherence or indwelling of physical bodies?

As far as I understand things, indwelling refers to the ministry of the Holy Spirit and is explained by D&C 130:22. What you mean is how can a Father and Son with separate physical bodies co-inhere with each other (the fancy word is perichoresis)? Our Mormon imaginations are sufficient here, if we would but use them. All spirit is matter and all matter is spirit (D&C 131:7). Just as a refined spirit (physical) body can defy normal physical properties, so can they “mingle” with each other.

Q: Aren’t you just trying to make Mormonism more mainstream?

I don’t think so. I just think we shouldn’t create barriers to communion with other Christians which aren’t really there. That would seem to make an idol out of difference. There are more interesting things that make us distinct (for example, “heavenly flesh”).

Q: Can humans become gods?

Yes. Through the grace of Christ and our faith we can become partakers of the divine nature. We are still contingent for that on God, however, which is what makes us fundamentally different to God. This is fully compatible with monotheism.

Q: I thought we weren’t ontologically different to God. Are we not literally his spirit children?

Depends what you mean by literally. Mormons are in a muddle here because the Nauvoo theology is fragmentary and undeveloped. I am not convinced that the idea of viviparous (gestation in a womb) spirit birth is part of Joseph Smith’s cosmology.[5] Much turns on the notion that the Father was once a man as if we are of the same species just at different stages of development. Firstly, God was very much once a man — Jesus — but that doesn’t say much about whether we are womb-gestated/gene-inheriting spirit children of God as opposed to uncreated intelligences adopted and refined and made into the children of God.

Even if we take it the way Smith seems to take it (and it’s worth remembering that the June 1844 discourses are not canonical) then the Father was once a man the way the Son was once a man. Again, this does not make us of the same “race.” We share Jesus’ human nature but his divine nature only contingently. I believe that God has had a divine nature eternally; the homo sapiens genus (and its premortal form) has not. The latter is rather obvious, the former I cannot prove, only to say that we would strip titles such as “Eternal” from God of any meaning whatsoever if we were to finesse it too much. All of this brings us back to the first point: there is only one “God” god.

Q: But if we are gods, and the Son and the Holy Spirit are gods, then there is more than one God!

Again, no. The Son and the Holy Spirit are two persons of the one God, sharing the same “substance” as the Father (parse this as you wish). As for us, our destiny is to become kings and queens to the Most High God. We are different, have always been different, and will be different forever, worlds without end. There are gods and there is God. That is not polytheism.

Q: What about Heavenly Mother?

I will freely admit that this problematises things. If there is a Mother alongside Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, then the whole Godhead — even as presented by the Mormon church — needs a radical rethink. Perhaps one way to do that is to see “Father” as Father/Mother and concede that our inherited patriarchal language has obscured things. That fact is that we have no canonical source for her existence. The way she is currently conceived seems to come straight out of the polygamy doctrine; outside of polygamy, I don’t know what to make of it. That doesn’t mean there is no divine feminine, however.

Perhaps a more radical proposition is to say that the Father and the Son are experienced phenomenally by us as human and male, and perhaps always will be, but God’s species and gender as a noumenal matter are something else entirely. Remember, not only do we see through a glass darkly but, per D&C 19, God can also lead us to believe something about him, in good faith, which is not strictly true! Mostly, we should try not to reify human words such as “male” and “female” into celestial realities. Honestly, I don’t know what it would mean to say that God has an XY chromosome. I suppose we need to wait for further light and knowledge.

Q: What is the Holy Ghost?

To human sight (phenomenal) he can be a personage of spirit. To human spiritual sense (also phenomenal), the indwelling presence of God in the world. His noumenal character? No idea.

Q: What do you think of the creeds?

Inasmuch as they stifle thought, become weapons for persecution, or make God into a mess of theo-babble, they are an abomination. Of course, Mormonism is also dependent on the creeds.  Much that was taken for granted by Joseph Smith had been settled by centuries of Christian dogma before him. Mormonism does not completely re-invent the Christian wheel. The Apostles’ Creed has nothing that should cause Mormons alarm, properly understood.

Q: Are you a heretic? 

If you can’t avoid stumbling on words like homoousios and find them wholly un-Mormon, you will probably think me heretical. However, if we move past easy assumptions about Mormon belief, we might find there are fresh interpretations to enjoy. Mostly I will admit to not knowing anything for sure. In matters of theology, we should all be humble. I would also say that there is not one monolithic Mormonism. Fielding Smith/McConkie Mormonism was not always, nor either still is, the only Mormonism in town. (Same goes for Book of Mormon Mormonism or Nauvoo Mormonism or CES Mormonism.)

Q: What thing about God confuses you the most?

The problem of evil. This arises because of the omnipotence/omniscience/omni-benevolence problem and seems intrinsic to questions such as creation ex nihilo. Much of what I have expressed above seems to make God the Prime Mover in some way, which is at odds with this Nauvoo-y idea that God, having already found the universe in movement, tries to bend it towards the good. I like both ideas but simply lack the philosophical chops to sort it all out.

Q: Joseph Smith taught that we must know the character of God. Can you say you know his character?

Indeed we must know it, but in what way? God is known through the one thing that does not fail: charity. The parable of the sheep and goats requires no knowledge of Greek or careful criticism of the King Follet Discourse to understand. The character of God is revealed in our response to the poor wayfaring man of grief. The rest is fun but not essential. With the above I am simply trying to show both the latitude available in Mormon belief and that mainstream Christianity is not always wholly Other.

Q. Any final thoughts?

My guiding principle here is Paul Tillich’s notion of “God Above God.” All of this God-talk is to create a religious grammar in which God becomes the object of a knowing subject — the human being that attempts to describe him. This is an unfortunate reversal of what really ought to be the proper subject-object relationship between God and man. “God” is above any “God of theism,” who must always remain limited and incomplete. That is not to say that revelation cannot reveal God but that words can never adequately express that revelation when it comes.

1. http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/mormonism-101

2. http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2014/october-web-only/new-poll-finds-evangelicals-favorite-heresies.html

3. https://www.lds.org/scriptures/bofm/mosiah/15.1-5#0

4. Ecumenical IV (against the Monophysites): Definition of the Two Natures of Christ: “[The Son] is consubstantial with the Father according to divinity, and consubstantial with us according to human nature.”

5. https://bycommonconsent.com/2012/10/23/a-wildly-popular-folk-belief/



  1. I much appreciate this posting!

  2. cookie queen says:

    Yep. Like.

  3. Forgot to add this:

    Q. Any final thoughts?

    My guiding principle here is Paul Tillich’s notion of “God Above God.” All of this God-talk is to create a religious grammar in which God becomes the object of a knowing subject — the human being that attempts to describe him. This is an unfortunate reversal of what really ought to be the proper subject-object relationship between God and man. “God” is above any “God of theism,” who must always remain limited and incomplete. That is not to say that revelation cannot reveal God but that words can never adequately express that revelation when it comes.

  4. Thanks Ronan, I appreciate you taking the time to respond to the questions. I find the ideas of an Eternal Father – God from eternity to all eternity – and of a Heavenly Mother, both good and compelling. But I struggle to reconcile the two. I wonder if the reluctance to speak authoritatively about a Heavenly Mother is because to do so would paint us into a bit of a corner regarding the nature of the Father.

  5. RJH – this is wonderful. Thank you for taking time to draft this post. I like the question and answer format. I find great comfort and clarity in a lot of what you articulate here. I think you are correct in your comment above that “words can never adequately express that revelation when it comes.” And I suspect we may all be surprised in the hereafter about who and what God is.

    But still, we try, don’t we? Forgive the lengthy comment here, if you can, but this is important to me, so want to take time to try to articulate my feelings and thoughts in response to your post.

    In this post, we see, once again, that when it comes to conversations about the nature of God, patriarchy is the fuel that feeds the fire around which we dance – day in and day out. I’m tired of this dance. I guess that means I’m squarely in the henotheism camp. Although I would agree that our monotheistic “God” as Mormonism defines it can only exist via the successful union of a woman and a man. So, any time we use the term God, we are talking about both The Father and The Mother, who are one with the Son.

    If it is true (which I believe it is) that our existence here is a “type” of our existence in heaven; mortality being a coarse and fallen mirror image of a more refined exalted sphere, then I find the lack of inclusion of female deity grossly negligent in religious dogma. I also find many of the posts here at BCC grossly negligent of feminist viewpoints. Furthermore, I have no reason to believe that the doctrine of Heavenly Mother is in any way related to polygamy. Polygamy is a purely male construct, initiated and instituted by males in positions of power. As practiced in the present day, polygamy represents among the worst forms of sex cults. I’m open to the possibility that the motivation in early church history for polygamy (regardless of who initiated the practice) was similar to our day.

    If we believe that the heavens are open in ways previously not opened before as a result of the restoration, then we can safely assume that our hearts and minds as disciples of Christ will be open to truth in ways in which human hearts and minds may never have been open before. If you were to poll female readers of this blog, you may find that many women (and perhaps a few men) have had what we would call revelatory experiences of Heavenly Mother. Or at least a witness of Her presence or existence.

    I don’t need to read or review any of the numerous creeds drafted by all-male counsels to work out an understanding of the nature of God. From what I remember from “Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith,” I would do well to spend all my spare energy seeking to understand the nature of God. And, following JS’s example of how to do that, what I need is time, desire, the spirit of prophecy, and a little courage coupled with an open mind to begin to discover or uncover this truth.

    Reading these well-drafted and thoughtful posts at BCC about the nature of God and our belief as Mormons has been educational and thought provoking. But what is most compelling about all of it is that the vast majority of us seem to be comfortable going round and round the patriarchal fire without ever asking, if perhaps, there are other fires burning elsewhere, fueled by something other than man-made creeds.

    Additionally, if we want to talk about consubstantiation and perichoresis, and connect that with the idea that earth life is a metaphor for heavenly life, we might do well to talk about The Mother.


  6. RJH- P.S. The next time you’re on this side of the pond, let’s chat over lunch, shall we?

  7. Adam K. K. Figueira says:

    This uses a lot of big words I don’t know and don’t have time to learn, but I like the sense of it.

  8. Thomas Parkin says:

    I believe that the Godhead is more like a Bishopric, Melody. A counsel formed to govern over this world. The truly Eternal unity is between Father and Mother.

  9. Thomas Parkin says:

    I should also say that I believe that Heavenly Mother is a full participant, and that the counsels that are established include other gods, both male and female.

  10. Thomas, I see where your image or idea might work. I suppose if mortality is doomed to male-domination, then a benevolent patriarchal Godhead is palatable. But I’m a big dreamer and benevolent patriarchy is an oxymoron. Maybe we could call it a telestial model. That fits better for me.

  11. Thomas, as to your second comment, amen, brother. Thanks for thoughts.

  12. I love the post, Ronan: everything seems delivered in the spirit of charity, designed to provoke discussion, not disagreement.

    I’ll agree with Melody here. Mormon theology has given us very few tools for thinking about what feminine theosis really means, except in male-centric terms. I believe that this needs to change. (Also, I love that Melody followed her challenging comment up with an invitation to break bread. That seems exactly right to me.)

  13. Thomas Parkin says:

    I think we tend to project ourselves upward. When polygamy was the norm, heaven was polygamist. Now that the nuclear family is the norm, we somehow see heaven as a reflection of that. What a ‘forever family’ actually looks like is probably something else. Kind of like you have a picture in your mind of what the destination looks like, then when you get there you see that it has all the features described to you, but looks completely different. On the other hand, I also like what you say about mortality being a reflection, or type, of heaven. (A broken reflection!) And I think that while feminism as a construct sometimes does not really embrace all truth (as all constructs are), the feminist impulse is based in light and truth coming into the world, and it surely should radically alter our view of what heaven must be life.

  14. Thanks, Jason. And to further clarify: RJH, you are among my favorite people on the planet, even having never met you in person. And, for me, the greatest compliment to one’s friend(s) is a willingness to challenge and or disagree in some way(s) with one another. Thank you for your friendship. And thank you again for the time you take to offer up your heart and mind in a public forum. That goes for you, RJH, and all the folks here at BCC.

  15. melody,
    Your comment stopped me in my tracks and I would now add a new response. Our God-talk is almost entirely masculine and comes almost entirely out of masculine mouths. You are right, that is a terrible problem and it needs to be addressed. For me, the Cosmic Uterus that seems to be implied by D&C 132 is not the solution. I much prefer a “Father” = “Father/Mother” model, but of course it remains wildly speculative. There simply must be a divine feminine. Must be. Thanks, as ever.

  16. Thanks for this, Ronan. Even if I–a proud alumni of Nauvoo Theological Seminary, and a disciple of Parley Pratt–don’t fully agree with it, I can still appreciate your formulation.

  17. Thanks and you’re welcome, Ronan. God bless.

  18. I appreciate your thinking here Ronan and taking the time to explain it more fully. I agree with Thomas though, I see the Godhead as a council, because that is how Joseph described it:

    The head God called together the Gods, and they sat in grand council. The grand councilors sat in yonder heavens and contemplated the creation of the worlds that were created at that time.

    I am also unconvinced that our God, our Elohim, is the only head God. That council of Gods need not include only Elohim, Jehovah, the Holy Spirit, Adam, and the many noble and great ones who would serve on this Earth. I suspect it is possible many women – gender is eternal – sat in that council as well. One way of reading that statement above is to see it saying that a council came together and discussed plans for a new world based on the creation of other worlds that were already created. Who created those worlds? Were they under the stewardship of our God or another head God, a peer or more progressed God? Who had stewardship over the worlds that had previously been created and the pattern that was followed?

    Joseph spoke of many Gods and the Book of Abraham speaks of many Gods. There is insufficient clarity in the canon and in the incomplete teachings of Nauvoo to state with certainty that there is not an ever expanding hierarchy of Gods moving through progression line upon line and grace for grace and that He of whom we read in the scriptures and who interacts with us is the head God for our existence. This to me conforms with the idea that each of us can progress and become as the Gods in our own right.

    I can appreciate what you are attempting in expanding the vocabulary and trying to break down walls between us and other mainstream Christian orthodoxies but I think most Mormons and open minded Christians will still feel that you are grasping at straws here. Because as you’ve noted, few Christians and practically zero Mormons understand the concept of consubstantiation. Even though, as a Frenchman would say, your ideas have reason.

  19. Naturally, I’m not going to admit to grasping at straws (who would?) so I’ll let that go!

    I call it “mere consubstantiation” and I think it wholly compatible with basic Mormon and Christian dogma. To my own satisfaction, I have demonstrated that.

    You and others — in good faith — come along and drop some statement or another from the KFD into the argument as if it proves everything. I am still waiting for someone to explain to me why that need be so.

    On the one side we have centuries of Christian tradition, a common sense reading of the New Testament, the Book of Mormon, and virtually every public pronouncement about God and Jesus the church ever makes. On the other we have this fragmentary, poorly understood, non-canonical stuff from June 1844 and that is supposed to be the trump card. I mean this in all honesty — I don’t see it!

    If this theology is so central to Mormonism, why does the church not talk about it? You have two options: the church is dishonest about what it really believes or it doesn’t really believe it.

    Now, I happen to believe that this Nauvoo stuff is perfectly Mormon; I just don’t think it negates the other possible Mormonisms, one of which I have articulated here.

  20. I might add that I have no problem with the idea of God and gods (and councils of gods, archangels, angels, and what-not). For me, that says nothing about God’s ontological uniqueness. Others see it as claiming the exact opposite. That’s fine.

  21. If the King Follett Discourse is so important, let it become canon. Add it to the D&C. If we don’t, there is likely a good reason.

  22. This post seems like an academic attempt to make Mormonism look more “mainstream.” Furthermore, these ideas are so far removed from the Mormonism I was taught 50 years ago, that I don’t know where to start. Let’s just say I’m not a monotheist. The statement “The Father and the Son are One God, the Father is not the Son, and the Son is not the Father” is little more than double talk. And to continually downplay President Snow’s couplet is getting old.

  23. If it’s double talk, blame the Book of Mormon.

    Steve, yes indeed.

  24. President Snow’s couplet is getting old.

  25. Thank you RJH and melodynew. This part of melody net’s comment struck me:

    “If you were to poll female readers of this blog, you may find that many women (and perhaps a few men) have had what we would call revelatory experiences of Heavenly Mother. Or at least a witness of Her presence or existence.”

    If readers are interested, the Finding Heavenly Mother Project has a Facebook group, and welcomes new members. Many of us have had important spiritual experiences related to the divine in feminine former.

    I think that the idea of theosis is more connected and connecting to the idea of many individuals being of the “same stuff” as God, at some popint, and allows for the divine feminine in important ways that compliment and stretch the popular view of male/female oneness of God that seems to be this decade’s way of seeing Her post-polygamy.

    I am grateful for the ongoing discussions.

  26. In the way that we are all beggars? We are all grasping at straws when with grapple with the nature and character of God.

  27. Ummm, that should be: “In the way that we are all beggars, we are all grasping at straws when with grapple with the nature and character of God.”

  28. Try one more time, Chris!

  29. Crap. When I type like I am drunk…I should just stop.

  30. Excellent thoughts. Thanks, Ronan.

  31. “If it’s double talk, blame the Book of Mormon.”

    Spot on. We should never apologize or shy away from what Book of Mormon prophets declare over and over about the “one god” that is the Godhead, just because we worry that it might be misunderstood as saying that the Father and the Son and Holy Ghost are the same person. Ironically, isn’t that what led to some of the early extra-biblical statements of the early creeds–that is, concern that scriptural declarations were insufficient because they could be misunderstood as supporting the Arian heresy?

  32. Ironically, it’s “creedal Christianity” that explains why Mormons have never fallen for that misunderstanding. They knew in the 1820s that it was usual to say there is one God — Father, Son, and Holy Ghost — that did not also mean that they were the same person.

  33. Sometimes grasping at straws helps you find the needle in the haystack.

  34. Do not misunderstand, I see merit in Ronan’s exploration and I even accept the concept of one God when we speak of the Godhead. My point was his efforts are fairly Sysiphean as the logic runs contrary to how pretty much every correlated Mormon reads the purpose of the restoration of the Church. He himself has acknowledged this. Because the leaning too far over into monotheism runs contrary to Mormon attitudes of how they understand their doctrine.

    The One God concept can equally be read to mean the Father, Son and Holy Ghost are one in purpose. Abinadi’s exposition in Mosiah 15 does not provide an underlying structure for claiming consubstantiation nor does it definitively set up a single God. Not in the full context of the entire scriptural canon where the Book of Abraham and the temple endowment provide additional insights.

    I think you are wresting the words from a minority scholarly perspective both within other Christian faiths and definitely within Mormon teachings in order to support your approach. That’s fine.

    And your interpretation, which disregards what has been taught by prophets besides Joseph and rejects the concept of Jesus as an Elder brother, and humankind as potentially progressing to become Gods who create spirit children is on no equally certain footing. My questions in John’s post on the Trinity should demonstrate that I show no certainty here but only questions for which there are no absolute answers. Which means we’re both looking through a glass darkly.

    Finally, my statement that your logic has reason was intended to say that I enjoy the thought experiment and find it a helpful addition to exploring our relationship to our creators. Even if I don’t entirely agree with it.

  35. Fantastic post. When it comes to the doctrine of the Trinity/Godhead, I agree that Mormonism need not be presented as so different from the views of the Trinitarians. However, once you introduce the concept of a Heavenly Mother, our common ground is pretty crumbly, especially since we can’t reconcile it ourselves. Personally, I have a very difficult time fitting the Mormon idea of a Heavenly Mother in with our own doctrine of the Godhead. melodynew’s comment caught RJH up short for good reason. Because we combine the idea that we can become gods with our concept of eternal marriage, I’ve always viewed the feminine and masculine as necessary complements required to complete the whole, and I feel the Proclamation on the Family supports that view. However, there seems very little scriptural or traditional support for it. In fact, the wording that man was created in the image of God, male and female, (God being described as the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost),is much easier to interpret as there is no divine feminine / divine masculine dichotomy, that femininity and masculinity have no meaning in the eternal worlds, that male and female are simply two earthly manifestations of the same creature. Rather the the divine masculine and divine feminine, there would simply be the divine. Yet when we insist on projecting the difference into the eternities by believing in a Heavenly Mother, we’re implying a difference in characteristics and/or roles, that the Father is really a Father/Mother amalgam (or something like that). We’d have trouble explaining that to even the most sympathetic Trinitarian. Imagine that phone conversation: “….When Jesus was saying to pray unto the Father, he meant to the Father/Mother……well, the Father and Mother are basically one God, the Father…..Jesus had to say “he”, because “it” implies God isn’t personal – …. The Father and Mother are ONE God, like in Father, Son, and Holy Ghost …. I don’t know why she isn’t mentioned…”

  36. Ronan, this post really is wonderfully thought out and presented. Your theological charity also shines through. This is truly a model for the respectful way Mormons can express differences in their perspectives about Mormon beliefs. Your post is thoroughly Mormon, even if it uses terms from the creedal Christian theological tradition. In that way, you are contributing your talents to be the common property of the Church (D&C 82:18), for the benefit of the Body of Christ, both our Church and creedal Christian churches.

    I very much agree with you on virtually all your points and reasoning, and feel that to be very orthodox Mormon, firmly grounded in the teachings of the Book of Mormon.

    As I said to Thomas in a comment on my thread yesterday, I firmly believe that there is ample room in Mormon teachings to believe in the Godhead as the Most High God to whom we, as his children, will always be subject — and to believe that recognizing that is what constitutes giving all glory, laud, and honor to God the Father in the name of His Only Begotten Son, Jesus Christ. This is particularly the case when taking the doctrine contained in the Book of Mormon seriously and at face value as teachings that should directly inform our understanding of the nature of God.

    God the Father, his Only Begotten Son, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit are One God. They are the Godhead. Each of us as disciples of Jesus Christ are to become one with each other just as Jesus is one with God. Ultimately, what Jesus wants for us is that each of us can also then become one with them as they are one with each other. That is the oneness and unity of the Godhead. Separate individuals who are simply One with each other.

    Are there Mormons who disagree that our human physical bodies are the same substance as Jesus’s human physical body? I think they all agree that this is the case. Jesus was fully human by virtue of his birth to Mary. He had a human physical body biologically the same as ours. But those same Mormons don’t want to use the word “consubstantial” to describe the sameness of the stuff of which our human bodies are made. Why?

  37. Good point, Ronan.

    I guess my point is that priority should be given first to the scriptures, especially the Book of Mormon, and that means that first and foremost, the Godhead is “One God.” Secondarily, we can explain that there are still three persons, and “one God” doesn’t mean some kind of unitarianism, if we are concerned that the scriptures might be misunderstood. But it would be a mistake, in my view, to start with the premise that they are separate and then merely try to explain away the Book of Mormon declarations on oneness, or assume that they don’t really mean what they say. That gets it backwards. Three persons is true. One God is also true. And there is absolutely no conflict in those two statements. But the Book of Mormon seems to emphasize one God a heck of a lot more than it does three persons, and if we were forced to give priority to one over the other, I would choose one God, based on the Book of Mormon alone. (Of course, it’s a false dilemma because they are entirely compatible.)

    I would speculate that perhaps the reason unity in the Godhead is more emphasized in the Book of Mormon is that it teaches us something profound about how we ought to live (which goes to Ronan’s point above about knowing the character of God), while separateness in the Godhead, which is also a true doctrine, is often taught more about marking the distinctions between what we believe and (what we think) other Christians believe. In other words, separateness in the Godhead is no doubt true, but if it were as essential as we sometimes assume it to be–that is, more essential that unity in the Godhead, then the scriptures don’t do a very good job of teaching it as clearly (or as frequently, or as forcefully) as they teach unity.

    I very much agree with Elder Holland’s statement a few years back (I’m paraphrasing) that the unity of the Godhead is so much more profound than the separateness of the Godhead, and that the unity basically extends to every kind of unity we can imagine with the sole exception of material, bodily unity.

  38. “But it would be a mistake, in my view, to start with the premise that they are separate and then merely try to explain away the Book of Mormon declarations on oneness, or assume that they don’t really mean what they say.”

    Such a good point, JKC, and such a great comment.

    It is so sad that if one asks, in the face of these questions, what is the source to turn to for orthodox Mormon doctrine, the Book of Mormon apparently does not count. That is very strange.

  39. JKC,

    I agree with every word of that except for the last bit (obviously). Actually, that’s not quite right. It’s possible that material unity is impossible but I just think it need not necessarily be so. It isn’t in heavenly flesh Christology, nor even in the very Mormon view that spirit and matter are not entirely what we see them to be with human eyes. Co-inherence of spirit-matter sounds entirely reasonable to me. For what reason would we reject it as unreasonable? It seems like such a unimaginative rejection. My physical body is not your physical body therefore the Father’s body is not the Son’s body. Such a plain view of materiality and physicality!

    But anyway, it doesn’t matter.

  40. “For what reason would we reject it as unreasonable? It seems like such a unimaginative rejection. My physical body is not your physical body therefore the Father’s body is not the Son’s body. Such a plain view of materiality and physicality!”

    Love it. Again, thanks for the thoughts in the original post and the lively discussion. Truly a model for Mormon discourse.

  41. Thank you for this RJH. I don’t understand it very well, but it’s a wee bit clearer (still fuzzy as all get out).

    I thought Joseph Smith, Jr. somewhat solved the problem of evil (?), what with moral agency and opposition and sin as necessary for learning. The problem of pain is something I still grapple with.

    Do you believe in a literal interpretation of the light of Christ given to every person? Not just a general in-dwelling of God in the world, but a specific, literal, living light? I think it needs to be addressed (or at least expressed) in conversations like this. And I think it is not the same thing as the Holy Spirit. By literal I mean that I believe it is actually ‘alive’ – a living thing that is elemental & constant but not static [“Then shall ye know that ye have seen me, that I am, and that I am the true light that is in you, and that you are in me; otherwise ye could not abound.” D&C 88:50 — perhaps it’s the same light that ‘fills the immensity of space’ and/that ‘gives life and light and order to all things.’?].

    At any rate, I think it addresses the unity and oneness we are trying to dissect here. I don’t think we (as a religion) fully appreciate the depth and scope – and, paradoxically, the specificity – of this light, alive in us individually – alive and new in every moment. I’d love to hear your thoughts on it – feedback or pushback, how it fits with the OP.

    Thanks again, RJH.

  42. And at the risk of being cartoonish, a perfected material body can pass through walls and teleport through space but cannot inhere in the One it perfectly loves? Why not?

  43. Another good point, Ronan. I agree that we need not reject it as impossible. But I don’t think it’s that we reject it as unreasonable, as much as we reject it as not what the prophets have described when they see the Father and the Son. I think we also have to deal with the PoGP first vision’s description of two personages and the Kirtland vision of the the Son seated on the right hand of the Father (and St. Stephen’s vision, also) in a way that also takes them at face value. It fascinates me that the Father and Son apparently appear to us as two bodies, but constantly declare their oneness, not their individuality. Maybe this is a case of seeing what we want to, or what we are prepared to see.

    Also, like you said, it doesn’t really matter.

  44. None of what you said is contradicted by consubstantiality. None of it!

  45. Jen, light of Christ? Give me a day or two!

  46. Perhaps the breakdown is that we think that the inhering described in the creeds means that they are always that way, not just that they can be, and that we think the separateness observed by prophets means that they are always separate, not just that they appear that to (quickened) human eyes. But they are not necessarily incompatible.

  47. JKC, that’s probably right. I mean, there’s a reason why Christians don’t abandon consubstantiation when they read Jesus’ baptismal account and it’s not because they are stupid!

  48. Ronan, I might be misunderstanding, but I agree with you that consubstantiality does not contradict separate bodily appearances of the Father and the Son, because “same substance” does not mean “same body,” in the same way that Christ is of the same substance as us because of his human nature. I have a harder time reconciling the co-inhering concept that the “mere consubstantiality” concept (though I don’t think it impossible to reconcile either). But in any event, I also don’t think consubstantiality necessarily contradicts Elder Holland’s statement, either, but we may be using the terms “material” and “bodily” in different ways.

  49. Thomas Parkin says:

    The language of any scripture, including the BoM, is entirely open to interpretation. (Hence, as the canonized First Vision history says, all confidence is lost in going to them to solve this kind of problem. Revelation is needed – individually, not collectively.) This is doubly so since the book’s language comes to us through the filter or construct of Joseph at the time of translation. It sounds so much like a Protestant book because that was the religious language that was situated Joseph’s mind. If J had been, say, a mid-20th century Freudian, we’d have had the same messages, waiting for our interpretations and revelations, but a much different set of problems with the same. In short, just because it uses Protestant words, doesn’t necessitate a Protestant interpretation. And, historically, it hasn’t had a Protestant interpretation. Instead, we have read back into the language of the BoM the accretion of inspirations and revelations that got us where we are.

    There is actually very little that I disagree with in John’s position – except the notions that God has always been exactly as He is. (An idea not made necessary by the use of words like “eternal”, as is easily shown). I more strongly disagree with the idea that Jesus has always been as He is. (An idea contradicted by many scriptures) I also disagree that we will always be subject to Him, as the notion of subjection among equals is empty.

    It seems to me that at this point I can do little more than restate these differences. We should all be seeking personal revelation on these matters, preferably in the Temple, ready to ‘believe all things.’ Seeing that we cannot come to know God without revelations. If studying the scriptures were sufficient, we’d all come to the same conclusions. Jesus mocked religionists when he told them that ‘they think they have Eternal Life (a synonym for knowing God) in the scriptures.’


  50. TP: yes. As Tillich says, there’s a GOD above “God”. That is all I would like us to admit.

  51. “Thankfully, we are not judged by what we know but by what we do.”

    Agree, and does this philosophy color the way we choose our faith based on our view of God?

    I’m a convert from a more mainstream denomination, and I’ve come to realize over the years that scripture can lead me to different views of what the Trinity or Godhead is.

    But as far as what God does, that’s what makes me Mormon: guaranteed salvation of children, salvation of the dead, more expansive view of what the Atonement of Christ does for us, basically the understanding that God will not unfairly condemn someone to eternal punishment.

    I may not be completely sure of who God is, but my passion for my faith comes from what I believe He does.

  52. I am nowhere near the intellect of most here but I would humbly add that Abraham 4:26-27 seems to provide some insight here regarding a counsel and whether a male and female, joined as partners (one in purpose and, symbolically through Adam’s rib, one in substance) is in the image of the counsel of the gods.

    I would also add that the brother of Jared’s experience seems to provide some insight regarding who God is and what he is like.

  53. Thomas Parkin says:

    Yes. And thanks Ronan and John and everyone for the discussion. It’s been the best discussion I’ve participated in for a while.

  54. Here is Elder Holland’s quote: “I think it is accurate to say we believe They are one in every significant and eternal aspect imaginable except believing Them to be three persons combined in one substance, a Trinitarian notion never set forth in the scriptures because it is not true.”

    Obviously, that’s a bit more hard-line than I remembered and paraphrased it. But I think it’s fair to say that “one substance” as Elder Holland uses it in this passage is not necessarily the same thing as “one substance,” properly understood, used in the trinitarian creeds. That which Elder Holland decries in his talk is probably closer to heretical unitarianism than to the orthodox trinitarian creeds. So we probably agree that “one substance,” as Elder Holland uses it, is heresy.

  55. But I think it’s fair to say that “one substance” as Elder Holland uses it in this passage is not necessarily the same thing as “one substance,” properly understood, used in the trinitarian creeds. That which Elder Holland decries in his talk is probably closer to heretical unitarianism than to the orthodox trinitarian creeds. So we probably agree that “one substance,” as Elder Holland uses it, is heresy.

    Yes, that is right. The key in the Holland quote is the word “combined”.

  56. I agree with robrunning. Do we really need to discuss “how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.” I hope that in an afterlife we maintain our identities, irregardless of our substance. I hope Christ maintains his identity (having had a human experience). I hope we continue to progress. And I belief strongly in Young’s and Snow’s couplet. It doesn’t embarrass me that I’m not a monotheist.

    When push comes to shove, I hope we don’t also dump “Faith without works is dead” for the sake of looking “mainstream.”

  57. As I also said in my Trinity post and in many comments, the unity of the Godhead as One God is entirely scriptural but talk of homoousios, or “One Substance”, is an extra-biblical accretion of Greek philosophical concepts. In the period between the Gospels and the permanent establishment of the “One Substance” Trinity as the hallmark of orthodoxy (early fourth century), the lay of the land consisted a lot more of discussion of the type of unity in the Godhead that Elder Holland highlights. And that is where Mormonism is at its best — returning the emphasis to that understanding of their unity.

    However, the work done in conceptualizing their unity through the extra-biblical abstraction of “One Substance” was done in good faith, in a very diligent effort not to run afoul of Deuteronomy 6:4 now that worship and adoration of Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son, was in the picture, in addition to God the Father. Of course, Jesus repeatedly admonished his disciples to give all glory to God the Father, but at the same time taught that if they had seen him, Jesus, they had seen the Father, and that he and the Father were One.

    The desire to reduce unnecessary distance between Mormons and creedal Christians on these issues is admirable and very useful. As Ronan very astutely stated in the original post, “I just think we shouldn’t create barriers to communion with other Christians which aren’t really there. That would seem to make an idol out of difference. There are more interesting things that make us distinct (for example, “heavenly flesh”).” We should definitely avoid that form of idolatry that erects unnecessary barriers of difference between us and the other disciples of Jesus Christ who make up the far greater majority of the Body of Christ. There are plenty of legitimate differences without creating differences for differences’ sake. For example, ex nihilo creation is a big enough difference that it allows all Mormons and Christians who are dedicated to focusing on the incompatibility of each others’ beliefs to need look no further at all. That suffices. It is big enough.

  58. “Yes, that is right. The key in the Holland quote is the word ‘combined’.”

    Good point, John. I hadn’t picked up on that.

  59. John F., If you guys keep giving away the ship, then the only reasons for Mormonism will be our rituals. There used to be a huge doctrinal distance between us and Catholicism, and us and Evangelicalism. There is nothing wrong with that distance. Intellectually trying to narrow the gap between us and other Christian demoninations is counterproductive and–my opinion–wrong. We should be proud of our unique doctrines. We should not run away from them. What you call barriers, I call our reason for being.

    First, we chuck Snow’s couplet. Now you guys want to be trinitarians. Great, then lets dump “faith without works is dead” and then we can become full-fledged Evangelicals. That is not someplace I personally want to be. And quoting Deut doesn’t do it for me.

  60. Ok, enough, rogerdhansen. We get it. But go back and read the opening post again (if you ever did). This discussion isn’t about wanting to be mainstream.

  61. “Thanks Ronan and John and everyone for the discussion. It’s been the best discussion I’ve participated in for a while.”

    Amen, Thomas. I am coming too late to this discussion to add anything except an agreement with the statement above.

  62. I know it’s off topic, but, since it’s been mentioned twice, I really don’t think “faith without works is dead” is a uniquely Mormon doctrine.

  63. Roger, President Benson taught that Pride was wrong. Having said that, I agree we can go too far in trying to have no pride at all. And, it seems to me, that being proud of revealed truths is just fine.

    But building unnecessary barriers between us and the greater majority of disciples of Jesus Christ merely for the sake of having and maintaining barriers, it seems to me, is unproductive. Ronan’s outline of his very Mormon perspective on the nature of God, which reduces unnecessary distance between us and fellow Christians simply by using the same terminology that they use for many of these things, though without straying from a particularly Mormon understanding of and relationship with God and our Savior (who we are taught in the New Testament, the Book of Mormon, and the Doctrine & Covenants are One God), is extremely helpful in building on common beliefs with other Christians.

    I applaud Ronan for being able to do this. One reason he is doing it is because he is capable of doing it. He has studied the way these terms are correctly used in the creedal Christian use of them (rather than in our longstanding Mormon caricature of the way these terms are properly used in creedal Christian theology or in the way they are often misused by creedal Christian lay believers). Perhaps the simple reason that our beliefs have not widely been expressed in these terms before, where appropriate and staying true to truths restored in the latter days (as consistent with scripture), is simply because Church leaders discoursing on these topics have not had the background to employ these terms appropriately in a way to describe Mormon beliefs. As a result, Mormon beliefs have seemed to be farther apart from other Christian beliefs than they really are, simply because we have been using terminology that is different.

    By the way, I am glad that we use the Biblical term “Godhead” rather than the extra-biblical term “Trinity” in English. However, that is an accident of history — had Wycliffe translated Colossians 2:9 and Romans 1:20 with “Trinity” instead of innovating the English word “Godhead” out of whole cloth in the 1380s, and assuming that Tyndale had then followed Wycliffe’s lead on this in his 1526 translation (as he did by adopting Wycliffe’s “Godhead” in these verses) and the King James translators had retained it in 1620 (as they retained Wycliffe’s “Godhead” in these verses via heavy reliance on Tyndale), then I am confident that even we Mormons would be talking about the Oneness of God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit by using the term “Trinity” as well. Though, of course, that would still be with reference to the scriptural term rather than the extra-biblical gloss of “One Substance”. As you might be aware, other languages translate those verses with a cognate of “Trinity”, so Mormons in those languages do speak of belief in the Trinity.

  64. We proof text that portion of the New Testament in our own special way. It is not unique to Mormons. Of course, in the context of the New Testament, the works are not baptism or even righteousness, but compassion and service to the poor.

  65. Hunter, you can say you don’t want to be “mainstream,” but I don’t get that from the writing. JKC, “faith without works is dead” may not be unique but it separates us from Evangelicals who want to be saved by Grace alone.

  66. A couple of thoughts that might be worth considering in this discussion:

    1) Joseph may have translated the Book of Mormon, but he didn’t punctuate it. That was done by someone who definitely only knew trinitarian theology, and was stuck with taking one giant run on sentence and making it make sense. My guess is he made it make sense to HIM. Though certainly changes were made over time to the punctuation, perhaps it wasn’t Josephs biggest concern.

    2) From the OP “I believe that God has had a divine nature eternally; the homo sapiens genus (and its premortal form) has not. The latter is rather obvious, the former I cannot prove, only to say that we would strip titles such as “Eternal” from God of any meaning whatsoever if we were to finesse it too much.” Frankly – no it wouldn’t. God gave us his own definition of Eternal in D&C 19 – and it turns out it has much less to do with time, and more to do with His name. One might understand then, that just as Eternal punishment is not punishment without end, but is a type of punishment delivered by a Being whose name is Eternal, then Eternal life is also not life without end, but a type of life lived consistent with the Person it is named after. This is why it is possible for God to declare “Thus sayeth the Father, Thou shalt have Eternal Life”….or in other words, you will have the kind of life God has. It’s not a descriptor of time, but of way, or in other words “The Way”.

    FWIW, I wouldn’t describe myself as monotheistic as you’ve mentioned, I think Joseph’s sermons towards the end should be of significant note to us, and may only have not taken a more “canonical” role simply because he didn’t live long enough to get the ideas across.

    What was Joseph’s lament?

    “there has been a great difficulty in getting anything into the heads of this generation. It has been like splitting hemlock knots with a corn-dodger for a wedge, and a pumpkin for a beetle. Even the Saints are slow to understand”
    “I have tried for a number of years to get the minds of the Saints prepared to receive the things of God; but we frequently see some of them…fly to pieces like glass as soon as anything comes that is contrary to their traditions”
    “I could explain a hundred fold more than I ever have of the glories of the kingdoms manifested to me in the vision, were I permitted, and were the people prepared to receive them.”

    Perhaps those final discourses contain a few of the principles that he wasn’t able to teach more fully, because it went so contrary to the traditions of the saints who would fly apart like glass if they heard them. I personally think in your analysis they’ve been dismissed too easily.

  67. That being said, like others, I appreciate the thoughtfulness of your post, and the intellectual stimulation. Well done indeed, even if I disagree and can’t do it as smartly as the OP :)

  68. This conversation has been fascinating to read. I did want to chime in on the “light of Christ” element that Jen K introduced. The light of Christ appears to be separate from the Holy Ghost according to our theology. The Holy Ghost is described as a unique personage, while the Light of Christ is more of (for lack of better words) an attractive force, like magnetism. Lately I’ve been thinking that the ancient understanding of Wisdom (as seen in Proverbs and other Wisdom Lit.) is probably most akin to our understanding of the Light of Christ — an eternal force universally enticing humankind towards righteousness, knowledge, and understanding. Thinking of the definition of the glory of God being intelligence (light and truth), and Christ defining himself as the Spirit of Truth (replacing the earlier symbolism of God’s wisdom/knowledge as feminine), I just think that there’s something to the idea that obtaining a perfect knowledge of things as they are, things as they were, and things as they are to come creates more than just a unity of purpose. If the Light of Christ is energy actively pulling us toward perfect understanding, then achieving (or becoming fully in harmony with) that perfect understanding/force/energy would literally make us one with the Godhead, as that is the substance of their glory. It would be a way to retain individual identities and yet literally becoming one as you tap into the same glorifying energy/substance. Sorry if this doesn’t make sense, just something I’ve been thinking about lately.

  69. Mary Ann,
    Good comment. If spirit and light are material, then the Light of Christ means that we have material substantiation with God. Another reason not to fear things like co-inherence!

    I had thought about D&C 19 and concluded in this instance it would be a tautology. If “eternal” means “God-ish” rather than “everlasting” when he calls himself the “eternal God”, then he’s saying he’s the “God-ish God” which sounds redundant. Taken with other titles such as “everlasting” and “alpha and omega” I think it represents a wilful wrenching to invoke D&C 19 here. That said, it does show that potentially everything God tells us about himself can be a kind of Kenobi-esque lie, hence the need to remain humble.

    As for the Nauvoo theology, if it does somehow represent the core truth about God it boggles my mind that God would bury it in fragmentary sources, poorly understood. After all, I think only a handful of people alive today can tell us with any degree of certainty what Joseph seems really to have taught. To me, that’s not a way to reveal fundamental truths. Instead, we should do our best to understand Nauvoo in the totality of the canon. I think we can believe in corporeality, deification, gods, the incarnation, etc., and retain the notion we find everywhere else that God is eternal and unique. So yes, let’s pay attention to Nauvoo but also respect the church’s tradition of not giving it primacy.

  70. Ronan, why would it boggle your mind that God would bury elements of his nature in fragmentary sources poorly understood? If we live in an era of ongoing reinstatement of light and knowledge then why falter at incomplete knowledge? You and Steve both made the claim that the teachings in Joseph’s last year in Nauvoo are not doctrinal and the Church seems to be ignoring them and as such one must conclude that we don’t really believe them. I instead would say that they are part and parcel of complications that have been filtered out in the correlated approach the Church has pursued since the 70’s. We don’t talk about these teachings concerning the nature of God because they’re not necessary for our salvation at this time and we may not be ready to receive greater light and knowledge beyond what we’ve already received. With that said, I would be surprised if the continued expansion of understanding that the JSPP is providing to the Church in general and our leaders would not begin to expand our discussion of core principles over the coming decades. Our efforts to simplify the doctrine of the Church for missionary purposes and for supporting the basic strength of the members hopefully will shift as a result of the broader sharing of scholarly understanding through the internet.

    Also, I’ve been pondering your statement concerning how God reveals understanding to us, specifically<

    Remember, not only do we see through a glass darkly but, per D&C 19, God can also lead us to believe something about him, in good faith, which is not strictly true!

    Can you say a little more about your meaning here and what you are reading in D&C 19 that supports that statement? After re-reading the chapter several times last night at best I can find,

    21 And I command you that you preach naught but repentance, and show not these things unto the world until it is wisdom in me.

    22 For they cannot bear meat now, but milk they must receive; wherefore, they must not know these things, lest they perish.

    It seems to be a stretch to claim that this means God is leading us to believe something that is not strictly true. I think a reasonable read of those verses is to say that He withholds deeper truths that are not contradictory but instead additive and expansions beyond the simple truths. Can you provide examples that support that perspective? Other than Josepth lying to people about polygamy? I want to separate a prophet’s actions from God’s own revelations.

  71. “Kenobi-esque lie” Yes. I’m beginning to see many things in our doctrine that have shifted (in my view) from literal/factual to likenesses, pieces, parables and metaphors.

    My own view of the light of Christ can be expounded by descriptions of the force in Star Wars: “Life creates it, makes it grow. Its energy surrounds us… and binds us. Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter…” (and thank you Mary Ann, for your helpful comment. You put words to ideas I hadn’t yet found words for.)

  72. “With that said, I would be surprised if the continued expansion of understanding that the JSPP is providing to the Church in general and our leaders would not begin to expand our discussion of core principles over the coming decades. Our efforts to simplify the doctrine of the Church for missionary purposes and for supporting the basic strength of the members hopefully will shift as a result of the broader sharing of scholarly understanding through the internet.”

    I find this statement so interesting, because I completely agree with the premise that the JSPP will likely lead us to focus on core principles, but I think I reach the opposite conclusion as to what that focus will look like.

    In other words, I would be surprised if the JSPP doesn’t result in a de-emphasis of Fielding Smith/McConkie-ism. I hold this view for two or three reasons: (1) studying the the JSPP materials in general, I think, complicates the boundary between revelations and other materials and challenges the assumption that just because something was said by the prophet, that means that Jesus dictated it to him, even when using “thus saith the Lord” type language. It also gives us examples of stuff that Joseph was just plain wrong about, without ceasing to be a prophet. (2) Relatedly, I expect that the JSPP materials will shed light on the prophet’s own changing views on the Godhead, which suggests that he viewed his own knowledge of God’s nature as limited and provisional, albeit profound, personal, and immediate, which challenges the assumption that everything Joseph Smith said in a sermon is the gospel truth. (3) I expect that the JSPP will shed more light on the fact that what Joseph Fielding Smith says the prophet said in KFD, and how he and others interpret what he thinks he said, is not necessarily what he said, certainly not word for word, and maybe not even in substance (though it certainly could be). The truth is, even though we have an idea of the general outline of what a few people thought KFD was about, we don’t really know what precise words he used, and in this context, the precise words can make a huge difference.

    Bottom line: I just don’t think it makes sense to place on KFD all this weight that it was probably never meant to bear, and I think the JSPP will only make that point all the more clear.

  73. I enjoyed this post and a lot of comments (including RJH’s mention of the Cosmic Uterus).

    What I have found painful about trying to maintain a committed relationship to Mormonism is that I find no room for the kind of discussion above in Mormonism’s narrow construct of God; I think at its core, Mormonism actually has quite a wide conception of God, but they enact so many specific policies in his name, that the wide definition is never operationalised. I hope this makes sense. I’ve never been able to figure out how to reconcile that, because when you don’t live in a social vacuum, it’s not as simple as being free, without trammeling, to believe as one would.

  74. Jenny Evans says:

    I made my brain blow up the other week thinking about the Trinity/Godhead, and trying to formulate in words how I think the two concepts are similar to the point of it (almost) being a moot point. Made more difficult by the fact that neither Mormons nor Trinitarian Christians really know/understand/have thought about all the details of the Godhead/Trinity.

  75. All very possible JKC. I find much to like in what Joseph taught in his last years but I’m more than willing to accept that the understanding will continue to evolve in some other direction than what JFS said. I’m not an advocate of prophetic inerrancy so I’m not beholden to any single teaching if it falls outside of the established canon. I find it fascinating though how certain prophets are singled out for being more error prone in their teachings than others including Joseph Fielding Smith and Brigham Young and wonder why all prophets are not held to the same standards with regards to their teachings. Perhaps it is because some stretched out further in their efforts to expand or lock down doctrine as they understood it or perhaps because they served for such an extended period during times that called for doctrinal clarification.

  76. But let me add that my great hope is that delving deeper into the actual writings and teachings of Joseph Smith and hopefully others who came after him and putting those teachings into greater context will open the windows for further revelation akin to what was gained from Joseph F Smith’s reflections on the writings of Peter.

  77. nw wrote: “What I have found painful about trying to maintain a committed relationship to Mormonism is that I find no room for the kind of discussion above in Mormonism’s narrow construct of God.”

    I hope the moderators will allow a small detour, to speak to nw’s comment:

    nw, I am coming to the end of one particularly exhausting faith transition (one of many, I might add). This time it has ended with the liberating discovery that I am free to create my own version of what I believe. We *all* are free, despite what some hard-lined leaders or followers might think or say to the contrary.

    It started with cognitive dissonance over Joseph Smith’s polygamy. When I heard over the (GC) pulpit that Joseph’s integrity was ‘above reproach’ it slammed painfully against what I was reading about Joseph’s behavior – it was irreconcilable (it remains so). I learned for myself that it is okay to disagree with things I hear at church and from leaders. This independent thinking does not need to destroy my own testimony. It may be true (currently) that there is no room for this kind of discussion in the Church’s (or the institution’s or the corporation’s or correlation’s/curriculum’s) narrow construct of God – but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for it in “Mormonism”. I get much of my inspiration for my personal thinking from people like Hugh B. Brown, Emma Lou Thayne, Adam S. Miller, Terryl Givens, Richard Bushman, James Faulconer, Pres. Uchtdorf — and here at BCC for sure. All these sources and people seem to say to me, “Don’t let the rigid, overly-conservative, authoritarian, disciplinarian, & fear-based masses lead you to believe you must blindly accept someone else’s version of who God is. Seek Him out for yourself. Ask! Doubt! Explore! Pore over and plead and pray and open your mind to the Technicolor beauty that is this life and world – far beyond the constraints of one religion. Truth can never be harmed by honest inquiry – be wary of anyone who wants to squelch questions or promote blind following. God is much bigger than one doctrine, one person’s viewpoint, one church. The roof has been blown off my narrow worldview – and it is at once frightening and exhilarating. Don’t let fear keep you from the liberation.

    I have been able to remain LDS with this paradigm shift – and it got a lot easier once I stopped trying to convince everyone else they needed to take this leap with me. I can hear a dogmatic, judgmental talk and not be tied up in knots about it anymore. More than anything, it left me free to love completely – everyone – wherever their truth takes them – in the church, out of the church, narrow-minded or no – to see everyone else as just as worthy of God’s love and attention (or inversely, to see myself as just as worthy of God’s love and individual attention as any leader) and to see God as no respecter of persons has been the biggest help of all. I think the Church needs many many people to stay in, who feel and think this way. A ‘yes’ to the Church is only meaningful if one is equally free to say ‘no’, but chooses otherwise. Good luck to you nw. Jen

  78. “male and female are simply two earthly manifestations of the same creature”

    Kind of like the Skeksis and the Mystics, two halves of the same being, who join to form the UrSkeks at the end of The Dark Crystal.

    Time to watch that movie again this weekend.

  79. “Perhaps it is because some stretched out further in their efforts to expand or lock down doctrine as they understood it or perhaps because they served for such an extended period during times that called for doctrinal clarification.”

    Both reasonable explanations, I think. I think also, in Brigham Young’s case, for sure, if not JFS’s, there was a doctrinal fearlessness, an adventurousness and creativity, a willingness to speak off-the-cuff and not be constrained that probably was a contributing factor. I mean, if you’re not very self-censoring, and you don’t hesitate to speak on any given issue, you may not be wrong any more than one who tends to keep quiet, but you’ll probably get called out for it more. I should say that Brigham Young’s doctrinal fearlessness is one of the things I truly admire and find really endearing about him, even if if did get him in trouble sometimes.

  80. With JFS, it was not so much doctrinal fearlessness, as it was fierce devotion to JS, I think. So, inherited doctrinal fearlessness? But I don’t think it is the case that these two were particularly more error-prone than any other president of the church or prophet.

  81. Jen K., what a kind comment. Thanks for your participation.

  82. Jen:

    Thank you for your kind words. I agree the church will benefit from people carving out their own niches for personal formats of belief. I think I misspoke a little in my initial comment; I see room for atypical belief constructs in Mormon theology, but a systemic repulsion of such in Mormon institutionality/culture/curriculum. Practicing faith in the dissonance I find between the two can prove exhausting. I’d agree that some folk (Givenses, Bushmans, even Elder Uchtdorf) encourage comfort with more paradoxical, multi-dimensional perspectives on the divine, but even they express limitation to that process; to remain LDS, you may believe as you will, but your behaviour cannot afford that same principled freedom. Thank you, again, for your lovely response.

    RJH: many thanks for your post. A lot to think about within your well parsed piece.

  83. *sorry, just to clarify

    I wasn’t expressing opinion that one should be able to believe and behave however and still retain claim on highest strata of LDS religiosity (e.g. if someone believes adultery is positive and acts upon that idea, I would never make the argument that they should qualify for a temple rec. on their own, personal basis of behavioural merit). A more apt conception of the point I poorly tried to make would be, maybe, approach of the feminine divine; one may believe she exists and wishes to commune with her children/sisters, but it has been made clear that one may not direct prayers to her. That’s the friction I was trying to refer to. Apologies for the tangent.

  84. It seems to me that to accept The Trinity, you accept the dogma and the creeds from whence the idea came. We don’t teach the Trinity. We don’t teach it the way that Catholics do, and we are criticized by Evangelicals for not recognizing their doctrine on it. We don’t teach that they are one substance, or that they are like different parts of one egg, or that they don’t have a physical body, etc.

    Consider this from Joseph Smith:
    “Many men say there is one God; the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost are only one God. I say that is a strange God anyhow-three in one, and one in three! It is a curious organization anyhow. “Father, I pray not for the world, but I pray for those that thou hast given me…that they may be one as we are.”…I want to read the text to you myself-“I am agreed with the Father and the Father is agreed with me, and we are agreed as one.” The Greek shows that it should be agreed. “Father, I pray for them which thou hast given me out of the world,…that they all may be agreed,” and all come to dwell in unity” [TPJS, p. 372].

    There are quite a few different quotes like this. Joseph’s version of God patently rejected the doctrine of the Trinity *the way mainstream Christianity teaches it*. With all respect to the author, it seems that he kind of reinvents the Trinity– the way it’s taught and the way it’s understood– to have us fit into it too. This is evident when he uses the phrase “(parse this as you wish),” in regards to what one substance means, but that’s a huge part of the doctrine on which we part ways.
    I don’t really see the need to try to fit our concept of God into a post-biblical, creedal concept of God. The Restoration and Joseph’s vision put to rest some of the mysticism of the Trinity. It is true we know very little about the Godhead and how it works, but saying that Mormons believe in the doctrine of the Trinity is incorrect.

  85. Ronan, I really appreciate your willingness to respectfully disagree with, yet still acknowledge the Nauvoo-era JSview of Deity e.g. (“We have imagined and supposed that God was God from all eternity. I will refute that idea.”).

    I don’t know why so many here have a problem with admitting it was taught by JS, even if they still want to take a different view on the doctrine.

    After all, not many mainstream Mormons accept at face value the view of JS from Nauvoo that “Eternity is full of thrones, upon which dwell thousands of children reigning on thrones of glory, with not one cubit added to their stature.”

    Have a wonderful Boxing Day!

    (I love Christmastime in Worcestershire).

  86. I am somewhat surprised in this discussion and in the previous discussion that Social Trinitarian thought has not come up. If we are going to look for points of contact with other Christians, we might do better to work with a modern and reasonably comprehensible way of looking at the Godhead rather than a dated, admittedly very abstract and generally incomprehensible concept like consubstantiation. I would recommend this interesting short essay by Sam Bowman, who compares Social Trinitarianism with KFD Mormon thought and finds important differences:


    However, looking at Bowman’s analysis, I suspect that non-KFD Mormons like john f and rjh might be quite comfortable with a Social Trinity conception as formulated by its leading theologian proponents. I would suggest that it commends itself in particular in the current context because most Mormons could be quite comfortable with it, at least in its rudimentary formulation. I would further suggest that you will get farther basing a comparative discussion of concepts of divinity on Social Trinitarianism than trying to convince Mormons to accept any sort of consubstantiation that is doctrinally close to the late creeds for which it was invented.

    Another topic which has emerged in these discussions is the issue of how various doctrinal sources treat the Godhead. One way to explain different emphases is audience. The Bible and BoM emphasize monotheism because their prophets were teaching polytheists. Joseph Smith emphasized divine individuality because he was teaching people imbued with apostate creedal concepts (like consubstantiation as taught by orthodox Christianity, not rjh’s mormonized version). Both sources are true as a whole. Elohim is God, not Baal or Jupiter or Itzamna. However, The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are separate beings, and we can become in some way as They are and join in their unity of love and purpose, contrary to the doctrines of later creedal Christianity. The parts can fit together.

  87. Just to clarify – by consubstantiation I think I am using the term like rjh, meaning the unity of the personages of the Trinity, not the unity of the body of the Son with the Eucharist.

  88. For a people who like to herald universal truths and decry relativism, Mormonism has this deliciously Kenobian streak. Truths are true, “from a certain point of view” as JWL suggests. This is all fine by me, actually, I just find it at odds with CES culture.

    I would like to draw this conversation to a close with the words of John 1 which are the centrepiece of most Christmas narrations. Whatever else is true about God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), somehow we have to reckon with this remarkable passage. For me, because of its canonical status, and because it is one of the few theological statements in the canon, it has primacy:

    “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men.”

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