James White: Mormons Are Not Christians

I was recently pointed to a video by James White from a while ago which asks the question, “Is Mormonism Christian?” Primarily, White is responding to a video based on an address given by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland at a session of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint’s general conference. In that address (found here) Elder Holland describes Mormonism as a Christian faith, although he delineates points of departure from Nicene Christianity. James disagrees with Elder Holland. In doing so he tries to paint a picture of a shifting and manipulative Mormonism working to hide its disparity from Christianity in the interest of seducing converts. The two primary issues which seem to define Christianity for James, at least as it relates to Mormonism, are monotheism and the atonement. The following is a brief critique of James’ argument and presentation.

James’ video opens with the title question. His answer is introduced with the following: “It’s not really a difficult question, to be perfectly honest with you, as long as Christianity can define itself and as long as fundamental defining issues are allowed to be stated and defined, then it’s not really much of a difficult question.” He goes on to state a single defining issue, namely that Christianity is a monotheistic religion. He elaborates with the following: “We believe that God has eternally been God, that God is the creator of all things, God himself is not created, and that man is the creature of God, that God creates man; he does not beget man. Man is not of the same species as God.” These are peculiar fundamental defining issues, as every single one is a direct response to an ostensibly LDS ideology. If the above are the fundamental defining issues of Christianity, then we must conclude that Christianity is fundamentally defined by its distinction from Mormonism. James, no doubt, does not mean to imply that Christianity only exists and has an identity insofar as it opposes Mormonism. He’s just not paying attention to his methodologies, and his conclusion is more important in crafting his argument than having a good argument. His definition of Christianity must be easily contrasted with Mormonism and must focus exclusively on those aspects of his brand of Christianity which distinguish it. It must be crafted with the goal of differentiation in mind. Defining Christianity in preparation for tackling the question of whether or not Mormonism is Christian by explaining how Christianity is distinguished from Mormonism is a textbook example of begging the question. James’ conclusion is assumed in his premise. His definition of Christianity is invalid if he hopes to assert any logical or academic basis for his argument.

Additionally, James makes it clear that he, and by extension modern American Evangelicalism, speaks on behalf of the Bible and of Christianity as a whole. He gets to define Christianity and what the Bible says, and the lines he draws have a specific purpose: to exclude a single group. This is why his defining issues don’t actually distinguish Christianity from Judaism or Islam. They only place Mormonism, as far as James understands it, outside of the circle. This is problematic. First, it’s begging the question again. Additionally, given that Christianity must be allowed to define itself (as James asserts), in any objective approach to the question, Mormonism must be allowed to participate in that process of definition. To preclude Mormonism from Christianity’s self-definition is, again, begging the question. It assumes the conclusion in setting up the premise. Would it be begging the question in the opposite direction to allow Mormonism to contribute to the definition of Christianity? No. Mormonism claims to be Christian just like James claims to be Christian, and according to many Christians, Mormonism meets the criteria.

Unfortunately for James’ position, self-identity is widely recognized as the most important criterion in religious identification, and virtually all Mormons self-identify as Christians (those that don’t do so only in reaction to arguments like James’). It’s not the only criterion, but it is the one that carries the most weight. Religions are variegated, and the bigger the religion, the more variation. The marginalization or excision of one group within a wider religious movement by an opposing group within that movement is called sectarianism. Sectarianism usually arises when a group has no authority over another group of which it disapproves. Without authority the most effective way to express that disapprobation is to dismiss them as not belonging. This frees the group from association with undesirables and reaffirms notions of uniformity. This is what is compelling James’ argument. Because James’ concerns about Mormonism derive from sectarianism and not from an objective or intelligent assessment of Mormonism’s position within or without Christianity, his argument can only be made on dogmatic grounds. He cannot argue his position from an academic or a logical point of view. It always comes back to simple dogmatic sectarianism. Depriving people of participation in Christianity is not uncommon among more sectarian religious groups. What is odd is that James has been on the receiving end of that kind of sectarianism before (see here). He’s also dished it out to other Christian groups besides Latter-day Saints. Observe how diplomatically he tells a Catholic apologist that he’s not a Christian (here):

As to the use of the broad term “Christian” with reference to Roman Catholicism, such a term, due to its ambiguity in this situation, is less than useful. Faithful in preaching the apostolic message of the gospel? Certainly not, and that is the issue, Dave. If you feel a communion that replaces the grace of God with sacraments, mediators, and merit, can be properly called “Christian,” then please go ahead and use the phrase. But please understand that if a person shares the perspective of the epistle to the churches of Galatia they will have to hold to a different understanding, and hence may not be as quick to use the term “Christian” of such a system.

Another consideration is the legitimacy of his criteria for defining Christianity for those who lived before the development of the specific doctrines he touts as foundational. There was no such thing as a Trinitarian prior to the fourth century CE. James may argue that it is biblical in origin, but no one prior to Nicea ever expressed the notion as James understands it. Were they Christians?

I’ll now turn to his actual argument. I’m going to largely avoid addressing specific claims about Mormon beliefs that are brought up by James with varying degrees of accuracy only for shock value. Such rhetoric really doesn’t make a real point and doesn’t merit a response. Make a video talking about a 6,000 year-old earth, a talking donkey, and a flying man who brings people back from the dead and ask someone not living in a culture that is saturated with those traditions if they think it’s weird. They will think it’s very weird, just as many agnostics, atheists, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, and even Christians in America today think certain aspects of Christianity are very weird. Will James feel defeated? No. He’s very aware of the fallacy of that kind of rhetoric when someone else is doing it.

James states that Christianity is monotheistic and that Mormonism is polytheistic. In fact, he states that it’s the most polytheistic religion he’s ever heard of. He quotes Joseph Smith’s King Follett Discourse in support of this. For the sake of argument, I will allow this characterization of Mormonism. However, I must disagree that Christianity is monotheistic, at least in a way that materially distinguishes it from Mormonism. Christianity, in all the manifestations of which I am aware, accepts the existence of angels, demons, cherubim, seraphim, and all kinds of divine beings. From an etymological point of view, Christianity is absolutely not monotheistic. It believes in numerous divine beings. A divine being is and always has been, by very definition, a god. We may argue that one is higher than, and rules absolutely over the others, but this is monarchism, not monotheism, and it erases the lines of distinction between James’ Christianity and Mormonism.

Let’s not commit the etymological fallacy, though. Monotheism is a descriptive term, and it was coined in describing Christianity at a certain time and place. Specifically, it was coined by a 17th century Cambridge Platonist to define his own conceptualization of Christianity, and specifically his conceptualization of Christianity over and against philosophical materialism, which he characterized as atheistic. The term “monotheism” was thus developed to define Platonic Christianity as antithetical to atheism, which included pantheism and several other -isms not considered atheistic by today’s standard. Interestingly, this Platonist (Henry More, by the way) actually explained that the “mono-” in “monotheism” could accommodate more than one divine being.

This definition is a far cry from American Evangelicalism, and it arguably doesn’t exclude Mormonism, but the reason this definition doesn’t help James’ position is the same reason no other characterization of Christianity as monotheistic over and against Mormonism will help: Christianity is based on the Bible, and the Bible as a whole is not monotheistic, according to James’ definition (which appears to align with the etymological notion). Christianity putatively derives its theology and ideology from the Old and New Testaments. That scriptural heritage will stay with it and will influence it no matter what renegotiations take place between those texts and modern expediencies and ideologies. One aspect of that scriptural heritage that Christianity cannot shake is the identification of several divine beings as gods (Gen 6:2, 4; Deut 32:43 [LXX, 4QDeut-q]; Ps 29:1; 89:7; Ps 97:7, among dozens of others). There are even divine beings called the sons of God. Other literature is in agreement. In the Dead Sea Scrolls angels are repeatedly called gods (אלים). Even rabbinic and Christian literature recognizes the existence of other gods.

The modern notion of monotheism largely has more to do with philosophy than religion or the Bible, but in religious arenas it rests on the traditional decoupling of divine beings from the “god” taxonomy. Although the Bible makes reference to other gods, the ontological transcendence of God is so absolute that people just find it acceptable to consider him the only God. Mormonism, of course, has much the same approach. God will always be the highest God for humanity, and so Mormons largely consider themselves monotheistic. They worship one God. Ask a traditional Christian about the “sons of God” and the other divine beings in the Bible and they’ll respond, “Oh, they’re just angels,” or “they’re just subordinate/contingent/created beings.” Ask a Mormon about divinized human beings and they’ll point out that they will always have God above them. For Latter-day Saints, there is one God. Don’t Mormons believe that God is not the absolute highest God, though? Don’t they believe he had a God, too?  Many of them do, although it’s not a notion to which they are bound. Additionally, according to the Bible—or at least the original version of portions of it—Yahweh was also not the highest God. The Septuagint and the Dead Sea Scrolls show in Deut 32:8–9 that Yahweh was considered one of the sons of El, also known as Elyon. It states that Elyon divided the nations according to the number of the “sons of God.” Elyon gave Israel to Yahweh. It wasn’t until around the beginning of the monarchy that Yahweh was conflated with El.

Paul states in 1 Cor 8:5 that there are many that are called gods in heaven and on earth and immediately qualifies the statement by saying, “indeed, there are many gods and many lords.” He continues, “but for us there is one God, the Father, from which comes all, and to whom we belong.” Notice he states that there are indeed many gods, but “for us there is one God.” Oddly, near the end of the video, James criticizes Mormonism for believing in a God that is “the only true God for us.” James’ rhetoric is departing from, and criticizing, the rhetoric of the Bible. This becomes necessary when one’s ideology is based not on the Bible alone, but on centuries of tradition and philosophical and political debate. No religion is based exclusively, or even primarily, on the Bible. James states that the Book of Mormon contradicts the Bible in numerous places, but he himself contradicts the Bible, as does the very Bible itself. It is not univocal. It contains numerous different, and not uncommonly contradictory, viewpoints. James disagrees with this, of course, but he cannot defend his dogmatism on an academic or intellectual level.

James then makes a number of assertions that Mormonism does not align with “biblical” concepts of atonement, the Godhead, etc. The problem with this is that James’ concept of atonement, the Godhead, etc., are also not biblical. They’re traditional. His view of the Trinity is not biblical, it’s Nicene (he has argued otherwise, but I know of no single scholar who does not have a deeply vested interest in his conclusion who agrees with him). It derives from philosophical debates which took place in the late third and early fourth centuries CE. His notion of atonement comes from the Reformation. His notion of grace comes from the Reformation through modern Fundamentalism. He will argue it is biblical, of course, but the same hermeneutic circles and anti-intellectualism define those arguments as well. James has no more a corner on the Bible than Mormonism. It’s a variegated and conflicted book that has as many interpretations as it has readers, and as we’ve seen, for other Christians James’ own positions fail the text of Christianity.

What James is arguing throughout his video is that Mormonism is not Evangelicalism. This hardly needs a 14 minute video to point out, though. The implication, however, is that because it is not Evangelicalism, it is not Christian. Mormonism is not the only religion James has decoupled from Christianity for not being Evangelical enough. James has argued elsewhere that Catholicism also does not merit the title “Christian.” Why? It’s unbiblical, at least according to Evangelicalism.

James doesn’t consider Mormons Christian, and that’s fine. That’s his prerogative. His argument, however, is not supported by anything other than dogmatism. It is only valid for others who share his particular sectarian views. From an objective and intellectual point of view, it’s a non-starter. It has no real bearing on anyone who does not already accept the premise for dogmatic reasons, although the rhetoric is likely to be effective on those who don’t know any better. In light of these considerations, his argument fails on all counts to substantiate his thesis.

UPDATE: James begins a response to this post on his Alpha & Omega Ministries blog here. I am busy with a couple papers this week, but will hopefully have some comments up shortly after I’m done.

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57 responses to “James White: Mormons Are Not Christians

  • Hamblin of Jerusalem

    Ah, James White, that unrbreachable bastion of illogical dogmatism. I dare say, that the defining characteristic of a Christian for White is that you must agree with White.

  • Mike Gantt

    Interesting. Both James’s argument and yours presuppose that the identity of “Christian” means something to God. But maybe I’ve assumed too much. That is, maybe the two of you are only presupposing that the label means something to people. But if that’s the case, I’d wonder what makes the disagreement important.

    • Daniel O. McClellan

      Hi Mike. Thanks for the comment. I’m approaching this question academically, since I don’t presume to speak for God, so yes, I’m treating it as a social rather than a soteriological question. I personally think that how religions interact and get along socially is an important issue, and being accused over and over again of not legitimately following the person whose name is in the name of one’s church has a way of compelling one to respond.

  • unheeding

    As an exMormon, my opinion might be biased. However I would answer a qualified “yes” to the question of if Mormons are Christians. Certainly they claim to follow Jesus Christ in their doctrine, but much of their doctrine is heretical.

    For example, they believe that God has a body of flesh and blood. The God they say created our planet lives in the physical universe near a star named Kolob. In this sense, they are worshiping a vastly different God than what Christians worship. This leads to a sort of psuedo-polytheism which I think is a novel attribute in Mormonism, where God The Father used to be a man.
    There’s a couplet in Mormonism, coined by the fifth President of the LDS Church Lorenzo Snow: “As man is, God once was; as God is, man may become.” This statement, along with what I’ve learned of Mormon theology seems to point to Mormonism being fixated on reproduction. One goes through the rituals in Mormonism so that one may become as God, and create lots of spirit children in heaven so you can populate your own planet. The cycle then presumably continues through eternity. Some early Church leaders even taught that Adam is God.

    The Adam-God theory, however nicely it closes this infinite loop in Mormon cosmology, is no longer part of Mormon orthodoxy. Instead, we have an endless string of Gods. Just like what happened to Elohim (God the Father), one day you’ll become a God, and then your spirit children will also become Gods by being born on your newly created planet and performing rituals on there. The point of why this reproduction is necessary is never quite explained.

    To summarize: While they have pictures of Jesus adorning their walls, their conception of God the Father is bordering on polytheism.

    • Daniel O. McClellan

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I would characterize Mormonism as monolatrous, rather than polytheistic. I think that term adequately distinguishes between a belief system that recognizes the existence of other gods but only worships one, and a belief system that worships several gods.

      Having said that, as I pointed out in my post, the Bible unquestionably recognizes the existence of other divine beings, as do all religionists who believe in angels, demons, Satan, etc. In light of that, all people who believe in those divine beings can be said to be monolatrous. I’m happy to let them call themselves monotheists, though, since the word was coined to describe just such a belief system. The only real difference between Mormonism and traditional Christianity, then, is the notion that humans can be elevated to godhood. I don’t want to get into that debate right now, but this was not an uncommon belief among Jews and Christians around the turn of the era. The notion that God had a body was also common around that time period. It really didn’t begin to be rejected until the third century CE for Christianity, and later for Judaism. A couple good articles on the issue are the following:

      http://books.google.com/books?id=5_NEq76VrYYC&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false (starting on p. 157)

      http://www.jstor.org/pss/1509938

      http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=106955

      The Adam-God theory is a relic and really has no bearing on modern Mormon theology. I also don’t think it’s helpful to try to imply that Mormon doctrines arise out of an obsession with sex. These comments are those attempts to score points with shock value, which are really irrelevant to the question of whether or not Mormons are Christians. They’re more closely associated with the question of whether or not Mormonism aligns with your particular brand of Christianity. Your statement that “they have pictures of Jesus adorning their walls” is clearly meant to suggest that Jesus is peripheral, or incidental, to Mormon theology, which absolutely could not be any further from the truth. What is peripheral and incidental are concerns about an infinite regress of gods and the Adam-God theory; things which you’ve emphasized over and against the Mormon view of Jesus. For those who approach Mormonism from a purely sectarian point of view, the priorities must be reversed before the rhetoric can be effective. This appears to be your approach, but I would be happy to be wrong.

  • Mike Gantt

    Daniel, insofar as your zeal for His name I am with you 100%.

  • Jeremy

    Just from the title of your post, I was going to drop by and welcome you to the club ;-). But, you noted Catholicism in your second to last paragraph. I get the feeling that if James White is right about much of what he says, he is going to be incredibly lonely in heaven. There’s going to be him and … well, maybe some of the guys who are a part of his ministry.

  • ian Paul

    Daniel, I hope you don’t mind my offering some reflections, even though I don’t know much about the Christian/Mormon debate.

    1. I agree wholeheartedly that White’s boundaries are strangely narrow. But I don’t think I am persuaded by your responses as they stand. I don’t think it is true to say that trinitarianism is a later development, rooted in Nicea, even though this is a common observation. The function of Nicea was not to develop doctrine, but to clarify what was true about the apostolic witness found in Scripture, which is why texts like John 1 were so important in the debate.

    The Trinity is not so much ‘in’ the New Testament, but is implied by it. So the constellation of appellations in Romans 10 (for example) not only have an impact on imperial ideology, but, in Paul’s Jewish monotheistic context, have significant implications for the doctrine of God. As Richard Bauckham says, the Trinity is necessary to make sense of the narrative of the New Testament.

    There is a great summary of key issues in the Trinity here http://faith-theology.blogspot.com/2006/02/ten-propositions-on-trinity.html which represents a generous orthodoxy on this matter which I think Mormonism would not share.

    2. I don’t think it matters much if the term ‘monotheism’ is late; what matters is that the commitment to the worship of a single divine being was strongly felt in second temple judaism (and I am with Larry Hurtado on this). The first Jesus-followers were also committed to this, and had to make sense of their experience of Jesus-devotion in this context. A central part of Christian identity (and the practical outworking of trinitarian belief) is that worship of God is offered to and through Jesus; if this isn’t a feature of Mormon devotion, then that would be data against called it ‘Christian’.

    (I wonder if the similar phrases of Paul and James White actually have different content. Paul is saying that people worship all sorts of gods in the world; but we worship the One True God. White appears to be protesting against postmodern relativism ‘You believe your truth; I’ll believe mine.’ I think Paul too would have said that the one true God and father of Jesus is in fact Lord of all.)

    3. Something often missed in the debates is the question of the canon of Scripture. I am with Tom Wright in his comment that talk of the authority of Scripture only makes sense if it is talk of the authority of God as he speaks through Scripture. But this ties the nature of the canon to the nature of God, something the NT in fact does in several places. Key criteria in the forming of the NT canon were whether the witnesses were apostolic, and whether they were reliable in their testimony of Jesus. Since Scripture is a testimony to God’s speaking, and since Jesus was the expression of the word of God, then the OT (as a record of God’s acts and words) is in the canon as Jesus’ Scripture, and the NT is in the canon as testimony to Jesus.

    Any religious tradition which adds to the canon of scripture is implicitly or explicitly claiming that God speaks to us apart from the person of Jesus, which again comes back to the doctrine of God.

    4. I agree with you that White’s dismissal of Roman Catholicism is daft, since if Trinitarianism is the touchstone of Christian identity, clearly (formally at least) Catholicism is Trinitarian. However, I would agree with him (as a former RC myself) that there are points at which RC is seriously in error in relation to the Scriptural witness to Jesus and the Trinity, mostly around the person of Mary. Her perpetual virginity is from all angles implausible and her Assumption and identity as co-redemtrix (the former a doctrine of the Church, the latter not universal) have serious implications for the understanding of the Trinity.

    5. This raises the much bigger question (as you suggest) of how you define Christian identity. I don’t agree with you that we must allow self-identification to play a controlling part, since 75% of UK citizens self-identified thus at our last census, to some controversy. I remember seeing a news clip of the Balkan wars when a man shouted to camera ‘I am Christian! I hate Muslims! I kill all Muslims!’ Any self-identification must be tested against the historical and canonical claims surrounding the person of Jesus.

    So I would not agree with White, but on this range of issues I suspect neither would I include Mormons as a Christian religious movement. (And I am not clear why they would want to be so called?)

    • Daniel O. McClellan

      Ian-

      Sorry for taking so long to respond to this, but things are coming at me from all directions, and this slipped through the cracks. It’s clear we are going to disagree on fundamental issues, but I think there’s definitely a great deal of value in sharing some reflections. My numbered comments correspond to yours:

      1) I am among those who would disagree that Trinitarianism is implied in the New Testament, at least in a manner that could at all be called intentional. I believe that it falls within a broad range of interpretive possibilities for the combined corpora if one demands a univocal reading be imposed on the collection, but I don’t think such a reading is merited. Bauckham’s comment can only be taken seriously if one supposes the necessity or legitimacy of a univocal reading, and I have argued vehemently against just such a supposition on multiple occasions in the past. I find the New Testament to be a collection of variegated and sometimes even contradictory perspectives on the gospel of Christ, and I think trying to harmonize them ultimately does more damage than good to proper exegesis.

      I recognize that Mormonism does not align with standard orthodox understandings of the Trinity, but we believe Christianity was originally about orthopraxy, not orthodoxy, and that the latter developed out of the philosophical milieu stirred up by the apologists in the second century and perpetuated by the interplay of church and state in subsequent centuries.

      2) I disagree that a central part of Christian identity in the first century was that worship to God was offered to and through Jesus. This was the argument Dunn put forth in trying to assert a Protestant understanding of “the first Christians,” and I’ve shared my thoughts about his methodologies in my reviews of his book. I believe the central part of Christian identity in the first century was that Jesus was the Christ. The relationship of Jesus to God, and the path worship must take to arrive at God is only ever treated in the latest books of the New Testament, written at the end of the first century, and even then the perspectives are varied and unclear enough that I look with suspicion on any attempt to nail them definitively to any later creedal views of that relationship.

      3) I disagree that the canon bears on the composition or original understanding of the New Testament. I don’t see the concept of a canon developing until late first/early second century. The actual canon itself is much later, and I don’t see any evidence that its final form is anything other than incidental. To reject adding to the canon one must conclude that the canon is closed, but I see nothing in the Old or New Testament that even indicates the notion of a canon, much less its formal delineation.

      4) While I agree that there are things in the Catholic church that conflict with scripture, I don’t think there’s a church on this planet that does not hold to ideologies that conflict with scripture, including my own.

      5) Your comment indicates to me that we’re back to the problem of identifying Christians based on who we don’t want to be associated with, and I think the main reason is that many tend to equate identification as a Christian with saved status. In other words, many believe to be a Christian means to be saved. I’m not the judge of who is and who is not saved, though. I can’t see what’s in anyone’s heart but my own. Only God can see that, and if Jesus’ words are any indication, salvation is not based on a correct understanding of the ontological relationship of God to Jesus, but on doing the will of God, as it says in Matthew 7:21. I strive to follow that principle, as I know many do who claim to be Christian. I certainly can’t accuse anyone who makes that claim to be lying based on the denomination to which they subscribe. I’m not going to say to any of them that they’re failing just because they don’t follow my interpretations of the Bible (Mark 9:38-41).

  • Faith-Promoting Rumor » Rethinking Mormon Christianity

    [...] so are motivated by theology. The internet is full of such conversations; one of the most recent is Dan McClellan’s response to James White. I absolutely agree with Dan and affirm Latter-day Saint’s right to define themselves and [...]

  • Jeff

    Great post–thanks!

    I’m curious–what does the Hebrew phrase in your header mean?

  • Hjalti

    I saw this on the AOmin blog: “I have an LDS blog to respond to as soon as I can, though that may end up being a multi-part series here on the blog.” #

    I hope he was talking about this blog. :D

    • Daniel O. McClellan

      That would be a treat! I wouldn’t call my blog an “LDS blog,” though. I’d categorize it more as a biblical studies/Hebrew Bible blog. I rarely talk about uniquely LDS themes.

      • Hjalti

        And James White has revealed that he was in fact talking about this blog!

        This will be fun! :D (I hope we will get to see something from him regarding elohim/judges and all that)

  • Daniel O. McClellan

    Based on what he’s posted on his blog, it appears he’s going to just try to make Mormonism sound thoroughly un-Protestant and equate Protestantism with all things biblical. His post, for instance, shows he’s working on Smith’s view of grace, which was one of the criticisms he logged in the video that I didn’t bother addressing. That’s only a guess, though. I hope he can engage what I’ve written on an academic and objective level. In his past interactions with LDS folks he’s not been able to do that, but I’m not going to write that possibility off.

  • Elias

    Whenever we define what a Christian is, we must first define what it meant to 1st century Palistinians who first came up with the term. They attributed the name “Christian” to

  • Elias

    (sorry) …just to finish my thought… The term “Christian” was a derogatory term which meant “little Christ’s.” Eventually it became a badge of honor to the early believers who adopted the term. These early believers did not believe what Mormons today want to call “Christianity.” In it is only those who believe what they believed that can be given the name of Christian. The N.T. tells us what they believed which is contrary to Mormonism which is why Mormon cannot and should not himself/herself a Christian.

    • Daniel O. McClellan

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts. By way of clarification, though, Christian does not mean “little Christ’s” (is this plural or possessive?), it literally means “of or belonging to Christ.” Additionally, exactly what those first Christians believe is debatable, but one can hardly argue that modern Protestantism or Catholicism or any of their denominations is appreciably closer to first century Christianity than Mormonism or than any other modern Christian tradition. They’re all products of cultural, traditional, intellectual, and religious innovations far removed from first century Christianity (which itself was quite diverse), and the majority of the theological pillars of modern traditions are simply not issues that were ever considered or addressed.

  • Ian Paul

    Daniel, I think it is rather odd to say that no modern Christian tradition is any closer to the first century beliefs. Roman Catholicism theologically sets itself has having developed beyond first century beliefs. But any Protestant denomination is rooted in the Reformation intention to be reformed precisely by those first century beliefs.

    Not all Protestant denominations might achieve this, but this is at least their implicit aims. I for one want my theology to be precisely shaped by these New Testament writings. I don’t know if you are familiar with the formularies of the Church of England, but the 39 Articles say explicitly that there should not be anything in C of E doctrine that should is not proved by the ‘sure warrant of Scripture.’

    I would be really surprised if there was a similar commitment in Mormonism…?

    • Daniel O. McClellan

      I agree that the Reformation intended to root itself in the Bible, but it is still an intellectual product of its time, and Protestantism remains firmly entrenched in several fundamental ideologies that were developed well after the first century.

  • Arlin

    McClellan:

    Two points:

    1) Mr. McClellan, you said: “There was no such thing as a Trinitarian prior to the fourth century CE. James may argue that it is biblical in origin, but no one prior to Nicea ever expressed the notion as James understands it. ”

    Mr. McClellan, as you should be aware, Tertullian (circa 2nd-3rd century) clearly defined “the trinity” in his work “Adversus Praxea” (circa beginning of the 3rd century).

    You were off in your statement by at least 150 years.

    Considering it is highly unlikely Tertullian was the first to speak in such terms, the academic teaching of the doctrine probably dates far earlier.

    Considering the fact that scripture quite directly implies the trinity, it dates from the start.

    2) Mr. McClellan, if you are incapable of defining “Christian” even as monotheistic, then according to you, the term has absolutely no meaning.

    Considering the fact that Christianity has universally always been monotheistic and it goes against reason to state otherwise, then you have absolutely nothing meaningful to say or add to anything regarding the topic of ‘Christianity’.

    Oxford or otherwise, to utterly fumble the most basic element of Christian theism is entirely reprehensible for anyone claiming to hold the title ‘scholar’.

    • Daniel O. McClellan

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Arlin. Feel free to call me Dan (or El Duderino if you’re not into the whole brevity thing). Regarding your first point, I would point out first that Tertullian did use the word “trinitas,” but that alone hardly comprises “the Trinity as James understands it.” A close look at Tertullian’s ideas about the relationship shared by God and Jesus (and the Spirit) will also show that he espoused a sort of subordinationism and believed there was a time when there was no Son (that should sound familiar). Like the Apologists before him, he dated the Son’s generation to time of the universe’s creation. Since Tertullian’s iteration of the Trinity is not at all “as James understands it,” I am not at all off in my statement. Additionally, there’s no reason simply to assume that he couldn’t have innovated the idea, and I disagree heartily that the Trinity as James understands it is “quite directly” implied or even indirectly implied in the Bible.

      On your second point, if we approach the notion of monotheism from a strictly etymological point of view, then no, it simply has no relevance for Judeo-Christian theology. If we recognize, however, that it developed as a descriptive term, and we allow it to be understood as characterizing the theological systems it was developed to describe, then it does have relevance. If we allow for the latter, however, we must point out that Jewish and Christian monotheism does not mean belief in the existence of one single deity. It is mostly used to describe monolatrous beliefs, or the acknowledgment of the existence of other divine beings (or gods), but the worship of only one. Even under that rubric, however, texts like Rev 3:9, 21, 1 Enoch, 4Q246, and others, show worship was expected to be offered to beings other than God during and after the different conceptualizations of the eschaton. We must also weigh the polytheistic background of pre-exilic Israel. In light of this, it does not at all “go against reason” to state that Christianity has not “universally always been monotheistic” (that is, assuming the etymological understanding of “monotheism” that you appear to assert).

      I approach this and all other questions on this blog academically and without bias or vitriol, as far as I am able, and I’d appreciate the same courtesy extended to me in the future.

      • Arlin

        Dan,

        Four points:

        1) Dan, as a learned scholar you should know, Tertullian’s trinitarianism extends far beyond simply using the term ‘trinitas’. The language in Tertullian’s “Adversus Praxean” bears remarkable similarity to modern trinitarian language.

        The notion that The Son proceeds from the Father and the Spirit from the Son is taught verbatim in Ad. Praxean IV.

        Tertullian’s eloquent notion in chapters IX and XXV that the three are one substance yet distinct in person is verbatim what we say today.

        2) Certainly Tertullian did say things differently then we might, and was certainly in err on certain points, the substance of his teaching seems nearly identical in many ways to our teachings today.

        Because of this similarity in terminology the burden of proof is then on you to demonstrate from Tertullian’s writings where he claims the son was created or did not exist as a person at some point.

        For comparison to Tertullian’s work, I would point to Dr. Jame’s White’s book “The Forgotten Trinity” as a resource you may want to read if you have not. It was written quite intentionally as a laymen’s resource, which makes it far more broadly useful.

        3) Regardless, the fact that Tertullian’s language is so directly and substantially analogous to modern Trinitarianism, which is descendant from Nicene trinitarianism, which was itself derived from scripture and Tertullian trinitarianism, shows that your statements earlier about Nicene being the source of trinitarian doctrine were simply wrong.

        The fact that the scriptures were the basis for these doctrines and consistently demonstrate these doctrines in such prominent places as the Great Commission in Mathew 25 and the Baptism of Jesus in Matt. 3, Mark 1, and Luke 3, as well as a host of other references and texts, further demonstrates the fact that this doctrine is historically basic to Christian theism, dating as early as the founding documents themselves were inscribed. Lack of clear exposition of the doctrine prior to Tertullian is not evidence that the doctrine was not clearly implied in the texts themselves.

        To claim as you have that such is the case is to beg the question most blatantly.

        3) The belief that there is only one divine being is central to Old Testament Judaism and New Testament Christianity. Your claim that “it simply has no relevance for Judeo-Christian theology” goes against reason. The God of the Old Testament clearly and frequently declares himself to be the sole deity in heaven and earth, in addition to the command to worship no other god before him. The whole argument by God in the Old Testament that He alone should be worshiped is itself predicated on the reality that there is no other God besides Him to legitimately worship.

        Being the only deity, He alone is worthy of worship, for He is thrice Holy.

        In every case where other deities are mentioned in the Old Testament, it is in the context of mockery, analogy, denial, or derision.

        The Old Testament narrative makes absolutely no coherent sense when read from a perspective of this notion of “monolatrism”.

        Again, a ‘Biblical Monolatrism’ is predicated on the notion of true monotheism.

        This translates directly to the New Testament where monotheism is assumed.

        4)Your use of a text like Rev. 3:9 and 21 to argue for the idea that “worship was expected to be offered to beings other than God” is exceedingly forced. This purely eisegetical reading has no place in any legitimate ‘scholarship’. God honouring His faithful people before the unfaithful rebels is not in any way analogous to a proper worship of God. I will not address 1 Enoch as that is apocryphal and only deemed canonical post-Reformation by the Roman church. It was rejected as cannon frequently throughout Church history and by the Jews as well. Thus it is not relevant to anything I have said.

        -Arlin

  • Midwest Center for Theological Studies: Owensboro, KY > Blog > New James White Series on Mormonism

    [...] is his introduction: I was recently referred to a blog article by a young Mormon writer and scholar, Daniel McClellan. He seems like a bright, intelligent young [...]

  • Mike Gantt

    Arlin,

    If trinitarianism were a teaching of the New Testament, you would not have to quote Tertullian to prove that this doctrine was pre-Nicean.

    As for the New Testament passages that you mention, there is indeed a way to view them as being consistent with trinitarianism, but that it a far cry from establishing that those passages teach triniarianism.

    I am not a Mormon. I say these things only as an honest reader of the New Testament.

    • Arlin

      Dan,

      I had a response in the works… but it got eaten up when I mistakenly closed the wrong window. =(

      I may or may not respond to your last post at some point in the future.

      I do have three questions for you in the mean time though:

      If Jesus is a God, the Father is a God, and the Son is a God, and you worship all three… how is this monolatrism as you contend Christianity is based in?
      Furthermore, if the father is the literal father of the son, and we are all the children of the father, how were we created through Jesus?

      Furthermore, if we are the spiritual siblings of Jesus, is it not idolatrous to worship our brother and generational equal?

      Mike,

      I was not attempting to prove that it was pre-Nicea from the quote of Tertullian. I clearly stated such and quoted several texts where the Trinity is implied in the text, but I suppose I should be even clearer: In Christian history, the trinity is exposited as far back as Tertullian, with varying degrees of clarity.

      The Trinity is grounded in the text of the New Testament so firmly that any other reading makes nonsense of the full counsel of the word of God.

      • Daniel O. McClellan

        Arlin-

        I know exactly how that feels, and I’m sorry your work went in the trash like that. It’s incredibly frustrating.

        Regarding your questions:

        1) I wouldn’t say I worship all three of them separately. I worship God through Jesus and the Spirit. However, I don’t find it problematic if one says they worship God and Jesus separately, or that they worship God and not Jesus. Both phenomena can be identified in early Christianity. I see no reason to reject early Christian practices because one assumes as inviolable the modern philosophical construct of etymological monotheism, especially when the Bible repeatedly and explicitly contradicts that construct.

        2) We believe God created us, not Jesus. We are spiritually reborn of Jesus when we take upon us his name (Mosiah 5:7). An early LDS treatment of the capacities in which God and Jesus are “Father” is provided here:

        http://www.schoolofabraham.com/fatherandson.htm

        If you intend to bring up John 1:3, I would point out that Latter-day Saints believe humanity is coeternal with God and Jesus, and so they were not primevally “made.” Before you try your hand at any other proof-texting, keep in mind this isn’t the first time Latter-day Saints have ever had to respond to this issue.

        3) I guess that depends on your definition of “idolatrous.” Since that adjective is a modern construct, you will need a pretty darn good argument for “worship of generational equal = idolatrous”

        Regarding your final paragraph in your comments to Mike, I would point out that you are not only presupposing a univocal reading of the Bible, but insisting it is the only way to read it. Since the Bible simply is not univocal, your premise is flawed. There is no reason to try to synthesize the entire Bible when exegeting any single verse or multiple verses.

      • Arlin

        Dan,

        1) Jesus is worshiped in early Christianity, the Bible, and in my Church because He is Himself God, sharing in substance the divine being in total distinct equality in nature and substance with the Father and the Holy Spirit. That is why worshiping Jesus is a Biblical, early Christian, and modern practice.

        Mormonism promotes a locally isolated tri-latrism set apart in an endless polytheistic pantheon of unknown gods.

        On another note, this sentence has no meaning: “one assumes as inviolable the modern philosophical construct of etymological monotheism”. Sure the words themselves mean things, but the ideas behind them are vacuous, synthetic, forced, even meaningless.

        This phrase especially ‘[the] construct of etymological monotheism’ is an irrational non-category.

        What is ‘etymological monotheism’ as opposed to ‘non-etymological monotheism’?

        What does it mean to be a philosophical construct?

        How does the Bible’s endless condemnations of idolatry, other-god-worship, and the non-existence of God’s besides Yahweh contradict monotheism?

        2) I was thinking more along the lines of Colossians 1: 15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

        Namely 16 and 17 which reads: 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

        This entirely contradicts what you said in your 2nd point, by the way.

        3) “Idolatry” is hardly a modern construct, nor is the adjective a ‘modern construct’. The entire Old Testament categorically labels the worship of anything other than the one true God to be ‘idolatry’. 3/10ths of the 10 commandments deal with the topic.

        The scriptural proof of such a reality is so vast, I can only cite books rather than chapters or verses: Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, Chronicles, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekial, Hosea, and so on.

        The condemnations of worshiping gods other than Yahweh, and the fact that any other god doesn’t even exist are so numerous and so plentiful, it even makes up the core theme of many of these books.

        In the New Testament, Acts 17, Romans 1. The word itself, having the same meaning, is even found in the greek in: 1 Peter, 1 John, Revelations, Ect.

        4) If the Bible is the word of God, then to not read it through synthesis and as a univocal document is to do damage to the text and to dishonor God.
        Especially from a literary perspective, considering most of the documents are directly predicated on previous texts, to not read them in that light is a disservice to the authors as well.

  • Daniel O. McClellan

    Arlin-

    1) Lexical overlap doesn’t at all support the notion that the concepts were identical. After all, virtually the entire Trinitarian lexicon derives from Greek philosophical movements like Stoicism and middle- and neo-Platonism. If lexical overlap means complete equation, then the Trinity comes exclusively from a Stoic and Platonic interpretation of the Bible. Tertullian is particularly close to those ideologies in his conceptualization of the Son as an emanation from the Father. Tertullian only says verbatim what you say today in some areas. In other areas he says what you vehemently condemn today. He’s thought by many to be an early forerunner to Arianism, in that he asserts that the unity of the Son is to be understood according to his origin and not his essence.

    2) As I said before, Tertullian did not promote the Trinity as James understands it. He promoted what is universally understood by Trinitarians today as a heretical version of the Trinity. Of course, the orthodox position did not exist yet, so Tertullians contemporaries could hardly have taken issue with it. Against Praxeas, by the way, comes during Tertullians full incorporation of the Montanist’s New Prophecy. In his earlier Apology he treats the Godhead as containing only two persons, identifying the Son with the Spirit (21.11). This shows, among other things, that Tertullian is not at all appealing to an established set of doctrines that exists apart from his theology, but that he is developing these notions concomitantly with the development of his arguments against the ideologies to which he’s responding.

    3) No, the Trinity is not found in the Bible. You cannot point to a single text that cannot better be understood as a unity of will, purpose, and perfection. That Jesus prays in the Intercessory Prayer for his followers to become one with God as he is one with God quite clearly undermines the priority of a Trinitarian understanding of Jesus’ oneness with God. Certainly exegetes can force the scriptures to fit their presuppositions, but that’s not scholarship, that’s dogmatism. The Trinity is not at all implied, much less “clearly implied.” It developed from a Greek philosophical reading of the Bible governed by the inviolability of the non-biblical “one God” ideology.

    3 [4]) Neither the Old nor New Testament espouse the notion that there is only one divine being. Angels, demons, Cherubim, Seraphim, Satan, etc., all absolutely preclude such a notion. On the notion that the Old Testament denies the existence of other divine beings, see here:

    http://danielomcclellan.wordpress.com/2009/09/17/on-monotheism-and-other-gods-in-the-hebrew-bible/

    I would point out that there are numerous instances where the other gods are mentioned in contexts completely devoid of derision, condemnation, mockery, or any other negative sense. A few examples include Deut 32:8, 43; Job 1:6; 2:1; 38:7; Ps 97:7.

    4 [5]) Your response to Rev 3:9, 21 amounts to little more than “Nu-uh.” God is not simply honoring his people, the wicked are bowing down and worshipping the Philadelphians. Those who overcome are then said to sit down in God’s throne even as Christ sat down in his throne. The meaning is clear.

    I suggest you think twice about 1 Enoch. It most certainly was considered scripture by the majority of early Jews and Christians. The book of Jude quotes it verbatim and refers to it as the prophecy of Enoch, and there were more copies of Enoch found at Qumran than all other books of the Bible except for Psalms and Deuteronomy. 1 Enoch was accepted as scripture by the Epistle of Barnabas as well as by Athenagoras, Clement of Alexandria, Irenaeus, and Tertullian (who said Jews only reject it because it prophesies of Christ, by the way).

  • Daniel O. McClellan

    Arlin-

    1) If you want to talk about words that don’t really mean anything when put together into a putative sentence, I would nominate this: “He is Himself God, sharing in substance the divine being in total distinct equality in nature and substance with the Father and the Holy Spirit.” What is “total distinct equality”? It sounds somewhat like “total different sameness,” or something like that. You’re using language that only has meaning within a specific social context, and you’re not in that social context right now. Your characterization of Mormon theology is creative, but it has nothing to do with actual Latter-day Saint belief and practice.

    Now, my sentences are neither vacuous, synthetic, forced, nor meaningless. I very clearly in my main post above and in my comments distinguish between the etymological meaning of monotheism (which has no applicability to Christianity or Judaism), and an understanding of the word as a descriptive term. When I refer to “etymological monotheism” I refer to a definition that rests on the etymological fallacy, which is unfortunately a very common problem these days. A philosophical construct is a concept that is primarily built upon philosophical premises. Etymological monotheism has nothing to do with Christianity or Judaism, and yet it developed within those circles because it is based exclusively on philosophical musings.

    As I stated earlier, the Bible never asserts the non-existence of other deities. I linked you to a post where I argued that point. You may respond to it or you may abandon your claim. You will not reassert your position without directly addressing my argument, though.

    EDIT: It’s been pointed out that your language doesn’t seem to be growing increasingly frustrated to other readers, so I’ve removed that comment an apologize for misreading you.

    2) Regarding Colossians, you take a pretty literalistic approach to “all things,” don’t you? Tell me, does that mean Christ created himself and the Father, or does “all things” not really mean “absolutely all things”? Acts 2:5 says there were Jews from every nation under heaven in Jerusalem. Does this mean there were Jews in the Americas or in the far east that were living in Jerusalem? John 4:29 tells us Christ told the Samaritan woman “all things” she ever did. That would take a while. Acts 10:39 says Jesus disciples were witnesses to all things that he did in Jerusalem and the wider land of the Jews. All things? When the Bible, or any literature, speaks in such absolute terms, it’s usually hyperbole or rhetoric of some other kind. You can interpret Colossians how you wish. I prefer not to think of God the Father as having been created by Christ.

    3) I didn’t say the generic notion of idolatry was a modern construct, I said the adjective “idolatrous” was a modern construct, and it is. The word appears nowhere in the Hebrew Bible, and the word for “idol” hardly has anything to do with the meaning you imply for “idolatrous.” gilulim basically means “image.” pesel just means a divine image cast in metal. elilim means a weak or useless thing and is just a play on the word elim, “gods.” These all refer to cult objects and have nothing to do with an abstract concept of idolatry as anything other than the use of a cult object in worship.

    Additionally, I’ve already pointed out in my post, in the comments, and in posts to which I’ve linked, that worship of other beings is found as far back as we can go in ancient Israel and all the way up to the book of Revelation. It continues in rabbinic literature and in the Catholic Church, as well. And there are more affirmations of the existence of other gods throughout the Bible than there are putative denials of their existence.

    4) That’s only if you presuppose that “word of God” invariably means “univocal.” I personally don’t think “word of God” has ever been comprehensively defined, so I try not to make assumptions about what it means over and against what the evidence clearly shows. Since you ostensibly only have the Bible to tell you what “word of God” means, though, you’re stuck in a hermeneutic circle. I’ll stick to what the data support and leave the fallacies and dogmatism to others.

  • Frederick Santal

    >By the way, your language is starting to sound frustrated and aggressive, and that’s not necessary.

    I didn’t see that in Arlin’s comments.

  • Paul Owen

    Hey Daniel. I think a lot of these kind of debates boil down to arguments about terminology. In a certain sense, it is true that the title “Christian” belongs to everyone who claims it. All human beings who believe in and love Jesus Christ stand in a certain kind of relation to God that promises life (John 3:16). At the final judgment, we will ultimately know who stood in a right relation to God during their mortal life and who did not (Matt. 25; Rev. 20).

    A more pertinent question might be, Where do we find Christ’s Church, in visible form on earth? We certainly can make determinations as to who is or is not in the Church, provided we know where that Church is to be found. Both Mormons and historic catholic Christians (Roman, Greek and Anglican) answer this question the same. The Church is found where there is a functioning ministry and gathering of the faithful through those who stand in the apostolic succession. On this basis, as an Anglican, I can confidently say that Roman Catholics, Greek Catholics, and Anglo-Catholics are in clear and certain communion with the Church. Reformed and Lutheran Protestants (Methodists also) stand in a kind of broken but real communion with the Church. And those modern evangelical bodies who lack any form of historic apostolic succession of ministry stand outside the visible Church (though their individual members may have a real union with Christ and his church through baptism and faith). Mormons, on this definition, are clearly outside the visible Church of Christ, since they lack any and all ties to the apostolic succession. Rather than debate about the title “Christian,” it might be more fruitful for Mormons and their partners in dialogue to debate the definition of the Church and orders of ministry, since both claim to go back to the original apostles.

    • Daniel O. McClellan

      I appreciate you sharing your thoughts, Paul. I agree that these kinds of debates usually boil down on a methodological level to an argument about terminology, and I think the main disconnect between Latter-day Saints and many other faiths is that we don’t equate “Christian” with “saved.” Leaving aside the LDS distinction between salvation and exaltation, we view salvation not as an event, but as a process that culminates after this life. As a result, we don’t think of ourselves as saved and we don’t equate identification as a Christian with an endorsement of someone’s saved status or even of their soteriology. It seems to me that it is just that endorsement within the Evangelical and Fundamentalist movements that contributes to the need to exclude so many from the group. Originally that need was supplemented with the notion that new religious movements were detrimental to the physical well-being of individuals and of society as a whole, but that idea was abandoned long ago.

      Having said that, in my post I tried to make clear that I am trying to approach this issue from a purely academic point of view. My criticisms of James’ argument revolved around the fact that his accusations were neither logically sound nor empirically testable. They were simply dogmatic assertions, and they were based on sectarianism, or his countercultism, to be more precise (his approach falls well within the methodological parameters carved out by his countercult predecessors). My approach is neither an ecclesiastical nor a soteriological one. I would call it primarily sociological, but it is informed in large part by research relating to early Jewish sectarianism. From an ecclesiastical point of view it would be perfectly acceptable to enquire concerning “Christ’s church in visible form on earth,” but most of the debate would be based on truth claims that are not empirically testable. It would boil down to tradition and exegesis (the idea of apostolic succession, for instance, is a concept developed by the very church that insists that it is the key to the true church). While there’s a time and a place for that kind of debate (and as I’m sure you’re aware, there are a number of competent Latter-day Saint scholars engaging it), I prefer here on my blog to keep things grounded in critical scholarship as much as I can (whether or not I succeed is another debate altogether). That, after all, is what I’m trying to show is lacking in James’ approach.

  • Paul Owen

    Well the thing is, I think a lot of people would wonder why you are bothering at all. If you take the question “Are Mormons Christians?” out of the realm of theology, then obviously, there will be no answer to the question. Why then bother with the discussion?

    I would also take issue with you on the question of monotheism. The Old Testament throughout assumes and asserts that God is the only true God, unique in his nature, not a man like us, creator of all things, without parents, consort or sexual offspring. The faith of Israel, as a matter of the revealed religion to which God’s people were bound, is expressed in these sacred texts, and not in syncretistic practices that might be pointed to in cultural artifacts. Within the context of Deuteronomy and its emphatic affirmation of monotheism (32:17, 39), 32:8-9 most naturally suggests that while other nations were given over to the care of the gods, Yahweh chose Israel for himself. The Canaanite distinction between El and Baal is not envisioned within the Jewish Pentateuchal usage of El Elyon and YHWH. Speculating about the prehistory of the poem, is just that, speculating.

    That being said, even if El Elyon and YHWH were distinguished in this text as God the Father and God the Son, that would pose no problem for a Christian monotheist. Just as Christians believe that God is one, though the Son is not the Father, so in theory they could affirm that God is one (Dt. 6:4), though YHWH is not the Most High in this text.

    As for 1 Corinthians 8:5-6, we don’t have to go far to figure out the identity of the gods in view, for Paul identifies them as “demons” in 10:20. They are demons who are worshipped as gods (Deut. 32:17, 21). Obviously, the confession of “one God” has never ruled out the existence of other heavenly beings, whether in Judaism or Christianity. So these examples don’t really carry the argument forward.

    • Daniel O. McClellan

      I believe the question has relevance outside of theology. I’m approaching it academically. There are very real social consequences when this kind of sectarianism runs rampant, and the classification of certain religious groups as “cults,” is directly responsible for a number of lawsuits and criminal cases since the 1970s that have cost the government and numerous churches and individuals millions upon millions of dollars, not to mention jail time. James would have people believe that his brand of countercultism is exclusively soteriological in approach, but it comes out of a much different approach that is still around and still actively feeds off the rhetoric that he produces.

      I would disagree with you regarding a unified and consistent “one God” theology in the Hebrew Bible. This is not the best place to open that argument up entirely, but I will refer you to some places where I’ve discussed these issues before:

      http://danielomcclellan.wordpress.com/2009/09/17/on-monotheism-and-other-gods-in-the-hebrew-bible/

      http://danielomcclellan.wordpress.com/2010/12/02/second-sbl-paper/

      http://danielomcclellan.wordpress.com/2009/09/03/decoupling-yhwh-and-el/

      I discuss Asherah in this paper:

      http://danielomcclellan.wordpress.com/2010/12/26/the-historicity-of-josiahs-reforms/

      I am also preparing a response to Michael Heiser’s recent comments about my LXX Deuteronomy paper (which I link to above), which will address in more detail the reasons I conclude Yahweh and El were originally distinct.

      Regarding Paul, I don’t think the text supports the unilateral identification of the gods and lords mentioned in 8:5-6 with the deities to which pagans sacrifice in 10:20. Irrespective, calling something a demon is just calling it a god that I don’t like. The notion that calling it a demon means it does not contradict strict monotheism is one I address in my LXX Deuteronomy paper.

  • Andy

    Daniel,
    As I have read your article(et.al) and their comments, I would say that you have yet to clearly and convincingly demostrate why Mormons should be considered Christians. I am convinced of your education and beliefs however. That being said, no one will think less of you if you withdraw from this theological debate with James White. You are clearly out-matched even prior to considering that Dr. White argues from TRUTH.

    I pray that you one day leave the Mormon church and enter into the “ecclesia”. I would love to see your talents used for the Kingdom of God rather than Satan.

    • Donny

      Dan, I’ve never posted a comment on this blog till now, but I would like to inform you of what I see happening (and no doubt you see it too).

      This has become a bible bashing type thread between you and James White’s followers, who have only found your blog because of his recent posts on his site. They are trying to pull you into a religious debate. I remember a reply you made to a comment from a post long ago where you told the person you would not engage in a theological debate because this was an academic blog. I was really hoping to see you post that again. Sadly, this time, you have given in.

      To Andy:

      This is not the place for such posts. You may have said it kindly and with a smile on your face, but you have just told Dan he worships satan, and that all the work he does only furthers satan’s cause. That is not only very insulting to his beliefs, but also to all his academic work. I would hope more respect can be shown to everybody, regardless of religious conviction.

      • Daniel O. McClellan

        Yeah, I’ve seen things get pulled in that direction, but I’m not responding to any more comments like that, and my response to White will be strictly academic. Don’t worry.

      • Andy

        Donny,
        Until Mormons worship the God of the Bible and His eternal uncreated Son Jesus Christ, repent of their sins, and trust in Christ alone for their salvation (and not their works), then they will die in their sins and perish forever. Any worship not directed to the true God, is false and thus glorifies Satan. Sorry to be so blunt but the truth hurts sometimes. It can also set you free.

  • James White Responds « Daniel O. McClellan

    [...] are interested, James White has published two posts on his blog (here and here) in response to my recent criticisms of his video on Mormonism/Christianity. I have a lot on my plate right now, but I will hopefully [...]

  • Elias

    Daniel, it might me helpful for those reading your blog to have Dr. White’s response here on your blog.

    Here it is:

    “I was recently referred to a blog article by a young Mormon writer and scholar, Daniel McClellan. He seems like a bright, intelligent young man, though, sadly, he has clearly been influenced by the less-than-mature behavioral ticks of his mentors at BYU, men like Daniel C. Peterson and William Hamblin. We will note how this mars his otherwise interesting article below.

    I would like to use Mr. McClellan’s discussion in two ways. First, I wish to use it as a lens through which to view the rapidly changing landscape within Mormonism. Secondly, I would like to respond to his claims and demonstrate that the current forms of Mormon apologetic are incoherent and self-referentially destructive (let alone just bad examples of apologetic argumentation in defense of Joseph Smith’s religion).

    The New Mormon Apologists

    Anyone who has spent time reading in the early LDS sources (in such compilations as the Journal of Discourses, or in works such as Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, etc.) knows that there is a deep and pervasive anti-establishment mindset in the thinking of Smith and his early compatriots. The reason is obvious, of course: though the First Vision was not actually a part of the earliest apologetic of the LDS movement (indeed, evidence shows it to be a later accretion, coming toward the end of Smith’s life, and is not contemporary with the founding of the LDS Church in 1830), the movement was still very “restorationist” and hence anti-establishment in its outlook. Almost all charismatic, prophet-led movements of the day emphasized the direct spiritual nature of its leaders so as to give it a foundation to move away from the established churches. Mormonism was no different, but that emphasis remained central even after the relative isolation of the religion in the inter-mountain West. Mormons even to recent times were well known for eschewing “human wisdom” and the authority of “scholarship.”

    But times have changed. Brigham Young University was founded, and over time, the desire to be viewed as presenting credible “scholarship” within the “academy” has entered into the thinking of the LDS leadership (which is often drawn from the graduates of BYU). I remember clearly conversations with LDS elders nearly thirty years ago now where they emphasized the centrality of direst spiritual witness over against “man’s arguments” and “human scholarship.” But now, note the repetitive use of the new apologetic by Mr. McClellan:

    Because James’ concerns about Mormonism derive from sectarianism and not from an objective or intelligent assessment of Mormonism’s position within or without Christianity, his argument can only be made on dogmatic grounds. He cannot argue his position from an academic or a logical point of view. It always comes back to simple dogmatic sectarianism. James disagrees with this, of course, but he cannot defend his dogmatism on an academic or intellectual level.

    In neither case does Mr. McClellan defend his broad-brushed assertions (one hardly needs to do so in the context of BYU), but that is secondary to the fact that he is claiming to be “objective” and “intelligent” and “academic” and “logical” and “intellectual,” all things I, of course, have no concept of, being a mere dogmatist who never thinks to offer evidence or reason in my assertions. But this is not the language of the early Mormons, this is the language of the New Mormonism.

    Even more important than this shift in thinking is the shift in sources from which Mr. McClellan draws his materials. The early Mormons surely developed a strong bias against the accuracy and historical validity of the Bible, out of necessity. Joseph Smith’s religion, which lacks a self-sufficient, self-sustaining God, is so far removed at its foundation from historic and biblical Christianity that the resultant anti-biblical attitude is hardly shocking. The writings of the early Mormons are filled with comments about corruptions of the Bible. Orson Pratt was particularly notorious for this. In a pamphlet titled “Spiritual Gifts” Pratt opined that “These clashing translations are circulated…as the words of God, when, in reality, they are the words of translators;…the Bible in…all the languages of the earth, except the original in which it was given, is not the word of God, but the word of uninspired translators…so far as the uninspired translators and the people are concerned, no part of the Bible can, with certainty, be known by them to be the word of God” (p. 70). Now, notice the phrase “uninspired” here. Smith claimed “inspiration” for his “translation,” yet most LDS scholars today are loathe to even attempt to defend his obvious emendations and ahistorical tinkering with the text. Mormons have been quick to attack “worldly scholarship” and put it in contrast to the Spirit-given insights provided to LDS prophets and apostles.

    But what about the Bible as it was originally written? Pratt continued, “The Hebrew and Greek manuscripts of the Bible from which translations have been made, are evidently very much corrupted,…the learned are under the necessity of translating from such mutilated, imperfect, and, in very many instances, contradictory copies as still exist. This uncertainty, combined with the imperfections of uninspired translators, renders the Bibles of all languages, at the present day, emphatically the words of men, intead of the pure word of God.” Sounds a lot like what we hear from our Muslim friends, or from the radical atheists and skeptics who roam the halls of academia. So radical was Pratt’s anti-biblicism that, upon having launched such an attack upon the Bible, Brigham Young, speaking after him, said, “…this congregation heard brother O. Pratt scan the validity of the Bible, and I thought by the time he got through, that you would scarcely think a Bible worth picking up and carrying home, should you find one in the streets” (Journal of Discourses 3:116). Of course, Young went on to claim that “our testimony, witnesses, evidence and knowledge of these facts are ten thousand times more than can be produced in favor of the Bible,” a claim that surely makes any “intelligent” and “objective” person wince. Be that as it may, the point is this: the attack upon the Bible was intimately connected with a spiritual claim to the superiority of LDS Scriptures and the prophethood of Joseph Smith, all of which placed Mormonism very much in the charismatic/prophetic tradition, but surely not in the realm of skepticism and naturalistic materialism. Mormonism was not claiming to speak from the midst of “the academy.” It spoke, back then, with a singular voice, and claimed a singular authority.

    Daniel McClellan does not sound much like Joseph Smith. You can read Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith until you have his cadence and thinking memorized, and you will not hear him speak as Mr. McClellan. Smith spoke as one claiming prophetic unction; McClellan speaks as the religious liberal. Consider the key phrase from which I obtained the title for this series of blog entries:

    No religion is based exclusively, or even primarily, on the Bible. James states that the Book of Mormon contradicts the Bible in numerous places, but he himself contradicts the Bible, as does the very Bible itself. It is not univocal. It contains numerous different, and not uncommonly contradictory, viewpoints. James disagrees with this, of course, but he cannot defend his dogmatism on an academic or intellectual level.

    The view of Scripture McClellan presents, while sharing elements of disbelief with preceding generations of Mormons, likewise departs from them in this very important aspect: the disbelief expressed by earlier generations of Mormons was due to a spiritual acceptance of a higher authority, likewise enscripturated in the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price; but these enscripturated works only pointed to the higher reality of the continued presence of revelation in the restored church, i.e., to “Latter-day revelation.” As LeGrand Richards repeatedly emphasized in his oft-read work, A Marvelous Work and a Wonder,, Joseph Smith did not get his religion from the Bible. As he said regarding the Book of Mormon (p. 69), “and he did not get it, neither could he have gotten it, by reading the Bible only. He received it by revelation from the Lord through the Angel Moroni.” A little later, in discussing the LDS concept of the priesthood, he writes, “Again, Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery did not obtain this information from reading the Bible, but from the revelations of the Lord to them and by their own experiences through obedience to divine instruction” (p. 106). In each instance the diminishment of the role of the Bible is couched in the context of promoting “latter-day revelation.” It does not come from a general post-modernism that finds the Bible an inadequate and confusing text. In fact, the original LDS idea was that the Bible, as originally written, was not self-contradictory, but that it had been corrupted over time.

    But Mr. McClellan represents the new generation of LDS students who come to us with a very interesting pedigree. While Mormonism continues to speak often of latter-day revelation, there is just one little problem: we don’t see any of it. Oh, general and vague discussions of God’s “leadership” of the church are common, but let’s face it: the days of Joseph Smith are past. Gone are the days of almost daily revelations having to do with sending this person on a mission here, this matter of the church there. The charismatic period is gone, and if the current prophet were to come out tomorrow and say, “Thus sayeth the Lord,” and give some new revelation that he would expect to be published in the next edition of the Doctrine and Covenants, the LDS church would reel under the implications. Mormonism is transitioning and changing, and while the doctrinal structure has yet to be radically altered (and, I would argue, really cannot be radically altered without substantially changing the very essence of Mormonism), the expression of that theology, and especially its application and teaching, differs today from what it was only twenty or thirty years ago. Mr. McClellan now not only relies upon the academy and what he thinks is “objectivity” and “intelligence,” but he has drunk deeply from a worldview and a realm of scholarship that was totally foreign to his predecessors. His teachers at BYU, longing for recognition by the world, have opened the door to this new world, but I truly wonder…do even they realize the Pandora’s Box they have opened for Mormonism as a whole?

    You see, the only forms of scholarship that Mormonism can draw from to reinforce its own self-identity, as seen in McClellan’s article, are those that denigrate the clarity and perspicuity of biblical revelation. But—those same forms of scholarship undercut the heart and soul of Mormonism as well. Consider this element of McLellan’s argument:

    James has no more a corner on the Bible than Mormonism. It’s a variegated and conflicted book that has as many interpretations as it has readers, and as we’ve seen, for other Christians James’ own positions fail the text of Christianity.

    The Bible has “as many interpreters as it has readers.” Really? Are they all equal to one another? He will later say the Bible contradicts itself as well. So, the Bible is no safe guide, for it is self-contradictory and incapable of communicating a single, clear message. But why does McClellan think this? Will he say the same about the Book of Mormon? Even more importantly, what about the sources of his scholarship? Does the broad world of scholarship view the Book of Mormon as an ancient record, accurately representing the inhabitants of Meso-America? How about the Book of Abraham? Does the same realm of scholarship, academia, intellect, etc., from which he draws his attacks upon the Bible spare the Book of Abraham? Or is it not the fact that the vast majority of scholars have never even heard of the Book of Abraham because its claims about itself are so manifestly absurd and false that no one outside of Mormonism takes it seriously? It is a book fancifully drawn from irrational speculation by an ignorant man about figures he found on a first century Egyptian funerary document, nothing more. So, by bringing the realm of modern skepticism into his attack upon the validity and consistency of the Bible, how does Mr. McClellan and his mentors avoid turning that same light upon the LDS religion’s most sacred documents? Surely a double standard results when Mormonism’s defenders are willing to use one strand of argumentation against biblical Christianity, while at the same time using a different strand of argumentation in defense of the indefensible, such as the Book of Mormon or the Book of Abraham. They only have themselves to blame when the inevitable takes place.

    It is impossible to hold together the world of Joseph Smith, with his personal revelations and seer stones and ancient Nephite civilizations and angelic visitations and Masonic ordinances and polygamy, and the high-brow academic world that, evidently, represents the very celestial kingdom for the staff of BYU. So deep is the desire for fundamental acceptance in “the guild” of scholarship that BYU’s leading scholars are willing to inject into the bloodstream of the LDS Church a concoction whose final results only the future can possibly reveal. Unless something highly unusual takes place, BYU will remain the premier institution of LDS education, and as long as it continues inculcating the same kind of thinking into its students that is seen in the current crop of LDS apologists, from Peterson through Hamblin now to McClellan, the tension will continue to mount, much like the dangerous situation at Fukushima: the pressure that exists between continuing to affirm the prophethood of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, along with all their pre-critical, a-historical theological documents and beliefs, and the ever-corrosive anti-supernaturalism of the modern academy together with its rejection of objective truth and naturalistic biases, will eventually rupture any containment structure the aging General Authorities in Salt Lake City can erect.”

    Part II

    “I would like to respond point by point to Mr. McClellan’s claims in his article. I am uncertain as to the source of his familiarity with me, as we have, to my knowledge, never met, but it is possible that in modern Mormon homes, using someone’s first name, even if they are older than you are, and unknown to you, has become the standard. He will forgive me if I do not address him as “Dan” or the like. After linking to my video and that of Elder Holland, he notes, “In doing so he tries to paint a picture of a shifting and manipulative Mormonism working to hide its disparity from Christianity in the interest of seducing converts.” You will not find this kind of language in my original video, of course. What I noted was Mormonism’s seeking to “mainline,” and the resultant shifts in emphasis and presentation. There is no doubt about that, of course. Evidently, this is simply how Mr. McClellan “hears” criticisms of the modern LDS presentation of itself.

    Now, I will not take the time here to reiterate the scathing attacks upon “traditional Christianity” that are part of the historical record of Mormonism. I cannot assume, however, that Mr. McClellan is familiar with them. I say this because I have observed a very distinct historical blindness on the part of certain LDS apologists associated with BYU. For example, I included an entire chapter documenting the consistency of teaching over time by the LDS General Authorities on the subject of the human parentage of Jesus in response to the attempt on the part of Daniel C. Peterson and Steven D. Ricks to dismiss this teaching as mere 19th century speculation. So if Mr. McClellan represents the first generation fully raised in the new era where Bruce R. McConkie was not giving firesides that blasted “new views,” he may well have an interesting and less-than-full view of his own history. So for his sake, I will remind us of just a few of the statements that can be collected from the early years of Mormonism wherein it is Mormonism itself seeking to “decouple” (his term) itself from Christianity. Here is just such a brief collection.

    He then writes, “The two primary issues which seem to define Christianity for James, at least as it relates to Mormonism, are monotheism and the atonement.” Well, these are two of the fundamental differences between Christianity and Mormonism, yes, but I was truly taken aback by the level of confusion on Mr. McClellan’s part relating to this first, and most important, element of my presentation. He will argue, as we will soon see, that I am “begging the question” by how I stated it, and that in the process I make Mormonism the normative standard by which I define Christianity! This is absurd, of course, so he concludes that I have not approached the question properly. In fact, he even argues that Mormonism should be given a voice in defining Christianity. Think about this for a moment: that which has existed for nearly two millennia should be defined on the basis of that which came into existence April 6, 1830. No, logically, that which comes into existence April 6, 1830 is to be judged on the basis of what had existed long before it came along. But that is disastrous for the modern Mormon who is attempting to make room in the Christian faith for a belief that is fundamentally “other.”

    I emphasized the nature of God (not just monotheism, but the fact that the God of the Bible is eternal, unchanging, self-existent, the Creator of all things, etc.) and the atonement because these are two glaring and obvious areas of contradiction between Christianity and Mormonism. I am not alone in identifying these issues. As far as I know, every Christian denomination that existed in 1830 would have agreed with me on the topic, and surely I am representing the majority view over the 180 years of LDS history. I could have pointed to many other areas of contradiction, and, of course, have, in published works on the subject, such as the gospel, the priesthood concept, temple ceremonies, etc. But I was focusing upon the fundamentals. Besides, this was, as he pointed out, only a fourteen minute video. You have to choose what you are going to include.

    James’ video opens with the title question. His answer is introduced with the following: “It’s not really a difficult question, to be perfectly honest with you, as long as Christianity can define itself and as long as fundamental defining issues are allowed to be stated and defined, then it’s not really much of a difficult question.” He goes on to state a single defining issue, namely that Christianity is a monotheistic religion. He elaborates with the following: “We believe that God has eternally been God, that God is the creator of all things, God himself is not created, and that man is the creature of God, that God creates man; he does not beget man. Man is not of the same species as God.”

    I take exception to the phrase “single defining issue.” The nature of God as eternal, unique, self-existent, is not one defining issue among many possible defining issues. It is the foundation, the definition. As long as Christianity has a God who is eternal and absolute, whatever else it may be, Mormonism will not be Christianity. Joseph Smith forever separated (“decoupled”) his followers from Christianity, and he did so deliberately and purposefully. Note his own words:

    I will prove that the world is wrong, by showing what God is. I am going to enquire after God; for I want you all to know him, and to be familiar with him; and if I am bringing you to a knowledge of him, all persecutions against me ought to cease. You will then know that I am his servant; for I speak as one having authority…. God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens! That is the great secret. If the veil were rent today, and the great God who holds this world in its orbit, and who upholds all worlds and all things by his power, was to make himself visible, I say, if you were to see him today, you would see him like a man in form like yourselves in all the person, image, and very form as a man; for Adam was created in the very fashion, image and likeness of God, and received instruction from, and walked, talked and conversed with him, as one man talks and communes with another….In order to understand the subject of the dead, for consolation of those who mourn for the loss of their friends, it is necessary we should understand the character and being of God and how he came to be so; for I am going to tell you how God came to be God. We have imagined and supposed that God was God from all eternity. I will refute that idea, and take away the veil, so that you may see. These are incomprehensible ideas to some, but they are simple. It is the first principle of the Gospel to know for a certainty the Character of God, and to know that we may converse with him as one man converses with another, and that he was once a man like us; yea, that God himself, the Father of us all, dwelt on an earth, the same as Jesus Christ himself did; and I will show it from the Bible.

    The words are familiar, and they are, arguably, the clearest statement of primitive LDS belief (primitive as in representing Joseph Smith’s final theological viewpoints: he clearly did not believe this in 1830; this is a development from later in that fourth decade of the 19th century). I included more of the context than absolutely necessary so that the reader can see for himself both the foundational nature of this teaching (“the first principle of the Gospel”) as well as its conclusion. “We have imagined and supposed that God was God from all eternity. I will refute that idea, and take away the veil, so that you may see.” By “refuting” this idea, Smith may have thought he was taking away a veil, but in reality, he was removing his followers from the Christian faith, once and for all. Modernistic theories about ancient henotheism in textual variants of the Hebrew Old Testament (based upon the rejection of the consistency of divine revelation across the canon), as popular as they are, cannot change a simple reality: the Christian faith is based upon the confession of one God, not many gods. Smith rejected this, and unless McClellan and his fellows are willing to reject Smith, they simply cannot lay claim to the title ‘Christian.'”

    • Arlin

      Elas, I think simply linking to Doctor White’s blog post would be more useful.

      This is Dan McClellan’s blog, not Doctor White’s. That long post was unnecessary.

  • Jaiotu

    Are Mormons Christians?
    James White says, in video, that is an easy question to answer. I disagree. It’s an incredibly convoluted question wrapped around definitions and distinctions that often seem to both contradict and conform to the definition of “Christian.”
    Mormonism’s own struggle throughout it’s history with the term “Christian” illustrates the difficulty. At various times in the past, LDS leaders have used the terms “Christian” and “Christianity” disparagingly.
    Illustrative of the problem is Mormonism’s own struggle to maintain the use of the term “Mormon” as the exclusive identifier for members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that is headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah. These Mormons become particularly unsettled when the term “Mormon” is used to describe any of the myriad of “splinter groups” that formed either after the death of Joseph Smith or after the C of JC of LDS banned the practice of plural marriage. Some members of these groups self-identify themselves as “Mormons,” while the larger group (the one headquartered in Salt Lake City) insists that they are not.
    The question of whom can righly call themselves a Mormon parallels the question of whom can rightly call themselves a Christian. It all boils down to how we define the terms themselves.
    Example: Let’s define a “Christian” as simply someone who professes to love Jesus Christ. Then let me introduce my totally fictitious friend Jack. Jack says that he follow Jesus Christ. However, on further analysis, we discover that Jack defines Jesus Christ as a slice of pizza. Jack’s profession of love for Jesus Christ means that he technically falls within the definition of “Christian.” It is, however, obvious to most observers that Jack’s profession does not match what most people would consider to be a truly “Christian” profession. It is at this point that we realize that the definition of “Christian” must rely upon the definition of who Jesus Christ himself is.
    It is on this point that James White takes exception to Mormons being called Christians since there are specific and real differences between whom James White believes Jesus Christ to be and whom most Mormons believe Him to be. The theology of Jesus Christ is vastly different between the two theological systems.
    From a purely secular perspective, James White and Mormons are members of the larger group of what can be called “Christianity.” However, when viewed trough the lens of theological distinctives such as those that James White professes, Mormons are clearly outside of what he can rightly call “Christian” since White’s definition of “Christian” is much more specific than what is found in Webster’s dictionary.
    Are Mormons Christians? Are members of the FLDS Mormons? The answers to the these questions depend on what you bring to the table. Since we’ll all never agree on the definitions, we’re all going to have different answers.

  • Paul Owen

    Hey Daniel. Thanks for the links to the papers. I’d be tempted to make some comments based on what I’ve noted thus far, but don’t want to pull this discussion thread in a “theological” direction. The contrast you make between “theological” and “academic” is another morsel I’m tempted to bite at, but will refrain for now! You do have some really interesting stuff on this blog, and I’m always glad to see LDS engaging biblical scholarship in a serious and astute manner, which you obviously are!

    Take care,
    Paul

  • Elias

    Here is part III of Dr. White’s response:

    “I have been responding to an article by Daniel O. McClellan regarding the status of Mormonism and its claims to be a Christian religion. I continue my response in this, the third part.

    These are peculiar fundamental defining issues, as every single one is a direct response to an ostensibly LDS ideology. If the above are the fundamental defining issues of Christianity, then we must conclude that Christianity is fundamentally defined by its distinction from Mormonism. James, no doubt, does not mean to imply that Christianity only exists and has an identity insofar as it opposes Mormonism. He’s just not paying attention to his methodologies, and his conclusion is more important in crafting his argument than having a good argument. His definition of Christianity must be easily contrasted with Mormonism and must focus exclusively on those aspects of his brand of Christianity which distinguish it. It must be crafted with the goal of differentiation in mind. Defining Christianity in preparation for tackling the question of whether or not Mormonism is Christian by explaining how Christianity is distinguished from Mormonism is a textbook example of begging the question. James’ conclusion is assumed in his premise. His definition of Christianity is invalid if he hopes to assert any logical or academic basis for his argument.

    Over the past century and a half, once the outlines of Joseph Smith’s final doctrine of God became known outside the narrow confines of LDS activity (the first responses to Mormonism did not note a fundamental issue with Smith’s doctrine of God simply because the entire First Vision story is a later accretion, a development unknown to the first critics of Mormonism), the consistent rejection of Mormonism as a Christian religion by the entire spectrum of Christian churches has been based, first and foremost, upon the doctrine of God. Consider Christian history. When Arius presented a Christ who was not fully God, a Jesus who was “heteroousios,” of another substance from the Father, his views were branded heretical, for Arianism, despite its willingness to refer to Jesus in divine categories, was fundamentally sub-biblical. Before this, in the East, the error of modalism, a confusion of the divine Persons, had been examined, and rejected. Fundamental to all of these discussions was the overwhelming testimony of the divinely inspired Scriptures, that is, Yahweh is the eternal creator of all things, and there is no God other than Him. Monotheism is not a negotiable for the Christian faith, and it never has been. This is why I began the video as I did: as long as Christianity is allowed to define itself, the answer to the question of Mormonism is not difficult. It is only when the divine inspiration and consistency of the Bible is denied (as Mormonism does), and the consistency of belief of the Christian people on the fact that there is only one true God is made to be only as relevant as the views of a religious sect from the Intermountain West that arose 1800 years after the founding of the Christian faith, that the question can be made difficult or complex.

    I chose the points of self-definition because I am addressing Mormonism. This does not change their centrality to the self-definition of the Christian faith. The Bible, and those who have believed it and followed it in the centuries since its writing, have affirmed the uniqueness and transcendence of the divine being in the very terms denied, and even mocked, by Joseph Smith and his followers. What other elements of the definition of Christianity would I address in examining the self-referential claims of Mormonism? It seems Mr. McClellan was simply looking for some way of inserting his first reference to his vaunted “logic” and “academic” prowess, but my point was not lost upon those actually interested in the subject of the discussion.

    Additionally, James makes it clear that he, and by extension modern American Evangelicalism, speaks on behalf of the Bible and of Christianity as a whole. He gets to define Christianity and what the Bible says, and the lines he draws have a specific purpose: to exclude a single group.

    Let’s keep in mind the reality of this situation. We have here a man representing a novel religious movement (Mormonism is a very late comer on the scene) that initially began its existence by denying the validity of the very religious groups it now wishes to number itself among. Remember, in the story that developed almost two decades after it allegedly took place (and against the historical evidence available as to its occurrence), Joseph Smith was told by God the Father and Jesus Christ (as separate and distinct physical beings) that all the creeds of the churches (the near context included the Baptists, Presbyterians and Methodists) were an “abomination” in the sight of God, and all their professors were “corrupt.” He was to join none of them. Back in the early 1980s this was the first story LDS missionaries would share with folks in their homes.

    So, while Joseph Smith can condemn Christianity as a whole, evidently, if you speak up for the historic position of the Christian faith against the claims of Smith, you are somehow putting yourself in the position of speaking “on behalf of the Bible and Christianity” as a whole. How would anyone take the opposite of Mr. McClellan’s position, I wonder, without being accused of taking this action? While I do not claim any position of authority outside of being an elder in a local church of Jesus Christ, I do not have to be a “Pope” to speak to the definitional issues of God’s nature and biblical revelation. Such things are the common possession of all who will honestly examine the text of the Bible and look with a semi-unbiased eye at the history of Christianity. And Mr. McClellan is simply in error to state that I have drawn my lines for the specific purpose of excluding a single group (i.e., Mormonism). I exclude all polytheists of any sort from the Christian faith, actually, along with all modalists, subordinationists, and those false brethren who undermine the gospel of grace. Shockingly (and evidently against all possible logic and academic purity), I actually believe God has spoken with sufficient clarity to be able to say, “This is the true God, and this is the true gospel,” so that you can likewise say, “The God of Joseph Smith, or of the Watchtower, or of Mary Baker Eddy, or of Muhammad, is a false god, an idol; and the gospel of Rome, or of Ellen G. White, is a false gospel that will not save.” Yes, I know that violates the canons of today’s post-modern academy. To be faithful to any meaningful reading of the New Testament requires such an act of academic heresy.

    This is why his defining issues don’t actually distinguish Christianity from Judaism or Islam. They only place Mormonism, as far as James understands it, outside of the circle.

    The irony is, I am taking precious time out of a very important period of writing time for a book on Islam to respond to Mr. McClellan. I am not focusing upon non-issues in the differences between Christianity and Islam as I write my book on the topic. I will be focusing only upon those issues relevant to my topic. In the exact same way I focused upon the key, defining issues that will always separate Christianity from Mormonism. It is mere obfuscation to complain about my presentation being focused and relevant. If Mr. McClellan wishes to know how I distinguish Christianity from Islam, there are literally dozens of videos on my YouTube channel that would explain it to him. And while I leave specific discussions of Judaism to others more capable than myself, I would likewise provide, I believe, consistent reasons for excluding Judaism from Christianity as well.

    But let us note something here that is very important: if Mormonism can be included as a Christian faith, then…what is the Christian faith? We know Mormonism actually does not claim to be merely a Christian faith, it claims to be the Christian faith, the one true Church, the sole repository of God’s true authority in the priesthood, etc. So keep this in mind as you listen to Mr. McClellan’s rhetoric. But even more important, if Mormonism is Christian, I have to ask…what isn’t? I mean, as we will see, Mr. McClellan will appeal to the “self-identification” of Mormons as Christians as evidence. OK, then Jehovah’s Witnesses are Christians, too, right? And, if a Muslim wants to be called a Christian, they do believe in Jesus, right? And how about Robert Price, the atheist scholar, who is a member of an Episcopalian Church? Can we have an atheist Christian, too? Why not? Is there any objective element to Christianity that can differentiate it from what is “not” Christianity?

    Let’s ask the question this way: am I a Mormon? If I “self-identify” as one, am I one? I believe Joseph Smith was a false prophet, the Book of Mormon a 19th century fraud, the temple ceremonies bad copies of Masonic rituals, etc. But as long as I “self-identify” as a Mormon, who is to say I am not? If Mormonism has the right to define its borders and boundaries, why can’t Christianity?
    The reality is, Christians for over a century and a half have been putting Mormonism “outside the circle,” and until just recently, Mormonism seemed to be fine and dandy with that, and returned the favor. Can Mormonism retain its identity while seeking to mainstream? I am unconvinced that it can.”

    [continued]

  • Elias

    I wish there was a way to edit part III of Dr. White’s response to Mr. McClellan since the part’s where Mr. White quotes McClellan are not in quote’s.

    My apologies for not noticing beforehand.

    There are three quotes James addresses. They are…

    “These are peculiar fundamental defining issues, as every single one is a direct response to an ostensibly LDS ideology. If the above are the fundamental defining issues of Christianity, then we must conclude that Christianity is fundamentally defined by its distinction from Mormonism. James, no doubt, does not mean to imply that Christianity only exists and has an identity insofar as it opposes Mormonism. He’s just not paying attention to his methodologies, and his conclusion is more important in crafting his argument than having a good argument. His definition of Christianity must be easily contrasted with Mormonism and must focus exclusively on those aspects of his brand of Christianity which distinguish it. It must be crafted with the goal of differentiation in mind. Defining Christianity in preparation for tackling the question of whether or not Mormonism is Christian by explaining how Christianity is distinguished from Mormonism is a textbook example of begging the question. James’ conclusion is assumed in his premise. His definition of Christianity is invalid if he hopes to assert any logical or academic basis for his argument.”

    “Additionally, James makes it clear that he, and by extension modern American Evangelicalism, speaks on behalf of the Bible and of Christianity as a whole. He gets to define Christianity and what the Bible says, and the lines he draws have a specific purpose: to exclude a single group.”

    “This is why his defining issues don’t actually distinguish Christianity from Judaism or Islam. They only place Mormonism, as far as James understands it, outside of the circle.”

    Again, sorry about that.

    • Arlin

      Elias, again, why not “link” to the blog posts if Dan doesn’t.

      Posting Doctor White’s material in full, here, is utterly superfluous and completely unnecessary.

  • Seth R.

    Saying that the Bible does not teach that humans can become gods is not exactly accurate either. The Bible does speak of humans becoming divine. There’s even a doctrinal term for it in the Eastern Orthodox tradition – “theosis.”

    You can read a detailed write-up on the doctrine of theosis from an Eastern Orthodox perspective here:

    http://www.antiochian.org/node/16916

    Lots or Bible passages quoted in that article backing up the divine destiny of human beings.

    Or course, the Orthodox would clarify that under their doctrine of theosis humans only become “by grace” what God is “by nature” – so they preserve an ontological distinction between God and humanity. But it seems to me at this point the distinctions you make between Mormon notions of exaltation and Orthodox notions of theosis become very fine indeed.

  • Perry Robinson

    1. The issues listed are not defining in opposition to Mormonism per se. Lots of religious traditions in the pagan world held views similar to in part of whole to the LDS, to which early Christians and Jews reacted.

    2. It is not begging the question since one is following a long line of historical usage of what a term means. The LDS like it or not are late comers to the party and so have to put up with the fixed meaning of a term. The burden rests on the semantic innovators to show how they are included in the term, not on the established meaning.

    3. Depriving people of Christianity may not be uncommon to sectarians like James White, but it is also common of the LDS as well. Do you mean to imply that the LDS are sectarian as well? What could be more sectarian than Smith’s claims in the first vision, that all churches were apostate? Further, Christians have been excluding various heterodox groups since days one-just as the Orthodox, and they aren’t particularly “sectarian” for doing so.

    4. To say that there was no such thing as a Trinitarian prior to the fourth century seems rather odd when people are using that term and groping for an adequate terminology to express the idea more or less. This is supported even more strongly when we see how Christians worshipped in the pre-Nicene period. In any case, whatever pre-Nicene Christianity was, it wasn’t LDS theology, which is historically uncontroversial. And James White qua Clavinist isn’t an advocate of Nicene Trinitarianism, since the Reformed have rejected the teaching that the Father alone is autotheos.

    5. To use angels as such in the sense of deities is to widen the scope of usage beyond that which early Christians in the main were willing to do and so your argument depends on an equivocation or so it seems to me. If we were to accept your reasoning, we would have to conclude that Mormons believe that demons are gods in just the same sense that the father god of Mormonism is god, which Mormons reject. Hence the LDS also operate with a wider and narrower usage of the term. If they can. I see no a priori reason why Christians can’t either.

    6. Suppose the LDS view the father deity as “higher” (whatever that means) than the other deities and that he never had a deity superior to him. Why think that he is so if the other beings have been around just as long unless he is substtantially different metaphysically speaking? If they have, they couldn’t be derivative from him in any significant or intrinsic sense. Why then call him father at all?

    7. Monotheism as a term may not have been coined until the 17th century, but that hardly tells us whether the idea was expressed earlier. Certainly figures like Ireneaus, Theophilius, Athanasius and Cyril certainly seem to express that idea and they are around much earlier. Besides, Christians weren’t accused of being atheists for nothing. Hierarchies of deities existed in pre- and post Christian paganism and it seems odd that the Roman world would have objected to Christianity in terms of the charge of atheism, if early Christianity were as you suppose. And of course we have the 3rd century phenomenon of pagan monotheism among the Platonist, which shows Christians and others were perfectly capable of expressing the idea, but they seemed not to have done so.

    8. True, many figures are call “gods” in the Bible. Even Adam is called a son of God. Was Adam an angel. Demon or some other quasi divine figure in Judaism in exactly the same way as the LDS think? No. To say that rabbinic and Christian literature recognizes the existence of other gods is to equivocate.

    9. To say that the modern notion of the Trinity has more to do with philosophy than the bible is to presuppose that the bible has no philosophical content. If your gloss on monotheism were right, it is hard to see how it could be any different in semantic content from henotheism, but the terms do seem to differ. Besides, claims about what qualifies as a “god” entails a philosophical claim on your part.

    10. You assert that the father deity of the LDS will always be the highest deity, but I am at a loss as how you know this. If he is composed of parts, then it certainly seems possible for him to fall or fall apart and cease to be. This seems all the more pointed since if he enjoys free will as the LDS tend to think of it, why think that he can’t sin at some point in the future? Besides, if he depends on the universe to exist and the universe is contingent, then he is only the highest deity for every moment of time there will be. If the universe goes, he goes with it.

    11. If the LDS point out that there will always be a supreme deity, that isn’t tantamount to a reason for thinking so. It is an expression of their belief, not a reason for thinking it is true or even plausible.

    13. If no religion is based exclusively on the bible, then one can’t rule out Trinitarianism as a supposed product of later philosophical concerns. And secondly, in most respects the work of Nicea was in disentangling Christian theology from the intrusion of Hellenistic philosophy via Arius and his cohorts. It was Arius’ middle Platonism that entailed a subordinate deity.

    14. To say that no single scholar who agrees with a traditional take doesn’t also have a vested interest in that view is an ad hominem. It can also work the other way. Plenty of scholars who dissent from it have a vested interest in their denial. You seem to. Besides, to say that Trinitarianism is a product of later philosophical debates is grossly overly simplistic. There was no major philosophical debate going on that spilled over into Christianity. It was rather a theological debate that employed technical terms from the ruling philosophical schools of the day to help clarify doctrine and exclude problematic positions. No leading scholar in the field of the Arian controversy such as Hanson, Barnes or Ayres would gloss the matter in the way you suggest.

    15. And the historical production line cuts both ways. Under the same analysis, the LDS are a product of 19th century revivalism, Milleniarianism, frontier religion and their associated deification theories and a crass Newtonian materialism. Other groups at the time, both before and after, mixed these in various ways, some were as successful as the LDS (like the Jehovah’s Witnesses” and some where not (like the Christadelphians). If this kind of analysis is sufficient for Trinitarian debates of the fourth century, then it is certainly sauce for the LDS. Consequently, the LDS faith is nothing particularly unique or special, but just a product of its time.

    • Seth R.

      Joseph Smith reported that all other Christian faiths were wrong.

      He never said they weren’t “Christian.”

    • Daniel O. McClellan

      Thanks for the comments. In the interest of being able to easily connect my comments to yours, I’m going to number each of your paragraphs and designate which paragraph I’m addressing.

      2. I believe it is begging the question since Christianity has been around longer than the definition he uses. His definition should include Christians from the first century through to today. Since his definition shows no consideration for Christians who lived before his notion of the Trinity developed, he cannot be prioritizing an honest definition of a Christian, but rather the need to exclude Mormonism from the group. That’s begging the question.

      3. Latter-day Saints do not deprive anyone of the title “Christian.” Theological and soteriological disagreements will persist, and that could be called sectarianism, but Latter-day Saints don’t use it to beat others over the head. Some mainstream Christian churches train their membership on the belief systems of other denominations and religions so that they can confront them. You will never find that taking place in an LDS chapel.

      4. “The idea more or less” does not constitute the Trinity, though. That’s why there was a controversy. Tertullian’s notion of the Trinity would have gotten him excommunicated in the fourth century CE. Additionally, I’m not concerned with whether or not pre-Nicene Christianity was LDS theology, I’m concerned with the applicability of White’s definition of a Christian to pre-Nicene Christians. Regarding autotheos, where is the teaching first made explicit that the Father alone is autotheos?

      5. I don’t believe calling angels gods is at all widening the scope. In fact, that scope was that wide well before Christ’s time on earth. The Septuagint frequently translated the Hebrew word elohim (gods) with the Greek word angeloi (angels). The New Testament followed in suit. Look at Heb 2:7. The Hebrew says “a little lower than the gods,” but the author uses a Greek translation that understands the gods to be angels. Yes, demons were also gods, as were deceased kings and prophets and early in Israelite history, living kings. Yes, the term is used in a variety of ways by different denominations today, but (1) I’m talking primarily about Second Temple Jews and first century Christians, and (2) it rather undermines the mainstream Christian position to argue that the contemporary use of the term can be acceptably manipulated away from the putatively inspired and inerrant biblical use of the term.

      6. According to LDS ideology (notice I do not call this “doctrine”), all humans and divine beings were co-eternal with God as intelligences, but he organized the intelligences into spirits. This certainly indicates a hierarchy.

      7. The idea expressed by Henry More in 1660 was not expressed earlier. My problem, however, is that people tend to retroject his and subsequent notions of what monotheism is into antiquity without first bothering to find out what the belief in antiquity actually was.

      8. No, it is not to equivocate; they themselves used the term “god” to describe angels, demons and other divine beings. The Dead Sea Scrolls use the term “gods” in reference to angels dozens of times. Even some hymns from Qumran have the singer state that he is reckoned among the gods and angels. I already showed that the New Testament uses Greek translations that identify angels as gods.

      9. I don’t believe that the philosophical basis for the Trinity has any bearing whatsoever on what kind of content the Bible is allowed to have.

      10. Latter-day Saints believe that because they believe it has been revealed. What is possible is not the same as what is.

      11. True, but LDS beliefs are not based on empiricism, but ostensibly on revelation, so that’s really immaterial.

      12. Your first inference does not hold, and I disagree that Nicea disentangled Christianity from Hellenism. What it did was try to beat Hellenism at its own game.

      13. No, that’s not ad hominem, and my scholarship has no vested interests outside of seeing that proper methodologies are followed. As I’ve shown numerous times over, my scholarship conflicts with LDS ideologies far more than it agrees with them. They’re apples and oranges, though. Next, I didn’t state that non-Christian philosophical debates spilled over into Christianity (although this did happen after Nicea), I said philosophical debates developed the notion of the Trinity, and that’s exactly what happened. The theologians of the third and fourth centuries CE were engaged in philosophical debates. The fact that they were theological absolutely does not mean they were not philosophical.

      14. The development of LDS doctrine has nothing whatsoever to do with this, but I have no problem as an academic recognizing the fingerprints of the historical context on LDS ideology.

  • Reg B. Shaw

    It seems to me that no one can actually define what the word “Christian” means to them. I looked in a dictionary I have and it clearly defines it as thus: 1 a. A person who believes in, and follows Jesus Christ. b. a member of a Christian Church or denomination. 2. inf a person who possesses Christian virtues ~ adj 3 of, relating to, or derived from Jesus Christ, his teachings, example,or his followers. 4.(sometimes not cap) exhibiting kindness or goodness.
    As for the term are Mormons Christians? Well that would depend on how they live their lives, do they follow the Articles Of Faith fully? The term “Mormons” is an insidious nick-name given to the believers of the Book of Mormon. Mormon to me was the name of a prophet in the Book of Mormon and that’s all it is, it does not and will not define followers of Jesus Christ. To live a life as Jesus Christ truly lived it will define a Christian and not titles, not beliefs for that matter. What I mean by that it is this whether you’re Catholic, whether yoUR’e WeslyiIAn, or whatever denomination you are.If you truly live it as Christ lived it then you are entitled to be called a Christian. After all is said and done, Jesus Christ will be the judge.

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