Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Mormon Option

In the combox in a prior post, a commentator named Derek suggested that we consider the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints as an option to Protestantism and Catholicism. As he correctly noted, I have published several works on the subject of Mormonism.

Below is an excerpt from an article I published 9 years ago that seems relevant to the discussion found under the entry about which Derek commented: "Mormon Theism, the Traditional Christian Concept of God, and Greek Philosophy: A Critical Analysis" (Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 44.4 [December 2001]: 671-95). I write (footnotes omitted):

The LDS charge that the Christian concept of God was corrupted by Greek philosophy, as I noted in the beginning of this essay, is important for the LDS in order to show that pristine Christianity vanished from the face of the earth. For if that had occurred, the LDS claim that Christianity must be restored by a latter-day prophet is buttressed. Although I think the LDS charge is mistaken, let us assume that the LDS view of early church corruption is correct, that the leaders of pristine Christianity, Christ’s apostles and their disciples, failed to protect the church from corruption. Although it is unlikely that the LDS would directly blame the apostles (though they do blame the apostles’ disciples), it seems reasonable to infer from the LDS interpretation of church history that the apostles inadequately prepared the church, both in teaching and ecclesiastical structure, for possible corruption. For if their preparation were adequate, corruption would not have occurred. Given that, one would seem justified in believing that such an apostasy could happen again, and may have already happened. After all, the Mormon concept of God, as we have seen, has changed significantly from the time of the church’s founding in 1830 until the presidency of Joseph Smith’s successor Brigham Young. If “change” in a church’s concept of God opens it up to charges of apostasy, one would seem justified in saying that the restoration failed and the “restored” church fell into apostasy like the early church. If not, then which Mormon concept of God is the restored one? Is it the Book of Mormon’s classical view, Joseph Smith’s corporeal God of his early post-Book of Mormon phase, the plurality of finite gods view embraced towards the end of Smith’s life, or Brigham Young’s radically finite Adam-God? Although referring to the early church, Stephen Robinson asserts the epistemological principle that provides a reason for entertaining the possibility of another apostasy: “But there is no guarantee recorded in the Bible that the perfect revelation in Christ would always and forever remain perfectly recorded in Scripture and unaltered by human agency.”
You can read the entire article here.


Derek said...


Before I respond, let me say that I really enjoyed reading your book Return to Rome. I believe that Mormons and Catholics have more in common than with Protestants, and so I see your move to the Catholic Church as stronger position.

I know of a lot of speculation and opinions concerning our view of the apostasy. I am more conservative in my view of the apostasy. I believe that the main issue is priesthood authority. I believe this authority was lost with the death of the apostles. For the chain from them to the Bishop of Rome has not nor can be firmly established. Joseph Smith recieved the priesthood authority from God by the laying on of hands by Peter, James, and John. That is concrete. That is solid.

Therefore, I believe there was an apostasy first and foremost because the priesthood authority was lost.

Gerry said...

Dr. Beckwith,

I have no way of contacting you other than your blog (as far as I know).

If you have a chance, I was wondering if you could pop over to my blog for an idea to get over Dr. McDonagh's argument about right to consent. The post is here. (If you do choose to comment, please comment on the link above so I can get the comments ASAP.)

Thank you.

Paul said...

I have been surprised at the similarities between Catholicism and Mormonism, too, Derek, although I think several Mormon doctrines, such as 'exaltation', for example, aren't the same as theosis in our sense.

A bit off topic, but what do you think of Arbinger and the work of Terry Warner if you know anything about them? I'd be glad to know.



Derek said...

To Paul,

I have thoroughly enjoyed the work of C. Terry Warner. I have not read his book on Leadership and Self-Deception, but I have read his book Bonds that Make Us Free. It applies the same concept of self-deception in the family and marriage setting.

I actually took a class from him at BYU. It was on Mormon history and the Doctrine and Covenants. It was a wonderful experience. It is great when faith is strengthened by reason wiht men like Warner.