In Response to Mr. McClellan
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.