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.