I here continue my response to Daniel McClellan’s April 8th article.
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.
Mr. McClellan’s words contain a thinly veiled accusation of dishonesty, coupled with a claim to be able to read my mind and judge my motivations. This provides a convenient means of escaping doing the real work that must be undertaken by a Mormon apologist, that is, explaining how the unique, definitional elements of Mormon teaching can, by any stretch of the imagination, be called “Christian.” Let’s look at what I said specifically:
There is nothing overly controversial about my statements at the beginning of this video, and unless Mr. McClellan is dismissing the King Follett Discourse, the most commonly cited section of Smith’s teachings in all of the writings of modern LDS Church leaders (I have been told that he actually says the teaching found therein is not binding on Mormons, though I have not even begun looking at his replies as yet—if so, then such a radical position would prove my point about the departure of modern Mormons from the Mormon orthodoxy of only a few decades ago), then there is nothing remarkable, let alone dishonest, in what I said here. And since my citations do clearly communicate to Christian people the very non-Christian nature of LDS teaching, one would think that Mr. McClellan would focus his defense here. But this is not the way of the modern LDS apologist. They have discovered there is no way to shoe-horn Mormonism into orthodox Christian faith. It is just too foreign. So, what you do is you don’t even try: you attack the orthodox Christian faith, seek to undermine its essence (by attacking the clarity, perspicuity and consistency of Scripture, combined with an anti-orthodox reading of historical sources, both relating to ancient Israelite religion, as well as the teachings of the patristic period), and as a result, expanding “Christian” so that it becomes so wide (and, in fact, meaningless), that you can fit Mormonism into the resultant name.
So, the reason a Christian would find “shock value” in the citations I gave is because…it is shocking that anyone would attempt to say that a religion that produces such statements is, in fact, Christian.
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.
Mr. McClellan’s rhetoric here contains a simple category error. He is comparing apples with oranges. My citations were of orthodox LDS sources making orthodox LDS claims. I did not have to put them in any kind of odd or misleading context. Their “shock value” flows from the fact that Christians know what Christian teaching sounds like, and Mormonism is not Christian teaching. I did not say, “Oh, look, Mormonism is weird.” I said Mormonism is not Christianity. The world’s dislike of supernaturalism or the existence of miracles or divine revelation is hardly a parallel to the fact that Christianity can be defined, and its definition excludes Mormonism.
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.
I.e., I have accurately summarized the teachings of Joseph Smith, the founder of the LDS faith. In fact, I have written an entire book doing just this, bending over backwards to carefully, and fairly, define the theological and doctrinal distinctives of Mormonism (Is the Mormon My Brother?). I spent chapters seeking to allow Mormonism to speak to its own beliefs. But it seems that today what was taught by Joseph Smith, or what even has been the consistent teaching of the General Authorities over many decades, is no longer the highest authority in Mormonism. But if Oxford trained men now presume to speak to what is and what is not Mormonism, can anyone really define the faith any longer? And doesn’t this prove my point about the radical change in methodology represented by this new generation of LDS apologists? One is truly left to wonder whether Mormonism can survive such a radical change in its own self-understanding.
However, I must disagree that Christianity is monotheistic, at least in a way that materially distinguishes it from Mormonism.
Note the fulfillment of the prediction made earlier: rather than defending Joseph Smith’s positive statements, McClellan seeks to modify Christianity’s own self-understanding. That is, every creedal statement of the Christian faith down through the ages has started with the reality that there is only one true God, creator and maker of all things. These words have meaning. The God of Christianity is not an exalted man from another planet; the God of Christianity did not become a god by obedience to law, via the power of priesthood, etc. The God of Christianity (not just evangelicalism, but of all of the branches of “Christendom”) is self-sufficient, eternal, uncreated, unique. The God of Joseph Smith is…none of that. So, it seems that Mr. McClellan is engaging in a bit of misdirection, for while he will attempt to introduce lesser beings as “divine” and appeal to the conflict between Judaism and the polytheistic/henotheistic religions that surrounded it, the fact is that the religion he is seeking to grant “Christian” definition to is not merely asserting the existence of angelic beings, spiritual beings, or anything of the kind. Smith’s teachings are clear and understandable: he taught about a God who had once been a man, who had progressed to the status of godhood. Angelic beings, created by God, are not deities, they are not self-sufficient, eternal, unlimited. As we will see, Mr. McClellan even has to attempt to redefine the theological usage of “monotheism” to find some way of making Mormonism fit into a wildly distorted, unbiblical, and a-historical definition of Christianity.
Let me “materially distinguish” the monotheism of biblical and historic Christianity from Mormonism, plainly and directly: the God of the Bible has eternally been deity; He did not progress to the status of deity by obedience to laws and principles; He has never worshipped a god that was a god prior to Him, and upon which He depended for His own exaltation to godhood; nothing that exists, anywhere, at any time, in any universe, exists outside of the creative power of the one God Christians worship. He is eternal, unchanging, and absolute. None of these positive assertions can be made of the Mormon deity as defined by Smith and as taught by the General Authorities of the LDS Church, and the negative denials are all directly relevant to the uniquely non-Christian nature of Smith’s (and Young’s) teachings about the Mormon deity.