This is the ninth in a series of replies I am providing to a blog article (linked numerous times before) by Daniel McClellan. This has grown to proportions I never expected when I first decided to respond to it, but it remains my hope that it has value for those dealing with the new generation of Mormon apologists.
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 is hard to take this kind of argumentation seriously. While various forms of “theism” can be discussed when examining, say, the gods of the Assyrians or Moabites, for example, and one can speak of monotheism, henotheism, polytheism, etc., the meaning of my use of monotheism, and the meaning of the Christian faith in asserting one true and eternal God, unique and self-sufficient, is clear and unambiguous, and McClellan’s pointing to created spiritual beings that are not eternal, are not unique, and are not self-sufficient, is a red-herring of monumental proportions. Christianity has always asserted of God divine attributes that are not attributed to angels, so to even attempt to go down this road is to engage in mere obfuscation and word-play. But note as well, what Christians believe about angelic beings is not what Mormons believe about them either! So only the most easily confused will find this kind of argumentation compelling.
It believes in numerous divine beings. A divine being is and always has been, by very definition, a god.
Really? “By definition”? Whose definition? Surely not the definition Christians use in their own self-definitions, that’s for certain. So observe this form of argumentation: Mormons are Christians because we use a different definition of God than Christians have ever used! An angel may be called “a divine being” in the sense of “a being of supernatural origin or character,” but that does not mean the angel is a god! This kind of argumentation, as I noted above, is hard to take overly seriously.
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.
Here is clear evidence that Mr. McClellan has not even begun to attempt to engage my actual argument, nor does he intend to. He has to shift the grounds. The line of distinction between Mormonism and Christianity is found not in angels or the like, it is found in what is positively taught about the nature of God. For Christians, God has eternally been God; He is unchanging, all-powerful, the Creator of all that exists, anywhere, at any time. He is not dependent upon the creation, but transcendent, immutable, omnipotent, unique. Re-read the discussion, provided the LDS leadership itself, of how Elohim came to be a god provided earlier in this series; the LDS god is not unique, for many have followed the path to exaltation before him, and will do so after him (including, I would think, in his own hopes, Mr. McClellan, unless he no longer believes in exaltation to godhood); the LDS god is not the creator of all things, but only the organizer of things relevant to either this planet, or this universe, depending upon what Mormon you are talking to; the LDS god has progressed in the past, and may still be progressing in the present, again depending on who you are talking to or reading. The distinction is plain, obvious, and beyond disputation, and noting the existence of angels as created beings in no way, shape, or form, logically “erases the lines of distinction” between 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.
Let’s say Mr. McClellan’s assertions regarding the history of the term “monotheism” are correct. They would also be irrelevant to my usage of the term. He has here committed a common linguistic fallacy, one often committed in biblical eisegesis as well. The meaning of the term, as I used it, is plain from the context of my usage. It is a standard scholarly usage, one you will find over and over again in scholarly literature. I recently read through a work by well known New Testament scholar Larry Hurtado, and he used the term over and over again, often in the context of the monotheism of Second Temple Judaism. [Hurtado has recently commented on all sorts of monotheisms, even “pagan monotheism,” here, but ironically, stops short of commenting on Christian monotheism per se, only speaking of the most primitive church’s monotheism—in any case, the many uses of the term in Hurtado prove the point: the term is defined by usage and context, not by its alleged origin.] One will find many others likewise using the term in such contexts, such as Bauckham, Wright, etc. I had intended to invest time in providing numerous examples, but have chosen not to simply for time’s sake. It is not a disputable point (for anyone serious about the subject anyway). The point is that my use of monotheism had a clear meaning, and the meaning used by Henry More is, of course, utterly irrelevant to that which I presented. My use is in the historic, and biblical, context of the assertion of the utterly unique character of the one true God, creator of all things.
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).
Of course the Bible is monotheistic by my definition, for, as we saw above, the red herring of angelic beings, who are, by nature, created, is not relevant to the real theological divide between Christianity and Mormonism: the uniqueness, eternality, and utter “other-ness” of God. The Mormon presents to us an exalted man, with men, angels, and God, all existing in the same continuum, with men being “gods in embryo.” This is a fundamental denial of the Creator/creature distinction that cannot be expunged from Christianity merely to allow an 19th century religious group to feel better about itself in today’s post-modern world.
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.
This is a very interesting section. First, as I quoted earlier, Apostle LeGrand Richards said plainly that Mormonism does not derive its doctrines from the Bible, but from modern day revelation. Would it follow then that Mormonism is not Christianity, given this observation? Next, the use of the term “putatively” is interesting. Much of what is called Christianity today has abandoned the only sound foundation of its faith, that being the θεόπνευστος Scriptures. For them, sola scriptura has been abandoned in favor of…a myriad of sources and traditions. But surely, for true Christianity, the Scriptures are our source of theology and doctrine. I am uncertain exactly what Mr. McClellan has in mind about “renegotiations,” but given what comes later, I think we can guess what he is thinking.
[continued and concluded in the next and final installment]