Bruce R. McConkie
   I have often commented that I’m glad I am not Bruce R. McConkie. Why? Because of all the LDS Apostles of recent memory, he is the one about whom I have heard it said most often: “Well, that was just his opinion.” As far as Apostles go, he is the one that LDS missionaries like to disagree with the most. As soon as you cite something from McConkie’s most famous work, Mormon Doctrine, an encyclopedic compendium on the teachings of the LDS Church, you hear, “Oh, that’s just his speculation.” Yet, when Ezra Taft Benson eulogized McConkie as his funeral, he saw things a bit differently:

“Often when a doctrinal question came before the First Presidency and the Twelve,” he continued, “Elder McConkie was asked to quote the scripture or to comment on the matter. He could quote scripture verbatim and at great length.” He “provided the entire Church with an example of gospel scholarship. He could teach the gospel with ease because he first understood the gospel.”[1]

   A quick glance at the currently published LDS manuals of religion also reveals that right after Joseph Smith comes Joseph Fielding Smith and Bruce R. McConkie as the most often cited LDS authorities. While McConkie may have been more than a little irascible,[2] when it comes to the LDS doctrine of God, I have yet to find any LDS person who was able to demonstrate that what he said was out of line with the official position of the Church.
   McConkie’s writings, which are quite voluminous, contain a great deal of material on our particular subject of interest. However, we will focus upon only a few of the possible citations. Apostle McConkie often placed his words in a apologetic context, always keeping an eye upon the critics of the Church, both within and without. For example, notice his definition of monotheism from Mormon Doctrine:

Monotheism is the doctrine or belief that there is but one God. If this is properly interpreted to mean that the Father, the Son, and Holy Ghost–each of whom is a separate and distinct godly personage–are one God, meaning one Godhead, then true saints are monotheists.[3]

   This is hardly the definition of monotheism, for then the Egyptians could be called monotheists for worshipping a triad of Gods who are simply united in purpose. But even here, McConkie is straightforward in confessing three separate and distinct godly personages. Likewise, when defining “plurality of gods” in the same work, McConkie writes:

Three separate personages-Father, Son, and Holy Ghost-comprise the Godhead. As each of these persons is a God, it is evident, from this standpoint alone, that a plurality of Gods exists. To us, speaking in the proper finite sense, these three are the only Gods we worship. But in addition there is an infinite number of holy personages, drawn from worlds without number, who have passed on to exaltation and are thus gods.[4]

   Note especially the phrase, “these three are the only Gods we worship.” This is a disputable phrase, for many LDS say they worship only the Father.[5] In either case, by now we should be accustomed to hearing LDS speaking of “Gods” and we should understand exactly what is in view when we hear such words.[6] McConkie likewise confesses that “an infinite number of holy personages” also exist, who are rightly called gods. And did he likewise believe as Joseph Smith regarding the means of exaltation to godhood? It certainly seems so:

Endowed with agency and subject to eternal laws, man began his progression and advancement in pre-existence, his ultimate goal being to attain to a state of glory, honor, and exaltation like the Father of spirits. During his earth life he gains a mortal body, receives experience in earthly things, and prepares for a future eternity after the resurrection when he will continue to gain knowledge and intelligence. (D. & C. 130:18-19) This gradually unfolding course of advancement and experience-a course that began in a past eternity and will continue in ages future-is frequently referred to as a course of eternal progression. . . . In the full sense, eternal progression is enjoyed only by those who receive the fulness of the Father; they have all power, all knowledge, and all wisdom; they gain a fulness of truth, becoming one with the Father. All other persons are assigned lesser places in the mansions that are prepared, and their progression is not eternal and unlimited but in a specified sphere. . . . Those who gain exaltation, having thus enjoyed the fulness of eternal progression, become like God.[7]

   So that he can conclude:

Man and God are of the same race, and it is within the power of righteous man to become like his Father, that is to become a holy Man, a Man of Holiness.[8]

   Is this not what we have seen consistently throughout the literature we have surveyed? Surely it is.
[1] Ensign, June 1985, p. 16.
[2] An example of this that also explains why he is hardly the favorite of many who teach at BYU is found in a letter he wrote to Professor Eugene England on February 19, 1981. This famous letter, in which McConkie admitted that Brigham Young contradicted himself on the matter of the “Adam-God doctrine,” also contained the following enlightening paragraph:

If it is true, as I am advised, that you speak on this subject of the progression of God at firesides and elsewhere, you should cease to do so. If you give other people copies of the material you sent me, with the quotations it contains, you should cease to do so. It is not in your province to set in order the Church or to determine what its doctrines shall be. It is axiomatic among us to know that God has given apostles and prophets “for the edifying of the body of Christ,” and that their ministry is to see that “we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the slight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive.” (Eph. 4:11-16.) This means, among other things, that it is my province to teach to the Church what the doctrine is. You do not have a divine commission to correct me or any of the Brethren. The Lord does not operate that way. If I lead the Church astray, that is my responsibility, but the fact still remains that I am the one appointed with all the rest involved so to do. The appointment is not given to the faculty at Brigham Young University or to any of the members of the Church. The Lord’s house is a house of order and those who hold the keys are appointed to proclaim the doctrines. (p. 8).

[3] Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, p. 511, LDSCL.
[4] Ibid., pp. 576-577.
[5] Indeed, McConkie said the same thing in other contexts. The seeming answer to the contradiction is that there are different levels of “worship.”
[6] A popular expression of this is found in Two Letters to a Baptist Minister:

We solemnly plead guilty to believing in many Gods. If this is a crime it is time for a new translation of the Holy Scriptures. Does not the good book say “and God said, let us make man in our own image?” What are you going to do with the words “us” and “our”‘ in this Scripture? Does this not prove a plurality of Gods?

Scrapbook of Mormon Literature Ben. E. Rich, ed. 2 vols. (Chicago: Henry C. Etten & Co., 1913), 2:128, LDSCL.
[7] Ibid., pp. 238-239.
[8] Ibid., pp. 465-466.

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