Robert Millet & Krista Tippet Pt. 1: “God as Man” Doctrine “Theologically Tangential”

John DehlinLDS, millet, Mormon, Mormons, theology 38 Comments

I really, really enjoyed Krista Tippett’s latest interview with (perhaps) the LDS Church’s arch-theologian: Dr. Robert Millet. I have about 4 or 5 posts in me (at least) about this interview — and here is the first.

Towards the beginning of the interview, the following conversation ensues about the nature of God:

Krista: And Elhohim (God the Father) you understand to be a corporeal being, who was once a man? Like us?

Robert: Yeah….uh…..yeah…let me address….

Krista: Correct me when I need correcting.

Robert: No. What I want to do is I want to address what we know and what we don’t know.

Krista: OK

Robert: I think many people, in an effort to try to bring some kind of image in their minds to deity…no one wants to fell they’re praying to a force

Krista: Imagine a person.

Robert: Yeah. A gas. They imagine a person, of course. And so the notion that we teach that God is corporeal or physical….it doesn’t strike an interested, curious seeker, uh, as overly odd, because they often comment, “I think I’ve sort of anticipated that.

Krista: But I mean my sense is that this understanding of God is a product of something like a spiritual evolution of God who was once a man and moved into this very different kind of being.

Robert: Godhood.

Krista: Yeah.

Robert: Well Joseph Smith taught that in 1844, and uh, other presidents of the church like Lorenzo Snow, uh, taught about it. But you know it’s talked about so little…um…so infrequently…I hear much, much more of that teaching from those who are outside the LDS faith than I do from people within. And I guess the answer is for this….do I believe that? Yes. Because I think it’s part of the faith, but it’s rather theologically tangential, in the sense that we believe he’s a man. What went on before he was God we just have no idea. In other words, that lies in the realm of the mysterious for us, just as the final explanation for trinity would with traditional Christians. And I don’t have difficulty with that at all. What I think that creates with Latter-Day Saints is a feeling of closeness.

Two things struck me as interesting about Dr. Millet’s responses:

  • Dr. Millet calls the “God Was Once a Man, Man Can Become a God” doctrine “Theologically tangential.” This is interesting to me, because most of the devout Mormons I know consider this doctrine to be absolutely central to their belief in the LDS Plan of Salvation — that God was once like them, and that they, too, can become like God someday. Based on what I hear each Sunday — this is something Mormons are counting on in the hereafter — and almost drives their devotion to the church.I guess I still am amazed that even one of our chief theologians doesn’t stand up boldly and say, “Absolutely! That teaching is central to our Plan of Happiness doctrine!!!”Let me be clear, though — I don’t think he’s being dishonest here — I just think that he’s showing some discomfort, and maybe even some confusion about the teaching that feels dissonant to me having been raised in the church.
  • Dr. Millet emphasized how “infrequently” this doctrine is taught, yet just last Sunday (surely right around the time of the interview) it was THE topic in Relief Society and Priesthood across the world for Mormons. From the manual as taught last week in LDS Churches around the globe:

“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. …

I’m not really breaking new ground with this post, since we know that President Hinckley made similar comments back in 1998 — and we discussed it “ad nauseum” in Clay’s post.

Still — it seems to be another step towards distancing ourselves from this (what I once considered to be) fundamental Mormon doctrine.

Not that this is good, or bad mind you — just very interesting to me.

Comments 38

  1. Good post John. As you, James Leverich, and myself discussed when you came over to the UK…this “distancing” is dialectical and it depends on the perspective of the person as to which side they feel more comfortable.

    My personal feeling is that the doctrine of theosis gives me great comfort. However, I have know proof of knowing whether it is right or wrong. (Perhaps the comfort comes from the fact that I may have superpowers one day as a God and be able to turn water into wine…hopefully in the next life Mormons can drink it!!:-) )

    I look forward to your future posts on this topic and am going to listen to the interview this week. Thanks for all you do at Sunstone and on the blogs/podcasts.

    1. Yes, but it comes with awesome responsibility. We Mormons also are at a disadvantage in saying that God can’t do anything. If He were like Q on STAR TREK, why would God need seven “days” to create the earth? Why not seven seconds or a mere thought, or snap of the fingers?

      Christians of other denominations like to think their God can do anything, yet we have proof from the scriptures that He can’t create an earth out of nothing in an instant! Besides, where in the Bible does it say God can do anything? Nowhere!

      If we’re made in God’s image, why does He look like us? Why would He need hair, arms and a neck? We’re made for terrestrial living and have to walk, so we have legs. But why would God have them unless He one needed them, too? Very odd, but intriguing.

  2. I’m really rather surprised that even Dehlin would refer to anyone connected with the LDS movement as an “arch-theologian,” given that the movement has consistently been rather anti-theological in the sense of encouraging even its putative scholars to be familiar with intellectual and theological history in a meaningful way. Millet comes across as inarticulate in the transcript. I have heard described as the type who answers the question that he wishes had been asked, which is an apt description of the stated exchange.

    As for the notion that God the Father was once a man and possesses a physical body, such things are fundamental teachings of Mormon thought, particularly the notion of a corporeal nature. I’ve never encountered a Mormon who thought that the latter point was symbolic or designed to avoid the thought of “praying to a force.”

    I suppose that this is all part of the doctrinal mainstreaming and whitewashing that the church is undergoing. Helen Whitney mentioned that she talked with one noted scholar who was very interested in the theological audacity of Smith and other Mormon leaders in the 19th century but didn’t trust modern Mormon leaders when they made the types of statements that Hinckley and Millet now make.

    Gee, do you wonder if it was Harold Bloom?

    And I love Dehlin’s “Aw shucks, I wonder why this is?” manner about all of this. I hope that that’s a con, too.

  3. I have to note that many LDS leaders reject the concept that God progresses, at all. Though they treat corporality as being “more real” in a C. S. Lewis The Great Divorce sense.

    That compares with the God as a force of evolution group and many others.

    like a man in form—like yourselves in all the person, image, and very form as a man gets very much to the concept that God is our Father and that he is real. The real question is just where does that take us and what does that require analytically. What many are discovering is that the necessary implications are no where near as many as some think.

    I think we are getting people who are thinking seriously about what we know vs. what we conclude, which is important. I know that the Church has spent some serious effort thinking through what a Church is (what is the role of a church vs. the role of a government and the role of a family), what matters and what doesn’t (and the impact of what type of obedience is statistically linked to successful outcomes for children).

    There are two different theological forces in the Church right now. The first thinks they know what the necessary conclusions are from the facts we know and that their world view incorporates and explains all necessary or interesting theological knowledge. The other thinks we have only the beginning of a foundation.

    I guess this will determine the order of my next couple postings, though I really want to get started on posts deconstructing the Book of Mormon. I do want to keep with the schedule too.

    Any way, this is fascinating because it highlights a real push towards renewed thought which could well lead to new revelation on doctrine rather than operations.

  4. To give an idea, take the Bible and gays. The Old Testament, for the most part, is either what appears to be accretion or is a direct reaction against the fertility cults of Canaan. Honestly, we don’t have anything similar in our culture where people engaged in child sacrifice, sexual slavery and a number of other things. Further, we are talking small number societies where marriage was an economic and propagation unit of survival, not generally entered for love or for satisfaction.

    Paul’s writings discuss problems that came from birth control methods. Sex with women past menopause (when he is writing about debauching oneself with one’s father’s wife, for example), and heterosexuals engaging in sex outside of marriage with same sex partners to avoid pregnancy. Of the current things in the Greek and Roman world, the only one he doesn’t discuss is sex with Eunuchs (which was mostly an affectation of upper class Roman women). In every case he is condemning behavior that is not particularly within our world view and that involves violating fidelity.

    Now, one can read Paul and conclude that we know the necessary implications. Or, we can read Paul and wonder what the facts tell us and what is possible. The first closes the door on revelation. The second opens the door to letting God talk to us. Now it may be that God will say “Silly you, of course it is obvious I meant …” or he may not. But we need to revisit the foundations before we are even open to the questions that let us receive answers.

    I realize that many people are uncomfortable with the fact that we are very much returning to a Brigham Young era of reviewing and revisiting what we think we know, looking for truth in places outside the Church as he advised, and coming to God to rethink what logic has taught us in the thought that God’s ways are not our ways.

    But I think it is appropriate.

  5. I actually just watched a video of Millet “instructing” prospective missionaries on how to only answer the questions that people “should” have asked. Whoa, that guy is arrogant and unsophisticated even by the standards of LDS apologists. I love when he tells bored youth that they already know more about the nature of God than anyone who will critically question them. I knew BYU’s religious education department was an utter joke, but I didn’t know that it was that bad. Oh well, I guess that he’s well situated with his Florida State Ph.D.

  6. Forgive my long comments, and the examples, but from the kinds of comments some people have made it appears that they are completely clueless about the long period of analysis, introspection, statistical review and consideration that has been taking place in the Church, at the same time the brethren have been trying to manage explosive growth.

    Think about it. A Church of about 1.5 million, with 10% activity in the early David O McKay period, about forty years later, a generation, is now about nine million, with 50% activity. You can start to appreciate the numbers by looking at the difference in the number of organized stakes, which the Church has noted is a much more useful number. Paul Dunn once commented that you could, in a year, visit every stake in the Church. He was right, as there were less than 52. There are somewhat more now. There are more temples now than there were stakes not too long ago. If you treat 40 or so years as a real generation, the time it takes from birth to true adulthood (independence, with sufficient age and experience to be treated as a mature adult), it has been one generation. We may well be seeing the last of the general authorities called who were born in the Church but did not serve missions.

    The Church is always torn between limiting growth and the limits of the available leadership. Everyone knows what happens when leaders are not sufficient to the task, yet where is the balance between what is available and having people just do without membership or church units.

    At the same time, in the last few generations, we have gone from a time when some manuals actually came out without any scripture references in them at all, to a renewed focus on the scriptures.

    It is an amazing time. If you treat a generation as the time from birth to being a solid grandparent/near retirement (the 0-60 span), it is even more amazing. The Church of the 1940s and the Church of today are a transformation apart.

  7. WBF,

    I do not find Robert Millet arrogant in any way. I have heard him speak on multiple occasions and read a number of his books. I also agree with John that he is very articulate in the interview and I think, very thoughtful.

    It just appears that you are very negative toward the church and most posts seem to reflect that.

  8. I grew up in the most Mormon of Mormon towns, and the idea that God was once as we are was indeed talked about, but anytime I asked questions to clarify this, no one really seemed to know what this meant. It really is somewhat mysterious if you think about. It was interesting to speculate about, But what did we know outside of one line in the KFD really? Dr. Millet’s comments, and President Hinckley’s, make perfect sense to me. Some people become married to the fun they had with speculation, but I think reexamining what we know is a critically important part of growing in knowledge. If we become to married to a speculative idea, a sense of betrayal, anger, and apostasy are usually the result. By the way, I saw absolutely no distancing from the idea of the second part of Lorenzo Snow’s couplet. This is to me the real edifying, mind blowing, spiritually enriching part of the doctrine, man’s origen and destiny.

  9. I like Millet and I think he’s emphasized some doctrines that are central to our faith but that sometimes get too overlooked (or taught in unclear language). But I agree he’s way off here. This is a central doctrine. It’s a doctrine everyone knows about and most think central. Millet’s role is not such that this can be considered a backing off though. (Any more than Nibley turned us all into socialists)

  10. Doc,

    I know the textbook answer, but I still have a hard time figuring out why subsequent prophets, seers and revelators (post-Joseph) are not able to shed further light and knowledge on topics like “Mother in Heaven” or “God as a Man, Men as Gods”.

    Sometimes it feels like true revelation and doctrinal innovation died with Joseph .

    (Unless you count times when we were forced to change (like polygamy and blacks) — or innocuous revelations like the Proclamation on the Family).

    Have we had any serious doctrinal insight since Joseph died? Our missionaries claim continual revelation as a pillar of our faith — by is this really a distinguishing claim? What about new sections to the D&C?

    I really do struggle w/ this sometimes.

  11. John,
    I think most of us understand that frustration on some level. I would really, really love more doctrinal insight. I struggle with it too. If you travel the bloggernacle much, my obsaervation is that the Proclamation on the Family can hardly be called innocuous. I think may be the root of the problem. Is there anything that a prophet can announce without causing somebody womewhere to get all up in arms? How much of the problem might we, the members of the Church be?
    Open revelation and proclamation has historically been hazardous to prophets’ health. Human nature does not always respond to such things positively. I would hope that Brother Marsh is right. Perhaps all this thinking, debate and discusion may lead at some point to clarification. Its a point I’m stuck taking on faith.

  12. >>> This is interesting to me, because most of the devout Mormons I know consider this doctrine to be absolutely central to their belief in the LDS Plan of Salvation

    I find it interesting that you see this doctrine as absolutely central. If it were, why isn’t it in the scriptures? This concept has never been “canonical” (i.e. it’s not in the canon.) But I agree with Stephen E. Robinson that it’s wide spread enough that it became “pseudo-canonical” so to speak. But Millet doesn’t represent a change, or at least not a recent one. (I’m open to the possibility that it is a change in thinking, but it must be old enough that I, more or less, “grew up with it.”)

    I have always agreed with Millet that it’s theologically tangential. I’ve talked with many many Mormons that agree. It’s very wide spread and that thinking has been around. I don’t care if it even turns out to be a mere speculation on Joseph Smith’s part and not true at all. It’s not in the canon, so I have to accept this possibility, no matter how much sense the doctrine makes to me. (Though I doubt that it’s a mere speculation very much.)

    I do personally believe God was once a man in some sense or other, but I am unwilling to assume it’s in the full mortal sense that non-Mormons cast it. (I.e. He was as sinful man living on another planet in the universe a long time ago.)

    I don’t claim to know what “man” means in this context. It should be obvious by now that I have a current speculation, subject to change as I have a whim to do so, that it’s a “divine man” sort of thing, like Jesus (and as Joseph Smith seems to imply in the KFD.) I truly believe Jesus was a “man” so I see nothing problematic in the slightest with the idea that the Father had a mortal experience like Jesus did. I’m convinced this is not how those outside the Church envision Mormons as believing this. I am just as convinced that their view of Mormons, while probably representative of some Mormons, is not representative of many or even most Mormons. I don’t want to play games with semantics over “man” here but there is clearly different ways people understand this term when reading the KFD and their view of that word plays a huge roll on how they interpret Joseph’s teachings.

  13. Bruce,

    All I’m saying is….there are enough Mormons (in my experience) that think it is theologically central (definitely over 1/2 of the active Mormons I know) — that it would be nice for church leaders to officially clarify that it is so — and perhaps stop teaching it in the manuals.

    Isn’t that fair–that we not be led to believe that we will become Gods someday if we (meaning church leadership) are not quite sure anymore?

  14. “Have we had any serious doctrinal insight since Joseph died? Our missionaries claim continual revelation as a pillar of our faith — by is this really a distinguishing claim? What about new sections to the D&C?”

    John D.,

    I think these are important questions. In fact, these very questions, in part, are what led me to disbelief. There is, it seems, this continuous claim that we receive revelation every six months by way of General Conference. Yet, all I ever hear are the same themes given by different speakers using different words; it is nothing new or inspiring. I found nothing of value and nothing new coming from these “inspired” leaders.

    At the risk of sounding more cynical, I think I understand the reasoning behind not giving “further light and knowledge.” It is out of fear, not for their own lives, but for the infrastructure. Erroneous “revelations” seem to have been the bane of several prophets and apostles (e.g. Adam-God, polygamy, blood atonement, etc.) and thorn in the church’s side. Especially in a day and age where media coverage is all-invasive, I think the leader may be a bit revelation-shy–especially with the interpretations of how revelation is received: is it a voice, a feeling, a sudden realization, all the above? As has been seen over the last century, more “worldly” knowledge is quickly and accurately filling in the God of the Gaps, leaving little over which a prophet can claim special authority.

  15. John Dehlin & NM Tony – I used to really whince when I would hear Ezra Taft Benson speak but personally, and I know many will not agree, I see a lot of truth in what he was saying. I feel he was inspired to some degree. But I understand what you are both saying about the difference between Joseph and recent prophets.

    John Dehlin- I do think it can promote dissonance when we are told 2 opposite things at the same time and we should have further clarification. I completely agree that it would be fair.

    Doc- excellent point made. I couldnt say it better.

    NM Tony – I see exactly what you are saying and have felt the same way at times. It has caused me to change my perspective on the church but I felt that I could stay with resolving things. But friends of mine I know havent been able to. Its a difficult one.

    WestBerkeleyFlats- I appreciate your addition to the boards and your perspective, but I must agree with Jeff Spector that your comments are negative and hypercritical. I hope that you can continue to comment on the posts in a more constructive manner. I personally agree with you on the solipsism of the things he has said. But I think cultural differences needed to be taken into account along with Millet’s background & religious perspective. A little more tolerance would be a good thing…

  16. Bruce,
    Deification is central in its place revealing the purpose of life, man’s origin and destiny. I think the scriptures would have a lot more of it if people weren’t so afraid of it. It seems to me God won’t reveal mysteries to people who cannot or will not accept them.

    Where did Millet or anyone say we don’t become Gods? I believe that is the entire point I was trying to make. God as Man-nebulous, unclarified concept. Man to become as God- settled doctrine, and as near as I can tell the capstone of Joseph’s restoration, seeing as how he was taken soon after. History seems to go along with the idea of us not being ready to accept certain truths. To be honest, I don’t know that more understanding in details would spiritually enrich anyone more than the sermon on the mount or basic teachings of Christ. So I do empathize with those who would claim it is not central to faith. Praxis is a prerequisite to gaining light and knowledge. Theology without Christian charity, love and other godlike attributes is really an empty shell. I would also add- believing in man becoming God- doctrine not everyone can stomach, few if any can totally comprehend, but they are still welcome in Church.

  17. John says: “Isn’t that fair–that we not be led to believe that we will become Gods someday if we (meaning church leadership) are not quite sure anymore?”

    Doc says: “Bruce,Deification is central in its place revealing the purpose of life, man’s origin and destiny. I think the scriptures would have a lot more of it if people weren’t so afraid of it. It seems to me God won’t reveal mysteries to people who cannot or will not accept them”

    Whoa! My apologies but I must have missed something. By “this doctrine” I only meant God once having been a man, not us becoming Divine (i.e. gods.) I apologize for any confusion I might have caused. The idea that we become gods *is* central to our beliefs, exactly as John states in his response to me.

    The idea that God was once a man is what I meant was tangential to our beliefs. (I mean from the point of view I was trying to express, which is my own.) That’s the part not found in the canon. Us becoming gods *is* found in the canon.

    Anyhow, if you thought I said that becoming gods wasn’t central, please rip that part out of your memory because that certainly wasn’t what I meant. 😉

    I just read it all over again, and I’m still confused. Is there anything above where Millet denies that we can become gods? Did he call that tangential? Here is the quote of the question he was responding to: “this understanding of God is a product of something like a spiritual evolution of God who was once a man and moved into this very different kind of being”

    Did I misunderstand? Sorry, I know we all bring our own prejudices with us when we attempt to understand what people are syaing. I was thoroughly convinced that Millet was only calling the idea that “God was once a man” tangential. If he meant it the other way around then I’ll be the first to call him wrong. If you want, I’ll email him and ask him to clarify what he meant. I can usually get BYU professors to respond to me. Had a nice long chat with Richard Lloyd Anderson once.

    Update: Just realized Doc said about the same thing.

  18. John, your point about the recent JS manual quotes is interesting. The manual also contained some the following seemingly contradictory quote:

    My heart exclaimed, All these bear testimony and bespeak an omnipotent and omnipresent power, a Being who maketh laws and decreeth and bindeth all things in their bounds, who filleth eternity, who was and is and will be from all eternity to eternity.

    It is interesting that this quote comes from 1832, while the one you cited comes from the 1840s. It’s also interesting that the manual doesn’t do anything to reconcile these quotes, or even notice that they are contradictory.

  19. Excellent point, kodos! Very interesting. I’ve noticed things like that in the past, but I didn’t notice it with the manual in particular. (I’m a big fan of the Teaching of the Prophet Joseph Smith book, as edited by Joseph F. Smith which is where the manual really takes a lot of it’s quotes from, though instead quoting “History of the Church” which is the original source.)

  20. My take from the Millet quotes in John’s original post, and from Pres. Hinckley’s statements, and from many apologetic commentaries, is that there is some real oversensitivity or tunnel vision going on here. Any time anyone asks a question about this topic, the intervewee seems to spend all their energy denying that we know anything specific about the detailed pre-god life of God.

    That is only one aspect of the quotes the people are asking about, but that is all we give them and often in an ambiguous way so that it can easily be misconstrued to mean we are denying we know anything about the nature of God. Millet did a better job than usual, but he still seemed defensive in the text.

    He’s right, we don’t know anything about the progression of our God and those details are not important in our doctrines. But folks want to know if we believe a God that is or has progressed from something less than His current state. Aside from the details, is that Mormon doctrine? The answer is absolutely YES if you ask Joseph Smith. If you ask any church representative today, who even knows anymore?

  21. Here is the link to J. Stapley’s article. Very well done, J. Stapley. He leaves little doubt that this admission that we “God was once a man” is non-canonical is not something new.

    Here is my take. The Mormon Church, contrary to popular belief, isn’t a giant mass of people that all believe the same. There are definitely “literalist” amongst us that want to take every word stated by Joseph Smith (or another prophet) and claim it’s all a revelation. “Minimalist” Mormons tend to hold to the canon and consider everything at least “challengeable.” (Though generally also hold to a very literal point of view and perhaps put great value on non-canon.)

    It’s interesting to see Joseph Field Smith, who I would have had pegged as a literalist Mormon (whereas I see President Hinckley as being in the more minimalist camp) also allowed for the minimalist point of view in his response. Perhaps there is more harmony between the views after all.

    (My apologies for inventing labels. Of course in real life no one ever fits a label perfectly.)

  22. J, your signature link has a typo, just fyi

    Here is a link to the BCC post:

    I’m going to cite an excerpt, to draw attention:

    Decades ago Joseph Fielding Smith, doctrinal grand master, wrote in his famous question and answer section of the Improvement Era:

    Question: “Will you kindly explain these two expressions, ‘We know that there is a God in heaven, who is infinite and eternal, from everlasting to everlasting,’ and ‘As man is, God was; as God is man may become.’ “

    Answer: “Everlasting to everlasting” means from the eternity past to the eternity future as far as man’s understanding is concerned, from the pre-existence through the temporal (mortal) life unto the eternity following the resurrection. The Savior said:

    . . . The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things so ever he doeth, these also doeth the Son like wise. (John 5:19.)

    From this remark we gather that the Son was doing what the Father had done before him. However, so far as the Father is concerned, we will leave that until we receive further knowledge, when and if we become glorified in his kingdom. So we will deal with this subject in relation to the Son, Jesus Christ. (1)

  23. Here is my personal take on the whole concept, especially on the potential conflict of God from Eternity to Eternity vs. having once been as we are now side of things. I think that time and eternity are essentially two parts of a law (this is born out by canon and temple) and existing separately. Things that occur within Time can easily be said to happen before or after the other, but things that happen in Eternity are Eternal, and are not so easily ordered from the perspective of those who are part of Time only. Once you enter Eternity, it is permanent, and it is as if you have always been there. Thus, any exalted being who enters into the Eternal Realms (as I think of it) does so in a manner that makes them Eternal. There is, then no paradox of speaking of them as if they had always been eternal because time ceases to apply to them.

    That’s how I read it, but I can’t prove it, and it is mostly speculation. I do think that there is a very real (and canonical) difference between Time and Eternity, but how it works is mostly speculation. But I think it is a very good guess.

  24. Ben,

    I actually had a similar thought on this, but didn’t want to share it. But thank you for putting it so well that it almost makes sense to me now. 🙂 (Better than I would have said it.)

    I was thinking about the idea that time is created by the big bang the other day. Thus if God created the big bang, God in fact does create time and exists outside of time. This would seem to go along with your speculation well, or at least not contradict it.

    I thought of the idea of God having once been a man in a different universe (major speculation here) with it’s own time and space. If this is the case, how many years ago was God a man? There would in fact be no number of years you could go back to when God was a man. For all intents and purposes (from our time that is) God has Eternally been God. It’s paradoxical, but correct.

    In other words, according to physics, it would be theorectically possible for God to have once been a man and for there to never have been a time (in our time) he was a man. (of course this violates other laws of physics, like the idea that two universes can’t interact… but you get the picture. He is God, after all. I have to assume He has a way past little problems like physics.)

  25. John,

    I am looking forward to further posts on this topic. There were at least three things in this podcast that stuck out to me that would just not have been acceptable to say a decade or two ago. The one that I thought was the funniest was right at the end; Millet says, “We’re only halfway to Nicaea.” By that he meant that if you multiply the age of the LDS church by two you get roughly the number of years between Christ and the council of Nicaea. This is ironic because Nicaea defines orthodox Christian beliefs, so by saying we are half way to Nicaea, you could (ironically) interpret it to mean that we are in the process of losing our distinct Mormon beliefs and are half way to orthodoxy. Note, I KNOW he didn’t mean that, I just found it ironic because many in the bloggernaccle fear just that.

  26. You said, quote:
    “Dr. Millet calls the “God Was Once a Man, Man Can Become a God” doctrine “Theologically tangential.” This is interesting to me, because most of the devout Mormons I know consider this doctrine to be absolutely central to their belief in the LDS Plan of Salvation — that God was once like them, and that they, too, can become like God someday.

    ***Based on what I hear each Sunday — this is something Mormons are counting on in the hereafter — and almost drives their devotion to the church.***

    I guess I still am amazed that even one of our chief theologians doesn’t stand up boldly and say, “Absolutely! That teaching is central to our Plan of Happiness doctrine!!!”Let me be clear, though — I don’t think he’s being dishonest here — I just think that he’s showing some discomfort, and maybe even some confusion about the teaching that feels dissonant to me having been raised in the church.”
    (closed quote)

    Being LDS my whole life…I wonder what you mean by: “based on what I hear each Sunday?” And also “this is something Mormons are counting on in the hereafter — and almost drives their devotion to the church?”

    I don’t hear of it in Church near as much as I think we should. And because of that I doubt it is the reason it drives our devotion to the church. What drives our devotion to the Church is that Jesus Christ is our Savior and Redeemer and what Joseph Smith said describes it best:

    “The fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it.” ~~Prophet Joseph Smith, Jr.

    I can tell you that I am perfectly comfortable with this doctrine and it is one of the most beautiful doctrines know to mankind. If others do not understand it is the their failing as I believe many traditional Christians have expressed views such as C.S. Lewis and Marin Luther about this doctrine which is called Theosis. It’s just that this doctrine is not known to Traditional Christians and they are the ones who are uncomfortable with it and even that they once had this belief of becoming like God. The Eastern Orthodox Church still teaches Theosis. So Joseph Smith told it plainly that traditional Christians, because of all of the schisms have lost plain and precious truths. I do see Biblical Scholars coming back to these teachings and views are starting to change.

    Good topics to Google: Theosis, deification

  27. LDS “theosis” is not like theosis that is entertained on the Orthodox church. Nor is it like theosis that was mused upon by the Patristic Fathers. Theosis has never been a centrally emphasized doctrine in Orthodox, Catholic or Protestant Christianity, even, that would have its complement in the lay/cultural emphasis LDS theosis is given.

    I’m okay with Mormons finding beauty in their doctrine or belief even as “tangential” as it may truly be. But there is not a persuasive historical Christian complement to (in my view) the distinct flavor it has taken in LDS metadoctrine. The latter is really borne of Jopseph Smith, and even more profoundly, how some LDS leaders have interepreted Smith’s teachings after his death. Indeed, I would recommend the interested reader to study the topic more deeply if they think this is a foundational and “lost” trad. Christian doctrine.

  28. Theosis of Mormonism is the same theosis taught by the Orthodox Church its just that traditional Christians don’t want to admit that the Mormon Church more like the Ancient Christian Church than they are because they have lost this ancient doctrine.

    Catholics and Theosis or Deification
    On becoming Gods and Goddesses:
    Daniel Peterson shares an experience of those at the LDS Maxwell Institute (Ancient Studies)
    We were able to meet also with Father Farina, the prefect of the Vatican Apostolic Library, regarding a project to digitize a portion of its very fine collection of Syriac materials. It seems that there are no insuperable obstacles to such a project. Neither the prefect nor his ecclesiastical superiors—thanks to a remarkable series of contacts and experiences—appear to have any objection to admitting a group of Mormon scholars to their collection and jointly publishing an electronic selection of their manuscripts with Brigham Young University. At this point, I would like you to consider for just a second how very noteworthy that is.
    Bishop Soro hopes that any work that we do with the Vatican on a compact disk will prove to be only the beginning. And, in fact, others at the Vatican have suggested that we move beyond their Syriac collection to their vast wealth of Greek biblical manuscripts. Bishop Soro has now been to BYU on two different occasions and has learned a bit about Latter-day Saint beliefs. During our time with him in Rome, he suggested a theme for a second Vatican-based compact disk: “We could do something,” he said, “about the deification of human beings. Your people would be interested in that, wouldn’t they?” He remarked that his encounters with Mormons had resensitized him to the former prominence of that doctrine in his own very old tradition. He had actually delivered a sermon on the topic, which he said was one of the best received sermons he had ever given.

  29. Or how about this:

    Ernst Benz and Theosis:
    The German Protestant church historian, Ernst Benz, speaks of this doctrine as a Christian doctrine, and says:
    “One can think what one wants of this doctrine of progressive deification, but one thing is certain: with this anthropology Joseph Smith is closer to the view of man held by the Ancient Church than the precursors of the Augustinian doctrine of original sin were, who considered the thought of such a substantial connection between God and man as the heresy, par excellence.” (Ernst W. Benz, “Imago Dei: Man in the Image of God,” in Reflections on Mormonism: Judaeo-Christian Parallels, ed. Truman G. Madsen, Religious Studies Center, BYU, Provo, UT, 1978, pp. 215-216, as cited by Peterson and Ricks, 1992, p. 80.)

    Non-LDS church historian Ernst Benz insisted that the doctrine of deification was present in the early Church, and pointed out a potential risk for those who do not understand it:
    Now this idea of deification could give rise to a misunderstanding—namely, that it leads to a blasphemous self-aggrandizement of man. If that were the case, then mysticism would, in fact, be the sublimist, most spiritualized form of egoism. But the concept of imago dei, in the Christian understanding of the term, precisely does not aspire to awaken in man a consciousness of his own divinity, but attempts to have him recognize the image of God in his neighbor. Here the powerful words of Jesus in Matt. 25:21–26 are appropriate and connected by the church fathers to imago dei… Hence, the concept of imago dei does not lead toward self-aggrandizement but rather toward charity as the true and actual form of God’s love, for the simple reason that in one’s neighbor the image of God, the Lord himself, confronts us. The love of God should be fulfilled in the love toward him in whom God himself is mirrored, in one’s neighbor. Thus, in the last analysis, the concept of imago dei is the key to the fundamental law of the gospel—”Thou shalt love . . . God . . . and thy neighbor as thyself” (Luke 10:27)—since one should view one’s neighbor with an eye to the image that God has engraven upon him and to the promise that he has given regarding him.[
    (Ernst W. Benz, “Imago Dei: Man in the Image of God,” in Truman G. Madsen (editor), Reflections on Mormonism: Judaeo-Christian parallels : papers delivered at the Religious Studies Center symposium, Brigham Young University, March 10-11, 1978 (Provo, Utah: Religious Studies Center , Brigham Young University and Bookcraft, 1978), 215–216. ISBN 0884943585. Reprinted in Ernst Benz, “Imago dei: Man as the Image of God,” FARMS Review 17/1 (2005): 223–254. off-site PDF link Note: Benz misunderstands some aspects of LDS doctrine, but his sketch of the relevance of theosis for Christianity in general, and Joseph Smith’s implementation of it, is worthwhile.)

    Modern Christian exegesis
    The Westminster Dictionary of Christian Theology describes “deification” thusly:
    Deification (Greek Theosis) is for orthodoxy the goal of every Christian. Man, according to the Bible, is ‘made in the image and likeness of God’…it is possible for man to become like God, to become deified, to become God by grace. This doctrine is based on many passages of both O.T. and N.T. (Ps. 82: (81) .6; 2_Pet. 1:4), and it is essentially the teaching both of St. Paul, though he tends to use the language of filial adoption (Rom. 8:9-17, Gal. 4:5-7) and the fourth gospel (John 17:21-23). (Alan Richardson (editor), The Westminster Dictionary of Christian Theology (Westminster: John Knox Press, 1983).)
    Joseph Fitzmyer wrote:
    The language of 2 Peter is taken up by St. Irenaeus, in his famous phrase, ‘if the Word has been made man, it is so that men may be made gods; (adv. Haer v, pref.), And becomes the standard in Greek theology. In the fourth century St. Athanasius repeats Irenaeus almost word for word, and in the fifth century St. Cyril of Alexandria says that we shall become sons ‘by participation’ (Greek methexis). Deification is the central idea in the spirituality of St. Maximus the confessor, for whom the doctrine is corollary of the incarnation: ‘deification, briefly, is the encompassing and fulfillment of all times and ages’,…and St. Symeon the new theologian at the end of the tenth century writes, ‘he who is God by nature converses with those whom he has made gods by grace, as a friend converses with his friends, face to face…’
    Finally, it should be noted that deification does not mean absorption into God, since the deified creature remains itself and distinct. It is the whole human being, body and soul, who is transfigured in the spirit into the likeness of the divine nature, and deification is the goal of every Christian. (Joseph A. Fitzmyer, Pauline Theology: a brief sketch (Prentice-Hall, 1967), 42. AISN B0006BQTCQ.)
    According to Christian scholar G.L. Prestige, the ancient Christians “taught that the destiny of man was to become like God, and even to become deified.” (G.L. Prestige, God in Patristic Thought (London Press, 1956), 73.)
    William R. Inge, Archbishop of Canterbury, wrote:
    “God became man, that we might become God” was a commonplace of doctrinal theology at least until the time of Augustine, and that “deification holds a very large place in the writings of the fathers…We find it in Irenaeus as well as in Clement, in Athanasius as well in Gregory of Nysee. St. Augustine was no more afraid of deificari in Latin than Origen of apotheosis in Greek…To modern ears the word deification sounds not only strange but arrogant and shocking. (William Ralph Inge, Christian Mysticism (London, Metheun & Co., 1948[1899]), 13, 356.)
    Yet, these “arrogant and shocking” doctrines were clearly held by early Christians!
    This view of the early Christians’ doctrines is not unique to the Latter-day Saints. Many modern Christian writers have recognized the same doctrines. If the critics do not wish to embrace these ancient doctrines, that is their privilege, but they cannot logically claim that such doctrines are not “Christian.” One might fairly ask why modern Christians do not believe that which the ancient Christians insisted upon?

  30. Hannah: Consider this sentence: (a) Man(kind) _ (b) will become _ (c) like _ (d)God.

    Christians of a more theologically traditional bent are significantly different in belief and definition on all four of those points. Ontologically. Specially. Theologically. Soteriologically. And more.

    I don’t deny theosis as a tangential Christian doctrine. One could even call it approaching semi central depending on how the definition, scope and goals are framed. (The nuances amount to distinct and dividing differences. See my last paragraph.)

    My disagreement is with the same term (theosis) being used by some LDS while completely shaking up the definitions and scope. The traditional nature, scope, and goal of theosis is radically different than the “LDS theosis.” (Assuming it is true the conventional LDS doctrine is accurate and not as tangential as it is for trad. Christian theology.)

    It is very intellectually dubious for LDS apologists like Peterson to argue for ancient historicity of “LDS theosis” without clearly defining the differences. Once these fundamental differences are outlined and terms defined as they’ve been dominantly defined within tradition — remember, you will always have the fringe — the argument for early church kinship is over. (See the first sentence.)

    Trad. Christian theosis, when it grows more theologically central, and moderate, is more a matter of considering what it meant for God (a Spirit) to incarnate as man, and to consider how man is ultimately elevated to share and mirror in the Glory of God as His redeemed and ultimately renewed creation (joint heirship). As this belief is (and has been) most embraced the term “theosis” to refer to this process of God’s ultimate redemption of mankind has grown out of fashion. It is a term believed to be too easily misinterpreted.

    Man deified has never been any man or woman becoming a God is his/her own sphere of creationary governance and godhood as the LDS doctrine popularly nuances. The traditional Christian doctrines are more like mankind ultimately absorbed, shadowed, completed, submissive, consumed, in worship, at one, in the Glory of the God who has always been God. Where theosis was traditionally most fringe it was also very gnostic (see Origin) and ultimately considered heretical — even less similar of a position to LDS belief than the more moderate traditional interpretations.


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