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Did Joseph Smith Restore Theosis? Part One: The Mormon Doctrine of Exaltation

A recent article in the Mormon newspaper Deseret News (August 3, 2011) by Brigham Young University professor and Mormon apologist Daniel C. Peterson carries the provocative title, “Joseph Smith’s restoration of ‘theosis’ was miracle, not scandal.” The term theosis is a Greek term used in the Eastern Orthodox theological tradition referring to its doctrine that through the Incarnation (the union of divine nature and human nature in the person of Jesus Christ) human beings may become united with God and in some sense like God. This Orthodox doctrine is rooted in the doctrine of several early church fathers (mostly writing in Greek) who spoke of the redeemed in Christ becoming “gods” (Greek, theoi) through the union with God that he put into effect in the Incarnation. According to Peterson, the doctrine of “exaltation” taught by Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormon movement, was a miraculous “restoration” of “an authentically ancient Judeo-Christian doctrine,” the doctrine of theosis.

Was it?

My response to Peterson will be rather detailed and so will be broken up into several parts. In this first part, I will review the doctrine of exaltation taught by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) and affirmed by Peterson. In subsequent parts I will examine Peterson’s arguments in support of that doctrine. This includes his New Testament proof texts (Rom. 8:17; Rev. 3:21), his proof text for the doctrine in the Book of Mormon, his claim that “an early Jewish midrash expressed the belief” in theosis, and his citations to show that Joseph’s doctrine restored an ancient Christian doctrine reflected in statements by various church fathers.

The Mormon Doctrine of Exaltation

Peterson summarizes the doctrine he wishes to defend as follows:

“Late in his life, the Prophet Joseph Smith began to teach that humans, being children of God, can become like their Father. The doctrine is most famously expressed in the couplet of Lorenzo Snow: ‘As man is, God once was. As God is, man may become.’”

Peterson refers to this teaching as the doctrine of “exaltation.” Let’s be clear on what this doctrine means. In Mormonism, exaltation is something that has already happened to God that made him what he is today and that can also happen to us to make us reach our full potential. There are two parts to Snow’s couplet, the first regarding God, and the second regarding man, and these two parts must be understood in relation to one another. The precise wording that Snow himself used was slightly different from the wording given by Peterson: What Snow said was, “As man now is, God once was; as God now is, man may be” (Eliza R. Snow Smith, Biography and Family Record of Lorenzo Snow [Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret News, 1884], 46). The wording used by Peterson, on the other hand, appears to have become standard in Mormon usage (see, for example, Encyclopedia of Mormonism 4:1474). In any case, the question is, just exactly what does this statement mean?

The first part of the couplet asserts that God “once was” as we are but he is now what he is. Exaltation for God denotes the change from what he “once was” to what he “is.” Furthermore, exaltation for man is the change from what “man is” now to what “man may become”—and “what man may become” is “as God is.” In other words, God was once a man, like us, and he then became what he is now, namely, God; and we can do the same thing and go through the same change from what we are now to becoming the same kind of being as God.

The basic conception that this doctrine expresses is that deity is an open category. The being that we call God was not always “God” but became God by the process that Mormons call exaltation. The beings that we call “man” were not always physical, earthly humans but were divine spirits living in Heaven and are living here temporarily in order to progress toward their own exaltation.

Joseph Smith stated explicitly toward the end of his life that God has not always been God. I will quote three paragraphs in full from his famous 1844 sermon known as the King Follett Discourse so that there can be no question about the context (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 345-46, emphasis in original):

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.

In order to understand the subject of the dead, for consolation of those who mourn for the loss of their friends, it is necessary we should understand the character and being of God and how he came to be so; for I am going to tell you how God came to be God. We have imagined and supposed that God was God from all eternity. I will refute that idea, and take away the veil, so that you may see.

These are incomprehensible ideas to some, but they are simple. It is the first principle of the Gospel to know for a certainty the Character of God, and to know that we may converse with him as one man converses with another, and that he was once a man like us; yea, that God himself, the Father of us all, dwelt on an earth, the same as Jesus Christ himself did; and I will show it from the Bible.

One can easily see the first part of Snow’s couplet, “As man is, God once was,” explicitly in Joseph Smith’s remarks here: “God himself was once as we are now”; “he was once a man like us.” The second part is also found in the same sermon just two paragraphs later:

Here, then, is eternal life—to know the only wise and true God; and you have got to learn how to be Gods yourselves, and to be kings and priests to God, the same as all Gods have done before you, namely, by going from one small degree to another, and from a small capacity to a great one; from grace to grace, from exaltation to exaltation, until you attain to the resurrection of the dead, and are able to dwell in everlasting burnings, and to sit in glory, as do those who sit enthroned in everlasting power. (Teachings, 346)

Some Mormons will argue that neither this sermon nor Snow’s couplet are included in the LDS scriptures (their “Standard Works”) and therefore are not “official doctrine,” but this is an idle claim. As we have seen, Dan Peterson treats this doctrine without embarrassment or hedging as a doctrine miraculously revealed to Joseph Smith. As evangelical scholar Ron Huggins showed in an important article in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, when the LDS Church is not engaged in public relations, it clearly affirms this doctrine of exaltation, including Snow’s couplet and the King Follett Discourse, as accepted doctrine. The LDS doctrinal manual Gospel Principles, in print continuously since 1978 and published by the LDS Church as a primer on Mormon doctrine for its members, clearly affirms Joseph Smith’s doctrine (Gospel Principles, 2009 ed., 275, 277, 279):

When we lived with our Heavenly Father, He explained a plan for our progression. We could become like Him, an exalted being…. Exaltation is eternal life, the kind of life God lives. He lives in great glory. He is perfect. He possesses all knowledge and all wisdom. He is the Father of spirit children. He is a creator. We can become like our Heavenly Father. This is exaltation….

These are some of the blessings given to exalted people:

  1. They will live eternally in the presence of Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ (see D&C 76:62).
  2. They will become gods (see D&C 132:20–23).
  3. They will be united eternally with their righteous family members and will be able to have eternal increase.
  4. They will receive a fulness of joy.
  5. They will have everything that our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ have—all power, glory, dominion, and knowledge (see D&C 132:19–20)….

Joseph Smith taught: “It is the first principle of the Gospel to know for a certainty the Character of God.… He was once a man like us; … God himself, the Father of us all, dwelt on an earth, the same as Jesus Christ himself did” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith [1976], 345–46).

Our Heavenly Father knows our trials, our weaknesses, and our sins. He has compassion and mercy on us. He wants us to succeed even as He did.

Note that Gospel Principles quotes with approval statements from Joseph Smith’s King Follett Discourse, from the very pages we quoted above, including the statement that God “was once a man like us.” It also affirms that God is “an exalted being” and that we can become exalted beings too, that we can “become gods” in this sense of becoming like God in every way. For example, it asserts that God is “a creator” and that we can “become like” him in this respect. It claims that exalted people will have “all power, glory, dominion, and knowledge,” just like God the Father and Jesus Christ.

Let us draw these ideas together in a brief summary. The LDS doctrine of exaltation, taught by Joseph Smith himself, found in the current Mormon doctrinal primer, and defended by Mormon scholar and apologist Dan Peterson, includes the following doctrinal claims:

  • God has not always been God; it is not true that he has been God from all eternity (though he may have existed from all eternity, he has not always existed as God).
  • God was once a man like us before becoming God our Heavenly Father.
  • God became God and is an exalted man, an exalted being.
  • Human beings are the spirit offspring of God, our Heavenly Father. We lived in heaven with God before becoming physical beings here on earth.
  • We became human beings precisely so that we would have the opportunity to attain exaltation just as God did.
  • Human beings can become “gods” in the sense of becoming exalted beings fully like Heavenly Father in all essential respects, just as he did before us.
  • As exalted beings or gods, we can become creators and have all the power, glory, dominion, and knowledge that God the Father has (in the worlds we create).

What we want to know is whether any of the evidence from the New Testament, Jewish literature, or the early church fathers adduced by Peterson really supports the antiquity of any of these doctrinal claims. This is the question that will be addressed in the subsequent installments of this series.

Rob Bowman is the director of research for the Institute for Religious Research in Grand Rapids, Michigan. For a wealth of resources on Mormonism,  please visit IRR’s website.

101 Responses to “Did Joseph Smith Restore Theosis? Part One: The Mormon Doctrine of Exaltation”

  1. It’s worth noting that a lot of specific changes were made in the 2009 edition of Gospel Principles. It really looks like they went through it with a fine-toothed comb. Yet they still retained the suggestion/implication that God was once a mere mortal man who succeeded at becoming a God, just like we can. And they still retained the teaching that we can become full-blown Gods. Sure, fringe Mormon apologists/professors/intellectuals with fringe Mormon theology can interpret these manuals in non-standard ways, but given Mormonism’s history, tradition, and standard Mormon interpretative framework, standard Mormon theology (as summarized by the Lorenzo Snow couplet) remains promoted by the manual.

  2. I look forward to seeing what you have to say on theosis. I think the doctrine affirms some important things. It is a shame that people see that Athanasius said “God became human that we might be made god” and then run in all kinds of directions with it.

    May God give you wisdom and humility in this series. :)

  3. Here is a pretty good resource article on this subject my friend wrote……even though he is Roman Catholic…..

    http://unamsanctamcatholicam.blogspot.com/2011/04/st-athanasius-doctrine-of-divinization.html

  4. It seems to me that the nature of the 1st sin (in the garden) was th desire to be like God.

    Some things never change.

  5. Steve Martin:

    Yeah I know what you mean.

    1 John 3:2
    2 Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see im as he is.

    John must have had the wool pulled over his eyes when he wrote that one huh?

  6. I’d like to shamelessly self-advertise my own article on the subject, published at the Patheos Mormonism portal last year:

    An Evangelical View of (Mormon) Deification

  7. Thanks for posting that Ms. Jack. Also, I was very happy to see where you studied–not many are willing to do that.
    Thank you for caring enough to listen.
    May God continue to bless you.

    (Augustin once said “You cannot ask an enemy of Aristotle about the dark things of Aristotle!” while exhorting his friend to listen to Christian arguments and not just what Manicheans had to say about Christians.
    I am always grateful to see people listen, and not form conclusions from what an enemy of a position says.)

  8. Well Mr. Bowman – you’re already getting one thing wrong from the get-go.

    We Mormons are not required to believe that God the Father was ever a sinful man like we are. In fact, our scriptures seem to indicate otherwise. Mormons are, of course, free to believe this – however there is another strong movement within Mormon thought that indicates that the only way God the Father was ever “like us” is that he experienced mortality once in the same way Jesus Christ experienced it. Which would make him never less than fully divine.

    I know that you and your crowd are fond of dismissing this as a view only held by a certain few – whom you then dismiss as “not real Mormons.” A rather unfair position, to be frank. But at least don’t act like you’re describing “Mormonism” as a whole, when in reality you are only describing one FLAVOR of it.

  9. Mormons aren’t even “required” to believe that the BofM is historical or that the Book of Abraham is divinely translated. The issue of what is “required” to believe is a ruse. The bigger issue is what has been taught, fostered, and acquiesced to. What’s unfair is expecting evangelicals to turn a blind eye to problems within Mormonism because a mental “denomination” within mainstream Mormonism happens to take a different view.

    The fact is that Peterson has implied that the NT and early church fathers believed in theosis like Mormons do, i.e. becoming full-blown Gods who have billions of future spirit children who have the same worshipful relationship with you as you have with your Heavenly Father. Mormons like Seth don’t want Mormonism’s traditional view of cosmic tribalism and the genealogy of Gods to be the subject of any scrutiny, because hey, look over here!, there are some Mormons who take a…

  10. … different view.

  11. Steve,
    It is true that Genesis 3:4-5 informs us that Satan told Eve that eating of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil would 1) surely not cause death (a lie – Gen. 2:17; 5:5) but would cause their eyes to be opened so that they might know good from evil and therefore “be as gods” (true – Gen. 3:7, 22). Thus, in this instance, Satan told a half truth. It is important to note that the Lord himself affirmed in Genesis 3:22, that the second half of Satan’s statement was true by declaring, “Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil….” Could there be any clearer witness than this one from God? We should understand by this that Satan was not promising Godhood to Eve. He was mixing the truth that she would become like the gods (having the ability to discern between good and evil), with the lie that she could not die. The fact is that we do become as God when we gain knowledge of truth (good and evil) and learn obedience to God’s commandments

  12. I was just reading:
    http://maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/publications/review/?vol=17&num=1&id=573
    Some here might be interested in that article. Benz is not a Latter-day Saint.

  13. Mike H,
    Please pardon me, but I really think most people misinterpret what Satan said and what God said, and I think this is very important. The Bible says (and I think most translations translate it correctly) “and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Ge 3:5). He never claims that they will be like God in nature. The only way he claims that they will be like God is that they will know good and evil. That is all. This is exactly what God confirms: “man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil” (Ge 3:22).

    Anything more than that: knowing good and evil. Is not Biblical and is likely to be the start of a heresy.

  14. Re: Mike H.

    I am not sure if I misinterpreted you, and you said the same thing. But I wanted to be clear. Please pardon me if I misunderstood you.

  15. Aaron S.

    It’s pretty ridiculous to have a Protestant, of all people, tut-tutting another faith for having a diversity of opinion.

  16. Seth,

    Pardon? The issue is not an issue of opinion but an issue of translation and interpretation. If the text is misunderstood, it is not possible to come to a correct conclusion of what it says.

  17. Err. Pardon the last post. The delete option does not work.
    There are too many Aarons.

  18. Aaron,
    I agree with you. I was just pointing out that Steve’s post that “the 1st sin (in the garden) was th[e] desire to be like God” is a misinterpretation itself. Theosis is a biblical doctrine and we believe it (2 Peter 1:3-4 for example). Saying we can become God’s equal is not biblical and we don’t believe that. We will always be subordinate to God. I agree with Seth that God could have been mortal in the same way His Son was mortal. Anyone that claims that God was a sinful man like us is speculating. There is no LDS doctrine stating such.

  19. Also, it needs to be made clear that Rob Bowman is here claiming to explain what JOSEPH SMITH thought about God’s past.

    This ignores that modern LDS scholarship claiming that God was only like us in being mortal like Jesus Christ arose because those scholars claimed that this is the true and correct reading of what Joseph Smith himself was claiming in the King Follet sermon.

    So it really is an utterly irrelevant tangent for Bowman and Aaron S. to start nitpicking on what most modern Mormons do or do not believe. Because the beliefs of modern Mormons were not the topic of Bowman’s post in the first place. The topic was Joseph Smith.

    As such, it would be irresponsible for Bowman to ignore or dismiss the most recent LDS scholarship on what Joseph Smith’s original teaching actually WAS.

  20. Seth, the criticism is not diversity per se, and I think you know that. The criticism is that gross, horrific heresy has been taught, fostered, and acquiesced to — specifically cosmic tribalism and the genealogy of the Gods.

    Mike writes, “Saying we can become God’s equal is not biblical and we don’t believe that”

    This is misleading. Mike, I trust your sincerity, but to get a bigger picture of the problem, one should consider the historical debate between Orson Pratt and Brigham Young on the issue, and how it stands today. Orson Pratt taught we could become equal with God in knowledge and power, whereas Brigham Young taught that all the Gods (including ours) always progress in all their attributes, including knowledge and power. Today within Mormonism, Mormons usually unwittingly take one of the two sides, blissfully unaware that there is any real debate over the issue. See list item 5 in Gospel Principles [2009] in chapter 47, which takes a more Prattian view.

  21. Seth, to my limited knowledge, Daniel Peterson himself does not definitively take the position that the Father’s mortality was merely a kind of kenosis experience (similar to what Blake Ostler argues). I’m asked him personally about God the Father’s past (including whether he was a sinner or a sinless Savior) at a fireside, and he essentially took the position of “I don’t know.” The kenosis you mention, Seth, is only one of a few Mormon positions, and it hardly seems to be the traditional position, nor the dominant position that lay Mormons take here in SLC. I’ve asked thousands of Mormons about whether God the Father was maybe a sinner in the past, and most of them (about two-thirds) take the position that God the Father was perhaps a sinner.

    The irony is that even Mormons who don’t believe there is a Heavenly Grandfather usually still believe that we can become Gods ourselves, replete with our own spirit children, at least taking the genealogy of the Gods forward.

  22. “[I’ve] asked him”, that is

  23. Aaron, I don’t know any Mormons – Joseph Smith included – who did claim that we can become “equal” with God the Father. So that’s pretty much an irrelevant point.

    We may consider ourselves ontologically of the same type of being as God – but that does not automatically translate into notions of superiority or equality. You may be trying to make the point that anyone who does not acknowledge an ontological divide between humans and God is holding such notions of equality or superiority – but that is merely you trying to rig the game by locking down the definitions to ONLY your limited theological definitions.

    As for Orson Pratt and Brigham Young – you present a limited picture of both men and their teachings. Both of them asserted that we are dependent on God for any glory, knowledge and power we attain. Thus our own glory is derivative from God and not independent of him.

    Your attempt to paint these men as arrogantly trying to fight their way to equal power with God is…

  24. That last bit that got cut off should have made clear that Aaron’s caricature is misguided and false.

    Aaron S.

    As I’ve stated, it really doesn’t matter what the people in your staged street interviews think.

    What matters in Bowman’s post is what Joseph Smith taught – isn’t it? And if modern scholarship suggests something about Joseph’s views OTHER than what Bowman is presenting, then maybe he needs to either take stock of that scholarship, or change the title of his post to “what most Mormons believe about theosis.”

  25. And most Protestants are also blissfully unaware of the raging theological debates within their faith tradition.

    Again, I don’t know what you hope to prove with all these appeals to the “man on the street.”

    Because it really doesn’t prove much of anything.

  26. All I know is that D&C 76:69-70 states:

    69These are they who are just men made perfect through Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, who wrought out this perfect atonement through the shedding of his own blood.

    70These are they whose bodies are celestial, whose glory is that of the sun, even the glory of God, the highest of all, whose glory the sun of the firmament is written of as being typical.

    Note that God is “the highest of all.” Our leader’s opinions are only speculation if scripture is not cited. I believe God is and will always remain the highest of all those that are exalted in the Celestial Glory.

  27. No, the issue isn’t myopically excluded to the explicit teachings of Joseph Smith. It concerns the broader tradition of Mormonism, perpetuated and fostered and acquiesced to by Mormon leadership, Smith and beyond.

    Last time I checked, Gospel Principles was the manual being used on Sundays, not any book by Blake Ostler. Chapter 47 teaches us of those to be exalted, “They will become gods”, and “They will be united eternally with their righteous family members and will be able to have eternal increase.” It goes on to explain, to the embarrassment of Mormon minimalists, “They will have everything that our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ have—all power, glory, dominion, and knowledge.”

    Sure, each God in the genealogy of Gods depends on the previous God for glory, knowledge, and power, but that’s not impressive to evangelicals when one is speaking of a larger genealogy of Gods.

    You accuse me of staging interviews. Do you have any evidence of this? That’s a big…

  28. Having been subjected to one of your interviews myself Aaron, I have a pretty good idea of your approach.

  29. Mike, you have stated your own personal opinion, apparently, that there is no Heavenly Grandfather. Would you be willing to show that you are not smuggling in relativism here (“Oh, I meant our God is the Most High for this generation of spirit children!”), and positively say you disagree with your own past leaders when they have specifically stated (often without any qualification of tentativeness) that there is an ancestry to God the Father himself, that there is a Heavenly Grandfather? This is, after all, the position that Mormon prophets like Joseph Fielding Smith have taken on the basis of publications of Joseph Smith’s “Sermon in the Grove”.

    It’s one thing to say, “It’s not official!” It’s quite another to say, “They were wrong to teach it” or “They were irresponsible to speculate on such a matter.” There are plenty of things Mormons believe “unofficially”. Take Heavenly Mother, for example.

  30. As for what’s impressive or not to Evangelicals – I frankly don’t care.

    All I brought the point up was in response to your caricature of us as arrogantly thinking will be equal with God on our own lights.

    Consider that particular argument of yours thoroughly challenged.

    And I couldn’t give two straws about the rest of Evangelicaldom’s concerns about ontology and other irrelevant philosophical gobbledygook.

  31. Aaron S.

    Just because a Mormon may disagree with a particular theological read of his fellow Mormons does not mean he needs to go so far as to declare them unequivocally wrong, and certainly not “irresponsible.”

    I don’t have enough confidence in my own position to rule out the positions of others in such an imperial fashion. Who knows – they could be right.

  32. Seth, when some Mormons do tell me they personally believe God the Father never was a sinful mortal, my usually follow-up question goes something like this: “Would it be a problem if you met another Mormon who believed God the Father was was once a sinful mortal?” (Usual answer: no.) “Would you have a problem religiously uniting with people who did believe God Father sinned?” (Usual answer: no.)

    And when people take position that are in principle already contrary to what their leaders have taught, it helps to get a sense of just how strong that disagreement is (“So do you disagree with leaders who have taught it?”).

    Again, the accusation that I have staged interviews is a pretty serious accusation. Vagueness here will not suffice. What about any interview was “staged”? Are you taking exception to any of the street interviews at GodNeverSinned.com, where Mormons are so inclined to assert that God was perhaps a sinner?

  33. Dang, it’d be nice if this “edit” feature to comments worked so I could correct my own typing. Moderator, you might want to do some plugin updates :)

  34. Ditto on the edit feature. I tried to use it and it didn’t work.

    Aaron, I consider an interview “staged” when it is operated from the desire of the interviewer to get the information out in the manner in which HE desires, and according to his own agenda. A lot of major media interviews are “staged” in this sense.

    I don’t consider it a “serious” accusation at all.

    It’s common as dirt in the world of theological debate.

  35. Aaron,
    How do you understand 1 John 3:2-3:
    2 Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.

    3 And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure.

    Item 5 in the Gospel Principles [2009] in chapter 47 states that we will inherit all that God has. See Revelation 21:7:
    He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son.

  36. The truth is that there is a great diversity of thought among Mormons about this topic.

    I take that back. There is a great diversity of thought among Mormons *who care about such things* about this topic. Aaron S. (and perhaps Bowman?) knows this, but he’d prefer to ignore the rigorous attention that this topic has received by past and recent scholars. And who could blame him? It is far easier to beat up on the unexamined opinions of average Mormons who are only vaguely aware of this issue at all (most don’t return to it after their initial introduction to it, which often occurs as a missionary).

    This is a topic that truly is like nailing jello to a wall (For better or worse; I rather like that fact). It is nigh unto impossible to pin down anything like a “consensus” or “official” view of God the Father’s past, or of man’s future. The only parts that could be considered “consensus” are quite general and broad in their scope (and doesn’t include Aaron’s infatuation…

  37. …with the possibility of a sinful God).

  38. So an interview is “staged” if I have a specific set of questions planned and a topic I focus on? Wow, I should do more of these interviews, they really seem to get under your skin :)

    Mike H., answer my simple question to you and I’ll be happy to answer yours.

  39. Mr. Rob Bowman rightly points out that in LDS theology we find a vastly different definition of God, which is not biblical, Christian or even monotheistic. That is, “God” does not refer to any one personal metaphysical being who alone innately possesses all divine attributes from eternity to eternity. Rather, ontologically God and man are the same kind of being.

    Since the definition of “God” is a radical departure, so also is Joseph Smith’s notion of deification or theosis. For Peterson to claim that Joseph Smith miraculously restored “an authentically ancient Judeo-Christian doctrine” is misleading at best.

    Having read Peterson’s article, I believe he is trying to take advantage of a weakness of traditional Protestant theology (a lack of awareness concerning historical and/or orthodox Christian notions of deification/theosis) in order to make LDS teachings seem far more “authentically Christian” than they actually are. Certainly he is not the first to do so!

  40. Aaron said: “Mike H., answer my simple question to you and I’ll be happy to answer yours.”
    My answer is “I don’t know.”
    Anything beyond what I have quoted is speculation including an infinite regression of Gods. See http://fairmormon.org/Mormonism_and_the_nature_of_God/Infinite_regress_of_Gods
    The revelations we have are limited to “this earth.” (Moses 1:35-36) God has not seen fit to reveal more as far as I know. Speculation only leads to contention especially when non-Mormons are involved.

  41. Benz, a non-Mormon, states in:
    http://maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/publications/review/?vol=17&num=1&id=573
    that:
    One can think what one wants of this doctrine of progressive deification, but one thing is certain: with this anthropology of his, 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. We must remember here, that for the ancient church salvation stood in direct correlation to incarnation. Athanasius, the great bishop of Alexandria, the head of the church in all Egypt, summarized the Christian doctrine of salvation in the words: “God became man so that we may become God.” The goal of salvation is deification and Athanasius invokes in this context the words of Jesus: “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:4)

  42. That should be Matthew 5:48.

  43. Mike, I rarely use the word “cult”, but this goes toward the reason why many outside Mormonism are inclined to use the admittedly inflammatory, negative term: evasiveness and seeming deceptive use of language. In a thread here where the ideas of a genealogy of Gods, of Heavenly Grandfather, and the Father’s perhaps-sinful past are brought up, you said that God is the “higest of all” and that he “will always remain the highest of all those that are exalted in the Celestial Glory.”

    Do you see how, in the context of this thread, you made it sound like you were definitively rejecting the idea of a Heavenly Grandfather, etc.? Yet now you open up the idea of the regression of Gods as a possibility, relativizing your once-absolute langauge to “this earth”. I had to probe with pointed, penetrating questions to get beneath your language. People shouldn’t have to do that over this sort of thing.

  44. Mormonism seems foster this habit among its members: using needlessly ambiguous, misleading language when *clearly* more helpful language is available. Giving one impression, and then giving the exact opposite meaning when clarification is forced.

    Now to answer your question: I believe that in the afterlife we will be morally purified of all sin, we will participate in the fellowship of the Trinity, and we will forever grow in knowledge and power as we worship God in joy, forever growing more and more like him, yet always giving glory to the one true God from whom ALL things come (Romans 11:33-36; no, I am not relativizing anything here to one earth or to one generation of Gods or spirit children). God is ever-increasingly knowable, but not exhaustible.

  45. Aaron,
    If you believe in a “knowable God” then you have rejected the “incomprehensible God” of the creeds.
    http://carm.org/christianity/creeds-and-confessions/athanasian-creed-500-ad
    I agree.

  46. Mike, God is personally and truly knowable but not exhaustively knowable. At Theopedia we have described this distinction here:

    http://www.theopedia.com/Knowability_of_God

    Be careful to “agree” … if you really don’t. In traditional Mormonism, either one can get to know everything that God maximally knows, or the Gods are always ahead of or behind each other in the never-ending escalator of the progression of all the Gods (again, depends on which internal Mormon position you take, if any).

  47. You can call evasiveness about language “cultlike” if you want Aaron (though I’d wonder what sort of messed up definition you were using).

    But in Utah (and cultures like Japan), it’s simply called polite conversation.

    Incidentally, I wish I could find a citation for the following quip from Daniel Petersen (mentioned in Bowman’s original post):

    “Anti-Mormons say that ‘your doctrine of theosis is not exactly the same as the early Christian doctrine of theosis’. To which I respond that our Mormon version of theosis is closer to the early Christian doctrine than your non-exisant doctrine of theosis.”

    I don’t have much to add to that.

  48. “our Mormon version of theosis is closer to the early Christian doctrine than your non-exisant doctrine of theosis”

    Care to substantiate this point? Early Christian notions of theosis were based on the bridge of the incarnation, which distinguishes, not equates, the two species of God and man. I don’t see any early Christian fathers who believed they’re going to get to govern their own worlds populated with billions of their own future billion spirit children, who pray to and worship them, singing, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is Athanasius/Tertullian/Justin Martyr/Ignatius/Irenaeus Almighty, who was and is and is to come, the Almighty God of Gods, the King of kings, the Lord of lords, the Most High, with whom none can compare.” While Mormons may find that kind of thing possible or acceptable or agreeable or probable or definite, the ECFs would have screamed, “BLASPHEMY!”

  49. Well, let me think back to the last time I ever had a debate with a Protestant who even so much as acknowledged even Eastern Orthodox style theosis as a legitimate part of their theology.

    Hmmm…

    Aside from Jack (who posted above and whose article I am familiar with)… none actually.

    I’ve never heard so much as a peep about this stuff from you guys in nearly five years of extensive interfaith debate.

    I had to go to the Eastern Orthodox to even discover this doctrine existed.

    Way to carry the torch you guys.

  50. Seth, care to substantiate the claim that “our Mormon version of theosis is closer to the early Christian doctrine than your non-exisant doctrine of theosis”?

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