What Doctrines Are We Asking Mormons to Reconsider?

The editors of the excellent book, New Mormon Challenge, provide a nice summary of what doctrines Christians are asking Mormons to reconsider. There are many areas of commonality between Mormons and Christians, but there are also numerous, important areas of difference. Francis Beckwith, Carl Mosser, and Paul Owen ask for Mormons to focus on some key issues that divide them from Christians at the end of the New Mormon Challenge.

What, precisely, are we asking the LDS community to consider afresh? Here we can only sketch some of the areas where we believe traditional Mormon theology needs to change in order to better conform to Scripture and reason:

(1) We believe the doctrine of the eternality of matter is fundamentally incompatible with biblical religion. Ideally, we would like to see the LDS Church embrace the traditional doctrine of creation ex nihilo. At the very least, we would encourage the LDS Church to consider the possibility that the world was created out of preexisting but not eternal matter.

(2) We believe that the doctrine of monotheism is essential for any true and religiously valid knowledge of God. We would encourage the LDS Church to reject the notion of an infinite regress of gods as it has been traditionally articulated and to reconsider doctrines that necessitate a form of theological finitism. The monarchotheistic Mormon view is a step in the right direction, but it must be combined with the belief in the contingent nature of the universe. God must be recognized as ontologically unique, not merely as superior in status over all other reality.

(3) We believe that the doctrine of the literal eternality of human persons is inimical to Christian faith, for central to a biblical worldview is the idea that we are created beings whose existence is contingent on the creative and loving will of our God. If the preexistence of spirits cannot be given up entirely, then we would encourage the LDS Church to consider a weakened form of this notion, in which the human spirit is viewed as preexistent but not as ontologically eternal (except perhaps in the ideal sense of eternal existence in God’s mind).

Beckwith, Mosser, and Owen continue:

There are other areas where we would like to see Mormon theology change: the doctrine of the materiality of spirit, the doctrine of divine embodiment, and the LDS form of the doctrine of the Trinity. But the three issues outlined above are absolutely fundamental and nonnegotiable.

We do not feel that the status of Mormonism in relation to Christianity can ever change unless there is a willingness within the structures of the LDS Church to reconsider those issues. In short, we want our Mormon friends to reconsider the nonnegotiable beliefs of historic Christianity.

Christians in general—not just evangelicals—confess that there is but one eternal God, who created all things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible. This One God is revealed in the One Lord Jesus Christ, who became incarnate for our salvation and whose presence is shed abroad among the people of God in the person of the Holy Spirit. It is this Triune God who is the only fitting object of religious devotion. He alone is the Living God, and it is to the praise of his glorious grace that the humble efforts of this book are adoringly offered.

One could argue whether additional areas should be added to the list, but there is no doubt that the 3 doctrines listed by the editors are certainly bedrock. For Mormons to move in the direction of the historic Christian faith, those 3 areas must be dealt with. I, personally, hope to see this happen.

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  • SoundOn

    Here’s my defense on these three points:
    1) Eternal matter is not fundamentally incompatible with biblical religion. The bible does not teach anywhere that created matter. As one reads Genesis chapter 1 it is consistent with this simple truth. the word create came from the word baurau, which does not mean to create out of nothing; it means to organize. God already had materials to organize the world using elements that have no beginning and have no end and science has provided evidence to support this. It was once thought that you could take some coal and burn it and that was the end of it, but scientists have found that the elements of that coal cannot be destroyed. You can take a silver coin, drop it into a certain acid, and it will dissolve and disappear. And yet it is still there. You can take other ingredients and get that identical silver out again and mold it to another shape.

    2) Christians who claim to believe that the doctrine of monotheism is essential to understand God do not believe what the bible teaches nor are they being honest with their own beliefs. In my discussions with them they will admit that God is three separate persons because it is well documented in the scriptures, but then say that these three are also literally one which is a concept not found in the scriptures. So they say that they believe in Monotheism, but contradict themselves when they also believe God is 3 separate persons. Does believing that God is three separate persons really fit the definition of monotheism? They believe in one God, but use explanations outside the scriptures to teach how God is one. Only John 17 and similar verses explain his oneness and literal oneness is not found in the scriptures. These three are only one in purpose as explained in John 17 where Jesus prays for his disciples to be one with Him as He is one with His Father. Certainly this does not mean that we are all to be one ontological being with God, but that we are to be one in heart and mind and love as taught in verse 26.

    3) The “doctrine of the literal eternality of human persons” is an interesting statement. I don’t know who coined this phrase, but it is not a statement that is in line with Mormon beliefs. Is this referring to divine embodiment as also criticized in this article? Mormons do believe that God has a body of flesh and bones, not a mortal body, but an immortal body, but Christians who criticize this must look at their own beliefs before they do so. Do they forget that they believe that Jesus Christ was resurrected with a physical body? If so then they also believe that God has a physical body as he demonstrated in Luke chapter 24. So, one must wonder if such Christians deny that Jesus is God, or do they just deny his resurrection?