There are the Jehovah’s Witness claims that the entire Christian church has always been wrong about, well, almost everything. Except for those few ECFs they could massage into some sort of superficial agreement, of course. Mormonism likewise asserts that all churches ceased to be true churches rather quickly following Christ’s ascension. Islam, with it’s idea of scriptural supercessionism and their revisionist version of what the Scriptures actually are, or taught, have a similar view of Christianity as a whole. It’s much the same with any other warmed-over historical error – be they large, as the wholesale replacement religions seen above – or be they smaller, specific, targeted errors like conditionalism/annihilationism, with their aberrant views within anthropology and eschatology.

In both cases, the assertion is made that despite the fact that we are told the gates of Hades will not prevail against the church, in Matthew 16:18 – they did in fact, prevail in some specific sense – be that in a wholesale fashion, or in a specific area. In the case of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, there is some attempt to try to support their claims from the ECFs (failing miserably upon any detailed examination), but in the case of Mormonism, there is usually the flat assertion that the church was essentially defeated entirely for 1700 years or more. Islam’s claims are far more modest, despite the more militant nature of the religion as a whole. In the specific case we’re addressing, the assertion is made that the church, in a practically universal fashion, has lost entirely what is supposed to be meant by “Hell” – and we must “rethink” Hell to somehow recover the original beliefs as taught in the Scriptures, but were “hijacked” by one or more foreign belief systems. Your mileage may vary. Sure, there are books like “The Conditionalist Faith of our Fathers” – but like any other book of this kind, the assertions therein are quite similar to those made by the Arians, the Pelagians, the Romanists, the Socinians, or the Landmarkers; “There have always been people who believed what we believed!” Athanasius addressed such claims, as did Augustine, and their respective counterparts throughout church history, defending the Christian faith. Whether we are dealing with the trail of blood, the trail of Racovian models of theology, the trail of Papal authority, the recurrence of Pelagianism, or even of Arianism, there is always recourse made to either “brave dissenters” throughout history, when it is clear that their position was not that of the universal church, or in the case of positions like that of Romanism, that it was always the majority view – even at times when their church did not exist as the current entity – such as during its period as a multiple-elder ruled body – which can be quite an interesting subject of study, incidentally.

Similarly, volumes such as “The Conditionalist Faith of our Fathers” try to recruit early church fathers, or famous figures to their cause, and then proceed to ransack the annals of church history for any and every viewpoint that could possibly accord with their position in some fashion. What is also tiptoed around, at least in some evangelical circles, is that Froom himself is a Seventh-Day Adventist. Although considered by many in the general evangelical community to be “orthodox” – is considered to be “unorthodox” by many in the conservative side of that community, and to be a cult by a significant minority. This cannot be de-emphasized when the appeal is so often made to the “Protestant” heritage of the SDAs. Even Fudge’s book does a bit of “recruiting” in the ECFs, and it’s essentially a topical overview of the subject, if not from an SDA perspective, but a (generally) Church of Christ background. What isn’t clearly depicted, however, is that they are pulling a few dozen or so names from a cast of hundreds of thousands of historical writers, and that those who share their position are typically the only ones who think many of these ECFs were saying anything of the sort. What is even more often neglected is that many, if not most of their supporting cast they appeal to beyond the ECFs were themselves members of a great variety of historical heresies – where there were bigger fish to fry when dealing with their various problematic theological positions. For instance – do you address the Socinian adherence to an Arian view of Christ first, or their aberrant view of Hell? Quite obviously, the answer is the former. When dealing with heresies, you must do triage. When you address Millerites – what do you deal with first? It’s not quite as simple as “this has never been addressed before” – it’s also not quite as simple as “conditionalism hasn’t had a thorough response,” either. Conditionalism as distinct from other heretical views is a fairly recent phenomenon. How does this matter?

As has long been recognized by theologians, positions are refined and obtain precision through apologetic engagement. Christology was refined by Arianism’s challenges, and the challenges of Docetism and Nestorianism at Nicaea, First Ephesus and Chalcedon. Trinitarianism has always been refined by challenges from Unitarianism, the nature of man’s slavery to sin refined by the challenges from Pelagianism and it’s natural heirs, and, of course, Justification was given elegant refinement by the Reformation’s disputes with Romanism. Apologetic encounters with the challengers to orthodoxy is nothing new, nor is it original with the modern church. In fact, it is something that has always served as tempering for our doctrinal steel. What must be remembered is that Conditionalism and the oft-resulting Annihilationist credo is nothing new to the annals of the church’s apologetic encounters, either. What makes it an interesting study is the frequent pairing it seems to have with other heretical views. Compared to the denial of the deity of Christ the Socinians made, their ideas concerning conditionalism seem rather trivial in comparison. Unitarian denials of eternal damnation seem rather mild in comparison to their denials of the Trinity, similarly.

It should be noted, however, that the idea of an otherwise “orthodox” conditionalist or annihilationist is a rather modern conception. Why is this the case? Even granting Pinnock’s claim, for the sake of argument, that the belief in eternal damnation was fixed in the 6th century, that leaves how much of church history with practically every adherent to Christianity with no earthly idea what the Bible teaches about Hell? Such an argument proves entirely too much for even the “general evangelical” to stomach when seen in those terms. The resort to “traditionalism” as the favored explanation for this practically universal ignorance smacks entirely too much of the revisionist histories of the LDS and the Watchtower. Church history does not allow us such ghastly, lasting rents in the fabric of historic orthodoxy. Even in the Roman communion there was always the Pauline/Augustinian emphasis on Sola Scriptura in at least some fashion – as well as the persistent, recurrent witnesses to justification by faith, and the persistent, nagging memory of days in the history of the church where one bishop could not set himself up above the rest. The Roman version of church history simply does not accurately portray what actually transpired – and neither does the conditionalist version of events in church history.

One reason that there has been fairly little in response to the conditionalist case in church history is that there is no distinctive conditionalism in church history, even as we see it in chiefly centered in today’s modern Anglicanism, General Baptists, and the doctrinal descendants of certain strains of Millerism. Anglicanism and the Particular Baptists churches had a serious bout of trouble with Unitarianism/Socinianism that they have never fully recovered from. The Presbyterians and Particular Baptists contemporary with the English Unitarians (often called Socinians) went to great lengths to address this movement, as we should expect from the doctrinal heirs of the Reformation; but Anglicanism and the General Baptists did not fare nearly as well. Anglicanism fared far better than the General Baptists – who were all but destroyed by the inroads of Unitarian influence, and are effectively scattered wholesale into other groups – but the influences are still seen to the present day, despite their attempts to curb that influence. In the Americas, the Millerite movement, born of disaffected members of a number of denominations, spawned a great number of sects which show a distinct influence of the conditionalist influences – which I submit to you is due to the leavening of General Baptist and Methodist Anglican thought in the Millerite movement, the descendants of which have elements scattered throughout more mainstream channels of evangelicalism. Members of the Millerite movement with conditionalist stances also influenced Russell, the founder of the Bible Student movement, which became the Jehovah’s Witnesses. The fracturing of the Millerite movement is complicated and laborious to track – but there are common themes to be seen throughout, if you take the time to do so.

In summary, you will notice that there has not been a distinctly “otherwise orthodox” conditionalist movement until very recent times. When a particular subject is made the center of controversy, that is when the apologetic response is most fully brought to bear. Since it is a thoroughly Biblical picture, let’s use some military references to illustrate what we mean. When a front is not central to, but peripheral to the the main theatre of warfare, the troops assigned to that front are sufficient to “hold the line” in skirmishes. The more pressure that is brought to bear on that front, the more troops are assigned to it, and the more attention is given to the defense of that area. Far from demonstrating that we need to “rethink Hell” – the lack of a thoroughgoing apologetic response in church history demonstrates most clearly that there has not been much of an assault made on this position. When not coupled with other heretical views more in need of a response, there has been vanishingly little historical “push” on the topic of Hell. My prediction, hope and prayer is that the desire of modern annihilationists to make this subject a central focus will have the effect it has always had in the history of the church – to cause the opposite of their intent in bringing that sequence of events about. There will not be a “rethinking” of Hell – but a “refinement” of the historic doctrine which more clearly and more precisely outlines the Scriptural teaching on the subject, and again vindicates the Scriptural promise that the church will not be left rudderless, or the Spirit without a witness to the truth, and the Scriptures without right division. A lack of precision on a subject has never been a sign of a lack of orthodox agreement – it has been a sign of a quiet front, on the whole. Such is the history of apologetic disputation, and as such we can be confident that this historical sequence will transpire yet again. It is whenever orthodoxy gets pushed that there is a cohesive, controlled, and coordinated response to that push. I hope that the annihilationists do push the way they say they will. That’s what engenders the responses that improve precision and detail.

What is propitiation? That was one of the central elements of the Reformation of doctrine, and one of the most problematic issues in the modern Evangelical movement today. It has to do with many, many areas of theology, and we can’t possibly cover them exhaustively in a single blog post. But in a nutshell, what is it? In a nutshell, it is the “turning away of,” “appeasement” or “satisfaction for” the wrath of God due sinners. It is, therefore, intimately bound up to our notion of what the wrath of God actually is. It is bound up with sacrifice, atonement, substitution, holiness, sin, and many, many other subjects – to include the attributes of God, as we’ve already noted. With it having such a central place in our theology, the smallest misstep will have far-reaching consequences throughout.

If we are to talk about the wrath of God, are we to speak of it as something incidental to God, or as an attribute of God? It surely cannot be something incidental to Him. It is something He is said to possess; “My wrath”[1], and it is just as often called the “wrath of God”, or “of the Lord”. It is said to be magnified by the frequent use of modifiers such as “great”. God’s name is great, His power and strength is great, He is great in mercy, lovingkindness, and holiness. All of these likewise belong to God, and are affirmed of Him, then so must Wrath belong to God, and be affirmed of Him. It is one of His attributes.

If, as we have seen, it is an attribute of God, then it must be addressed per Divine Simplicity. Under Divine Simplicity, the wrath of God is omnipotent, immutable, eternal, sovereign, just, a se, infinite and holy.

Further, it must also be noted that it is not the natures of Christ that were our substitute, it was the Person of Christ – namely, the 2nd Person of the Trinity. If we are to say that He was our substitute, we must say that it was the God-man that was our substitute. We must also note the connection with this being the case alongside the nature of the wrath of God. Gill:

Eternity it not of the essence of punishment; and only takes place when the person punished cannot bear the whole at once: and being finite, as sinful man is, cannot make satisfaction to the infinite Majesty of God, injured by sin, the demerit of which is infinite punishment: and as that cannot be bore at once by a finite creature, it is continued ad infinitum; but Christ being an infinite Person, was able to bear the whole at once; and the infinity of his Person, abundantly compensates for the eternity of the punishment.

Let me add a few more notes, here. Gill, above the quote given here, notes

that Christ was ‘put to death in the flesh;’ as the apostle expresses it (1 Pet. 3:18), that is, in the body; that only suffered death; not his soul, that died not; but was commended into the hands of his divine Father: nor his Deity, or divine nature, which was impassible, and not capable of suffering death; and yet the body of Christ suffered death, in union with his divine person; hence the Lord of glory is said to be crucified and God is said to purchase the church with his blood (1 Cor. 2:8; Acts 20:28). And the death of Christ, as the death of other men, lay in the disunion of, or in a dissolution of the union between soul and body; these two were parted for a while; the one was commended to God in heaven; the other was laid in the grave: but hereby he was not reduced to a state of non-existence, as say the Socinians; his soul was with God in paradise; and his body, when taken from the cross, was laid in a sepulchre, and where it saw no corruption.

We cannot say that only one nature of Christ suffered, or we 1) Deny the union of Christ’s natures as expressed in Scripture, and formulated at Chalcedon, or 2) Deny, at least potentially, that Christ was our actual substitute, in His Person; we also cannot say that both natures suffered in the same fashion, however, at risk of 1) Denying the nature of God as immutable, impassible, eternal, and immaterial or 2) Violate the Creature/Creator distinction hypostatically. The Divine nature is immutable, impassible, immaterial, and eternal; hence not subject to the decay and corruption of death. It was, however, that one infinitely Divine Person who suffered the wrath of God. Not both natures alike, but both natures in union, and in concert, according to their nature. What the simply human cannot suffer immediately, the Divine Person, as Gill notes, did. Not equally in both natures, as the natures are not equal. This is a very, very complex subject, and we cannot treat it lightly. We cannot, on the one hand, attribute too much to mystery if it has, in fact, been revealed; but we cannot, on the other hand, speculate on things not revealed, and call them as such, if they are mysteries – so we must toe a very precise line. We must do so carefully, reverently, and studiously, lest we either take too much upon ourselves, or not enough.

It was not merely one nature which took the wrath of God upon Himself; else, we would be throwing out Chalcedon just as easily as Fudge does, if from a different perspective. We must ask ourselves – what was the point of it being the God-man who came if it was only the human nature which was under that wrath? We must also face the theological implications of passages such as “Nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption.” Only with a full-orbed Christology, a full-orbed Theology Proper, a full-orbed Anthropology and a full-orbed Soteriology can we have a full-orbed Eschatology. The one demands all of the others. A lack of concentration on theology as an organic, cohesive whole spells disaster for our theology, and the apologetic which flows from it.

This outpouring of the Wrath of God against sinners is something which must be addressed if we are to speak of the propitiation for those sinners, or of Christ’s substitution for those sinners. What it was that was suffered is intrinsic to our idea of propitiation. The nature of the God-man is something that cannot be overlooked if we are to deal with his propitiatory sacrifice on the behalf of his people. The nature of substitution, in a precise manner, is also something we cannot pass over. In short, this further shows that a modification of one element of CT has a great, if not catastrophic, effect on the rest of our theology and doctrine, if we see that doctrine as it truly is – an organic whole.

  1. [1] 2Ki 22:17, 2Chr 12:7, Psa 2:12, 6:1, 76:10, 78:38, 102:10, 106:23, Isa 34:2, 48:9, 60:10, 63:3,5,6, Jer 4:4, 7:20, 21:12, Eze 5:13, 6:12, 7:14, Hsa 5:10, 13:11,

Why Ignorance Isn't Bliss

Found some humdingers asserted by a young man on a friend’s wall recently, that while not really needing a response due to their falsity, are at least helpful to address.

The initial status update states:

People often say, “Trust in yourself, believe in yourself.” Well, God says I’m a fool. Would you trust a fool? I wouldn’t…

The unbelieving young man’s response is to say this:

Would you trust someone who belittles you and says things that are simply falsehoods?

Note a couple things. First, the complete and utter lack of argumentation offered for the assertions. Second, the use of “simply”, as if there isn’t a need for proof to be offered. Why on earth does he imagine that there is no argumentation necessary for a boldfaced denial of the initial statements he is responding to? At very least, I’d hope he would realize that he should have one. Unfortunately, I don’t suspect this to be the case.

My response, due to the incredible unargued assertion, is to ask:

What is “belittling” about the truth?

He responds:

You have lived your own life. Not god. No one else has. Only you. You can choose to follow a religious calling. But at the end of the day the only one who got you to where you are is you. The creator may put things in your path but when all is said and done you must act upon it. Therefore we are not foolish or anything. We simply are presented with life. we must chose how to do it right. You must trust yourself for god to be able to do anything. And any god that considers you a fool, a sheep, or any number of things, is not worthy of my love. It’s a falsehood that we are foolish. There are stupid people, but only foolish mistakes. Not foolish people. Does a mistake make one foolish?

Amazingly, he considers this response sufficient. I think not. First, what reason are we given to consider “living your own life” to be relevant? Second, how are we supposed to connect “therefore”, prior to “we are not foolish or anything” with either “the only one who got you to where you are is you” or “you must act upon it”? What is the “therefore” there for? We aren’t told. Third, we are told that we are “simply” presented with life – we must (choose) how to do it right. Presumably, it seems, also choose what right is? If I recall, that is what Adam and Eve’s initial sin amounts to. Why this is supposedly an objection to the Christian position, we are not told. Fourth, we are told that we *must* trust ourselves in order for god to do anything. A strange sort of “god” that he has in mind, by any accounting. Even more puzzling, however, is that we are told “any” god that considers us a fool, a sheep (or any number of things – does that include ‘a person”, incidentally? I mean, we wouldn’t want to offend this interestingly capricious fiction, now would we?) is – catch this – not worthy of his love. Well, now that we’ve established that humanity gets to decide what is worthy or not, thus turning the concept of “god” utterly on its head, we see what the real issue is, don’t we? He goes further in his redefinition of… well, everything he encounters. It is (why, we aren’t told) falsehood that we are foolish. Really? Says who? There are stupid people (granted), but only foolish mistakes. Forget that he’s directly contradicting the Scriptural witness – it’s just the way he says. Because he says so. At least, we aren’t given any other reason, as far as I can tell. There not any foolish people. Are we told why? he asks, finally, “Does a mistake make one foolish?” Who on earth said that, and why on earth would someone ask such a silly question? It puzzles me.

I responded to him in a comment, but since nothing he said was in any way (even remotely) related to what I said, I’m not going to bother repeating my comment here.

His next reply was as follows – and here’s where it starts going off the rails badly.

Your god is not my Shepard.

Given that there’s no such thing as a “Shepard”, I’d hope not. But more seriously, if he had actually read the Bible cover to cover, like he claims later, he’d know that he is a goat, not a sheep, hence “shepherd” hardly applies to him in any case. Does he think it does? It seems like it.

I am a pagan and I am proud of it.

Pagan comes from the word “paganus” in Latin – it means “rustic”, or “country-dweller”, ironically. It later became a pejorative, but is hardly descriptive of what he is, in either case. Technically, he is someone who acts μωραίνω – foolishly. First, because he is, in fact, ignorant – and proud of his ignorance. Secondly, because he denies what he knows – and Scripture calls that man a fool.

The christian god needs constant unwavering devotion or he will cast you into a lake of fire for all eternity.

Not exactly. He wants moral perfection in all regards, including, and most importantly towards Himself – which is the devotion that is due Him.

Some loving father in heaven if you ask me…

Were you under the impression that He loves you the same as He loves His people? I don’t believe that, and Christianity doesn’t teach that. Deformations of Christianity teach that, but they are heresies of various degrees. Hence, it goes to show that our putative scholar might want to re-examine the level of his Scriptural knowledge.

The only one capable of living your life is you.

While gratifyingly bumper-sticker worthy, and perhaps even worthy of an Ayn Rand cameo, what does this have to do with anything? We aren’t told.

Why trust that to a deity that will throw you into the pit without hesitation?

I’m sorry, aren’t you mixing pronouns? God doesn’t throw his children into the pit at all, let alone without hesitation. You’re the one who needs to worry about that. Nobody expects you to trust Him, after all. You’re a self-professed unbeliever, and self-professedly rebellious towards God, and believe that you determine 1) What is right and wrong 2) Whether God is right or wrong. Remind me again why I should believe I’m under the same condemnation as you are, when the Bible teaches otherwise?

You wouldn’t trust a fool, and I would not trust a lord that will cast me to the devil for questioning.

First, no I wouldn’t. You are right. So why should I trust you? Secondly, where on EARTH do you get the idea that the devil has anything to do with questioning, or of the administration of the lake of fire, as seems to be your implication? Do you get your Christian doctrines from Looney Tunes, or the Bible? If it’s the former, you could say that the devil “reigns” in Hell, but not from the Bible. Hell is where Satan is cast along with every other sinner, per the Bible.

As to god giving you your life and determining every point, that would be contrary to all forms of freewill…

No, just ones that define “freedom” like a toddler does. Where they get to do “whatever they want, whenever they want, wherever they want.” No, the Bible quite clearly states that there is no such thing, nor should there be, in a world with a sovereign Creator. Why this objection is supposed to impress anyone, I haven’t the foggiest. Were you under the impression that “free will” in the sense that most unbelievers affirm was an orthodox Christian doctrine?

That would make you no more than a puppet. A toy to be discarded at the earliest convenience.

A common claim, but with no argument provided – leaving us with yet another unargued assertion. Seemingly no knowledge of the mountains of material written on the subject, either. Just as an assignment – what did Luther claim was the hinge on which the entire Reformation turned? What was the debate between Augustine and Pelagius about? Inquiring minds want to know.

You call me rebellious? I am. I respect and worship the creator, but I do not follow blindly

Yes, you are. No, you neither respect or worship Him, because you refuse to accept Him as He is, and try to usurp His throne at every point. You don’t follow at all, let alone blindly.

After this… interesting… exposition of Christian doctrine, I replied again, as follows:

1) You seem to be under several misapprehensions about basic Christian doctrine. 2) You return to your misapprehensions at every point, thus causing a disconnect with the reality of this position on each and every point. 3) Since this is the case, you are objecting to a straw man – which, although it burns quite merrily, does no damage to the actual position you seek to address.

His reply was this:

Alright tell me specifically, where I am wrong. I’m that obnoxious type of pagan that has read the bible cover to cover. I don’t really object to the ideas or the doctrines. What I have a problem with is people who post a status like this or who try to make converts of all of us. They are so unlike their great teacher. I also would like to address the fact that by worshiping god you are infact guilty of the same thing that he cast lucifer into the pit for. He loved god too much to obey him in his orders to the angels to worship man. If he cast his most beautiful angel in heaven in the lake of fire for insisting upon worshiping him, why wouldn’t he to you.

For someone who has read the Bible “cover to cover”, he didn’t seem to have grasped much of it, if he makes such major errors. It is also hard to imagine that he doesn’t “really object to the ideas or the doctrines” when that seems to have been the entirety of his putative objections thus far. Of course, they are objections to doctrines that only exist in his imagination, for the most part, but it still doesn’t make much sense to say this. What else would you be objecting to, anyway?

I also find it rather amazing that his next sense is an objection to the doctrine of… the Gospel. You know, trying to convert people? By telling them what the Bible says? I mean, it’s sort of hard not to laugh when you see someone contradict themselves so blatantly. Especially when you follow that with the assertion that… this is “unlike their great teacher”. If I didn’t have reason to believe this was serious, I’d be having a good laugh. As it stands, I’m just wondering where he “learned” Christian doctrine from. That’s… not even remotely accurate. Not to mention the fact that he doesn’t say why this is the case. Again.

The next bit is truly weird. He claims to have read the Bible cover to cover.. but then claims that God 1) Has already cast Satan into the pit (He hasn’t) 2) Did so for NOT worshiping MAN (This is.. so unbelievably wrong that it makes my head hurt.) 3) Insists that Satan was cast into Hell for… worshiping God, rather than for trying to… usurp God’s place as the one worshiped, as the Bible says. What Bible did he read? I’m really wondering, now. It’s just crazy. But, of course, what do we know about Christianity? We’re only Christians who study the doctrine and theology of our own Scripture. What could we possibly know?

Truly amazing, the things you read on facebook.

Continuing the series I started with in my prior post, we’re examining the article “Seven Reasons Why Mormons are Christian”, by Rachel Bruner. In our prior post, recall that we examined 1) The remarks of their elder statesmen on this topic, 2) The distinct tendency on the part of the LDS to “redefine” terms in the Christian lexicon, and 3) The necessity for a transcendental argument to settle the question.

In this installment, we will examine the first reason we are given for believing that Mormons are Christian.

1. Christ is Head of (the) Mormon Church

I’ve duplicated the link from the article, as we will discuss the content found therein, as well. The article gives the following as support for the preceding statement:

Everything we teach and everything we do is to bring us unto Jesus Christ. He is the Son of God and all our beliefs and doctrines focus on Him as our Savior and Redeemer. He is the head of our church (see Ephesians 5:23), which many people refer to as “Mormons” but that is only a nickname. The proper name of our church is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

When the Nephites disputed what to call the church, Christ said:

“And how be it my church save it be called in my name? For if a church be called in Moses’ name then it be Moses’ church; or if it be called in the name of a man then it be the church of a man; but if it be called in my name then it is my church, if it so be that they are built upon my gospel” (3 Nephi 27:8).

Now, let’s address some presuppositional commitments, before we get into the response. The “Jesus Christ” of Mormonism is who, precisely? According to the link for #1, “Jesus Christ is the firstborn spirit child of God[1] and although each of us is a spirit son or daughter of God, the Eternal Father, only Jesus Christ is God’s son in the flesh. Born of the virgin Mary, Jesus Christ, is the only begotten son of the Father.”[2] [3] Now, let’s compare this conception of Jesus to the Biblical conception of Jesus. Gill puts it thus: “[H]e is an individual, distinct, though not separate from the divine nature, he has in common with the Father and the Spirit; he subsists of himself in that nature distinctly, and independently; is not a part of another, the whole fulness of the Godhead dwells in him; nor is his human nature, which he assumed in time, a part of his person, nor adds anything to his personality; but being taken up into union with his person, subsists in it; he has life in himself, and is the living God; is intelligent, has understanding and will; knows himself, his Father and the Spirit, and all creatures and things, and does whatsoever he pleases.”[4]

Let’s set forth these conceptions of Christ in antithesis, as they ought to be placed – we will draw from other places in Mormon writings to give us a fuller picture, as well.

Who is Jesus Christ?
Attributes CT (Christian Theism) ~CT (Mormon Theism)
Deity Monogenes (Unique Son)[5] First[6] of many spirit children[7]
Conception Miraculously, by the Spirit[8] In the flesh, by Elohim[9]
Relationship to Satan Lord and God over[10] Spirit brother to[11]
Relationship to Man Transcendent God over and Creator of[12] [13] [14] Spirit brother to[15]
Nature In Hypostatic Union[16], 2nd person of the Trinity One of a plurality of gods,[17] firstborn of Elohim[18]
Temporality Eternal, as God alone[19] One of a plurality of antemortal[20] spirit brethren in endless temporal existence
Material Relationship Essentially Spirit, took on flesh, yet immutable[21] Essentially Spirit, which is itself a form of matter [22]
Sonship Eternal[23] Began in time, in the flesh[24] [25]
Atonement began On Calvary[26] In Gethsemane[27]

This suffices for our purposes at the moment; it does, however, clearly illustrate that the Mormon and Christian conceptions of “Christ” are fundamentally at odds! Since we have our two worldviews at antithesis on the most basic of levels, we must transcendentally argue our case(s), as what is at stake is the very intelligibility of what it is we are saying. Mormonism, after all, claims to be founded on the Christian Scriptures, and merely a continuation, to be carried along by their “living prophets”. Christianity, on the other hand, claims that the revelation of God is complete in the 66 books of the Bible, and that in that Scripture alone we may rest secure, and find certainty. So, what are we to do? Throw up our hands? Not in the least! We will argue on the level of worldviews, rather than over individual facts, in a piecemeal fashion. If Christ is the head of the church – which we both seem to affirm – which church is that, precisely? As we saw in the last installment, it is quite clear that whatever “church” the “Jesus” of the LDS is the head of, is not the church that orthodox Christians are members of. On the other hand, Scripture tells us that Christ is the head of His church, and that the church is defined as all of the elect throughout history[28]. So, how are we to resolve this?

Let us take the doctrines of Christ, and of the Church, and set them in opposition. First, will proceed to do an internal critique of the LDS position, and demonstrate that the position of the LDS church is incoherent, and makes both “Christ” and “Church” unintelligible.

To the LDS church, we have been without a “valid” church since shortly after the apostles were martyred.[29] At very least they point to Nicea as an example of the “great apostasy” that had gripped the “Christian” church.[30] So, in effect, there was no valid church from at least 325 until 1820 (but probably longer than that). In the eyes of the LDS, there was effectively no church on the face of God’s earth for centuries. Only with the “Great Restoration”[31] of Joseph Smith was the church brought back in any meaningful fashion. So, we can say that to the LDS, Jesus is the head of the LDS church, and all else is apostate.

There is a problem with this assertion, however. Are we to believe that the church who Christ told Peter that “the gates of Hades”[32] would not stand against fell, for centuries? That God did not preserve for Himself a remnant[33]? On the one hand, we have the Scripture that the LDS claims to believe telling us that the church will not fall; On the other hand, we have the testimony of Joseph Smith and his fellow “Latter Day Saints” that the church did fall! If, as the LDS claims, the church of Jesus Christ went into apostasy in a wholesale fashion[34], what are we to believe of the promises of God[35]? Even more urgently, however, how shall we explain the seeming contradictions between the teaching of the Apostles themselves, and the LDS church, on a massive variety of points? For instance, the Apostles taught, explicitly, that God is One[36]. So did Christ.[37] If this is the case, how are we to believe that in reality, (as the LDS teaches) they taught that there are many gods? It is undeniably the case that the Old Testament and New Testament both teach that God is one in being[38] However, the LDS church teaches that there are a plurality of gods. In order to make their teaching an intelligible continuation of the teaching of the Old and New Testaments, it would have to be the case that the OT and NT teach that there are a plurality of true gods. In Scripture we are told of that there is a plurality of false gods, but never that there is a plurality of true gods. Even more problematic, how are we to ground, for instance, the one and the many[39] in a pluralism of deities? How are we to ground an objective morality in a plurality of deities? How are we to ground logic, or uniformity in a mutable, temporally-bound pantheon such as Mormonism presents us with? As Mormonism presents it, there is no visible uniformity in their ecclesiology[40], nor in their doctrine of scripture. Both are presented as mutable, and discontinuous[41] – even contradictory[42]. As such, their inability to grant us the preconditions of intelligibility[43] in human experience and external reality make their worldview impossible.

In contrast, Christianity presents us with an ecclesiology and doctrine of scripture grounded in monergism[44]. From first to last, the work and nature of God is the precondition for every doctrine we believe. The church is made up of those who are elected[45] from eternity[46] by the Father, brought to the body of Christ by the work of the Spirit, and atoned[47] for by the death and obedience[48] of Christ. In the Triune God, there is a foundation for the unity and diversity of the church, the certainty of revelatory and ecclesiological continuity and objectivity.

Let us move on the the doctrine of Christ. In the Old Testament, we are presented with multiple “theophanies”[49], as well as the express revelation of God to man. In the New Testament, it is revealed that God the Son took on flesh, and walked among us. We are told by the LDS church that God the Son became the Son at a certain point in time, and was conceived physically by intercourse with Mary. We are also told that God the Son is of the same order of being as we are, differing only in his degree of exaltation, as we (and Christ) differ from Elohim only in our degree of exaltation. We are told that Christ is of the same order as the angels, as well, since Lucifer is his spirit-brother. We are told that he did not create the world ex-nihilo[50], but that he organized pre-existing matter, which is conterminous with God; who is similarly temporally infinite, if not timelessly eternal. In fact, we are told that “spirit” is merely a different order of matter! He is not the eternally begotten Son, but the temporally begotten son of Elohim. On this basis, how can we affirm that by him were all things made? He, himself, is a made thing. Of pre-existing matter, to be sure, but the Father is, to the LDS, himself, pre-existent matter. Ne is no different in order, essentially, from any other human, be they humble or exalted. So, is he to be considered as creator of himself, or is he similarly the creation of another, as to the LDS, “creation” is the reorganization of pre-existing matter? This is a gross contradiction. He cannot be both creator of all and not-creator of all at the same time, and in the same sense. Further, how is he to say “I AM that I AM” in true self-sufficiency, being a created thing as any other? How is he to be “who was, and is, and is to come”[51] in a properly eternal sense? An endless succession of moments is not, properly, eternity. Yet, to be truly eternal, there must be no change. Change, however, did occur, in the very nature of the Christ of the LDS. Hence, he is not properly eternal, nor self-sufficient, nor self-existent, nor immutable, and certainly not perfect. Perfection is to have no lack. Christ had to become, and needs still become, to be as great as his father, in the doctrine of the LDS. In short, the Christ that the LDS presents is unintelligible. He is a self-contradiction. Their adherence to the Christian Scripture merely points out the contradictory nature of their conception of Christ; the Christ shown purely by the LDS’ distinct writings is similarly self-contradictory, if not so obviously so. By presenting as “God” an exalted man, spirit child of Elohim, firstborn of the flesh, they have presented a “Christ” that is expressly self-refuting. A “Christ” who is an imperfect creation, one of many, not one of a kind except in an incidental sense, whose church fell almost immediately. This “Christ’s” “atonement” paid for nothing in any meaningful sense, was challenged by Lucifer as a being on par with himself, achieved no lasting benefit, and had to be “jumpstarted” 1800 years later in order to be even known at all. A “Christ” such as this does not resemble the πρωτότοκος that Scripture depicts. It is a weak, powerless figure that couldn’t be further from the “Faithful and True” on Revelation’s white horse.

In contrast, we have the eternal, self-existent Son of God; timeless Word before creation or time began. The Creator of all, Sovereign Lord and Redeemer; unchallengeable and unconquerable. Omnipotent, unrivaled, glorious and without peer – firstborn above all creation, He who took on our sins for the glory of God the Father[52], and is glorified beyond all mortal knowledge. Omniscient, unchanging, in whom all things hold together.[53] In Him alone are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.[54] It is such a Christ that makes all else in His creation make sense, and in whom we may know, and repose in certain faith. There is no shadow of turning[55] in Him; no contradiction, or alteration. Only in the eternal and immutable Sovereignty of the Scriptural Christ of Christian orthodoxy can we find the meaning to all we might desire, and all that He designs to reveal of His eternal purpose.

The “Christ” of Mormonism, and it’s long-failed church fail to give us coherence and an intelligible reality. They fail to ground the meaning of all creation in the person of Christ. They are mere shadows; echoes of the triumphal beauty of the Christ revealed in Scripture Alone. With the impossibility of their position, we alone can say that our Christ does that, and is truly all in all. Only the Christ of Scripture is the head of a Church worth worshiping in. May the Mormon people find Him, and may they rest in His certainty, rather than in the morass of doubt that Mormonism entails.

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  1. [1] D&C 93:21
  2. [2] John 3:16
  3. [3] Original references duplicated when possible
  4. [4] Gill, Body of Doctrinal Divinity
  5. [5] μονογενής – single of its kind, only
  6. [6] Firstborn
  7. [7] Duties and Blessings of the Priesthood: Basic Manual for Priesthood Holders
  8. [8] Matt 1:20
  9. [9] Jesus Christ
  10. [10] Hebrews 1:5
  11. [11] Duties and Blessings of the Priesthood: Basic Manual for Priesthood Holders
  12. [12] Isa 40:21-31
  13. [13] Isa 6:1
  14. [14] John 12:41
  15. [15] Duties and Blessings of the Priesthood: Basic Manual for Priesthood Holders
  16. [16] “This one and the same Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son [of God] must be confessed to be in two natures, unconfusedly, immutably, indivisibly, inseparably [united], and that without the distinction of natures being taken away by such union, but rather the peculiar property of each nature being preserved and being united in one Person and subsistence, not separated or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son and only-begotten, God the Word, our Lord Jesus Christ” – Chalcedonian Definition
  17. [17] D&C 132:19-22
  18. [18] Ensign: The Father and the Son
  19. [19] 1 Tim 1:17
  20. [20] Ensign: The Father and the Son
  21. [21] John 4:24
  22. [22] D&C 131:7-8
  23. [23] Heb 13:8
  24. [24] “All men were first born in pre-existence as the literal spirit offspring of God our Heavenly Father…and are in the similitude of the universal Father and Mother, and are literally the sons and daughters of Deity…Christ, destined to be the Only Begotten Son in Mortality, was the first spirit offspring in pre-existence” (Mormon Doctrine, p. 84).
  25. [25] “God the Father is a perfected, glorified, holy Man, an immortal Personage. And Christ was born into the world as the literal Son of this Holy Being; He was born in the same personal, real, and literal sense that any mortal son is born to a mortal father. There is nothing figurative about his paternity; He was begotten, conceived and born in the normal and natural course of events, for He is the Son of God, and that designation means what it says” (Ibid. p. 742)
  26. [26] Rom 5:10-11
  27. [27] McConkie, The Purifying Power of Gethsemane
  28. [28] Eph 1, Heb 12:23
  29. [29] Early Signs of the Apostasy
  30. [30] The Fulness of the Gospel: The Nature of the Godhead
  31. [31] The Message of the Restoration
  32. [32] Matt 16:18
  33. [33] Psa 100:5, Psa 119:90
  34. [34] Early Signs of the Apostasy
  35. [35] 2 Cor 1:20
  36. [36] James 2;19
  37. [37] Mar 12:29
  38. [38] Exo 3:14, John 5:44
  39. [39] Also known as the problem of unity and diversity or of universals and particulars
  40. [40] Doctrine of the Church
  41. [41] having intervals, or gaps
  42. [42] in logic, a proposition so related to a second that it is impossible for both to be true or both to be false.
  43. [43] What is required to render meaningful, or make understandable
  44. [44] the doctrine that the Holy Spirit acts independently of the human will in the work of regeneration; may also more widely applied to the work of God in general
  45. [45] the choice by God of individuals, as for a particular work or for favor or salvation
  46. [46] in timeless and immutable self-existence
  47. [47] the reconciliation of man with God through the life, sufferings, and sacrificial death of Christ
  48. [48] both active and passive obedience – see Gill, A Body of Doctrinal Divinity, Book V, 3,4
  49. [49] “appearance of God”
  50. [50] Out of nothing
  51. [51] Rev 1:4,8
  52. [52] Phil 2:6-11
  53. [53] Col 1:17
  54. [54] Col 2:2-3
  55. [55] Jam 1:17

Debate Announcement

On Februrary 5th, I will be debating Roman Catholic Dan Marcum (a Skype debate) on the proposition “Sola Scriptura is an essential Christian doctrine, and necessary for instruction in faith and practice“. My goal is to argue this proposition presuppositionally. I’m planning on a couple of podcasts in the near future to give the audience some preparation, and to ensure my opponent knows where I’m standing, going into the debate, so stay tuned.

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