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Rob Bowman On the Trinity Part 5

Viewpoint on Mormonism / Bill McKeever
The Truth Network Radio
January 28, 2021 8:45 pm

Rob Bowman On the Trinity Part 5

Viewpoint on Mormonism / Bill McKeever

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January 28, 2021 8:45 pm

Guest Robert Bowman discusses the Trinity in this week’s shows.

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Unprepared to engage Mormon missionaries when they knock on your door? Perhaps the book of Mormonism The Trinity to prove that Mormons do in fact believe in the Trinity, but he qualified it by using the phrase social Trinitarianism.

Could you explain to our listeners what that means? Yes, David Paulsen is the LDS scholar that I think more than any other has pressed this point, claiming that the LDS understanding of the Godhead is comparable to what is called social Trinitarianism. The term social Trinitarianism refers to a particular variety or interpretation of the orthodox Christian doctrine of the Trinity in which the three persons, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, are understood to be characterized by what people would call distinct centers of consciousness or distinct identities of being very sort of personally and relationally distinct from one another. The model of the Trinity in this particular interpretation is that the three persons are very much like three human persons in relationship with one another, but then that has to be heavily qualified. So rather than thinking of the three persons as three modes of being or three ways that God is God, they are three genuine persons in relationship with one another, a relationship of love for one another, of mutual respect and knowing and fellowship. Those kinds of things, especially the idea of the Trinity being a unity of love, of loving relations among persons, that is a basic characteristic of social Trinitarianism. But Paulsen argues that the Mormon concept of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost is somehow a variety of or very similar to social Trinitarianism, and I want to make it very clear that that is not the case. Christian theologians debate the merits of a social Trinitarian approach to the doctrine of the Trinity, but even those who reject it should understand that the Mormon concept of the Godhead is radically different from anything that goes by the name social Trinitarianism. So in other words, because they again define these words and this understanding so differently, you couldn't even use that term to say that somehow we have an agreement.

You can't do that. The Mormon concept of the Godhead, of the three personages of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, are not legitimately comparable to or comparable to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in social Trinitarian thought. They're not even similar. But Paulsen is not trying to deny this idea of what we would call tritheism, that the Father is a God, the Son is a God, the Holy Ghost is a God, three Gods within one Godhead. He's not denying that when he uses that phrase social Trinitarianism then. Actually, I think Paulsen ends up trying to at least finesse that issue of them being three Gods away and doesn't like that formulation, so he's clearly uncomfortable with it.

I think Paulsen, I need to say this because otherwise I don't think I'm being fair to him. Paulsen is, I would describe him as taking a revisionist approach to Mormon theology in which he's trying to peel away or remove from Mormon doctrine certain elements of its traditional understanding as taught by Joseph Smith and everybody else since then in leadership that Paulsen finds problematic. For example, Paulsen is not prepared to go along with the idea that the Father became a God through some kind of process. He wants to say God has just always been God. Well, I'm glad he wants to say that, but that's not Mormonism. Even though he's a Mormon theologian, what he does is he tries to finesse away Joseph Smith's statements on the matter in order to pull those out and remove those obstacles to accepting the Mormon conception of God. Even after he does that though, he ends up with something that is radically different from social Trinitarianism. So even Paulsen's view isn't social Trinitarianism.

Here again, we have a problem. You have Mormon scholars, in this case, Mr. Paulsen, Dr. Paulsen, taking a position that you have just said doesn't really fall in line with what the church has historically said on this topic of the Godhead. And many times a lot of these scholars are accepted as representing when they speak and write Mormon teachings, but as you've just mentioned, he doesn't seem to. And so how serious should we as Christians take statements from people like this when they really do not have the authority to speak for the church?

Well, yes. And just to clarify something, I think what Peterson says in his article that we discussed in the previous installments here, what he says is pretty accurate as far as what Mormonism teaches. He just doesn't go into the detail necessary to help readers understand the differences accurately. But he's not misrepresenting Mormonism.

I think Paulsen does. I think Paulsen is trying to reshape Mormon theology to be less heretical. It still is heretical, but he's trying to make it less heretical. And the other Mormon thinker that does this is Blake Osler. Blake Osler and David Paulsen are the main advocates of this kind of reformed Mormon conception of Godhead that is different from what Joseph Smith taught, different from what Brigham Young and the other LDS presidents down the line taught.

Whereas I don't see Peterson, to my knowledge anyway, going along with that. So there is a difference there. And that's kind of interesting to note that even Mormon scholars or theologians disagree among themselves on such basic questions as, has God always been God? You'd think this would be something that would have been nailed down after almost two centuries, but it isn't.

You would think so. However, as you've mentioned, you've got all these mixed messages going out there. I mean, you have, for instance, the Book of Mormon teaching in Moroni 818 that God was everlasting to everlasting. Now, that sounds pretty similar to what we read in Psalm 90, verse two. Then you have Joseph Smith coming out later on saying, we've imagined and suppose that God was God from all eternity. I will refute that idea and take away the veil so that you may see. So the obvious question for us trying to understand this teaching within the context of Mormonism is, well, which Joseph Smith do we really believe here?

Because it certainly doesn't sound like they are agreeing on this concept. And if, in fact, their God became a God at some point in time, and as you mentioned, he's preceded by another God further back. If, in fact, a Mormon would say that if they were to become a God that they would never be more powerful than the God that they are now worshiping, the one they call Elohim, wouldn't that also make sense that Elohim is not as powerful as the God that preceded him going clear back into eternity past? Well, see, here we get into another problem in Mormon theology.

It's a problem of their making, not ours. And that is that Mormonism has always had this tension between, and in some cases, it was a literal argument between those Mormons who maintain that when you become a God, you arrive and you are done. You have arrived at the top. You can't go any higher.

You can't be any better. You can't know any more, except you can know what happens in the future as it comes along, but you can't become any more powerful or any greater than you already are. There are those Mormons who have taken that position, and there are other Mormons who have taken the position that, no, there's always more progress to be made. There's always more power to be gained. There's always more greatness, more glory, more everything to progress in. And so the gods that preceded us will always be ahead of us, whereas the other view is when you become a god, you will have arrived at the same stature of power and glory and knowledge and wisdom and everything else that God the Father has. You'll have the same attributes, the same qualities. Now, you'll still be his child, so you won't be over him, and maybe in some sense you won't be equal to him in authority, but you'll be equal to him in power and greatness. And I think that's the position that the LDS Church eventually settled on, and you see this in gospel principles, for example, that you can become like God, and the implication is when you arrive, you have the same characteristics that God has, and he's permanently received those, he's permanently attained those, and there's nowhere else to go.

I mean, if you're omnipotent, you're omnipotent, right? So there's always been that tension in Mormonism, and the reason why there's been that tension, and we need to keep bringing people back to this, the reason why there's that tension in Mormonism is that Joseph left behind a legacy of theologically incoherent revelations, in which he progressed in his own theology from a monotheist in the Book of Mormon in the early revelations in Doctrine and Covenants to an outright polytheist at the end of the Doctrine and Covenant revelations, and especially in those two sermons in 1844. And so when he died, he left behind this group of revelations that they all had to be accepted by Mormons because they were all from the founding prophet, but they don't agree with one another. It took about two generations for the Mormon church to work up a synthesis where they could say, yeah, we agree with everything that Joseph Smith said, and this is how he put it together, and that was put together by people like James Tomage and B.H. Roberts and Joseph F. Smith. This is what Mormons today mostly believe, is the theology of those early 20th century theologians and church leaders, not the teachings of Joseph Smith that don't even agree within themselves, but they agree with the synthesis that was developed by Tomage and Roberts and Smith in the early 20th century. So when Joseph Smith said these things, they had to be accepted because he's a prophet, but after he died, the Mormon said, well, let's see, how do we put that together with this?

Well, that's what they've done. They've tried to come up with a synthesis, and that's why you see this apparent confusion at the end of Dan Peterson's article. Are they one God or three Gods?

The answer has to be both because Joseph Smith said both, but you can't have both of those statements be true without some serious changing of what you mean by God in mid-sentence. We've been talking with Dr. Rob Bowman. He is the author of nearly 60 articles and of a dozen books dealing with theological issues, including the Trinity. If you want to know more of what Rob has written, I encourage you to go to That's his website, Rob, thank you for your insight regarding this topic. You have certainly, I'm sure, helped a lot of Christians better understand where their Mormon friends are coming from. My pleasure. Thank you.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-12-30 08:57:12 / 2023-12-30 09:01:57 / 5

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