Are Mormons Approaching Orthodoxy?

Posted: July 10, 2016 in Mormon Studies, Pander/Slander, Richard J. Mouw, Rob Bowman, Theology
A Response to Richard Mouw

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by Robert M. Bowman Jr.
The May 2016 issue of the Christian periodical First Things (appearing online in April) includes an article Richard Mouw, President Emeritus of Fuller Theological Seminary, entitled “Mormons Approaching Orthodoxy.” As I will document here, the Institute for Religious Research figures largely in Mouw’s article even though he never mentions IRR (or me) by name. As the spokesman for IRR in past efforts by our organization to dialogue with and respond to Professor Mouw, I have a special interest in Mouw’s article and a direct responsibility to offer this response.

The focus of Mouw’s article is on the question of whether Mormonism is still committed to the view of God represented by Lorenzo Snow’s couplet, “As man now is, God once was; as God now is, man may be.” Mouw’s main claim is that the LDS Church is quietly moving away from the notion that God was a mortal man who became exalted to Godhood in a process open to us as well. Mouw recognizes that this doctrine is incompatible with Christianity but insists that Mormons are doing what they can to retire this false doctrine.

If only it were so.

In this article I will be critically reviewing Mouw’s article, correcting the historical record, explaining the issues, summarizing the evidence as it pertains to those issues, and responding to Mouw’s arguments.

MouwInterview

Richard J. Mouw

Richard Mouw: Dialogue with Mormons but Not with Their Evangelical Critics
Mouw begins by giving a brief recitation of the history of the Snow couplet. Joseph Smith’s father had told Snow that he would become “as great as God,” an idea that Snow felt he came to grasp four years later, leading to his formulation of the couplet. He reports that Parley Pratt “not long after that” affirmed that “God, angels and men are all of one species” and that Joseph Smith taught that “God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted Man.” (The order here is a little misleading: Snow composed his couplet in 1840, Joseph Smith delivered the sermon quoted in 1844, and Pratt published his book making the quoted statement in 1855.) Mouw admits that this view “denies an essential Jewish and Christian teaching,” namely that God is ontologically unique, a fundamentally different kind of being than humans, and that we will never become the same kind of being as God.

Yet Mouw argues that this doctrine, which he admits was taught by Joseph Smith as well as by Snow and Pratt, need not divide evangelicals and Mormons, because Mormons are at least in the process of abandoning it. As I shall explain, Mouw’s argument blithely ignores facts that have been presented to him and that flatly disprove his claim.

Mouw recounts the history of this controversy as follows:

I’ve been involved for a long time in an Evangelical-Mormon dialogue. When that dialogue began fifteen years ago, we were told by the Mormon participants that the Lorenzo Snow couplet has no canonical status in Mormon theology. I reported that assessment in print, arguing that the apparent denial of any ontological difference between God and man in the Snow couplet need not prevent Evangelical-Mormon dialogue.

Right away, Evangelical “countercult” groups responded in a sharply critical way. One issued a “Statement on Richard Mouw and Evangelical Countercult Ministries,” stating that “the evidence is voluminous that the LDS Church has been continuously teaching the doctrine of eternal progression, as it is commonly known, represented by the King Follett Discourse and the Lorenzo Snow couplet from 1844 right up to the present.” An extensive critique appeared in an essay by Ronald V. Huggins, published in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, “Lorenzo Snow’s Couplet: ‘As Man Now Is, God Once Was; As God Now Is, Man May Be’; ‘No Functioning Place in Present-Day Mormon Doctrine?’ A Response to Richard Mouw.”

Richard J. Mouw Apologizing in the MormonTabernacle

Richard J. Mouw Apologizing in the MormonTabernacle (2004)

This account is rather misleading. Mouw’s original statement denying that the Snow couplet had no canonical status in LDS theology was made in an email in late 2004, following his controversial remarks at the Salt Lake Tabernacle on November 14, 2004. On that occasion, Mouw accused his evangelical brethren of “bearing false witness” against Mormons in the way they characterized Mormon doctrine. In a subsequent email responding to challenges to his criticism, Mouw asserted that evangelicals in countercult ministry had misrepresented Mormonism as teaching “that God was once a human being like us, and we can become gods just like God is now.” Mouw claimed that this idea had “no functioning place in present-day Mormon doctrine.” Huggins responded in the article Mouw mentions, which appeared in the September 2006 issue of the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society.1 That periodical, of course, is not published by a “countercult” group, but by the premier academic society of evangelical scholars. Huggins himself was at the time a professor at Salt Lake Theological Seminary and had published two articles on the Book of Mormon in the academic periodicalDialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought.2 Referring to Huggins in the context of a general swipe at evangelical “countercult” groups comes across as an attempt to broad-brush all evangelical criticism of Mouw as unscholarly. It also ignores the fact that many evangelicals engaged in so-called countercult work care about scholarship and that many evangelical scholars are supportive of countercult ministry. For example, Huggins himself has been a member of the board of our organization, the Institute for Religious Research, since before Mouw’s appearance at the Salt Lake Tabernacle.

In an attempt to frame the controversy as one stoked by “countercult” groups, Mouw claims that after his publicly asserting that the idea of man becoming gods just like God is now is not a part of present-day LDS doctrine, “Right away, Evangelical ‘countercult’ groups responded in a sharply critical way.” He then cites the “Statement on Richard Mouw and Evangelical Countercult Ministries.” However, that Statement was issued in April 2013, more than eight years after Mouw’s comment about Mormon doctrine (and more than six years after Huggins’s article). That is hardly “right away.”

Perhaps this is a good place to point out that Mouw made his critical remarks about the evangelical countercult movement without having engaged anyone in that movement in the kind of friendly dialogue he has pursued with Mormon scholars. He made no effort to explain to the evangelicals he criticized what he thought they were doing wrong. Between 2004 and the present he has not pursued such dialogue and has not welcomed overtures from those evangelicals who have expressed a desire to have such dialogue with him.

Talking With The Mormons Front Cover

“Talking with Mormons” by Richard J. Mouw (2012)

The Statement on Richard Mouw and Evangelical Countercult Ministries3 was prompted not by Mouw’s email in 2004 but by his very public campaign in 2012 and early 2013 to promote the notion that Mormonism was moving away from the doctrine of God and man as the same species. In 2012 Mouw published a book entitled Talking with Mormons that criticized the way most evangelicals have viewed Mormonism. That same year and in early 2013 he made some public appearances with LDS scholar Robert Millet in which the two of them discussed some of the subjects addressed in Mouw’s book. In effect, the book and appearances were a public relations campaign to argue that evangelicals should view Mormonism in a more positive way religiously and theologically. In both the book and his public appearances, Mouw expanded on his claim that evangelical “countercult” organizations were misrepresenting Mormon doctrine, especially with regard to the issue of the nature of God.

In early 2013, the Institute for Religious Research reached out to Mouw and attempted to pursue dialogue with him about his critical stance toward countercult ministry. On February 14 of that year I sent to Mouw on behalf of IRR a three-page letter along with a 36-page documentation packet that had been specially prepared to address the comments he had made regarding the LDS doctrine of God and man. Perhaps I might mention that I am a graduate of Fuller Theological Seminary (1981), where Mouw later served as president, and I had met with Mouw in his office at Fuller and discussed Mormonism with him in about 2001. After receiving no response to my letter, I sent Mouw a follow-up letter on March 14, which was answered by an email to me from Mouw on April 9. Mouw declined our invitation to dialogue, complaining about a number of things he thought we had said about him. After I responded with an email explaining that we had made none of the statements to which he took offense, Mouw wrote back and admitted that he had indeed confused us with someone else. However, he still chose not to engage us in dialogue or even to respond to the documentation we had provided him.

In the wake of Mouw’s unwillingness to participate in dialogue with evangelicals on the subject of Mormonism whose views he had been criticizing for years, we had a lengthy discussion on the matter at the Evangelical Ministries to New Religions conference in April 2013. EMNR is a consortium of evangelical organizations and researchers who are committed to supporting Christians in mission to people in a variety of new religious movements, including Mormonism. On April 12, 2013, EMNR issued a statement (which I drafted) responding to Mouw. After explaining briefly why we disagreed with Mouw’s comments about Mormonism, the statement concluded as follows:

"Talking Mormon Doctrine" edited by Richard J. Mouw and Robert L. Millet (circa 2015)

“Talking Mormon Doctrine” edited by Richard J. Mouw and Robert L. Millet (2015)

Evangelical Ministries to New Religions applauds Dr. Mouw for his salutary call for Christian civility and his thoughtful engagement in dialogue with Mormon scholars and leaders. At the same time, EMNR respectfully yet strongly disagrees with Dr. Mouw’s generalizations about evangelicals misrepresenting Mormon beliefs and practices, and specifically with his own misrepresentation of the standard LDS doctrine of eternal progression as “folk Mormonism” having no official or functioning place in Mormon belief today. We invite Dr. Mouw to engage evangelical ministries to Mormons in general, and those of us who are part of EMNR in particular, in the same kind of civil dialogue he has rightly championed between evangelicals and Mormons. Furthermore, we encourage Latter-day Saints to engage a wider circle of evangelicals in open and candid dialogue.

Mouw has never taken us up on this invitation.

Ironically, Mouw continues to claim, as he did in his 2012 book, that unnamed evangelical critics of Mormonism disagree with him because they are closed in principle to engaging Mormons in respectful dialogue. Here is how he put it in his book:

Again, there are many evangelicals who are convinced that those of us on the evangelical side who are involved in these dialogues have been duped by the Mormons. Worse than that, they’re convinced that by engaging in friendly—and hopeful—dialogue with representatives of Mormonism, we’re hurting the cause of the gospel…. Promoting the idea of friendly dialogue with Mormons isn’t a popular thing to do.4

In his recent article in First Things, Mouw again criticizes unnamed evangelicals who think dialogue with Mormons is impossible:

At stake in this dispute is a choice between two approaches to Mormon teachings and practice. One is skeptical and presumes that Mormonism is a ­deeply heretical form of Christianity, so much so that dialogue is impossible. The other is more trusting and is willing to entertain the possibility that Mormonism has the resources for theological self-criticism and self-correction, and that dialogue might help in this process.

I do not know of a single evangelical in “countercult” ministry who thinks that dialogue with Mormons is a bad idea, let alone that it is impossible. Indeed, every such evangelical I know seeks opportunities to engage Mormons in dialogue. It seems here that Mouw is using the term “dialogue” as code for something else. Note that Mouw’s comment implies that he disagrees about Mormonism being “deeply heretical.” This implication is confirmed by the title of his article, “Mormons Approaching Orthodoxy.”

President George W. Bush (right) meets with the leadership of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints during his visit to Salt Lake City. Seated clockwise are: the late Gordon B. Hinckley, President; Thomas S. Monson, First Counselor (obscured); James E. Faust, Second Counselor (obscured), and F. Michael Watson, Executive Secretary.

President George W. Bush (right) meets with the leadership of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints during a visit to Salt Lake City in 2008. Seated clockwise are: the late Gordon B. Hinckley, President; Thomas S. Monson, First Counselor (obscured); James E. Faust, Second Counselor (obscured), and F. Michael Watson, Executive Secretary.

The Real Issue: What Do Mormons Actually Teach?
Here’s what is really “at stake in this dispute.” It is a choice between accepting what official LDS Church publications and its leading theologians actually teach their members or accepting what Richard Mouw says he thinks is happening based on his conversations with his “Mormon friends” despite the public record of LDS Church teaching.5 Mouw gives lip service to the importance of considering what the LDS Church teaches its own members when he writes, “The test for me is not what Mormons say to me, but what they say to each other.”6 However, he doesn’t actually show that this is the basis on which he has formed his theological judgments about Mormonism. Instead, he repeatedly appeals to the assurances of his Mormon friends, as in the following telling comment:

Mormonism is often portrayed as a self-deification program—and not without some legitimacy, given the popularity of the Lorenzo Snow couplet: “What Man now is, God once was; what God now is, Man may become.” My Mormon friends are quick to point out, however, that this couplet has no official canonical status—indeed, Gordon Hinckley famously told Time magazine that he had no idea what it means to say “As God is, man may become.”7

With all due respect, what Mouw’s Mormon friends told him carries no authority as far as defining what has official or canonical status in Mormonism. Gordon Hinckley’s statement to Time magazine also does not pass what Mouw himself says is the test, which is what Mormons say to each other—not what they say to the secular media.

Yet there is more to the story with regard to Hinckley’s supposed denial of the doctrine. As we explain in a separate article,8 Hinckley did not disavow any understanding of the Snow couplet. We will summarize the issue briefly here. In Hinckley’s 1997 interview, he was asked, “Is this the teaching of the church today, that God the Father was once a man like we are?” Here is what he said:

I don’t know that we teach it. I don’t know that we emphasize it. I haven’t heard it discussed for a long time in public discourse. I don’t know. I don’t know all the circumstances under which that statement was made. I understand the philosophical background behind it. But I don’t know a lot about it and I don’t know that others know a lot about it.9

In saying that he didn’t “know a lot about it,” Hinckley was admitting implicitly that he did know something about it, while at the same time saying that Mormonism doesn’t provide much in the way of details about God the Father’s life before he became a God. Thus, Hinckley was not suggesting that the doctrine expressed in the Snow couplet was not part of Mormon doctrine. It may not be something the LDS Church emphasized, but it is still part of their belief system.

In his recent First Things article, Mouw interprets Hinckley’s remarks as “signaling a decision on the part of the Mormon leadership to downplay the Snow couplet within the corpus of Mormon teachings about the deity,” suggesting that they are “interested in joining the broad Jewish and Christian consensus that God is ontologically different from man—or at least that Mormons today don’t want to directly contradict that consensus.” Since Hinckley’s comment to Time was made in 1997, we have had nearly twenty years to see if the LDS Church actually has pivoted away from its earlier doctrine. The record of the past twenty years demonstrably contradicts Mouw’s interpretation. Some of the evidence comes from sources surprisingly close to Mouw himself.

BYU Professor Robert L. Millet

BYU Professor Robert L. Millet

Robert Millet: God Was Once a Mortal Being
If Gordon Hinckley was signaling in 1997 that the LDS Church was moving away from the doctrine that God was once a man as taught by Joseph Smith and Lorenzo Snow, Mouw’s LDS friend Robert Millet did not get the message. The very next year Millet and Noel Reynolds, another BYU scholar, published a short book addressing “10 basic issues” including number 6, “What do Latter-day Saints mean when they say that God was once a man?” After quoting approvingly both the King Follett Discourse and the Snow couplet, Millet and Reynolds wrote:

That God was once a mortal being is in no way inconsistent with the fact that he now has all power and all knowledge and possesses every virtue, grace, and godly attribute. He acquired perfection through long periods of growth, development, and progression, “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,” as Joseph Smith explained…. Not much has been revealed about this concept beyond the fact that God was once a man and that over a long period of time he gained the knowledge, power, and divine attributes necessary to know all things and have all power…. These doctrines are not clearly stated in the Bible. Mormons believe, however, that this knowledge was once had among the ancients and that it has been restored through modern prophets.10

This is not the only place where Millet has affirmed the doctrine of the King Follett Discourse and the Snow couplet. In his 2005 book A Different Jesus? The Christ of the Latter-day Saints, Millet offered the following comments for the benefit primarily of evangelical readers:

The tougher issue for many Christians to deal with is the accompanying doctrine set forth in the King Follett Sermon and the Lorenzo Snow coupletnamely, that God was once a man. Latter-day scriptures state unequivocally that God is a man, a Man of Holiness (Moses 6:57) who possesses a body of flesh and bones (D&C 130:22). These concepts are clearly a part of the doctrinal restoration. We teach that man is not of a lower order or different species than God. This, of course, makes many of our Christian friends extremely nervous (if not angry), for it appears to them that we are lowering God in the scheme of things and thus attempting to bridge the Creator/creature chasm.11

Mouw definitely knew about this statement from Millet, because Mouw wrote a foreword and afterword to the book! Moreover, in his afterword Mouw acknowledged that Mormonism teaches that we human beings are of the same species as God:

At the heart of our continuing disagreements, I am convinced, are very basic worldview issues. Judaism and Christianity have been united in their insistence that the Creator and the creation—including God’s human creatures—are divided by an unbridgeable “being” gap. God is the “Wholly Other”—eternal and self-sufficient—who is in a realm of existence that is radically distinct from the creation that was brought into being out of nothing by God’s sovereign decree. On this view of things, to confuse the Creator’s being with anything in his creation is to commit the sin of idolatry. Mormons, on the other hand, talk about God and humans as belonging to the same “species.” Inevitably, then, the differences are described, not in terms of an unbridgeable gap of being, but in the language of “more” and “less.”12

Mouw and Millet were obviously working on this book in 2004 (if not before) in order for it to be published in 2005. This means that at the time Mouw spoke at the Salt Lake Tabernacle in November 2004 and shortly thereafter sent out an email claiming that the doctrine epitomized in Snow’s couplet had “no functioning place in present-day Mormon doctrine,” Mouw knew that in fact that doctrine was “clearly a part of the doctrinal restoration,” as Millet put it in his book. Less than a year after Mouw had denied that the doctrine had any functioning place in current Mormon doctrine, a book appeared clearly affirming that very doctrine as part of the Mormon doctrinal restoration, with a foreword and afterword by Mouw himself. Mouw’s own statement that in Mormon belief God and humans are members of the same species clearly presupposes the doctrine that God was once a mortal man like us who then became a God and that we as his children can do the same.

"Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Lorenzo Snow" official LDS Church manual (circa 2012)

“Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Lorenzo Snow” official LDS Church manual (2012)

God Was Once a Man: It’s Still Being Taught
The doctrine of eternal progression—that God the Father was once a mortal man, that he became a God, and that we can become Gods like him—has continued to be taught by Mormons right up to the present. In his May 2016 article in First Things, Mouw devotes several paragraphs to explaining why the inclusion of the Snow couplet in the 2012 curriculum manual Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Lorenzo Snow, part of a series of manuals on the past presidents of the LDS Church, was not necessarily endorsing the first half of the couplet. According to Mouw, the discussion of the couplet in the manual focuses entirely on the second half, neither affirming nor denying the first half. Mouw’s analysis of this particular manual’s treatment of the Snow couplet has some weaknesses, but the bigger point to be made is that this is only one of many publications of the past twelve years in which the LDS Church has reaffirmed the validity of the Snow couplet, the King Follett Discourse, and the traditional LDS doctrine of eternal progression. As I pointed out to Mouw in my first letter to him in 2012:

The 2004 manual Teaching Seminary Preservice Readings Religion 370, 471, and 475 stated that “there are approved and inspired writings that are not in the standard works” that “also are true and should be used along with the scripturesthemselves,” among the five most important of which it says are “the ‘King Follett Sermon’ and the ‘Sermon in the Grove.’” At least eight teaching manuals currently available on LDS.org teach the King Follett Discourse, the Lorenzo Snow couplet, or (in most cases) both, including six manuals published since 2003.13

For example, the LDS curriculum manual Doctrines of the Gospel Teacher Manual (2011), which is still on the official LDS website, states:

What we know about God is limited to what he has chosen to tell us through his prophets. The Prophet Joseph Smith’s first vision in 1820 (see Joseph Smith—History 1:11–20) and the famous King Follett discourse given shortly before Joseph’s martyrdom in 1844 (see Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pp. 343–62) are significant doctrinal teachings on the nature of God. From the beginning of his ministry until its end, the Prophet shared his increasing understanding of his Heavenly Father…. In the King Follett discourse, Joseph Smith declared that the first principle of the gospel consists of knowing the character of God. Joseph taught that God “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” (Teachings, p. 346…).14

In 2014, the LDS Church posted a “Gospel Topics” article on its website with the title “Becoming Like God.” Here is some of what that article stated:

What kind of a being is God?” he asked. Human beings needed to know, he argued, because “if men do not comprehend the character of God they do not comprehend themselves.” In that phrase, the Prophet collapsed the gulf that centuries of confusion had created between God and humanity. Human nature was at its core divine. God “was once as one of us” and “all the spirits that God ever sent into the world” were likewise “susceptible of enlargement.” Joseph Smith preached that long before the world was formed, God found “himself in the midst” of these beings and “saw proper to institute laws whereby the rest could have a privilege to advance like himself” and be “exalted” with Him…. Since that sermon, known as the King Follett discourse, the doctrine that humans can progress to exaltation and godliness has been taught within the Church. Lorenzo Snow, the Church’s fifth President, coined a well-known couplet: “As man now is, God once was: As God now is, man may be.” Little has been revealed about the first half of this couplet, and consequently little is taught. When asked about this topic, Church President Gordon B. Hinckley told a reporter in 1997, “That gets into some pretty deep theology that we don’t know very much about.” When asked about the belief in humans’ divine potential, President Hinckley responded, “Well, as God is, man may become. We believe in eternal progression. Very strongly.15

The above statement provides a convenient basis for a review of the main points that have been made here:

  • The LDS Church continues to cite approvingly both the King Follett Discourse and the Lorenzo Snow couplet. Mouw’s claim that the Snow couplet or the idea it expresses has “no functioning place in present-day Mormon doctrine” is still false.
  • Joseph Smith is credited with having “collapsed the gulf…between God and humanity” found in traditional (orthodox) Christian theology. The statement here, in attributing that “gulf” to “centuries of confusion,” obviously is approving of and affirming Joseph’s teaching that collapsed that gulf.
  • The LDS Church affirms here that human nature is divine; this is another way of saying that God and humans are the same kind or species of being, albeit at very different stages of development.
  • Hinckley’s point that not much is known about God’s life before becoming God is affirmed. To say that little has been revealed or is taught about this doctrine is not to deny that the doctrine exists. The LDS Church is still committed to teaching that God was once a man like us and became exalted to Godhood, even though it has little more to say about the matter than that.
  • The LDS Church also affirms strongly the doctrine of eternal progression, which includes the idea that human beings can become like God in his essential attributes. God is an exalted man, and we who are mortals can likewise become exalted like him. This doctrine clearly goes outside the boundaries of orthodox theology, according to which redeemed human beings will become like God morally (perfect in love, holiness, etc.) and become immortal but will not become ontologically the same kind of being as God.

Toward the end of his First Things article, Mouw writes:

My own sense is that many in the LDS community, including several of its leaders, recognize that the first half of the Snow couplet, the statement about God having been like man, is incompatible with what they genuinely want to sing about: spiritual reliance on the all-sufficient Savior. They also see that it works against the spiritual outlook they want to nurture in new generations of Mormons. Evangelicals may wish for an explicit denial by the LDS leadership of the first half of the couplet. But it is important to recognize that another option—to be sure, a less stabilizing one theologically—is simply to ignore that first half and focus on the second and potentially more orthodox half in what is affirmed and taught in Mormonism.

Joseph Smith delivering The King Follett Discourse on April 7, 1844 at Spring General Conference.

Joseph Smith delivering The King Follett Discourse on April 7, 1844 at Spring General Conference.

Up to now, what Mouw says is his “sense” conflicts with the direct statements made by the LDS Church’s leaders, curriculum manuals, and official website statements. The LDS Church continues to affirm the validity and truth of the first half of the Snow couplet even while acknowledging that it does not have anything to offer in the way of elaboration or details as to what God the Father’s life was like or what he did prior to attaining Godhood. The problem here is not merely that the LDS Church has yet to repudiate or explicitly deny the first half of the couplet. The problem is that it continues to affirm its validity, as well as the validity of Joseph Smith’s teaching along the same lines in the King Follett Discourse.

Thus, there is simply no basis for thinking that Mormonism is “approaching orthodoxy.” There has been no significant theological change on the controversial issue at hand. At the very time that Richard Mouw began asserting (in 2004) that the idea of God as a former mortal man had no functioning place in contemporary Mormon doctrine, he was working with Mormon theologian Robert Millet getting his book published by a Christian publisher (Eerdmans), and even writing a foreword and afterword to it, that flatly contradicted Mouw’s claim.

Mouw’s claim about the Snow couplet and eternal progression was refuted by Ronald Huggins in his excellent 2006 article. In the ten years that have passed since that time, Mouw has not rebutted Huggins or offered anything along the lines of a scholarly treatment of the subject. Meanwhile, throughout those ten years the LDS Church has repeatedly reaffirmed their belief in the theology set forth in the King Follett Discourse and epitomized in Lorenzo Snow’s couplet. Except for the 2012 manual on Lorenzo Snow, Mouw has yet to comment on any of the documentary evidence that contradicts his claim.

Forced to choose between accepting Mouw’s assurance that the sense he gets from his Mormon friends is that they would like to abandon the doctrine that God was once a man like us or accepting what the LDS Church’s leaders and theologians (including some of Mouw’s friends!) say is their position on the subject, the only reasonable course is to accept what the Mormons themselves say. Mouw may have his reasons for taking the position he does, and he may sincerely think he is doing the right thing. Regardless, the truth is that Mormon doctrine still stands opposed to the orthodox Christian belief that God is ontologically unique and radically different from his creation. Genuine dialogue between evangelicals and Mormons must begin by coming to terms with what each other actually believes.

Richard J. Mouw

Richard J. Mouw

NOTES
1. Ronald V. Huggins, “Lorenzo Snow’s Couplet: ‘As Man Now Is, God Once Was; As God Now Is, Man May Be’; ‘No Functioning Place in Present-Day Mormon Doctrine?’ A Response to Richard Mouw,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 49/3 (Sept. 2006): 549-68.
2. Ronald V. Huggins, “Did the Author of 3 Nephi Know the Gospel of Matthew?” Dialogue 30 (1997): 137-48; “‘Without a Cause’ and ‘Ships of Tarshish’: A Possible Contemporary Source for Two Unexplained Readings from Joseph Smith.” Dialogue 36 (2003): 157-79.
3. The statement is available on IRR’s website: see “Statement on Richard Mouw and Evangelical Countercult Ministries,” Evangelical Ministries to New Religions, 13 April 2013.
4. Richard J. Mouw, Talking with Mormons: An Invitation to Evangelicals (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2012), 41.
5. Mouw’s book Talking with Mormons makes references to his Mormon “friends” over twenty times. By contrast, he cites Joseph Smith only twice and has only one or two other references to authoritative LDS sources.
6. Mouw, Talking with Mormons, 41.
7. Ibid., 55.
8. Robert M. Bowman Jr., “Gordon Hinckley, Richard Mouw, and Eternal Progression” (IRR, 2016).
9. This is the full answer in the unedited transcript provided to IRR by the interviewer for Time, Richard N. Ostling, and quoted in Luke P. Wilson and Joel B. Groat, “Dodging and Dissembling Prophet?” (IRR, 1997). See David Van Biema, “Kingdom Come: Salt Lake City was just for starters,” Time, 4 Aug. 1997.10. Robert L. Millet and Noel B. Reynolds, Latter-day Christianity: 10 Basic Issues (Provo, UT: Brigham Young University—FARMS, 1998), chapter 6, emphasis added.
11. Robert L. Millet, A Different Jesus? The Christ of the Latter-day Saints (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005), 144, emphasis added.
12. Richard J. Mouw, “Afterword,” in ibid., 182, emphasis added.
13. Letter from Robert M. Bowman Jr. to Richard J. Mouw, 14 Feb. 2013.
14.Chapter 3: God the Eternal Father,” in Doctrines of the Gospel Teacher Manual (2011), 7–8.
15.Becoming Like God” (LDS.org, 2014).

The Los Angeles, California LDS Church Temple at Sunset

The Los Angeles, California LDS Church Temple at Sunset

About the author: 
Rob Bowman is the Executive Director of the Institute for Religious Research (IRR). He has been with IRR since 2008 and is IRR’s Executive Director. Previously he served as Manager of Apologetics & Interfaith Evangelism for the North American Mission Board (2006-2008). For ten years Rob taught graduate courses in apologetics, biblical studies, and religion at Luther Rice University (1994-99) and Biola University (2001-2005). He has also worked with other apologetics and discernment ministries, most notably the Christian Research Institute (1984-91), the Atlanta Christian Apologetics Project (1994-99), and Watchman Fellowship in Alabama (1999-2000). Rob has spoken at over a hundred churches and at some three dozen conferences and debates. He has five years of experience hosting call-in radio talk shows focusing on apologetics, including the nationally famous Bible Answer Man show.

Rob Bowman, Executive Director of the Institute for Religious Research

Rob Bowman, Executive Director of the Institute for Religious Research

Rob Bowman earned the M.A. in Biblical Studies and Theology from Fuller Theological Seminary, did doctoral studies in Christian Apologetics at Westminster Theological Seminary, and earned his Ph.D. in Biblical Studies at South African Theological Seminary. He is the author of roughly 60 articles (e.g., in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, Review of Biblical Literature, Christian Research Journal, Moody Monthly, Pastoral Renewal, Mission Frontiers, and Journal of Evangelism and Missions) and 13 books pertaining to apologetics, religion, and biblical theology, including two winners of the Gold Medallion Award, An Unchanging Faith in a Changing World (1997) and Faith Has Its Reasons (2001; 2d ed., 2006). His most recent books are Putting Jesus in His Place: The Case for the Deity of Christ(co-authored with Ed Komoszewski, 2007), which received numerous endorsements from such scholars as Ravi Zacharias and Richard Bauckham, and What Mormons Believe (2012).

Rob and his wife, Cathy, have been married since 1981 and have four children, three of them still living at home.
(source: “Who We Are: The People of IRR and What We Are All About”

This article was originally published on the Institute for Religious Research (IRR) website. It is republished here with the kind permission of the author.

Comments
  1. The response to Richard J. Mouw’s First Things article was swift, loud, and large. And it came from both sides of the Mormon/Evangelical divide.

      Latter-day Saint voices

    Daniel C. Peterson is a well known Mormon Apologist
    “let me simply say that I’ve noticed absolutely no desire among the leaders or the general membership of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to abandon Lorenzo Snow’s famous couplet — and, effectively, to declare the fifth president of the Church a heretic — and that I can detect no such desire in myself, either. Quite the contrary, in fact.”
    — Daniel C. Peterson, ‘“Mormons Approaching Orthodoxy”?’, April 8, 2016; http://www.patheos.com/blogs/danpeterson/2016/04/mormons-approaching-orthodoxy.html

    Ralph Hancock is a professor of political science at Brigham Young University
    “Mouw is hopeful that Mormons will emphasize the second half of the couplet—the promise of divinization or “theosis” -—and I believe I speak for many Mormons, and will disappoint few, in happily obliging. But then of course the whole question between us Mormons and Christian orthodoxy turns on just how becoming God-like is interpreted. Mouw insists on the “orthodox” view that there is an “absolute ontological difference” between God and man. And here we come to the real obstacle to his wish that Mormons might slip or be nudged towards creedal conformity. The good news and at the same time the bad news for creedal Christians who hope Mormons will edge closer to them is that such talk of ontological absolutes is for Mormons an absolutely foreign language. Mouw might see this as good news, because it means that, when Mormons talk about becoming gods, they’re not talking about overcoming this ontological difference, and themselves becoming absolute, self-sufficient, and impassible beings. But the bad news from his point of view is that Mormons do not talk about God that way either. As far as Mormons have an implicit ontology, it is indeed best represented in the saying that human beings and angels and God are all “of the same species.” And an important part of this implicit ontology of Mormon Christianity that distinguishes it from the particular orthodoxy Mouw is eager to defend is the pronounced rejection of divine impassibility in favor of the being Terryl and Fiona Givens have eloquently presented as The God who Weeps…

    While we sympathize, then, with Mouw’s readiness to emphasize the second part of Snow’s couplet, it by no means follows that we share his hope that Mormons might prove “capable of self-reformation” in the sense of embracing the “absolute ontological difference” between God and man. Though we appreciate the gesture of welcoming “serious conversation” between Creedal Christians and Mormons, we do not find the assumption that any such conversation must go in the direction of Mormons’ “greater conformity with the orthodox Christian consensus” a very encouraging starting point.

    We do not wish to disappoint Dr. Mouw in his quest for fruitful conversation with Mormons, but we must alert him to the fact that any tendency he may observe among Mormons to downplay speculation on God’s origin has nothing at all to do with some orthodoxy-envy on our part. Incomprehensible absolute otherness is going to be a hard sell for us.”
    — Ralph Hancock, “MORMONS AND CREEDAL CHRISTIANS: COMMON GROUND?”, First Things, Web Exclusive, May 2016; http://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2016/05/mormons-and-creedal-christians-common-ground

      Evangelical Christian voices

    Brett Kunkle is a Evangelical Christian Apologist
    “God gives us a better test for eternal life in John 17:3: knowing the one true God. So yes, according to God our “theological formulations” are vitally important. If Mormons worship a radically different God than Christians, we can’t both have eternal life, no matter how pious a life we live.

    Of course, I would love to see Mormons approach orthodoxy. Unfortunately, Richard Mouw does not give us any good reason to think this is actually happening.”
    — Brett Kunkle, “Are Mormons Approaching Orthodoxy”, Stand to Reason website, April 13, 2016
    http://str.typepad.com/weblog/2016/04/are-mormons-approaching-orthodoxy.html

    Gerald McDermott is Anglican Chair of Divinity at Beeson Divinity School, and co-author (with Robert Millett) of “Evangelicals and Mormons: Exploring the Boundaries”. He has been in exactly the same Mormon discussions that Dr. Mouw has and has come to a very different conclusion.
    “Mouw concludes that LDS leaders “are simply saying nothing about it in the hope of keeping it on the margins of their historic teachings without issuing a straightforward rejection of something that loomed large in the LDS past.” Further evidence for this hope is that Mormon participants in the Evangelical-Mormon dialogue which Mouw and Mormon theologian Robert Millet have led for fifteen years tell Mouw that the Snow couplet has no canonical status in Mormon theology.

    I am not so sure that all this represents real theological movement. For while LDS leaders don’t seem to be talking much about the first half of the Snow couplet, there is still public LDS proclamation of the doctrine. At the LDS website one can find the essay “Becoming Like God,” which cites Joseph Smith’s teaching that God “was once as one of us” and, unapologetically, Lorenzo Snow’s couplet. This doctrine is rooted in the Pearl of Great Price, part of the Mormon canon which suggests that Jesus is fully God now, but was not always so. At some time in the past he was as we are now, but eventually grew in his attributes until he became “like unto God” (Abraham 3:24).”
    — Gerald McDermott, “ARE MORMONS ACTUALLY MOVING CLOSER TO ORTHODOXY?”, First Things Web Exclusive, April 26, 2016; http://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2016/04/are-mormons-actually-moving-closer-to-orthodoxy

    Mormonism Research Ministry
    Bill McKeever and Eric Johnson of Mormonism Research Ministry devoted a full 2-weeks of radio broadcasts (10 episodes) to analyzing, deconstructing, critiquing, and responding to Dr. Mouw’s article. This is, to my knowledge, the most in depth and detailed analysis and response to this article to date. Highest recommendation.

    Part One
    https://archive.org/download/ViewpointOnMormonism/2016.05.02.MouwMormonsAndOrthodoxyPart1.mp3

    Part Two
    https://archive.org/download/ViewpointOnMormonism/2016.05.03.MouwMormonsAndOrthodoxyPart2.mp3

    Part Three
    https://archive.org/download/ViewpointOnMormonism/2016.05.04.MouwMormonsAndOrthodoxyPart3.mp3

    Part Four
    https://archive.org/download/ViewpointOnMormonism/2016.05.05.MouwMormonsAndOrthodoxyPart4.mp3

    Part Five
    https://archive.org/download/ViewpointOnMormonism/2016.05.06.MouwMormonsAndOrthodoxyPart5.mp3

    Part Six
    https://archive.org/download/ViewpointOnMormonism/2016.05.09.MouwMormonsAndOrthodoxyPart6.mp3

    Part Seven
    https://archive.org/download/ViewpointOnMormonism/2016.05.10.MouwMormonsAndOrthodoxyPart7.mp3

    Part Eight
    https://archive.org/download/ViewpointOnMormonism/2016.05.11.MouwMormonsAndOrthodoxyPart8.mp3

    Part Nine
    https://archive.org/download/ViewpointOnMormonism/2016.05.12.MouwMormonsAndOrthodoxyPart9.mp3

    Part Ten
    https://archive.org/download/ViewpointOnMormonism/2016.05.13.MouwMormonsAndOrthodoxyPart10.mp3

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  2. Here’s Pastor Jason Wallace’s unpublished letter to the editor of First Things
    I was saddened to see First Things give credence to Richard Mouw in Mormons Approaching Orthodoxy. Back in 2004, Dr. Mouw publicly apologized at the Salt Lake Tabernacle for all the “lies” Evangelicals had been telling about Mormons. When pressed to specify those lies, he claimed, as he does in his article, that Mormons no longer teach that God the Father is an exalted, resurrected man. The official church manuals and declarations of current general authorities showed that these were not lies, but Dr. Mouw refused to be corrected. In September 2006, long after Dr. Mouw would have us believe the LDS leaders embraced a new policy, President Henry Eyring described God the Father as a “glorified and exalted man” and described both the Father and Jesus as “resurrected” beings. I could give many more examples, but Dr. Mouw chooses to believe the best about the Mormon leaders, while accusing their critics of false witness. He calls us to a charitable estimation of Mormon equivocations, but he grants no such charity to those who point out his errors.

    Dr. Mouw ignores that the Mormon church has a very long history of telling people what they want to hear. In 1835, the Mormon church adopted what would become Section 101 of their Doctrine and Covenants. It stated, “Inasmuch as this church of Christ has been reproached with the crime of fornication, and polygamy; we declare that we believe that one man should have one wife; and one woman, but one husband, except in the case of death, when either is at liberty to marry again.” For 17 years, the LDS scriptures denied what was secretly being practiced. Joseph Smith claimed in 1844, “. . . what a thing it is for a man to be accused of committing adultery, and having seven wives, when I can only find one. I am the same man, and as innocent as I was fourteen years ago; and I can prove them all perjurers.” (History of the Church 6:411). The LDS church now admits he had 30-40 wives at the time. Dr. Mouw called on Evangelicals to join Mormons in celebrating the 200th anniversary of Smith’s birth in 2005. Dr. Mouw doesn’t seem to care who the real liars are, but we should.

    Jason Wallace, Pastor
    Christ Presbyterian Church
    Salt Lake City, UT

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  3. Here’s my own unpublished letter to the Editor of First Things
    I’m disappointed to see First Things giving implied credibility to Richard J. Mouw’s Mormon Studies work by publishing his badly flawed article, “Mormons Approaching Orthodoxy” (First Things, May 2016). Speaking as someone in Mormon Studies, in this article Dr. Mouw has severely misrepresented current Mormon Doctrine in general, as well as its core doctrine of “Celestial Exaltation” in particular.

    Stated simply, Celestial Exaltation (the doctrine that men can become gods) is the hub that the entire wheel that the Latter-day Saint “Plan of Salvation” turns around. And a key component of that doctrine is that Heavenly Father (the God of our world) was once a man who successfully completed the Plan of Salvation thus earning Celestial Exaltation. Remove this doctrine from Mormonism and both its soteriology and cosmology collapses.

    Hence the Lorenzo Snow couplet (“As man now is, God once was. As God now is, man may be.”) that Dr. Mouw insists is being de-emphasized in LDS theology, in fact remains as central and essential as when Joseph Smith taught in sermon that which President Snow reduced to couplet.

    To see this, one need go no further than Mormon apologist Daniel C. Peterson who stated regarding Dr. Mouw’s article:

    “let me simply say that I’ve noticed absolutely no desire among the leaders or the general membership of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to abandon Lorenzo Snow’s famous couplet — and, effectively, to declare the fifth president of the Church a heretic — and that I can detect no such desire in myself, either. Quite the contrary, in fact.”
    — Daniel C. Peterson (Mormon Apologist), ‘“Mormons Approaching Orthodoxy”?’, April 8, 2016; http://www.patheos.com/blogs/danpeterson/2016/04/mormons-approaching-orthodoxy.html

    This isn’t the first time that Dr. Mouw has misrepresented the true state of things in the contemporary LDS Church, nor do I think it will be the last if he remains in the field. As I noted in my own critique of Dr. Mouw’s Mormon Studies work:

    “It’s hard… to see a scholar of Dr. Mouw’s stature embarrass himself so thoroughly by stumbling and bumbling around in an arena where he’s so obviously so unqualified. Dr. Mouw appears to be in very deep denial on a great many things – not the least being his qualifications to work in an area that’s outside of his area of accomplishment, training, expertise and skills.

    Or put another way, just as Michael Jordan shouldn’t play baseball, Richard J. Mouw shouldn’t talk with Mormons.”
    — Fred W. Anson, “Scolasticus cum Peter Principle”, Beggar’s Bread website, August 13, 2012; https://beggarsbread.org/2012/08/13/scolasticus-cum-peter-principle/

    And based on his First Things article I can only reiterate that assessment of Dr. Mouw’s work in Mormon Studies today. Nothing has changed.

    Fred Anson, Publisher
    Beggar’s Bread
    Lake Forest, CA

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  4. On May 23rd, 2016 the OneNewsNow website published an article in which Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention challenged Dr. Mouw’s article on the basis that Dr. Mouw is giving the word of the BYU Professors that he engages in these private discussions too much weight and official LdS Church sources not enough weight.

    This resulted in the following response from Dr. Craig Blomberg of Denver Seminary (who is a Evangelical co-participant with Dr. Mouw in these discussions) on the same day:

    Dr. Craig Blomberg
    “Very interesting how someone who has not been a part of the dialogue can claim to know what has gone on inside the dialogue! Even more interesting that he would be quoted as somehow a greater expert. I’ve been a part of the dialogue for 20 years now as an insider and can state without equivocation that it is Richard Mouw and not Richard Land who has the most up-to-date and correct understandings. What is difficult for Protestants to understand, however, as i’ve come to realize through countless conversations over the years, is that it is the most current developments in the LDS church that carry the greatest authority, not what has been said in the past.”

    That prompted the following response from myself to Dr. Blomberg:

    Fred W. Anson
    “As has been publicly stressed time after time to those of you engaging in these secret meetings Dr. Blomberg, BYU Professors do NOT officially speak for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Period.

    This point was made quite clear by 13th LdS President Ezra Taft Benson when he said:

    “Doctrinal interpretation is the province of the First Presidency. The Lord has given that stewardship to them by revelation. No teacher has the right to interpret doctrine for the members of the Church. If Church members would remember that, we could do away with a number of books which have troubled some of our people”
    (“Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson“, p.317; “The Gospel Teacher and His Message”, also cited in “Charge to Religious Educators”, p.14, and; The LdS Church manual, “Teachings of the Living Prophets”, pp.51-52; retrieved 2016-05-24)

    And you will note from the above citations that this quote is in not one but TWO current, official and correlated LdS Church manuals.

    Further, and along those same lines, Dr. Mouw insists in the First Things article that the Latter-day Saint participants in the secret, by invitation only, dialogues that repeatedly told you all that the first part of the Lorenzo Snow (““As man now is, God once was”) “has no functional place in current Latter-day Saint Theology.” However, if you pick up the following LdS Church manuals you will find the following:

    “…our Father in Heaven was once a man who lived on an earth, the same as we do. He became our Father in Heaven by overcoming problems, just as we have to do on this earth.”
    (“Gospel Fundamentals”, pp.200-205; https://www.lds.org/manual/gospel-fundamentals/chapter-36-eternal-life?lang=eng&_r=1; retrieved 2016-05-18)

    “The great architect, manager and superintendent, controller and dictator [absolute ruler] who guides this work is out of sight to our natural eyes. He lives on another world; he is in another state of existence; he has passed the ordeals we are now passing through; he has received an experience, has suffered and enjoyed, and knows all that we know regarding the toils, sufferings, life and death of this mortality, for he has passed through the whole of it, and has received his crown and exaltation and holds the keys and the power of this Kingdom;”
    (“Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young; p.30; https://www.lds.org/manual/teachings-brigham-young/chapter-4?lang=eng; retrieved 2016-05-18)

    “The doctrine that God was once a man and has progressed to become a God is unique to this Church. How do you feel, knowing that God, through His own experience, “knows all that we know regarding the toils [and] sufferings” of mortality?”
    (“Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young; p.34; https://www.lds.org/manual/teachings-brigham-young/chapter-4?lang=eng; retrieved 2016-05-18)

    Again sir, these are all CURRENT, officially correlated, First Presidency vetted sources. Therefore, they are, in fact, and by their very nature, the most current developments in the LDS church.

    Respectfully sir, if what these BYU Professors tell you in private contradicts the official public statements and literature of the Office of the First President then it’s either wrong, spin, or a lie.

    It really IS that simple.

    Thank you.”

    You will find the original article as well as Dr. Blomberg’s and my comments here: http://www.onenewsnow.com/church/2016/05/23/seminary-leaders-disagree-about-mormons-beliefs

    Or, if you prefer, here are screen shots:
    Screenshot 1
    Screenshot 2
    Screenshot 3

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  5. Mik says:

    If Mormon leaders have actually discarding some of their “unique” doctrines then they will say so in an official written statement . They should clearly say that these doctrines were wrong .
    That day has not come yet , but I hope it will very soon .

    The Mormon people need to discover that Mormonism is not the answer .

    Liked by 1 person

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