Are Mormons Christians?: A Review of “The Saints of Zion: An Introduction to Mormon Theology”

"This is not your average primer on Mormonism. It also isn’t what you might normally think of as an apologetic work against Mormonism. Instead, it seeks to lay out the theological perspective of the Mormon church in a systematic way. While Kerns makes comments throughout, they are limited and seek only to point out the differences between orthodox Christian faith and Mormonism." - Tim Miller

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Aaron Blumer's picture

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Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

M. Osborne's picture

I served on BJU's Western US mission team back in 2000, working among LDS, and then later contributed to the BJU Press book Who Is This Jesus? which covers Mormonism, when I dived into original sources more.

The author is right that Mormons don't have a great systematic-theological tradition; there's no comparing Grudem to Erickson to Reymond in the Mormon tradition. The source I dug into most was Bruce McConkie's Mormon Doctrine, which is arranged alphabetically by topic. But if you start digging in, you start to realize that the Holy Ghost is not the exact same entity as the Spirit; the Ghost is a person but the Spirit is more like a force by which a localized deity achieves effective, if not actual, omnipresence. Yeah, it gets weird.

Of course, what do Mormon "systematic" theologians have to work with? Joseph Smith and Brigham Young and early elders were very much making it up as they went along. Although there's the erie sense that they may have had Satanic aid as they laid it on thick. And what emerges from all that--cobbling together on the one hand and Satanic influence on the other--is a completely different cosmology and world metanarrative. You'd be helped to listen to James White on the Mormon doctrine of eternal progression--that the elements and spirit intelligences are eternal and that within that cosmology some beings progress to become gods to populate their own worlds and "give an increase" to the glory of the god above them in the chain. That is the heart of Mormon theology, whether or not the missionaries on your doorstep understand it or want to talk about it.

After working for BJU Press I moved to Omaha and met a former Mormon theology professor, and we met weekly at his house to discuss and debate. And over time, I realized that the only thing that was effective with him (your mileage with Mormon missionaries may vary) was to hit Mormonism at the metanarrative level. Biblical theology is God-centered; the hope of time and eternity is "I will be their God and they will be my people." There is no way to fit eternal progression into that metanarrative. This approach goes beyond arguing about verses here and there and demands that Mormonism show that it's in line with--on the same tragectory as--the biblical canon. Mormonism claims that the Book of Mormon adds to and fills in and makes minor corrections to the biblical canon; but when you get down to the level of metanarrative, the Book of Mormon and Doctrines and Covenants do a 180 with the biblical story.

Michael Osborne
Philadelphia, PA

Bert Perry's picture

I'd interpreted the Mormon notion (doctrine?) of progression almost as if Mormonism were an atheistic religion.  If their "god" was once a man, then is "he" really a "god"?  Would love to hear more of the metanarrative argument, Mr. Osborne!

As a descendant of some people who helped evict the Mormons from Nauvoo--it's called the "Mormon War" around Carthage--another thing that strikes me is that there is a huge difference in terms of morals.  Mormonism, in its continued endorsement of Joseph Smith, seems to do David and Solomon one better (or worse) by taking not only unwed women as wives, but also women who were previously (or still) married with the notion of being bound for life vs. being bound for eternity.  

(and yes, Bathsheba, but keep in mind David agreed that little stunt was sinful....no such luck on the Mormon side with Joseph Smith)

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

TylerR's picture

Editor

I saw the review on the DBTS site yesterday, and put the book in my cart to buy. Looks great. I've been meaning to buy some books about Mormonism for a while. Missionaries have been coming to my door about quarterly, but always come at the worst times. I've usually just returned from a 10-hr workday and am about to have dinner. I usually send them away in short order, but am nice. I haven't yet engaged them in conversation. This book can help. I've been passively looking for something more than a "10 things Mormons believe" book. I've been meaning to get James White's book for a while now. I will get this one.

I think the meta-narrative approach is probably the best bet.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government.