Mere Mormonism

December 23, 2003 | 16 comments
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A while back, Russell suggested the possibility of a Mormon holiday to celebrate Joseph Smith’s birthday. Last Sunday, I took at least part of his suggestion to heart in my Elders’ Quorum lesson

My lesson was focused on what it is that we have learned as a result of the Prophet Joseph Smith. My idea was to try to distill out the key theological innovations that came through Joseph and discuss them. A long time ago, C.S. Lewis wrote a wonderful little book entitled Mere Christianity, in which among other things he tried to set forth the key doctrines of Christianity. My aim was to do something on a much smaller scale for Mormonism. What I produced was this handout, in which I tried to list the key doctrines restored through Joseph Smith. Obviously, any attempt to do this sort of thing is probably going to fail. Certainly, any list of “key” doctrines will be controversial. Of course, the discussion the list generates is the main point of the lesson! Take a look at the hand out and tell me what you would include or exclude.

The lesson was quite a bit of fun. Our ward’s High Councilor was there, and he enjoyed it. However, he got concerned by the claim that “God changes.” He wanted to clarify that I was not claiming that God pogresses in knowledge. Now, as it happens, I do think that God progresses in knowledge (contra Bruce R. McConkie), but it is a contested point and I could be wrong. I assured him that I didn’t mean to take a position on that point and was merely claiming that Joseph taught that God the Father has passed through all the changes of that Jesus Christ has passed through. In an era of Reader’s Digest talks, Chicken Soup for the Latter-day Saint Soul, and the like, I thought it was wonderful to run up against a real live watchman on the tower who was genuinely concerned about false doctrine. It provides some drama in the life of the Elders’ Quorum instructor.

UPDATE: Here is another Elder McConkie sermon on the question of whether God is progressing, this one given in General Conference in October, 1980.

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16 Responses to Mere Mormonism

  1. Renee on December 23, 2003 at 4:38 pm

    That is a weighty handout you created! It would have been a fascinating discussion to hear. Given the depths of these issues, I’m curious as to how it was received by the “chicken soup” crowd.

    I taught in Relief Society for a year and a half. One of the most challenging aspects was how to reach everyone, as there is a wide range of levels of doctrinal understanding.

  2. Nate on December 23, 2003 at 6:14 pm

    I think that the lesson went over quite well. I didn’t present it as “You guys have always been talking fluff, let me show you what is real.” I just presented it as “Hey lets talk about the importance of what we can learn from the D&C.” What is interesting to me is that of the two people who specifically told me that they enjoyed it, one was a new convert (literally baptized on Saturday).

  3. Renee on December 23, 2003 at 6:26 pm

    Sounds like a rewarding discussion then, for teacher and participants alike. Can’t ask for much more than that! :)

  4. Jim on December 24, 2003 at 3:59 am

    Nate, I don’t have anything to add to your list–yet. I need some time to think about it. But I wonder if the High Council rep would have felt more comfortable with “God has a history” rather than “God changes.”

  5. Nate on December 28, 2003 at 5:31 pm

    Jim: you are probably right. Of course, one reason that I wrote “God changes” was precisely to be a bit provacative. It gets the discussion going. Some day, I will no doubt be older and wiser.

  6. Dave on December 28, 2003 at 7:39 pm

    What an interesting lesson, Nate. I especially like “Heaven is huge and Hell is tiny.” Although I suppose that could just mean Hell is very, very crowded.

  7. Aaron Shafovalfof on January 5, 2004 at 3:57 pm

    33 Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
    34 “For who has known the mind of the Lord,
    or who has been his counselor?”
    35 “Or who has given a gift to him
    that he might be repaid?”
    36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.
    (Romans 11)

  8. Adam Greenwood on January 5, 2004 at 4:47 pm

    Great scripture, Aaron. Not that you need an excuse for posting it, but I’m wondering the connection you see between it and the forgoing discussion. Plumb your hidden depths!

  9. Renee on January 5, 2004 at 5:06 pm

    Adam, perhaps the answer lies somewhere in Aaron’s webpages which discuss evangelizing to Mormons. Perhaps he feels these scriptures should point us literally in a direction of not searching out God’s judgments and ways.

  10. Adam Greenwood on January 5, 2004 at 5:23 pm

    If you’re correct, Renee, all I can say is ???

  11. paul on July 16, 2004 at 10:36 pm

    The funny thing here is that biblically God is called the one who is or the translitteration to the name yhwh is or shall we say I AM….. You know the God of the bible is ephemeral, or non caporial, having no mass. think about it. he is a spirit hence not affected by gravity or time. He says that he is the begginning and the end. He sees all of time simultaniously.Does God progress?In terms of lds thinking perhaps because AS MAN IS GOD ONCE WAS

  12. paul on July 16, 2004 at 10:37 pm

    The funny thing here is that biblically God is called the one who is or the translitteration to the name yhwh is or shall we say I AM….. You know the God of the bible is ephemeral, or non caporial, having no mass. think about it. he is a spirit hence not affected by gravity or time. He says that he is the begginning and the end. He sees all of time simultaniously.Does God progress?In terms of lds thinking perhaps because AS MAN IS GOD ONCE WAS

  13. Jim F. on July 17, 2004 at 12:59 am

    Paul, where does the Bible tell us that God is noncorporeal, having no mass? It tells us he is a spirit, of course, but that is a positive statement, not a negative one. It doesn’t tell us anything about whether he has a body. Likewise, where does the Bible say that God is ephemeral or that he is not effected by gravity or time? And where do we read in the Bible that God sees all of time simultaneously? Rather than literal interpretations of biblical scripture, all of the claims you make here are metaphorical interpretations of the Bible that came along well after the Bible was written.

  14. Clark Goble on July 17, 2004 at 2:39 am

    Also where is the idea that spirits aren’t body? The most popular philosophy of the time, Stoicism, has corporeal spirits.

  15. Silus Grok on July 17, 2004 at 2:29 pm

    Two points:

    1) The link to the hand-out appears to have expired…

    2) What a small world: I know Aaron! He’s a great young man… he’s true to his convictions, and has even made a pilgrimage out here (to SLC) to do some street preaching at Temple Square.

  16. Terry on January 2, 2005 at 9:14 am

    Humm….God progresses in knowledge? I think of it more in the sense that God progresses in the amount of information he continues to posess (i.e. state of the planets he is creating, the latest doings of his creations–us included, etc.) He can do this and still be all-knowing.

    Just my personal opinion. :o)

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