For all of our insistence that we are Christians too, Mormons think about Jesus differently. I think that the two words that best capture this difference are condescension and exaltation.
Traditionally, the theological focus of Christian understanding of Jesus has been on the concept of condescension. Christ is the god who chooses to become a man in order to save his people. The ultimate symbol of the condescension, of course, is the cross. It is the moment of Christ’s maximum humiliation and for that reason it most powerfully and forcefully pushes home the full scope of Christ’s love and grace — the master of the universe allowing himself to be treated as the lowest of the low.
Obviously, as Mormons we believe in the condescension of Christ as well, but it is not for us, I think, ultimately the most important spiritual facet of our understanding of Christ. Rather we focus on the post-Resurrection, exalted and triumphant Christ. There is much more at work here than some simple formula about how we want to celebrate Christ’s life rather than his death, etc. etc. Rather, I think that it signals a basic reorientation toward our understanding of Christ. Rather than focusing on his condescension we focus on his exaltation. For us Christ is not the god who became man, so much as the man who became god. By narrowing the ontological distance between man and God, Mormonism cannot help but render the condescension less powerful than it is in a vision of the universe in which man is utterly a creature of God. Having endowed man with greater dignity, Christ’s resurrection takes on much greater significance because it marks the point at which Christ makes his final transformation from man into God. Resurrection becomes tied up with exaltation, taking on a meaning far beyond the simple triumph over the grave, and becoming the beginning of the process by which man becomes as God is.
In support of my theory, I would point to the King Follet Discourse. Lorenzo Snow popularized the ideas of that sermon with his couplet, “As man is God once was, as God is, man may yet become,” but like all popularizations, Snow’s formulation distorts the message slightly. Joseph taught not simply that the God who sits enthroned in yonder heavens was once a man, but that Christ imitated the things that his Father had done. In other words, Christ’s cycle of humanity, death, resurrection, and exaltation recapitulated the Father’s route to godhood. It is this move, I think, that reoriented Mormons away from the cross and subtlety but significantly changed the emphasis of our interpretation of Jesus.