Content writer, Alicia Purdy, published an article on March 2019 at Crosswalk.com: Are Mormon’s Christians? 7 Major Differences in Critical Theology After careful review of her brief 7-point synopsis of these 7 major, and critical, differences in theology – there seems to be something amiss. Purdy made 7 critical false arguments based on what is called a strawman argument. Therefore, this article exposes the 7 critically false theological claims evangelicals, like Alicia Purdy, makes in defining what is believed to be Mormon Theology.
Is the LDS Church, Mormonism, a Polytheistic Religion?
In her first point, Purdy remarks how Mormon Theology is Polytheistic. This is based on a statement made by Lorenzo Snow. She states:
A famous teaching within the LDS Church is this: “As man is, God once was. As God now is, man will one day be.” It could almost sound reasonable to someone who agrees that God once became a man (Jesus Christ), and that one day we will be “like Him for we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2). Yay, God! But… nope.
First, she does not even attribute the actual context in which this statement is cherry picked from. As mentioned above, this statement stems from Lorenzo Snow as a personal revelation and then later confirmed by the Prophet Joseph Smith, as part of the King Follett Discourse. An official statement on this couplet is found here: Is President Snow’s statement considered official Church Doctrine?
However, Purdy continues her strawman fallacy:
What the LDS Church really means when they say it is this: God was once a man. Just a man. Not Jesus, God incarnate. Just an actual run-of-the-mill dude, born on a planet somewhere who grew up and ascended to His place in the heavens over many millennia of existence and good works.
Now, one may point to the reference and context from the link posted above to show this statement of Purdy to be true. On the surface, yes. However, one must think critically here regarding the very statement Purdy is making. In a way, she is making a special pleading logical fallacy to point out that it is not referencing Jesus, but God the Father.
Yet, if one were to study actual historical Christianity, one will come to understand the true nature of scripture (The Biblical Text) and how that this supports the doctrine known as Theosis. In fact, the Orthodox Church holds to the doctrine of theosis:
I said, “You are gods,
And all of you are children of the Most High.” (Psalm 82:6)
This is a verse that most Protestants do not underline in their Bibles. What on earth does it mean—“you are gods”? Doesn’t our faith teach that there is only one God, in three Persons? How can human beings be gods?
In the Orthodox Church, this concept is neither new nor startling. It even has a name: theosis. Theosis is the understanding that human beings can have real union with God, and so become like God to such a degree that we participate in the divine nature. Also referred to as deification, divinization, or illumination, it is a concept derived from the New Testament regarding the goal of our relationship with the Triune God. (Theosis and deification may be used interchangeably. We will avoid the term divinization, since it could be misread for divination, which is another thing altogether!)
Many Protestants, and even some Roman Catholics, might find the Orthodox concept of theosis unnerving. Especially when they read a quote such as this one from St. Athanasius: “God became man so that men might become gods,” they immediately fear an influence of Eastern mysticism from Hinduism or pantheism.
Notice that Mark Shuttleworth quotes St. Athanasius in saying the same thing that Lorenzo Snow received revelation of.
Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick also preached a sermon on the doctrine of Theosis as part of one’s salvation. Here is part of what he teaches:
He is called “Athanasius the Great.” Amongst Egyptian Christians, he is called “Athanasius the Apostolic.” And because he stood up for the truth against so many, he is sometimes called Athanasius contra mundum, a Latin phrase meaning “Athanasius against the world.”
He was the hero of the First Ecumenical Council in 325, having been the one whose theological expressions won the day, sifting out falsehood from the truth and resulting in the first version of the Creed we recite in every Divine Liturgy. Yet for all that, he was actually only a deacon at that first great council, not even allowed a vote in the proceedings. He was there only as an assistant to his bishop, St. Alexander of Alexandria. He eventually succeeded St. Alexander on his throne, and as the Pope of Alexandria, in 367 he wrote one of the letters that came to be famous in Church history as the first known listing of the canonical New Testament books.
But Athanasius showed remarkable wisdom even when he was young. His most well-known work, On the Incarnation, may have been written when he was as young as 23. And it is on this work that I would like us to rest for a few moments today, particularly on its most famous sentence.
In the fifty-fourth chapter of On the Incarnation, St. Athanasius wrote a sentence that has echoed down through the centuries even into our own time as a brilliant summary of the Gospel. He wrote this: “God became man so that man might become god” (54:3).
This doctrine is called theosis. And although there are many kinds of language taken from Scripture in which the Orthodox Church has expressed salvation—such as being ransomed from captivity, having a great debt paid off, being pardoned for a crime, being spared from punishment, being healed of a wound, and so on—it is theosis which is probably the most dominant and explicit of all our language regarding what it means for us to be saved.
Bear in mind, these are some references, however, Athanasius and Cyril of Jerusalem were well-regarded theologians and Christian ministers of their day and preached on the very doctrine Purdy is stating is false.
However, the other dilemma here is that Prudy misuses the term Polytheism in stating how incompatible Mormonism is with Christian teaching and doctrine. This is another critical and false theological claim. If anything, Mormonism is a henotheistic religious belief system.
Let us look at the mere definition of Polytheism: the belief in and worship of more than one God.Now, let us look at the mere definition of Henotheism: the belief and worship in one God without denying the existence of other God’s.
How does Prudy conclude her understanding of this so-called critical theological difference?
God, for Mormons, is a created being. “As man is, God once was…” Ouch. We, like God the Father, all have the opportunity to ascend just like He did. We can get to be God the Father too, on a planet somewhere else.
“As God now is, man will one day be…”. So, while a Mormon will affirm there is, indeed, “One God”, they do not mean it like you do – they mean there is one God of planet earth. Elsewhere? There are gods all over the place! All someday to be worthy of worship and adoration.
What she is attempting to teach is that Mormons and Mormonism does not teach the modern Evangelical version of God that has no basis in true Biblical worldview and understanding. What is the actual teaching on the nature of God? See Nature and Understanding of God.