On the Christianity (or lack thereof) of Mormonism

A blogging conversation has been taking place on the perennial question of the Christianity (or lack thereof) of Mormonism. Participants have included:

  • Ben Witherington III, an evangelical New Testament scholar. [8-27-2012]
  • Kevin Barney, an LDS attorney and Mormon studies scholar who blogs at By Common Consent. [8-27-2012]
  • William J. Hamblin, an LDS professor of ancient and medieval Near Eastern history at BYU. [8-28-2012]
  • Rob Bowman, Jr., an evangelical Christian apologist and the Director of the Institute for Religious Research. [8-29-2012]

I feel that Latter-day Saints and evangelical Christians often talk past one another on this matter out of a failure to understand what is even being asked by the question, “Is Mormonism Christianity?” or its related counterpart, “Are Mormons Christians?” I propose that people may ask, understand, and engage these questions in three distinctive senses, and that much of the confusion results from conflating one sense of the question with another. What follows is my own parsing of the ways in which people may interact with this issue. [1]

1. The Religious Taxonomy Question

How do we classify Mormonism from a strict religious studies perspective? If Christianity is represented by a family tree (for example, the diagram below from my own denomination‘s Web site):

Does Mormonism belong somewhere on that tree? Or should it be represented as a smaller tree springing up next to the bigger tree? Judaism is represented on the tree as providing a base for the rest of Christianity, so it would seem that, even if one feels that Mormonism has grown into something that could properly be defined as its own religion, its Christian roots and heritage should be acknowledged.

Those who interact with the question in this first sense care not whether Mormonism belongs to what evangelicals might call “orthodox Christianity”—or rather, they only care about it in as much as that gives them useful information on how rival religious groups perceive themselves and others. A person looking to answer the question in this sense would likely not disqualify Mormonism for, for example, rejecting the Nicene Creed, because 4th and 5th-century followers of Arianism also rejected the Nicene Creed, yet they should undeniably be categorized as part of the Christian tradition.

Confusion abounds because, when evangelical Christians accuse Mormons of being “not Christians” in the second or third sense (see below), Mormons often respond by defending their Christianity in the first sense, as does Kevin Barney in his post at BCC:

The fact is, [Latter-day Saints] are Christians in the generic sense of the word, even if, from an Evangelical point of view, they are theologically in error and unsaved (i.e., being a Christian is not necessarily tantamount to being right). I personally would have no difficulty with certain shorthand distinctions that would make clear that Mormons neither are nor claim to be creedal or orthodox Christians. But to say they are not Christians at all without such a modifier is to fundamentally misrepresent the nature of their beliefs.

My own answer to the question in this sense is ambivalent. I think one can make a solid case that Mormonism should be categorized as a branch of Christianity. I also think one can make a solid case that it is different enough to warrant classification as a new religious tradition altogether, so I would disagree with the certainty expressed by Barney.

2. The Orthodoxy/Heterodoxy/Heresy Question

When evangelicals assert or argue that Mormonism is not Christianity, often what we mean is that Mormonism is not sufficiently close enough to what we regard as Christian orthodoxy to warrant recommendation or endorsement, hence we launch into lists (similar to the one presented by Witherington) of reasons why Mormonism does not qualify for “Christianity.” What we are really saying with such lists is that Mormonism is a heresy (or the equivalent thereof) and we wish to distance ourselves from it and discourage others from believing in it. Again, confusion arises because often those of us who deny the Christianity of Mormonism in this sense wish to deny its taxonomical classification as well. We often do ourselves and others a disservice here because, as Barney correctly observes, non-evangelicals who ask this question are probably looking to have it answered in the first sense, not the second.

Nevertheless, what evangelicals are doing in this regard is really no different from what Latter-day Saints have recently taken to doing in addressing the matter of their own splinter groups and movements when it comes to the term “Mormon.” For example, the Church-owned site MormonsAndPolygamy.org boldly declares, “There are 13 million Mormons in the United States and around the world, and not one of them is a polygamist.” [2] Other news releases and statements from Mormon leaders have asserted that, “There is no such thing as a ‘fundamentalist’ Mormon,” [3] eliciting protest from polygamous members of splinter groups who say that they are, indeed, “fundamentalist Mormons.” [4] What Mormons really mean is that these groups do not qualify for Mormon orthodoxy or true Mormonism and, therefore, they wish to distance themselves from their teachings and practices. Yet, from a strict question of religious taxonomy, Mormon splinter groups are undeniably “Mormon” in the sense of having descended from the followers of Joseph Smith who were first called “Mormons.” Unlike the question of “Is Mormonism Christianity?,” there is not even a tepid case to be made for classifying Mormon splinter groups as anything other than “Mormon.”

Finally, while this practice has largely fallen out of vogue, I do wish to point out that, historically, Mormons have sometimes denied that other Christian groups qualify as “Christians” or “true Christians,” and that vestiges of this practice still remain in official Mormon materials. For example, I am certain that many members of Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant Christian faiths would be surprised to crack open the current Gospel Principles manual and learn that Emperor Theodosius I (who is revered by many members of these traditions) was among “those called Christians” and that he “adopted . . . false Christianity as the state religion.” [5]

My own answer to the question in this sense is that I view all of the world’s religions and religious ideas as occupying a spectrum from “most correct” to “least correct.” Religions fall into different areas of this spectrum which might broadly be labeled “Orthodoxy,” “Heterodoxy,” “Heresy,” “Non-Christian,” etc. I place Mormonism far enough out on the spectrum that it would qualify for or rival the category of “heresy.” Though it is a religion that I deeply respect and admire, it is not a religion that I would personally recommend to a friend who is searching for a church home. To some extent, I must disagree with Witherington and many other Christian writers then, because I feel it is more accurate and less confusing to say that Mormonism is or rivals Christian heresy than to say that it is “not Christian.”

3. The Soteriology/Discipleship Question

The final sense of this question involves use of the word “Christian” as a personal expression of belief in the salvation of another or acknowledgement that a person is sincerely emulating the teachings of Jesus Christ. Evangelicals believe that the “body of Christ” is an entity that transcends denominational boundaries, and most of us would say that a person can believe in at least some errant or false teachings and still be saved. For example, hierarchist evangelicals and egalitarian evangelicals [6] usually acknowledge that members of the other group may be saved, Arminians and Calvinists usually acknowledge that members of the other group may be saved, and so on. Conversely, it is possible for a person who perfectly affirms evangelical Christian orthodoxy to be a “not Christian” in this sense. The question is, can a practicing member of the LDS church be a “Christian” in the sense of being a member of the body of Christ and a true follower of Jesus Christ? If a member of the LDS church truly comes to believe in Christ, must such a person inevitably come out of the church in order to evidence his or her salvation?

One need not believe in the existence of a spiritual entity known as “the body of Christ” to make proclamations on the Christianity of someone in this sense. For example, I have sometimes seen atheists or agnostics get angry at Christian participants in debates and declare that they are “not Christian.” This is almost never because the non-Christian thinks that the Christian has violated Christian orthodoxy in some sense, but rather, because the non-Christian thinks the Christian’s behavior is not a good emulation of the teachings of Jesus Christ. This functions as the secular equivalent of this sense of the question.

Witherington affirms that there are Christians within Mormonism, though he regards them as necessarily ignorant of church history and New Testament teaching. Many Christians who assert or argue that Mormons are “not Christians” are largely concerned about the second sense of the question, but they often have the third sense in mind as well. There is no parallel for this in the main branch of Mormonism, because lack of membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints automatically confers salvific penalties which must be remedied, posthumously if necessary.

My own answer to this sense of the question is that I am a soteriological inclusivist, as are/were theologians such as Gregory Boyd, C. S. Lewis, and Thomas Aquinas. I think that people may be saved in spite of believing in false religions. It is not a common position in evangelical Christianity, but it is not without historical Christian precedent. So I do affirm that Mormons may be Christians in this sense, even without ever leaving the LDS church or internally abandoning its distinctive teachings.

Conclusion

I hope that an understanding of the different senses in which people intend and respond to this question sheds a small amount of light on a subject that usually generates little besides heat.

Notes: 

[1] I vaguely recall, maybe a year or so ago, reading a post from Rob Bowman that was posted at the atrociously-moderated Mormon Dialogue & Discussion forum which also argued for three senses of understanding this question. I have been unable to locate this post. I am not certain how similar my own post is to Bowman’s. If anyone finds it, please notify me and I’ll be happy to give credit to it in this post.

[2] http://www.mormonsandpolygamy.org/

[3] http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/commentary/fundamentalist-mormons; see also Gordon B. Hinckley, “There is no such thing as a ‘Mormon Fundamentalist.’ It is a contradiction to use the two words together,” October 1998, http://www.lds.org/general-conference/1998/10/what-are-people-asking-about-us?lang=eng. Pro-Mormon, unofficial apologetic groups such as Mormon Voices have followed the church’s cue in denying the term “Mormon” to rival followers of Joseph Smith: http://mormonvoices.org/103/polygamy.

[4] Principle Voices, “PRESS RELEASE: ‘Fundamentalist Mormon’ is the Correct Term Contrary to LDS Church Claims;” Web site currently unavailable, see Google Cache here.

[5] The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Gospel Principles (Salt Lake City, Ut.: Intellectual Reserve, 2009), 92.

[6] Hierarchists usually self-identify as “complementarians;” that is, evangelical Christians who deny that women may be ordained as pastors and affirm that Christian husbands are to exercise headship in their homes, similar to the Mormon position. Egalitarians promote the ordination of women and affirm that men and women are equal in authority in both the home and the church.

Comments

On the Christianity (or lack thereof) of Mormonism — 51 Comments

  1. It is fairly common for Mormons to use a graph similar to your tree above with the Church of Jesus Christ having it’s own line completely detached and extending for Jesus & the Apostles. I wish I could find one right now.

  2. Narrator: I did a post that went over various visualizations of church history (including the one used above), and it includes one that has a “restorationist” line from Jesus to modern Restorationist churches. Click my name for the link.

    As far as this post goes, I would be happy to share this with people who are confused on this matter. As a psychologist of religion I recognize that categories are most often tribal affiliations, and inclusiveness or exclusiveness has more to do with who you feel you should be nice to (in English, for instance, “kin,” “kind” meaning nice, and “kind” meaning similar in category come from the same root – One is “kind” to someone who is of their same “kind”). It is nice to see more scholarly and/or thoughtful treatments of the subject matter. Thanks!

  3. I appreciate very much the way you break it down and based on your previous work and experiences, feel that you’re one of the few people I can trust to offer a non-heated analysis.

    Maybe I missed it, but I still don’t see you addressing the question in the first sense – other than to say that Barney and others tend to resort to defending it alone. But for Mormons, its almost always about the first sense of the word. As you noted, Mormons actually take great pains to point out their differences with traditional Christianity. And this is a key point where the two sides talk past each other. The biggest concern for Mormons is in every day dialogue. Most people – especially non-Christians – often ask the question to mean “Do you worship Jesus as Deity?, Do you accept his death/sacrifice as necessary for salvation? Do you celebrate Christmas?” I’ve often relayed those 3 undisputed facts to non-Christians and then stated, “but others don’t consider us Christian”. The puzzled faces ensue.

  4. I’d suggest that there’s a fourth sense in which the question is asked — or, at the least, a fourth sense in which the question is often interpreted, especially by Mormons. It’s related to the taxonomic question but isn’t exactly the same thing. And that’s simply applying the dictionary definition. Merriam-Webster defines “Christian” as “one who professes belief in the teachings of Jesus Christ.”

    This is a simple definition, and it’s one that clearly applies to Mormons. Those who are baffled by a statement that we LDS folk aren’t Christian (and that includes Mormons, the news media and many others) are usually using this definition, I suspect.

    As to the taxonomic question, I don’t see much room for ambivalence unless you’re especially strict about the tree metaphor. While it’s clear that Mormonism didn’t “branch off” from other forms of Christianity, it’s also clear as a matter of history that Joseph Smith was influenced heavily by frontier Protestantism (claims of some traditional Mormons to the contrary). Maybe instead of thinking as Mormonism as a natural branch, think of it as one that is grafted on somewhere. (The same would be true of some other churches/movements, such as the Unification Church or Swedenborgianism.) If a creature can be taxonomically labeled a mammal because it has hair and a spinal column even though we have no idea what other creatures it evolved from, certainly Mormons could be taxonomically considered Christians because of all the things we share with other Christians (the Bible, a belief in a three-in-one God, a belief in Jesus as the Son of God and so on).

    In any case, I agree with you that when the question comes up, apologists and defenders of both sides talk past each other because they’re using different definitions. I’ve learned to more or less avoid the question; if someone asks me whether Mormons are Christians, my answer these days (unless I know a simple “yes” will suffice) is often something like “Tell me what your definition of ‘Christian’ is and I’ll give you my answer.”

  5. The taxonomy question has two components: (1) historical origin, and (2) particular characteristics.

    Your denomination’s taxonomy tree focuses on the former: how are all these branches of (Judeo-)Christianity related historically? It even includes dates of major schismatic moments (1054 ce, 1517 ce).

    In a historical taxonomy, Mormonism is a direct offshoot of Protestant Christianity, whose connection is through Reform / Christian Reformed (Christian primitivism). And it could be placed there with historical connections to Disciples of Christ.

    The idea “the narrator” has that Mormonism directly connects to Christ and the apostles is a religious belief (shared by Mormons and other churches that descend from Christian primitivism). However, this religious belief (faith claim) has no historical basis. Primitivism is a direct development out of 2nd Great Awakening Protestant America; it is no more directly connected to 1st century Palestine than anything else that arose in the 19th century.

    The more relevant taxonomic tree would be a Christological chart. This would include Judaism’s branches as monotheist but clearly non-Trinitarian and non-Christian altogether. It would show that Unitarians (included on this chart) are again monotheist and Christian but outside of Nicene Trinitarianism. Historical Christian religions (or heresies) such as Arianism would be Christian, but not Nicene Trinitarian. Meanwhile Dualist religions (like Catharism and Gnosticism) would clearly not be monotheist (or Trinitarian). The question of whether their non-monotheistic qualities mean that they are Christian or non-Christian would be open and valid. You certainly make the case for both.

    Post-Nauvoo Mormonism, including the LDS Church (along with fundamentalist Mormons), are not only non-Trinitarian, they are non-monotheist. This is a very big distinction whose critical importance Mormons tend not to get. All of this non-sense about what Evangelicals consider important that Witherington, Hamblin, and Bowman quibble over is irrelevant. The question is: does having the conception of a God who is non-omnipotent (in the Mormon conception God is increasing in glory and is therefore not omnipotent) qualify you as being “a new world religion”? This is a valid question, which is why you can validly answer the question “are Mormons Christian?” both ways.

  6. Well done Jack. This is an excellent summary of the main ways people approach the question.

    Christian J said:

    Do you worship Jesus as Deity?, Do you accept his death/sacrifice as necessary for salvation? Do you celebrate Christmas?” I’ve often relayed those 3 undisputed facts to non-Christians and then stated, “but others don’t consider us Christian”. The puzzled faces ensue.

    In your own way, with these three questions, you’re directing people to Jack’s first question.

  7. A well-reasoned post as usual, Jack. I would add a couple of considerations. First, with respect to the spectrum utilized in (2), I would add that, from the observations I have made of ‘countercult’ and other use of this sort of spectrum, it seems somewhat common to implicitly use the following modified spectrum: “Orthodoxy”, “Heterodoxy”, “Heresy”, “[Alien] Religion” (‘alien’ in the sense of being substantially disconnected from the Christian faith in the manner of, e.g., Buddhism), wherein the latter two categories are subsumed under the title “Non-Christian”. This, I think, is the dynamic often (though not always) in play when many countercultists are using this sort of approach: Mormonism is not being seen in the ‘[alien] religion’ category, but at (the far end of) the ‘heresy’ range in the spectrum, and hence – given the modification of the spectrum – classified as “non-Christian” in this fashion. My other point would be that, in terms of (3), you seem to have shifted wholly to the individual level, which is of course crucial; but I’ve perceived a yet-unaddressed corporate sense of (3) as well, with something of the sense of the query, “Is Mormonism – whether conceived theologically or institutionally – the sort of thing broadly conducive to soteriological benefit and/or spiritual growth and flourishing?”

  8. “Is Mormonism – whether conceived theologically or institutionally – the sort of thing broadly conducive to soteriological benefit and/or spiritual growth and flourishing?”

    This is an excellent question.

  9. The real brilliance of this post is its recognition of the conflation that often takes place in this multi-faceted issue. Mormonism has definite roots in historic Christianity, but its hermeneutic of restoration has morphed its doctrine (and, subsequently, culture) into something markedly different. Your nod to the Arians is instructive to this point, and your ambivalence to the question following Barney’s apology in section one is not unwarranted.

    The second section about “Fundamentalist Mormonism” addresses a question I myself have entertained, namely, how can the LDS Church get their undies in a bundy (bundie?) when they are deemed “non-Christian” by Evangelicals, yet then have the hubris to deny the Mormon label to polygamist groups based on the same criteria of doctrinal impurity by which the Saints are denied the “Christian” label? The answer is of course continuing revelation. I think continuing revelation is a “have your cake and eat it” kind of thing, though to be fair to the Saints, it is an internally-consistent system if you accept its basic premises.

    The third section is a practical outworking of the second section. Disagreeing with your conclusion on it is a separate discussion. My talking point is the presence of practicing Saints who would advocate a similar “Soteriological Inclusivist” position. This is in my opinion another outworking of the “have your cake and eat it” mentality in Mormonism, which, while maintaining much of its conservatism, has made a number of concessions to lessen its tension with the outside world. What better way to accomplish this than by affirming that there is a second chance after death for those who did not embrace the faith during life?

    The distinctions you draw in this post are blind spots to many who only maintain a cursory grasp of Mormon doctrine, history, and culture. On the one hand, we can’t expect everyone to be a scholar of Mormonism, and those blind spots should not surprise us. On the other hand, the LDS Church presents itself as Christian. For Christian ministers at the local level and average congregants, distinctions between “cultural Christianity” and “doctrinal Christianity” simply don’t occur, and couching Mormonism historically alongside the American Restoration Movement is even less likely to occur.

    The primary question you raise is important because it touches on the interactions between culture and dogma. Mormons have no problem selling themselves as “culturally Christian” (I’m thinking here of the ‘moral majority’ debacle and the common platitude that ‘Jesus Christ is in our church’s name!’) but G. Hinckley himself has been famously quoted as stating that the Jesus he worships is different from the Jesus of traditional Christianity.

    Like the average congregants of historic Christianity I mentioned above, we can’t expect these kinds of distinctions to occur to young Mormon mothers with babies on their hips. I doubt these mothers and people similarly disinterested in the sociological study of religion are trying to play games with politics and theology. But would I be surprised if somebody laid the claim that the LDS Church leadership is trying to have its cake and eat it? Not at all.

  10. When Plato defined humans as “featherless bipeds” , Diogenes plucked a chicken and delivered it to Plato’s Academy, with the message, “Behold! I’ve brought you a man.”

    Thanks, Jack. Thoughtful and honest contribution. I also was impressed with Eric’s comment–“Tell me what your definition of ‘Christian’ is and I’ll give you my answer.”

    The joke of Diogenes points out the fact that definition are not so mush true or false as they are either useful or not useful. So when a Baptist preacher says Mormons are not Christians, he or she is simply providing a useful moral stamp on the religion or a way of hedging his or her cicrle of truth, or an exhortation to be wary of Mormonism. The minster is probable nor talking about the dictionary—the commonly held notion of a word. The minster may in fact be trying to change the dictionary sense of the word, since all language evolves, into something “truer” (ie, more useful).

    Again, definitions are inherently ambiguous—hence, they are not so much true or false, as they are useful or not useful. So the question is “useful for what?”

  11. I understand that some people have their own special definitions of what the word “Christian” means, but the fact is that you are being misleading unless you are absolutely clear that you aren’t using it the way most people understand it. The reason Mormons get annoyed is because we are sick of having our beliefs distorted so often. When people repeat “Mormons aren’t Christians!” they are inhibiting communication and are usually trying to decrease the political power of Mormons.

    Also, these arguments that people like Witherington make are circular. Mormon beliefs don’t fit their criteria for what all Christians have to believe because they have already excluded Mormons.

  12. The idea that America is a “Christian nation” has been used in the past to marginalize different groups and continues to do so now. Protestants aren’t allowed to keep Mormons out of the federal government anymore, so now some of them try to encourage people not to vote for Mormons. I have no idea if this is what Witherington is trying to do, but it seems obvious to me that there are plenty of people who do this. They want to make sure that they can legislate their “Judeo-Christian” beliefs. Sorry if I’m being unfair, but it gets really frustrating.

  13. Jack: I can see your point here and why you take the view that you do. How about the consideration that from a Mormon perspective the very criteria used by Ben, and by evangelicals generally, would not be accepted a legitimate test as to what a Christian truly is. I think that we can agree that is a test an evangelical would adopt – but the criteria themselves are disputed and so it begs the question and constitutes the fallacy of special pleading in a conversation that involves Mormons as part of the audience addressed. It is like a communist having a conversation with a capitalist who assumes that one must first agree to the criteria for a fair means of distribution of goods set out in the Communist Manifesto in order to be considered an acceptable economic position. Precisely what is at issue is assumed as given as a basis of determining the issue.

  14. The simple biblical definition of what is a Christian can be found in Matthew 16:15-17

    15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.

    While Evangelicals would like to add all sorts of additional requirements to those given by Christ himself, by this straightforward biblical definition, Mormons are most certainly Christians.

    This definition, by the way, also has the additional benefit of distinguishing Muslims from Christians; Muslims accept Jesus as the Christ/Messiah, but reject the idea that he is the Son of God.

  15. Concerning taxonomy, Mormons claim they are restoration of primitive Christianity. What I fail to understand is if Mormons lay claim to the Jewish Christianity of Jesus himself, or the Pauline Christianity that is commonly referred to as “Christianity”.

  16. I would say, Mormonism takes away from the original concept of Christianity. Because it draws the attention away from Jesus Christ to include Joseph Smith. Who has become a God in the hearts and minds of Mormons, and that steals the divinity and sacredness from Jesus Christ.

    Maybe in the same way, other religions don’t qualify as Mormon, but I’m not familiar with any other religions to know.

    PS I’m ambivalent in regard to religion. People can believe how they want.

  17. William Hamblin makes the definition of a Christian based on an appeal to authority in Peter’s confession in Matthew 16:15-17, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” There is a good deal of controversy about whether this passage goes back to the historical Jesus and Peter. Let’s assume it does, for the moment. This confession also appears in both Mark 8:29 and Luke 9:20. In the latter two passages, Peter simply states that Jesus is the Christ, or Messiah. There is no mention of Jesus as Son of God in this confession in either Luke or Mark. Mark appears to be the source for this saying for Matthew and Luke, so it is likely that the pharse “Son of God” is a Matthean addition to the original saying. So William Hamblin appears to be appealing to a late first century editorial addition to the text. I am willing to abide by this Matthean definition, but it has yet to be demonstrated to my satisfaction that this carries the weight of a saying dating back to the time of Jesus, as William Hamblin seems to believe.

  18. Amy, I call BS unless you can say the same for the Apostle Paul who fills the same doctrinal position as Joseph Smith for other Christians. He is not any more God than Paul with his letters that pretty much define Christianity more than the Gospels.

  19. Jettboy, I can’t speak any on how much other religions worship figures besides Jesus. But I don’t think Paul takes away from Jesus, because people think about Jesus to even think about his beloved apostle Paul.

    Mormons worship Joseph Smith as a seperate entity from Jesus. No one necessarily thinks Jesus, when contemplating on Joseph Smith and his writings. Paul was all about Jesus, there is no way to think about him without thinking of Jesus, because Paul wasn’t about a separate dogma.

    So, I’d say there’s a big difference. But I’m sure Mormonism isn’t the only religion that detracts this way.

  20. Amy, I was a Mormon for 20 years and while I no longer believe, I am honest about what my experiences were. And I can tell you that Mormons do NOT worship Joseph Smith. He is revered, much like other Christian denominations revere martyrs and other early Christian figures. But Mormons do not place Joseph before Christ.

    If anything, Mormons are troubled by many of Joseph’s teachings and tend to follow Brigham Young more closely, with respect to adherence to a religious code.

  21. Mark

    The expectation that the Messiah would be the Son of God was an integral part of messianic expectations at the time of Jesus (A. and J. Collins, King and Messiah as Son of God, (Eerdmans, 2008); D. Boyarin, The Jewish Gospels, 2012).

    Jesus is called the Son of God several times by Paul, our earliest Christian source. (Rom. 1:4, 2 Cor. 1:19, Gal. 2:20, Eph. 4:13) He is also called Son of God in Mark (Mk. 1:1, 3:11, 15:39).

    Jesus was venerated as the Son of God by the very earliest Christians (L. Hurtado, Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity, Eerdmans, 2003).

    Whether Matthew’s account of Peter’s confession is “historical” or not (which you have merely asserted, not demonstrated), the belief that Jesus was the Son of God was integral to earliest Christianity.

  22. Chrisw, I was raised Utah Mormon, not unlike most Mormons, but I was definitely in the thick of it coming from an ancestry of Mormons. About age 25, I lost my faith in Mormonism, and all theology. I have a renewed faith in Christianity, but not in any traditional sense, just the concepts.

    I don’t mind if Mormons want to classify themselves as Christian. I think they have solid base to do so.

    All I’m trying to say is any reverance shown to Joseph Smith in his own right, takes away from Jesus Christs reverance. All the glory should go to God, through Jesus, not any other man.

    Maybe I’m just not making sense to anyone. It’s all good, I enjoy reading everyone’s opinion.

  23. Amy, do you feel the same way about Catholic saints? Or Baptist ministers?

    I don’t understand how revering Joseph Smith diminishes any feelings one might have for Christ.

  24. Chrisw, I can’t speak for any religion than the one I know personally. But, if it detracts from thoughts of Jesus then yes. As I understood growing up, that’s why praying to Catholic saints instead of Christ, was not right to do. But I can’t make a judgement on Catholic beliefs, cause I am not all too familiar with them.

    In my own experience as a Mormon, Joseph Smith did not make me think about Jesus Christ, the only time that would happen is when we were studying the new testament. And Joseph Smith was too major a focus. So yes, when the focus becomes Joseph Smith, and his teachings, it takes away from Jesus Christ and His teachings even though Mormonism tries to incorporate Jesus Christ into its doctrine.

  25. In my mind, Bill has raised an interesting issue. Laying aside the matter of the historical accuracy (or lack thereof) of Matthew’s pericope, I personally find N.T. Wright’s caution quite compelling, i.e. that Christians should avoid interpreting Peter’s declaration of faith identifying Jesus as the “Son of God” through the lens of a traditional Christian belief. Wright has explained that “in the first century, the regular Jewish meaning of this title [Son of God] had nothing to do with an incipient Trinitarianism [but instead] referred to the king as Israel’s representative; Israel was the son of YHWH; the [Messiah] king who would come to take her destiny on himself would share this title.” If Wright is correct, would Peter at this point in time qualify as a “Christian,” if in fact he misunderstood (at least according to the doctrine of the Trinity) what it truly meant for Jesus to be the “Son of God”?

  26. My own answer to this sense of the question is that I am a soteriological inclusivist, as are/were theologians such as Gregory Boyd, C. S. Lewis, and Thomas Aquinas. I think that people may be saved in spite of believing in false religions.

    I believe very strongly that this is true.

  27. Bill Hamblin said

    The simple biblical definition of what is a Christian can be found in Matthew 16:15-17

    Wait, where in this passage do you get the idea that this is the Biblical definition of a “Christian”? It’s a great confession of faith, but it’s by no means then last thing the New Testament has to say about who a Christian is.

    As Mormons are quick to point out the Evangelicals, being a Christian means more than a simple confession of faith. It also involves doing some things. As I read the New Testament, one of the things Christians are called to do is root out false prophets and avoid their false teachings.

  28. Kinda funny that such a simple question and concept can cause such confusion, and division. I think that’s generally what LDS make of this.

    It’s not so much talking past each other as it is divisiveness. The thing is LDS aren’t being divisive on this–at least not any more. Giving credence to the notion that LDS aren’t Christian in any sense of the word is proclaiming rhetorical war. Who wants that? Blah what a mass of confusion. Just admit the religion is of the Christian variety and move on.

  29. Tim,

    In New Testament terms, a Christian is a disciple who believes Jesus is the Messiah. So when Peter says Jesus is the Christ/Messiah, he is saying he is a Christian. All the theological claims that Evangelicals add to this are simply special pleading.

  30. William, please back that up with something other than conjecture. Where does the New Testament give a minimalist definition for either the term Christian or disciple? I’ll be happy to grant that it doesn’t define the term with the theological precision of today’s orthodox churches.

    Presumably as a restorationist, you believe the word Mormon was synonymous with some sort of historical Christian. Do you think Mormons can be defined so narrowly?

  31. Tim raises a very valid point. If we want to take the strict wording of Matthew 16:15-17 as a minimalist standard for classification as a Christian (that is, a Christian is anyone who can verbalize an affirmation that Jesus is both the Messiah and the Son of God – we must keep it at both to exclude, e.g., Muslims, as William noted, though his more recent phrasing would omit this), then it would seem that even the demons – who offered much the same confession (see Mark 3:11) – must qualify, a la James 2:19. This text in isolation, in the way William is using it, mentions nothing about discipleship (and that’s setting aside the legitimate cautionary note that David Bokovoy conveys to us here). Whatever we do with the mere wording of Matthew 16:15-17, it cannot be articulating a sufficient condition on its own. (More interesting, I think, would be if William modified his approach to the text and contended that a Christian is one who receives the knowledge that Jesus is both Messiah and Son of God by way of revelation.)

    Furthermore, even were we to grant that the specific affirmations involved in Peter’s confession were the sole criterion needed, we would have to then devolve into the issue of whether one must mean by the use of those terms what Peter – or, ultimately, the author of the Gospel of Matthew – meant by it in order to meet the criterion in question; and that may well bring us to the need to begin adjudicating what William dismisses as “additional requirements” and “special pleading”.

    Ultimately, it seems rather difficult to provide a minimalistic criterion for Christian status from the New Testament, perhaps because the New Testament authors have relatively little interest in minimalism and because the litmus tests found at various points throughout the New Testament remain, if used solely in terms of the letter, quite tied to specific polemical and apologetical contexts.

  32. Jack, Once one gets past the strong restorationist tradition in America (from the time of the Puritans) as the appropriate secular taxonomic basis for classification of Mormons as some sort of Christians, the shoe is actually on the other foot:
    One gets a sense of this when reading in Church History 30/3 (Dec 1961), 481-483, the confused and disconsolate reply of Hans J. Hillerbrand to Hugh W. Nibley’s powerful demonstration that the authentic Christian Church did not survive and that its apostasy is described in detail by immediate, authoritative witnesses, i.e., the Ante-Nicene Fathers (Church History 30/2 [June 1961], 131-154). The editors had non-Mormon Robert M. Grant reply, telling Hillerbrand that Nibley had made a good case and that the only way to refute him would be to show that his analysis of the Patristic literature was in error. Indeed, Methodist theologian Albert C. Outler even agreed with Nibley on the powerful indicators of discontinuity!!
    The upshot is that the LDS Church is the authoritative restoration of that original Christian Church, and there can be only one.

  33. Jack,

    Thank you for the careful parsing of this thorny issue. As a social scientist, I often find the question vexing because, socially and historically speaking, Mormonism is clearly a Christian sect and/or of the Christian tradition. Although I find your separation of the issue into three related but separate questions compelling, I also find myself having reservations about such a move.

    To begin, I’m not convinced that your numbers 2 and 3 are relevant to an academic or scholarly classification, at least not from the perspective of the disciplines I work in. In your 2 and 3, I see what would amount to an internal debate among Christians rather than a salient point of classification for scholars. The only way I see 2 and 3 being relevant for scholars would be if a theologian, for example, were doing a specific taxonomy of the relationship between, say, Mormonism and evangelicalism. More about this in a minute.

    Next, I think you are mistaken when you say that lay-mormons answer questions 2 and 3 by appealing to No. 1. Indeed, my experience with believing/practicing Mormons is that they believe they are fully, truly Christian in both the orthodoxy realm and in the soteriology realm. Their arguments rarely, if ever, boil down to “our religion comes historically from the same place as yours.” The only Mormons I know of who would answer questions 2 and 3 by appealing to 1 would be academics trying to disengage from the arguments of 2 and 3 (or maybe Mormons trying to avoid telling their evangelical friends that they are wrong in their interpretation of Christianity?).

    Flowing from those two issues comes my biggest reservation about your three-part definition of Christianity, namely the presumption that questions 2 and 3 are appropriate questions for a scholarly or academic taxonomy in the first place. From my perspective—they are not. Questions 2 and 3 are arguments that Christians have *with each other* about who is a “true” Christian. The question of the validity or authenticity of a particular Christian practice is not the purview, in my opinion, of a religious studies scholar, although I do think that religious studies scholars may engage in ethical critique of the religions they study. [We're not talking about a group that is so fringe that their claims on Christianity are, at best, tenuous (e.g., the Unification Church).]

    To clarify what I’m arguing: When Mormons and Evangelicals argue about whether or not Mormons are Christians, there are two important things to notice: 1st, the power imbalance in the way this argument plays out—no one is having an argument about whether or not Evangelicals are Christians, even though their brand of soteriology differs greatly from, say, Eastern Orthodoxy; and 2nd, it’s really Christians arguing with each other over who is Right or True. The power imbalance should set off our alarm bells, and the reality of the contents of the argument should pique our interest.

    So from a religious studies perspective, in my opinion, the argument that (conservative) Evangelicals and Mormons are having with each other (and indeed, which evangelicals seem to have with basically every other form of Christianity out there), is the object of our study. We should be studying the argument itself—analyzing its rhetorical moves, its historical context and significance, the interplays of dominance and subordination, the different kinds of meanings generated, the interests at stake, etc.—not taking sides in the argument, which I feel answering Nos. 2 and 3 above does (as displayed in the discussion above in the comments right here in River City).

    All that said, I would actually like to go one step further and (ironically) argue that Mormonism is not Christian. In a broad, historical, religious studies sense, we study Mormons as a sect of contemporary American Christianity. But as an object of study unto itself, I wonder if there is a better way to think of Mormonism. I’m personally taken with the idea but forward in Bloom’s _American Religion_ that Mormonism be seen as a complete reworking of Christianity to create a new thing that is no longer Christian, but a uniquely Mormon, American invention. Given Joseph Smith’s History and the early Utah period, as well as the theological, soteriological, and eschatological, not to mention social, familial, sexual, and economic innovations of Mormonism, Bloom’s proposition seems most useful. For Bloom, Mormonism is to Christianity as Christianity was to Judaism: A complete overhaul, reworking, reorganization, etc., to create a new thing. In this regard, we maintain the clear historical links of Christianity to Mormonism (obviously early 19th century American Christianity was the raw material out of which Smith, et al, created Mormonism), while also acknowledging its significant differences.

    —–
    Reference:

    Harold Bloom. The American Religion: The Emergence of the Post-Christian Nation. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1993.

  34. Thank you everyone for the thoughtful contributions.

    #2 Christian J ~ Maybe I missed it, but I still don’t see you addressing the question in the first sense – other than to say that Barney and others tend to resort to defending it alone

    Let me try to be more clear. As I see it, there are two cases that can be made on whether or not Mormonism should be classified as part of Christianity. Case #1 (which Mormons routinely make): Mormons believe Jesus Christ is the Messiah and the Son of God, they believe in the writings of the New Testament, and Mormons see themselves as an authentic continuation of earliest Christianity. Therefore, Mormons are Christians. Case #2: Mormonism is best considered a new religion or religious tradition. Even though all of the points listed in Case #1 are true, other qualifiers are needed in order for someone to be Christian, and Mormonism has transcended and gone beyond what can safely be called Christianity. To say that Mormons are Christians because of the points I listed above would be like saying that I am a Jew because I believe in YHWH, in the Law, Prophets and Writings (i. e. Old Testament), and see my religion as an authentic continuation of ancient Judaism. But my belief in newer, additional revelation which Jews reject (i. e. the Incarnation, the Trinity, the writings of the New Testament) transforms my belief in the former things into something completely different. Indeed, even identifying myself as a “monotheist” would be problematic for Jews; they would strongly protest that belief in the Trinity makes one a polytheist. Likewise, Mormon belief in newer, additional revelation which the rest of Christianity rejects completely transforms Mormon belief in things like the person of Jesus Christ, the Trinity, and the nature and authority of the New Testament. So it might be best to categorize Mormonism as its own religion for that reason.

    BTW, a similar scenario takes place in regards to the Messianic Jewish community vs. other Jewish communities, with the latter group strongly protesting that the former group isn’t Jewish at all. Likewise, in the interfaith divorce controversy between Joseph and Rebecca Reyes in Chicago in 2010 (a Catholic and a Jew, respectively), some of Joseph’s supporters defended his desire to take his daughter to Catholic church by arguing that Christianity is true Judaism. Naturally, Rebecca’s Jewish supporters felt pretty differently. While the boundaries between Jews and Christians are now much better defined and much more widely acknowledged than the boundaries between [other] Christians and Mormons, the former is still a live issue sometimes, even ~2000 years after the split.

    Which of these options do I prefer? As I said in the post, I’m ambivalent. I think either case is equally good. There are times when I feel that it is best to treat Mormonism as part of Christianity, and there are times when I feel it’s best to treat Mormonism as something new altogether.

    #3 Eric ~ I don’t think it’s a fourth sense. I would place that question in with the taxonomy question.

    #12 Blake ~ I’m genuinely glad to see you again. Been taking some notes out of one of your books for my thesis work.

    How about the consideration that from a Mormon perspective the very criteria used by Ben, and by evangelicals generally, would not be accepted a legitimate test as to what a Christian truly is. I think that we can agree that is a test an evangelical would adopt – but the criteria themselves are disputed and so it begs the question and constitutes the fallacy of special pleading in a conversation that involves Mormons as part of the audience addressed.

    I agree for the most part. My only point of disagreement would be that I don’t believe Witherington really meant to address a Mormon audience. I thought he was answering the question for evangelicals.

    #13 Bill ~ It’s an intriguing proposition. The questions I would have about it are:

    (1) Is this confession used as a test for heresy vs. orthodoxy elsewhere in the New Testament, or in the writings of the early church? Or were some denounced as deceivers and false teachers in spite of this? I’ll have to go through my Bible carefully on this when I have the time.

    (2) Would such a confession still serve as a meaningful way of distinguishing between Christian and non-Christian groups in our day and age? You point out that it is sufficient to eliminate Muslims from consideration. Would it eliminate Bahá’í from consideration? It seems that it wouldn’t. Do you regard Bahá’í as a Christian religion?

    Finally, I would point out that evangelicals aren’t the only ones who have additional standards for what constitutes Christianity. As I said in the post, the current Gospel Principles manual describes Theodosius’s Christianity as “false Christianity.” Since Nicene Christianity affirmed both Jesus’ status as the Son of God and as Messiah, clearly the manual had other standards in mind.

    #15 Amy ~ I don’t think I would say it as strongly as you have, but I have expressed concern in the past that profession of Joseph Smith as prophet is a prerequisite for LDS baptism. I brought it up in my PBS interview with my husband two years ago. That said, I don’t believe it’s accurate to say that Mormons worship Joseph Smith—at least, they do not do so intentionally.

    #29 David Bennett ~ The thing is LDS aren’t being divisive on this–at least not any more. Giving credence to the notion that LDS aren’t Christian in any sense of the word is proclaiming rhetorical war.

    They usually aren’t being divisive about who can and cannot be a “Christian.”

    They are being divisive about the term Mormon, and about all other Christian faiths being corrupt, etc. That may be viewed as proclaiming rhetorical war in its own right.

    #33 Robert F. Smith ~ I haven’t read that exchange from Nibley, and this is rather off-topic from my own post, but I personally find the concept of an “original Christian church” ahistorical. Christianity was highly schismatic from almost the very beginning. There wasn’t an original Christian church, there were early Christian churches, and what became known as “Christian orthodoxy” was the faction that won out.

    Some LDS apologists recognize this historical difficulty with the concept of “Great Apostasy” and have taken to arguing that the apostasy got started almost as soon as Jesus ascended because of it.

    #34 J. Todd Ormsbee ~ I don’t believe I proposed #2 and #3 as being relevant for scholars, other than informing them how laypeople and members of different religious groups talk about this issue and perceive themselves and others. When it comes to most religious scholarly writing, I think that Mormonism should be classified as Christian or not-Christian based on considerations appropriate to #1 only.

    Next, I think you are mistaken when you say that lay-mormons answer questions 2 and 3 by appealing to No. 1. Indeed, my experience with believing/practicing Mormons is that they believe they are fully, truly Christian in both the orthodoxy realm and in the soteriology realm

    This simply has not been my experience with Latter-day Saints. Most answer the charge of being not-Christian by, say, citing the Dictionary definition of what a Christian is—which I view as an argument from taxonomy. While I think Mormons perceive themselves as being orthodox and “saved” by their own standards, I think they know that they don’t qualify as either by the standards of many other Christians, and they don’t usually care. If your experience has been different, that’s fine; but I am honestly reporting on my own experience here. And I think a few of the replies in this thread bear that out.

    We should be studying the argument itself—analyzing its rhetorical moves, its historical context and significance, the interplays of dominance and subordination, the different kinds of meanings generated, the interests at stake, etc.—not taking sides in the argument, which I feel answering Nos. 2 and 3 above does

    This post is both my attempt to analyze this argument and briefly give my personal opinion on the questions as an evangelical Christian, the latter being because it is a part of a blog conversation where scholars such as Ben Witherington have done the same. I tried to clearly separate this shift by bolding “my own answer” and limiting such discussion to a single paragraph. Were I approaching this from a strictly academic perspective, those three paragraphs wouldn’t have appeared.

    All that said, I would actually like to go one step further and (ironically) argue that Mormonism is not Christian.

    Here I think we’re on the same page, and I think you’re essentially presenting the same argument that I presented to Christian above. And I’ve been making this argument for years.

  35. BTW, Kevin Barney tried to comment here and was having trouble posting. Here is what he said on my Facebook page:

    No. 3 Eric gets at what my basic point was. The public definition of the word “Christian” is very broad, basically one who believes in the teachings of Jesus Christ. That’s how the vast majority of English speakers use the word. So when an Evangelical like Witherington says that Mormons are non-Christian using a private, Evangelical definition of the term, he is (intentionally? Inadvertently?) communicating to non-Evangelicals who don’t share that private definition that Mormons don’t believe in Jesus Christ. I thought my story about the coloring book made that communication problem abundantly clear. If Witherington had presented his list and said that as an Evangelical that is how he defines the word “Christian,” and on that basis Mormons are not Christian within the meaning of that definition, I’d be fine with that.

    And I personally disagree with the Church having a cow over the expression “Mormon fundamentalists.” I use that that expression all the time.

  36. People are making this far more complicated than it is. In the NT, disciples of Christ are called Christians (Acts 11:26). That’s all the term means: partisans, followers, believers, and disciples of the Messiah/Christ. The implications of the use of this term to designate discipleship is that Christians believe Jesus is the Messiah. An integral part of first century messianic expectations of Jesus’ disciples/messianists/Christians is that the Messiah was the Son of God (see bibliography in #22). All purportedly Christian denominations have accepted these two claims. It should be sufficient. It’s really, really simple.
    Bahai do not claim to be Christians. There is no reason to force that appellation upon them.

  37. Back to David Bokovoy’s point. In Egypt, Assyria and ancient Israel, the king or Messiah was at times called a god or the son of a god. This was also true of later Greek and Roman rulers. Who konws if this was understood as mataphor or literally. Who knows what illiterate followers of Jesus thought of the idea of Jesus as the Son of God in the first century. But they might have taken the understanding of the concepts of “Christian” and “son of God” as competitive ideas—Christians against certain Roman emperors who claimed to be a Son of God.

    Perhaps we can draw the parallel today that to be worthy of the designation Christian is to lodge one’s highest ideals and ultimate concern in Jesus’ frequently used metaphor of the kingdom of God rather than that of some political or religous competitor. Words can be acts of competition or of compassion. But in the beginning was not the word. I choose my own vocabulary. I choose the latter. I will call people Christian not becsause of obscure doctrines but because of the allegiance to the surprising compassion in Jesus’ kingdom of God. Was it John Taylor, the Mormon President, that said, “I am a Baptist. I am a Mathodst. I am a Epscopoalian.”? Then why so stingy with our designation of Christianity? This is not a fortress. This is a crossroad. As if we were hoarding gems in a safe. As if we knifed our neighbor in the name of a loving God. As if we grasped desparately to a stingy spirituality in the name of an abundant God. I choose to be more Christian than that. I choose my own vocabulary.

  38. Reading all the philosophizing about what is a Christian, I must agree with William Hamblin at 37. The *Biblical* definition is quite simple, really. “And the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch” Acts 11:26. Christ himself defined how we could identify his disciples: “By this shall men know ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” John 13:35.

    But I am afraid that there are not enough big words in these statements to be taken seriously by the philosophers.

  39. Ted,
    You are absolutely right mentioning William Hamblin as the true case of how we can test who is deserving of the title of Christian. You cite John 13:35–“By this shall men know ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” A true disciple of Christ would not engage in spying on liberal Mormon scholars in order to harm them. A true disciple of Christ would not engage in ad hominem attacks, publically using such terms as “Butthead” to describe serious scholars. A true disciple of Christ would not collaberate in 2006 with a PhD trained in miltary interrogation tenchniques to intimdate and threaten liberal Mormon scholars outside of his line of authority. A true disciple of Chrust would not collaberate with senior apostles to engage in such activities and to label serious liberal Mormon scholars as “Korihors.” A true disciple of Christ would welcome academic freedom and not seek to silence the humble and honest search for truth in the name of their own God of war. In short, a true Christain organization (as defined by internal love) would not engage in the charateristic features of Inqusition, namely, secret surveillance, the imposition of belief, censorship of scholars, interrogations intended to intimidate, and the endorsement of the practice of torture aganist one’s enemies. In short, a true disciple of Christ will not engage in a heavy handed bureaucracy of intelligence gathering, interrogation and decision-making intended to punish people who believe differently than those in power. By all means let us look to William Hamblin to assess whether the Mormon Church is really a Christian organization.

    Let us take a sample of the impact that scholars like Hamblin have had on the reputaion of the LDS Church. A national survey of scholars of religious studies was recently completed under the direction of a BYU senior marketing faculty using valid stastistical methods. The survey indicated that scholars in religious studies from across America, as a rule, have very little confidence in the academic reliability of Mormon academic studies sponsored by its own church education system. The level of confidence was lower than any other religious academic system mentioned in the survey, Catholic or Protestant.

    By their fruits ye shall know who is my disciple, if they have love for one another, including loving your opponents enough to allow for academic freedom without fear or intimidation.

  40. Interesting comments. I am at present doing Early Church History to 500AD. One of the readings for this week is Tertullian’s “Prescriptions Against Heretics” Years ago Wesley P Walters wrote me his response to Nibley’s “Passing” article which started off on a one page letter to several three page letters.He disputes both Nibley’s handling of the scriptures and the writings of the ECF. It’s interesting that former LDS scholar Richard Sherlock made the transition from the LDS church to Catholic church after his readings of the ECF. See http://www.firstthings.com/onthesquare/2012/08/a-mormon-scholarrsquos-journey-to-catholic-faith

  41. I really appreciate Mark Thomas’ comments in #39. What is of primary concern to me personally is how I live up to, or fail to live up to, the kinds of moral and spiritual challenges the teachings of Jesus placed before all of us. In my view, those who endeavor to meet those challenges are Christians.

    It is also interesting to reflect on Mormon history through that standard. Mormonism is an interesting case, because: (1) it has produced some of the most expansive, and open Christian rhetoric from some of its leaders; (2) it endeavored to implement a sacred, communal economy; (3) and although it has as of yet failed to live up to these ideals, the materials are still there to inspire, as are the calls to pursue them today. At the same time, Mormons have lived in deep doctrinal, social, and political conflict with their neighbors, on the one hand; and they have endured schism and internal tensions, on the other.

    To me these questions are the most interesting questions regarding the question of Mormonism’s “Christian identity.” The others I find less compelling. I accept that the vast majority of Christian thinkers who care about the history and cohesion of the tradition will not accept Mormonism’s attempt to rewrite in significant ways Christianity as they understand it. I understand why it is important to Mormons both in terms of proselyting and interfaith relations to have a ready answer to the critics that responds to the theological, scriptural, and historical challenges of these other Christians.

    In the end, however, I have found the kinds of wrangling that ensues intellectually stultifying and spiritually deadening. Of course, I come at this from a particular vantage point that many of you do not share, so I would not be surprised to hear that I am one of few people who think or feel this way. Over time I have found that I am increasingly less interested in the doctrinal distinctions that separate most groups.

    I think I understand why they exist, and how they are important for group identity, but when it comes to measuring their significance to me as a person, I have a difficult time caring enough to condemn others on the basis of theology and doctrine. Do these ideas make a difference to a group? Most certainly. Beliefs have an impact. What I don’t think they do, most of the time, is place any particular group in a category that demands marginalization and extreme criticism. I am much more concerned about how a Church lives up to Jesus’ call to help the needy than I am about whether they are Athanasians, Arians, Sabellians, Pelagians, Ariminians, Calvinists, Iron Rodders, Liahonas or what have you.

  42. #29 David Bennett ~ The thing is LDS aren’t being divisive on this–at least not any more. Giving credence to the notion that LDS aren’t Christian in any sense of the word is proclaiming rhetorical war.

    They usually aren’t being divisive about who can and cannot be a “Christian.”

    They are being divisive about the term Mormon, and about all other Christian faiths being corrupt, etc. That may be viewed as proclaiming rhetorical war in its own right.

    Even if that were true, I’m not sure what the one has to do with the other. Needless to say this is only an issue because people find mormonism corrupt and want to divisively say so. It’s really to the point of being pretty petty. “YOu can’t be what you claim to be because I don’t like the way you use the word”.

    If we can’t define ourselves what are we left with? Questioning peoples claim to being human? Native American? Male/female? bald? Why wage battles on fronts like these?

  43. Yeah, maybe I did say it too strongly to try to explain my point. I appreciate that you can at least see where I’m coming from with my idea on this, Bridget.

  44. @Eric #4:

    I’d suggest that there’s a fourth sense in which the question is asked — or, at the least, a fourth sense in which the question is often interpreted, especially by Mormons. It’s related to the taxonomic question but isn’t exactly the same thing. And that’s simply applying the dictionary definition. Merriam-Webster defines “Christian” as “one who professes belief in the teachings of Jesus Christ.”

    How does this sense exclude Muslims or Sikhs who believe that Jesus was a prophet, Buddhists who believe that Jesus was a Buddha, or Hindus who believe that Jesus was an Avatar?

  45. Pingback: Lost and Found Christianities: Bart Ehrman and the Christianicity of Mormonism | Worlds Without End

  46. You guys miss the whole point. There is no “Mormon Church”. That title is an evangelical myth from the Nineteenth Century. The Church of JESUS CHRIST of Latter Day Saints not only is Christian–it is Christianity restored to its proper and perfect form.