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The Doctrinal Exclusion

by Stephen E. Robinson

The exclusion used most often to declare Latter-day Saints non-Christian is the doctrinal exclusion. The many forms this exclusion takes can really be reduced to the same logical argument: Since the Latter-day Saints do not believe what other Christians believe, they must not be Christians. A general weakness of this type of argument is the faulty assumption that all other Christians believe "what Christians believe." By this I mean that no two denominations, and few individual Christians, agree on every detail of Christian doctrine. Most denominations don't even agree on which doctrines are central and must be affirmed by all Christians, and which ones are peripheral and open to debate. Doctrinal diversity is simply a fact of life among the various Christian churches, so how can it be fair to demand of the Latter-day Saints that they alone manifest no doctrinal diversity? And what is the standard or norm by which such "doctrinal diversity" is to be measured? Even if such a demand were fair, it would still be impossible to comply with it, for there is no single, monolithic body of doctrine accepted by all Christians with which the Latter-day Saints could agree, even if they wanted to. Though many Christians have insisted that there is such a universal standard, so far no one has been able to define it to the satisfaction of all the others.

Which Is the "Christian" Doctrine?

Suppose for a moment that the Latter-day Saints were to take seriously the demand that they conform in every particular "Christian" doctrine, and that they then made the attempt to so. Having complied with such a demand, would the Latter-day Saints find themselves in total agreement with Protestants or with Catholics? Would they believe in apostolic succession or the priesthood of all believers? Would they recognize an archbishop, a patriarch, a pope, a monarch, or no one at all as the head of Christ's church on earth? Would they be saved by grace alone, or would they find the sacraments of the church necessary for salvation? Would they believe in free will or in predestination? Would they practice water baptism? If so, would it be by immersion, sprinkling, or some other method? Would they believe in a substitutionary, representative, or exemplary atonement? Would they or would they not believe in "original sin"? And on and on.

It is unreasonable for other Christians to demand that Latter-day Saints conform to a single standard of "Christian" doctrine when they do not agree among themselves upon exactly what that standard is. To do so is to establish a double standard; doctrinal diversity is tolerated in some churches, but not in others. The often-heard claim that all true Christians share a common core necessary Christian doctrine rests on the dubious proposition, that all present differences between Christian denominations are over purely secondary or even trivial matters-- matters not central to Christian faith. This view is very difficult to defend in the light of Christian history, and might be easier to accept if Protestants and Catholics--or Protestants and Protestants, for that matter--had not once burned each other at the stake as non-Christian heretics over these same "trivial" differences.

Is Christian Doctrine Always Biblical?

Often those who apply the doctrinal exclusion confuse the terms Christian doctrine and biblical doctrine. Many Christian denominations believe and teach things for doctrine that are not found in the Bible. For example, some Protestants believe that dancing is a sin. Catholics believe in the immaculate conception of Mary. Both Protestants and Catholics believe the doctrinal pronouncements of at least some of the ecumenical councils, yet all such pronouncements are extrabiblical. The Nicene Creed insists that the Father and the Son are consubstantial (Greek homoousios), but neither the word nor the concept is biblical. Yet the Nicene Creed must certainly be considered Christian in the sense that it was written by Christians to help define their beliefs about Christ. Its doctrine is Christian in the generic sense, even though it is not actually biblical in its content.

Is Christian Doctrine Always True?

Those who employ the doctrinal exclusion also frequently confuse the issue of whether a doctrine is true with whether belief in that doctrine necessarily renders one a non-Christian. They confuse being Christian with being correct. Often the doctrinal excluder perceives only two categories of believers: "those who believe what I believe," and "those who are not really Christians." And yet a logical necessity of having a family of Christian denominations is that one Christian may believe things other Christians don't, and still be considered a Christian. Thus, despite the doctrinal excluder's dichotomized view of things, there must be a third category of believers--true Christians whose beliefs differ from one's own.

Critics of the Latter-day Saints frequently assume that if this or that LDS belief can be proved incorrect, it proves that Latter-day Saints aren't Christians. But the two issues (being correct and being Christian) are logically separate. Many Christian denominations hold views that are believed false by other Christian denominations. For example, Catholics believe in the Assumption of the Virgin and in her role as a mediatrix in heaven, while Protestants do not. Protestants generally believe that the Bible is sufficient for salvation, while Catholics do not. Surely these issues are doctrinally significant, and just as surely either Protestants or Catholics must be mistaken about them. Yet neither side (not counting ultraconservatives) insists that the other is non-Christian merely because of its beliefs on these issues. While there is no way to prove the doctrines either true or false, they must be one or the other. And one side or the other will turn out to be wrong. Each feels very strongly that the other is wrong, but in the meantime the denominations involved have agreed to disagree, and both sides of the question are tolerated as generically Christian points of view.

But if doctrinal diversity does not exclude from the Christian family those who disagree on these matters, how can it validly be applied to exclude the Latter-day Saints for disagreeing on others? If doctrinal variance is going to be tolerated in some degree between the older denominations, then in all fairness it cannot be used to selectively exclude the Latter-day Saints.

On the other hand. it has been argued that the diversity tolerated among other Christian denominations is a matter of flexibility within certain broad limits, and that some LDS doctrines are so foreign to either the New Testament or traditional Christianity that they violate even these broad limits and cannot therefore be tolerated. A close examination of the individual LDS doctrines most maligned by the critics on these grounds, however, produces some surprising results. Let's start with the issue that has received the most recent attention, the charge that the Latter-day Saints are pagan "god makers."

It is indisputable that Latter-day Saints believe that God was once a human being and that human beings can become gods. The famous couplet of Lorenzo Snow, fifth President of the LDS church, states:

As man now is, God once was; As God now is, man may be. 1

It has been claimed by some that this is an altogether pagan doctrine that blasphemes the majesty of God. Not all Christians have thought so, however. In the second century Saint Irenaeus, the most important Christian theologian of his time, said much the same thing as Lorenzo Snow:

If the Word became a man, It was so men may become gods. 2

Indeed, Saint Irenaeus had more than this to say on the subject of deification:

Do we cast blame on him [God] because we were not made gods from the beginning, but were at first created merely as men, and then later as gods? Although God has adopted this course out of his pure benevolence, that no one may charge him with discrimination or stinginess, he declares, "I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are sons of the Most High.".. . For it was necessary at first that nature be exhibited, then after that what was mortal would be conquered and swallowed up in immortality. 3

Also in the second century, Saint Clement of Alexandria wrote, "Yea, I say, the Word of God became a man so that you might learn from a man how to become a god" 4--almost a paraphrase of Lorenzo Snow's statement. Clement also said that "if one knows himself, he will know God, and knowing God will become like God .... His is beauty, true beauty, for it is God, and that man becomes a god, since God wills it. So Heraclitus was right when he said, 'Men are gods, and gods are men.' " 5

Still in the second century, Saint Justin Martyr insisted that in the beginning men "were made like God, free from suffering and death," and that they are thus "deemed worthy of becoming gods and of having power to become sons of the highest.'' 6

In the early fourth century Saint Athanasius--that tireless foe of heresy after whom the orthodox Athanasian Creed is named --also stated his belief in deification in terms very similar to those of Lorenzo Snow: "The Word was made flesh in order that we might be enabled to be made gods .... Just as the Lord, putting on the body, became a man, so also we men are both deified through his flesh, and henceforth inherit everlasting life." 7 On another occasion Athanasius stated, "He became man that we might be made divine" 8--yet another parallel to Lorenzo Snow's expression.

Finally, Saint Augustine himself, the greatest of the Christian Fathers, said: "But he himself that justifies also deifies, for by justifying he makes sons of God. 'For he has given them power to become the sons of God' [John 1: 12]. If then we have been made sons of God, we have also been made gods." 9

Notice that I am citing only unimpeachable Christian authorities here--no pagans, no Gnostics. All five of the above writers were not just Christians, and not just orthodox Christians --they were orthodox Christian saints. Three of the five wrote within a hundred years of the period of the Apostles, and all five believed in the doctrine of deification. This doctrine was a part of historical Christianity until relatively recent times, and it is still an important doctrine in some Eastern Orthodox churches. Those who accuse the Latter-day Saints of making up the doctrine simply do not know the history of Christian doctrine. In one of the best works on Catholicism, Father Richard P. McBrien states that a fundamental principle of orthodoxy in the patristic period was to see "the history of the universe as the history of divinization and salvation." As a result the Fathers concluded, according to McBrien, that "because the Spirit is truly God, we are truly divinized by the presence of the Spirit." 10

In The Westminster Dictionary of Christian Theology, which is not a Mormon publication, the following additional information can be found in the article titled, "Deification":

Deification (Greek theosis) is for Orthodoxy the goal of every Christian. Man, according to the Bible, is 'made in the image and likeness of God'.. . . It is possible for man to become like God, to become deified, to become god by grace. This doctrine is based on many passages of both OT and NT (e.g. Ps. 82 (81).6; II Peter 1.4), and it is essentially the teaching both of St Paul, though he tends to use the language of filial adoption (cf. Rom. 8.9-17; Gal. 4.5-7), and the Fourth Gospel (cf. 17.21-23).

The language of II Peter is taken up by St Irenaeus, in his famous phrase, 'if the Word has been made man, it is so that men may be made gods' (Adv. Haer V, Pref.), and becomes the standard in Greek theology. In the fourth century St Athanasius repeats Irenaeus almost word for word, and in the fifth century St Cyril of Alexandria says that we shall become sons 'by participation' (Greek methexis). Deification is the central idea in the spirituality of St Maximus the Confessor, for whom the doctrine is the corollary of the Incarnation: 'Deification, briefly, is the encompassing and fulfilment of all times and ages', . . . and St Symeon the New Theologian at the end of the tenth century writes, 'He who is God by nature converses with those whom he has made gods by grace, as a friend converses with his friends, face to face.' . . .

Finally, it should be noted that deification does not mean absorption into God, since the deified creature remains itself and distinct. It is the whole human being, body and soul, who is transfigured in the Spirit into the likeness of the divine nature, and deification is the goal of every Christian. 11

Whether the doctrine of deification is correct or incorrect, it was a part of mainstream Christian orthodoxy for centuries, though some modern Christians with a limited historical view may not be aware of it. If this doctrine became "the standard in Greek theology," and if "deification is the goal of every Christian," then the Latter-day Saints can't be banished from the Christian family for having the same theology and the same goal. If Saint Irenaeus, Saint Justin Martyr, Saint Clement of Alexandria, Saint Athanasius, Saint Cyril of Alexandria, Saint Maximus the Confessor, and Saint Symeon the New Theologian all believed that human beings can become gods, and if these good former-day saints are still to be counted as Christians, then the Latter-day Saints cannot be excluded from Christian circles for believing the same thing. In fact this doctrine is not pagan, nor is it foreign to the larger Christian tradition.12 Since it is found among the theologian/saints from Justin Martyr in the second century to Simeon the New Theologian in the eleventh century, Joseph Smith obviously did not make it up.

There is often much more to the history of Christianity and of Christian doctrine than just what seems familiar and comfortable to twentieth-century conservatives. Yet even among conservative Protestants the doctrine of deification is still occasionally found. Paul Crouch of the Trinity Broadcasting Network says: "I am a little god. I have His name. I am one with Him. I'm in covenant relation. I am a little god. Critics begone." 13 Robert Tilton, a Texas evangelist, says that man is "a God kind of creature. Originally you were designed to be as a god in this world. Man was designed or created by God to be the god of this world.'' 14 Kenneth Copeland, also of Texas, tells his listeners, "You don't have a god in you. You are one!" 15 He writes that "man had total authority to rule as a god over every living creature on earth." 16

Now, in fact, the Latter-day Saints would not agree with the doctrine of deification as understood by most of these evangelists, for in the LDS view we receive the full divine inheritance only through the atonement of Christ and only after a glorious resurrection. Closer to the Latter-day Saint understanding of the doctrine are the views expressed by C. S. Lewis, an individual whose genuine Christianity is virtually undisputed: "It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you sa[w] it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship." 17

Elsewhere Lewis writes that the great promise of Christianity is that humans can share Christ's type of life (Greek zoe rather than bios) and thus can become sons and daughters of God. He explains: "[Christ] came to this world and became a man in order to spread to other men the kind of life He has --by what I call 'good infection.' Every Christian is to become a little Christ."18 In words reminiscent of those used by the Christian Fathers as well as Lorenzo Snow, Lewis succinctly states: "The Son of God became a man to enable men to become sons of God." 19

In a fuller statement of his doctrine of deification, Lewis practically states the LDS view:

The command Be ye perfect is not idealistic gas. Nor is it a command to do the impossible. He is going to make us into creatures that can obey that command. He said (in the Bible) that we were "gods" and He is going to make good His words. If we let Him--for we can prevent Him, if we choose --He will make the feeblest and filthiest of us into a god or goddess, dazzling, radiant, immortal creature, pulsating all through with such energy and joy and wisdom and love as we cannot now imagine, a bright stainless mirror which reflects back to God perfectly (though, of course, on a smaller scale) His own boundless power and delight and goodness. The process will be long and in parts very painful; but that is what we are in for. Nothing less. He meant what He said. 20

If C. S. Lewis can think of human beings as "possible gods and goddesses," if he can maintain that "He will make the feeblest and filthiest of us into a god or goddess," and if he is still to be considered a Christian--then how can the Latter-day Saints be excluded from the Christian family as rank pagans for believing exactly the same things? 21

Critics of the Latter-day Saints may respond that the early Christian saints, the later Greek theologians, and C. S. Lewis all understand the doctrine of deification differently than the Latter-day Saints do, but this is untrue in the case of the early Christians and C. S. Lewis. Anyway, such a response amounts to a quibble, for it retreats abjectly from the claim that deification is a pagan doctrine wholly foreign to true Christianity. It argues instead that deification is a Christian doctrine misunderstood by the Latter-day Saints (and abandoned by most others, I might add). But if that is true, then the doctrinal exclusion is no longer valid when based on this doctrine, for--whether the Latter-day Saints interpret it "correctly" or not--deification is not a doctrine they made up out of thin air or borrowed from ancient paganism, nor is it totally foreign and repugnant to true Christianity, nor does it violate the broad limits of what has historically been considered Christian.

It should be noted here that the LDS doctrine of deification is often misrepresented. Despite what our critics claim, the Latter-day Saints do not believe that human beings will ever become the equals of God, or be independent of God, or that they will ever cease to be subordinate to God. For Latter-day Saints, to become gods means to overcome the world through the atonement of Christ (1 John 5:4-5; Revelation 2:7, 11). Thus we become heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ (Romans 8: 17; Galatians 4:7) and will inherit all things just as Christ inherits all things (1 Corinthians 3:21-23; Revelation 21:7). There are no limitations on these scriptural declarations; we shall inherit all things --including the power to create and to beget. In that glorified state we shall look like our Savior (1 John 3:2; 1 Corinthians 15:49; 2 Corinthians 3:18); we shall receive his glory and be one with him and with the Father (John 17:21-23; Philippians 3:21 ). Sitting with God upon the throne of God, we shall rule over all things (Luke 12:44; Revelation 3:21). (See Biblical Support for Deification)

Now, if the Christian scriptures teach that we will look like God, receive the inheritance of God, receive the glory of God, be one with God, sit upon the throne of God, and exercise the power and rule of God, then surely it cannot be un-Christian to conclude with C. S. Lewis and others that such beings as these can be called gods, as long as we remember that this use of the term gods does not in any way reduce or limit the sovereignty of God our Father. That is how the early Christians used the term; it is how C. S. Lewis used the term; and it is how the Latter-day Saints use the term and understand the doctrine.

The Plurality of Gods

Actually the real objection in modern Christian churches to the doctrine of deification is often that it implies the existence of more than one God. If human beings can become gods and yet remain distinct beings separate from God, it makes for a universe with many gods. Surely C. S. Lewis realized this implication; so did the early Christian saints. Yet like the Latter-day Saints they did not understand this implication to constitute genuine polytheism.

For both the doctrine of deification and the implied doctrine of plurality of gods, an understanding of the definitions involved is essential. So let's be clear on what Latter-day Saints do not believe. They do not believe that humans will ever be equal to or independent of God. His status in relation to us is not in any way compromised. There is only one source of light, knowledge, and power in the universe. If through the gospel of Jesus Christ and the grace of God we receive the fulness of God (Ephesians 3:19) so that we also can be called gods, humans will never become "ultimate" beings in the abstract, philosophical sense. That is, even as they sit on thrones exercising the powers of gods, those who have become gods by grace remain eternally subordinate to the source of that grace; they are extensions of their Father's power and agents of his will. They will continue to worship and serve the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost forever, and will worship and serve no one and nothing else.

If the Latter-day Saints had chosen to refer to such glorified beings as "angels" instead of "gods," it is unlikely anyone outside the LDS church would have objected to the doctrine per se. It seems that it is only the term that is objectionable. And yet the scriptures themselves often use the word god in this limited sense to refer to nonultimate beings.

For example, in Psalm 8 the word gods (Hebrew elohim) is used in reference to the angels: "What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him? For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels [elohim], and hast crowned him with glory and honour." (Vv. 4-5.) Though the Hebrew reads "gods" (elohim), translators and commentators from the Septuagint on, including the author of Hebrews in the New Testament, have understood the expression to refer to the angels (see Hebrews 2:7). The term gods is here applied to beings other than God. Deuteronomy 10:17, Joshua 22:22, and Psalm 136:2 all insist that God is a "God of gods." Clearly this doesn't mean that there are divine competitors out in the cosmos somewhere; rather, these passages probably also refer to the angels in their divinely appointed roles. If the angels can, in some sense, be considered divine beings because they exercise the powers of God and act as his agents, then the one God they serve is correctly considered a "God of gods." Scholars have long known, and the Dead Sea Scrolls and other literature of the period have now proven, that the Jews in Jesus' day commonly referred to the angels as "gods" (Hebrew elim or elohim) in this nonultimate sense. 22 This is not because the Jews were polytheists, but because they used the term god in a limited sense to refer to other beings associated with God whom he allowed the privilege of exercising divine powers.

But human beings are also called "gods" in scripture, probably for the same reasons that the angels are--they, as well as the angels, can exercise the powers of God and act as his agents. Thus Moses is designated a "god to Pharaoh" (Exodus 7:1 ). This doesn't mean that Moses had become an exalted or ultimate being, but only that he had been given divine powers and was authorized to represent God to Pharaoh, even to the point of speaking God's word in the first person. If the scriptures can refer to a mortal human being like Moses as a "god" in this sense, then surely immortal human beings who inherit the fulness of God's and authority in the resurrection can be understood to be "gods" in the same sense.

In Exodus 21:6 and 22:8-9 human judges are referred to in the Hebrew text as elohim ("gods"). In Psalm 45:6 the king is referred to as an elohim. Human leaders and judges are also referred to as "gods" in the following passage from the book of Psalms: "God standeth in the congregation of the mighty; he judgeth among the gods .... I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High. But ye shall die like men, and fall like one of the princes." (Psalm 82: 1,6-7.) Jewish and Christian biblical scholars alike have understood this passage as applying the term gods to human beings. According to James S. Ackerman, who is not a Mormon, "the overwhelming majority of commentators have interpreted this passage as referring to Israelite judges who were called 'gods' because they had the high responsibility of dispensing justice according to God's Law." 23

In the New Testament, at John 10:34-36, we read that Jesus himself quoted Psalm 82:6 and interpreted the term gods as referring to human beings who had received the word of God: "Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods? If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken; say ye of him, whom the Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest; because I said, I am the Son of God?" In other words, 'If the scriptures [Psalm 82] can refer to mortals who receive the word of God as "gods," then why get upset with me for merely saying I am the Son of God?' The Savior's argument was effective precisely because the scripture does use the term gods in this limited way to refer to human beings. According to J. A. Emerton, who is also not a Mormon, "most exegetes are agreed that the argument is intended to prove that men can, in certain circumstances, be called gods .... [Jesus] goes back to fundamental principles and argues, more generally, that the word 'god' can, in certain circumstances, be applied to beings other than God himself, to whom he has committed authority." 24

And that, in a nutshell, is the LDS view. Whether in this life or the next, through Christ human beings can be given the powers of God and the authority of God. Those who receive this great inheritance can properly be called gods. They are not gods in the Greek philosophic sense of "ultimate beings," nor do they compete with God, the source of their inheritance, as objects of worship. They remain eternally his begotten sons and daughters --therefore, never equal to him nor independent of him. Orthodox theologians may argue that Latter-day Saints shouldn't use the term gods for nonultimate beings, but this is because the Latter-day Saints' use of the term violates Platonic rather than biblical definitions. Both in the scriptures and in earliest Christianity those who received the word of God were called gods.

I don't need to repeat here the views of Christian saints and theologians cited above on the doctrine of deification. But it should be noted that for them, as for the Latter-day Saints, the doctrine of deification implied a plurality of "gods" but not a plurality of Gods. That is, it did not imply polytheism. Saint Clement of Alexandria was surely both a monotheist and a Christian, and yet he believed that those who are perfected through the gospel of Christ "are called by the appellation of gods, being destined to sit on thrones with the other gods that have been first installed in their places by the Savior." 25 This is good LDS doctrine. If Clement, the Christian saint and theologian, could teach that human beings will be called gods and will sit on thrones with others who have been made gods by Jesus Christ, how in all fairness can Joseph Smith be declared a polytheist and a non-Christian for teaching the same thing?

In harmony with widely recognized scriptural and historical precedents, Latter-day Saints use the term gods to describe those who will, through the grace of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ, receive of God's fulness -- of his divine powers and prerogatives-in the resurrection. Thus, for Latter-day Saints the question "Is there more than one god?" is not the same as "Is there more than one source of power or object of worship in the universe?" For Latter-day Saints, as for Saint Clement, the answer to the former is yes, but the answer to the latter is no. For Latter-day Saints the term god is a title which can be extended to those who receive the power and authority of God as promised to the faithful in the scriptures; but such an extension of that title does not challenge, limit, or infringe upon the ultimate and absolute position and authority of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.

When anti-Mormon critics interpret Exodus 7: 1, Deuteronomy 10:17, Psalm 8:5 (in Hebrew), Psalm 45:6, Psalm 82:6, or John 10:34-36, they go to great lengths to clarify that these scriptures use the term god in a limited sense and that therefore they do not involve any polytheism --there may be more than one "god," but there is only one God. When they discuss Latter-day Saint writings that use the term god in the same sense, however, the critics seldom offer the same courtesy. Instead they disallow any limited sense in which the term gods can be used when that term occurs in LDS sources, thereby distorting and misinterpreting our doctrine, and then accuse us of being "polytheists" for speaking of "gods" in a sense for which there are valid scriptural and historical precedents.

Other Christian saints, theologians, and writers--both ancient and modern--have believed human beings can become "gods" but have not been accused of polytheism, because the "gods" in this sense were viewed as remaining forever subordinate to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Since this is also the doctrine of the Latter-day Saints, they also ought to enjoy the same defense against the charge of polytheism. Since these other Christians and the Latter-day Saints share the same doctrine, they should share the same fate; either make polytheist heretics of the saints, theologians, and writers in question, or allow the Latter-day Saints to be considered worshippers of the one true God.


The doctrinal exclusion is invalid often on general principles because it demands doctrinal conformity to a standard that does not really exist, to a "pure" Christianity which cannot be agreed upon by all Christians. Therefore it is a moving target which changes from denomination to denomination; all parties demand that Latter-day Saints be more "orthodox," but each defines "orthodoxy" differently. The doctrinal exclusion assumes that Christianity is one monolithic point of view when in fact the multiplicity of Christian denominations witnesses that it is not. Those who employ the doctrinal exclusion often recognize only two categories: those whose doctrine agrees with their own and those who are "not Christians." But without a third category--that is, Christians whose doctrine is different than one's own but who are still Christians --the very idea of a family of independent Christian denominations is impossible.

Still, the claim is made that certain LDS doctrines are so bizarre, so totally foreign to biblical or historical Christianity, that they simply cannot be tolerated. In terms of the LDS doctrines most often criticized on these grounds, however --the doctrine of deification and its corollary, the plurality of gods--this claim does not hold up to historical scrutiny. Early Christian saints and theologians, later Greek Orthodoxy, modern Protestant evangelists, and even C. S. Lewis have all professed their belief in a doctrine of deification. The scriptures themselves talk of many "gods" and use the term god in a limited sense for beings other than the Father, the Son, or the Holy Ghost. If this language is to be tolerated in scripture and in ancient and modern orthodox Christians without cries of "polytheism!" then it must be similarly tolerated in the Latter-day Saints. If scripture can use the term gods for nonultimate beings, if the early Church could, if Christ himself could, then Latter-day Saints cannot conceivably be accused of being outside the Christian tradition for using the same term in the same way.

Again, I am not arguing that the doctrine is true, although I certainly believe it is. I am only arguing that other Christians of unimpeachable orthodoxy have believed in deification long before the Latter-day Saints came along, and that it has been accepted and tolerated in them as part of their genuine Christianity. Fair play demands the same treatment for the Latter-day Saints.

(See Response to Criticism home page; Are Mormons Christians? home page; Man Can Attain Godhood: Ancient Evidence for Modern Mormon Doctrine by Darrick T. Evenson; Biblical Support for Deification; Godhood; Early Christian Deification)


1. President Snow often referred to this couplet as having been revealed to him by inspiration during the Nauvoo period of the Church. See, for example, Deseret Weekly 49 (3 November 1894): 610; Deseret Weekly 57{8 October 1898): 513; Deseret News 52 (15 June 1901): 177; and Journal History of the Church, 20 July 1901, p. 4.

2. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, bk. 5, pref.

3. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 4.38. Cp. 4.11 (2): "But man receives progression and increase towards God. For as God is always the same, so also man, when found in God, shall always progress towards God."

4. Clement of Alexandria, Exhortation to the Greeks, 1.

5. Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, 3.1. See also Clement, Stromateis, 23.

6. Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, 124.

7. Athanasius, Against the Arians, 1.39, 3.34.

8. Athanasius, De Inc., 54.

9. Augustine, On the Psalms, 50.2. Augustine insists that such individuals are gods by grace rather than by nature, but they are gods nevertheless.

10. Richard P. McBrien, Catholicism, 2 vols. (Minneapolis: Winston Press, 1980}, 1: 146, 156; emphasis in original.

11. Symeon Lash, "Deification," in The Westminster Dictionary of Christian Theology, ed. Alan Richardson and John Bowden (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1983), pp. 147-48.

12. For a longer treatment of this subject, see Jules Gross, La divinisation du chrétien d’après les peres grecs (Paris: J. Gabalda 1938).

13. Paul Crouch, "Praise the Lord," Trinity Broadcasting Network, 7 July 1986.

14. Robert Tilton, God's Laws of Success (Dallas: Word of Faith, 1983), pp. 170-71.

15. Kenneth Copeland, The Force of Love (Fort Worth: Kenneth Copeland, n.d.), tape BCC-56.

16. Kenneth Copeland, The Power of the Tongue (Fort Worth: Kenneth Copeland, n.d.), p. 6. I am not arguing that these evangelists are mainline evangelicals (though they would insist that they are), only that they are Protestants with large Christian followings.

17. C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses, rev. ed. (New York: Macmillan, Collier Books, 1980), p. 18.

18. C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Macmillan, 1952; Collier Books, 1960), p. 153. Cp. p. 164, where Lewis describes Christ as "finally, if all goes well, turning you permanently into a different sort of thing; into a new little Christ, a being which, in its own small way, has the same kind of life as God; which shares in His power, joy, knowledge and eternity." See also C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, rev. ed. (New York: Macmillan, 1982), p. 38, where the tempter Screwtape complains that God intends to fill heaven with "little replicas of Himself."

19. Lewis, Mere Christianity, p. 154.

20. Lewis, Mere Christianity, pp. 174-75. For a more recent example of the doctrine of deification in modern, non-LDS Christianity, see M. Scott Peck, The Road Less Traveled (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1978), pp. 269-70: "For no matter how much we may like to pussyfoot around it, all of us who postulate a loving God and really think about it eventually come to a single terrifying idea: God wants us to become Himself (or Herself or Itself). We are growing toward godhood."

21. Most critics are surprised to know how highly the thinking of C. S. Lewis is respected by Latter-day Saint readers.

22. See, for example, John Strugnell, The Angelic Liturgy at Qumran --4 Q Serek Sirot 'Olat Hassabat in Supplements to Vetus Testamentum VII [Congress Volume, Oxford 1959], (Leiden: Brill, 1960), pp. 336-38, or A. S. van der Woude, "Melchisedek als himmlische Eri6sergestalt in den neugefundenen eschatologischen Midraschim aus Qumran H6hle XI," Oudtestamentische Studien 14 {1965): 354-73.

23. James S. Ackerman, "The Rabbinic Interpretation of Psalm 82 and the Gospel of John," Harvard Theological Review 59 (April 1966): 186.

24. J. A. Emerton, "The Interpretation of Psalm 82 in John 10," Journal of Theological Studies 11 (April 1960): 329, 332. This was also the view of Saint Augustine in writing of this passage in On the Psalms, 50.2: "It is evident, then, that he has called men 'gods,' who are deified by his grace" (cf. also 97.12).

25. Clement of Alexandria, Stromateis, 7.10.

Are Mormons Christians?, Chapter 6

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