Mormonism and the Spirit/Word/Faith Paradigm

I have been asked on several occasions how I would deal with the Mormon claim of the “burning in the bosom” and its similarity or identicality with the Spirit/Word/Faith paradigm propounded here and other places in defense of the inspiration and authority of the Christian Scriptures.

The short answer is that I would not abandon the clear teaching of Scripture because Mormons have co-opted Christian language and I certainly would not resort to saying that we have 99% of the NT based on oldest and best evidence only to turn around and try to make the same or more dire case for the Book of Mormon.

Instead, I would do what A. A. Howsepian did in his 1995 journal article entitled, Are Mormons Theists? The argument here is philosophical and theological in nature and strikes at the very heart of Mormonism by offering several well-reasoned defeaters which undercut the Mormon’s belief in a god. If their god is not properly a god or the God, then comparisons between “burning in the bosom” and the Spirit/Word/Faith paradigm are wholly unwarranted – the former being a merely subjective feeling precipitated by an “exalted” finite being among other “exalted” finite beings and the latter is the sui generis Triune God in the person of the Holy Spirit speaking to His people through His words.

Howsepian first observes that if the Mormon Elohim is God then he was once a finite being and has become an infinite being [via exaltation] which is not possible. Finite things cannot become infinite simply because at some point said being begins to possess omni-like powers. But assuming this were the case, the finitude of Elohim is not erased by his infinitude at some later point. Elohim had a beginning and still has a beginning and as such cannot not be infinite in being as to time, knowledge, or experience. Still, Howsepian observes that it is possible that what Mormons mean to say is, “Elohim, having once been an (unexalted) man, used to be a finite being of a certain stature. But as a result of his obedience to the laws and ordinances of his God(s), Elohim was elevated to a more exalted station of finitude” [362]. Either way, Elohim remains finite.

What is more, Howsepian points out that in some way or fashion the Mormon gods or Godhead continue to grow in their respective powers. Now there is debate about the nature of this growth but it is growth nonetheless. Howsepian observes, “At any rate, however one chooses to understand the manner in which Mormon Gods eternally progress, it is clear that within the bounds of traditional Mormon metaphysics, neither the Heavenly Father, nor the Heavenly Mother, nor Jesus the Son, nor the Holy Ghost are (individually) ‘greatest possible beings’. For it is metaphysically possible, for example, both for Elohim to have been greater (i.e. more progressed) than he presently is and for there to exist beings greater than Elohim; in fact, according to traditional Mormon theology, there actually are such beings, the Father God and Grandfather God of Elohim, for example. For, according to the doctrine of eternal progression (however one chooses to understood it), Elohim’s Heavenly Father has progressed to a degree of glory greater than the Son whom he organized.” [363]

As such the Elohim of this world is not the greatest being when compared to Elohim’s Father and Grandfather. Elohim is then a finite creature that is more powerful than the creatures over which he rules on planet earth. The Mormon Elohim is not the first God or the only God or the most powerful God. Rather for Mormons, the God of this world is on some continuum between the relative power of the god before him and the relative power of the humans that walk this planet. But this is not to say that the Mormons are ignorant of the unique Omni-God of Christianity. They fact is, as Howsepian observes, the Mormons are very aware of such a construal but they reject it. Howsepian writes,

“It is of importance to point out at this juncture, that the Mormon Church does not merely not believe in the existence of any genuine Gods, but that it in fact teaches that the Anselmian theistic alternatives as found, for example, in traditional Christianity, have been carefully considered and explicitly rejected. In light of this explicit rejection of theistic religion in conjunction with the lack of Mormon ontological resources necessary for constituting even one genuine God, I provisionally conclude that Mormons are not polytheists (or even doxapolytheists) as is widely believed, but that they are in fact atheists” [364-365].

Since Mormons reject the existence of a singular and unique Omni-God perhaps it is best and more gracious to understand Elohim as merely the perfect one of his kind rather than ultimately or absolutely perfect as with the Omni-God of Anselm. Let’s say this “perfect one of its kind” appears to be equivalent to the Omni-God of Anselm to the normal human mind. First, Mormons can conceive of a greater god than Elohim because they can conceive of the god that “exalted” Elohim [i.e., Elohim’s Father]. In this sense Elohim cannot be the perfect one of its kind. First, because he is created and second, because he is created by a greater god. What is more, Elohim could be greater than he is were he created earlier in the generation of gods. So Elohim could be greater than he currently is, but alas he is not.

Howsepian goes on, “Perhaps there is some manner of adequately construing deity which has escaped us and which can comfortably accommodate the so-called Gods of traditional Mormonism. But, frankly, I see no alternate way in which this would be possible. One would not, after all, be warranted in claiming that whatever possessed some (but not all) of the properties of deity and was worshipped by a faith community must, in virtue of these properties and practices alone, be a genuine God” [367]. Indeed, what it appears we are dealing with in Mormonism is something akin and that by degree to Emperor worship like that in Ancient Rome or Imperial Japan minus the stateism.

Howsepian concludes thusly, “There is, as I see it, an ineliminable arbitrariness to what counts as something’s being considered to be a God within a Mormon ontological framework. In Anselmian monotheism, there is no such arbitrariness involved in virtue of the fact that the Anselmian God is both sui generis and unsurpassably great. But in Mormonism, each member of a class of beings is considered to be divine none of which is either sui generis or unsurpassably great. The question then arises : What reason is there to think that only beings in that class are genuine deities which deserve our worship? None that I can see. One might further ask, as I have in this essay : What reason is there to think that any beings in that class are genuine deities? Again, as I have argued above, none that I can see.” 

Therefore it is fair to conclude that Mormons neither believe in nor serve a deity properly so called. Rather they serve deified creatures which posses the powers of deity [whatever those may be] and as such serve no God or gods at all. Ultimately then, as Howsepian points out “Mormonism is actually a sophisticated form of atheism.” And if atheism, then there is no comparison to be made between “burning in the bosom” and the Spirit of God speaking through the words of God to the people of God.

One thought on “Mormonism and the Spirit/Word/Faith Paradigm

  1. Thank you for the thorough explanation. I hadn’t seen the connection between the Mormon doctrine of eternal progress and atheism, but it is clear that a deified being doesn’t fit the definition of a god.

    Liked by 1 person

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