Unresolved Tensions in the Mormon Doctrines of God, Man, and Salvation During Three Critical Periods of Development
Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
This dissertation argues that there are unresolved doctrinal tensions in several Mormon doctrines. While many Mormon scholars have assumed that the same doctrinal views have been taught since the founding of the church in 1830, the weight of historical evidence argues directly against this assumption and indirectly against the church's claim to have exclusive possession of true doctrines. There have been three periods of doctrinal development in the Mormon church. During the first five years of the church's existence, 1830-1835, Joseph Smith taught the doctrines of early Mormonism. From 1835 until the 1950s, the doctrines of traditional Mormonism were taught. Mormon neo-absolutist, which arose in the 1950s and has sometimes been referred to it as Mormon neo-orthodoxy, has attempted to return to the more absolute, infinite view of God early Mormonism. Early Mormons taught that God was completely omniscient and omnipotent. There was no knowledge or power that God did not possess. Traditional Mormons redefined God's nature in light of the emerging unique Mormon metaphysics. Since God exists within an environment of intelligences, matter, time, space, and laws, he cannot be completely omniscient or omnipotent. Mormon neo-absolutist have returned to the early Mormon view that God possesses all knowledge and power without limitations. Early Mormonism taught that humans are finite, fallen, and sinful creatures who must be saved from condemnation primarily through the means of grace. Traditional Mormons embraced Joseph Smith's later teachings that humans have the same ontological status as God; therefore, they developed a more optimistic view of human nature and the potential for human exaltation to divine status. Humans could be exalted primarily through human effort and assisted only to a lesser degree by the grace of God. These historical changes in Mormon doctrines have contributed to a shift in the Mormon view of faith and reason. Until the rise of Mormon neo-absolutism, Mormons believed that their faith was rational and reconcilable with science. Because neo-absolutists have not been able to reconcile their views of God with the unique Mormon metaphysics, they have diminished the value of reason, science, and education for faith.