(See my disclaimer in Part 1 concerning the title)
So, let’s discuss some of the less-acknowledged ways Mormons and evangelicals are alike. First we’ll start with things in evangelical thought which bear an unexpected resemblance to LDS thought.
The trappings of celestial sex
It’s pretty common in evangelical circles to attack the Mormon view of the afterlife on three points pertaining to human sexuality:
- A belief in marriage in the next life. This is seen as contradicting Matthew 22:29-30.
- A belief in the continuance of literal, physical sexual intercourse in the next life, or at least a belief that it will still be possible but maybe not necessary. This shows… I don’t know. That Mormons are perverts, I guess.
- A belief in procreation in the next life, which is taken to mean that women will be literally pregnant again and again for eternity. This shows that Mormons are inconsiderate of women.
Mormons offer miscellaneous apologetics to these attacks,1 but I wanted to probe the objections from a different angle. Let’s go back to the creation account of Adam and Eve. What would evangelicals say the world would be like had there never been a Fall? Seems to me that you can make a case that humanity would have had:
- Eternal marriage. Adam and Eve were husband and wife, and if they had never died, their marriage would have lasted for eternity.
- Eternal sex. They were married, and they were ordered to procreate (Genesis 1:28), so why not? Some would object that since they did not know they were naked, they couldn’t have known how to have sex, but I think this objection is overruled by what we see in nature. Animals don’t know that they’re naked and they seem perfectly capable of sex, so why not Adam and Eve?
- Endless, pain-free childbirth. Again, they’d been ordered to procreate, and after the Fall, God tells the woman that He will multiply her pain in childbirth (Genesis 3:16), a pronouncement that makes little sense if there hadn’t already been a system of painless childbirth in place before that.2 Since Eve and her descendants were going to live forever, I can only assume that the pregnancies were going to be fairly continuous.
When evangelicals criticize Mormons on these points, they’re really only criticizing Mormons for believing that humanity will one day return to the system that was apparently in place in the Garden of Eden. I’m especially opposed to the trend I see of evangelicals belittling Mormons for these beliefs as being too sensational and silly. We can argue over Matthew 22:29-30 as much as we like, but we should not try to dismiss these ideas by appealing to ridicule.
If the Mormon doctrine of “becoming gods” means that Mormons will one day be to other people what God is to us now—a chain of Gods ruling over their own universes and worlds—then there is nothing in evangelical thought which resembles that. However, some Mormons have told me that they don’t believe exaltation will involve becoming God to other spirits. Some have told me that they’re either unsure on this point or they definitely don’t think they’ll ever be what God is now.
Some evangelicals are advocating a return to an evangelical understanding of deification. Back in March I did a lengthy post at LDS & Evangelical Conversations on the subject—and you’ll notice that the first person to comment on the post was Aaron Shafovaloff from Mormonism Research Ministry, and he agreed with me. Jessica, an evangelical who runs a blog called I Love Mormons and takes a more evangelistic approach to Mormonism than I do, called my post “very good, sound, Biblical teaching on this subject,” so plenty of evangelicals who don’t share in my “liberal” approach to Mormonism were able to agree with me on this. See also this article by Robert V. Rakestraw, “Becoming Like God: An Evangelical Doctrine of Theosis.”
Point being, there is some room for the two camps to move closer together on this issue. It is not as simple as condemning Mormons for believing they will “become gods.”
Rewards in heaven, degrees of punishment in hell?
It’s commonly thought that evangelicals believe in one heaven and one hell, therefore, the man who confesses Christ at age 95 on his death bed will get the same reward in heaven as the believer who accepted Christ at age 5 and labored for the Lord throughout her entire life. Likewise, the unbeliever who slouched through life committing some of the more common sins but nothing really unusual will get the same punishment in hell as Adolf Hitler. Some evangelicals definitely believe that.
However, some of us believe that there will be different rewards in heaven that go above and beyond salvation in the kingdom of heaven, as well as degrees of anguish in hell. This certainly isn’t the same as the LDS view of the afterlife with its demi-universalism, but an agreement in the existence of degrees of rewards and punishments is a similar system of thought.
In June of last year, I began attending a local church which was affiliated with the NewFrontiers family of churches. I was somewhat surprised to see this article on my new church home’s web site:
1) Are apostles for today?
When Jesus ascended on high, He gave apostles, prophets, evangelists and pastors/teachers. Many evangelical teachers have supposed that some of the ministries listed in Ephesians 4 were temporary and existed only in the early church, while others were permanent. They usually continue their argument by saying that the Scriptures are now complete. Since we have an authoritative canon of Scripture, including the writings of the apostles, we no longer need further apostles. They are preoccupied with the establishment of the canon of scripture rather than the pragmatics of the apostolic work of church planting and world evangelisation.
Commentators from the reformation onwards have seen it as their responsibility to defend the scriptures from the Roman Catholic teaching of apostolic succession and ex-cathedra statements that claimed apostolic authority. They were not preoccupied with the ongoing missionary work of an apostle. The result was that local churches were seen as static and built on scripture, while isolated individuals could leave those churches and become “missionaries”. In contrast, our burning passion is to see apostolic churches focussed [sic] on world mission together. (emphasis mine)
I couldn’t help but smile when I read that. NewFrontiers isn’t ordaining men to an office labeled “apostle,” but they desire to raise up “apostolic churches.” They seem to want some kind of claim to apostle-ism without a direct line of succession to point to.
However, a belief in authoritative succession is more common in the traditional Christian world than some evangelicals and Latter-day Saints think. An LDS commentator at Tim’s blog once stated that, “Only two can claim legitimate authority passed from one man to another as it was done in Christ’s time. They are the LDS Church and the Catholics. All the rest can make no such claim.” As far as traditional Christianity goes, this line of thinking ignores the succession claims of the Orthodox Churches, the Anglican Communion, and some Lutherans, Methodists and Anabaptist groups.
I had intended this to be a two-part series, but I think it will be best if I break the remaining material into a final post. So this Saturday I’ll cover LDS doctrines which parallel Protestant thought in ways Latter-day Saints might not expect.
 For an LDS response on whether the LDS doctrine of eternal marriage contradicts Matthew 22:29-30, see this brochure by the late Marc Schindler at FAIR. For some LDS responses on whether or not women will be eternally pregnant, see for example:
A mental picture is thus drawn [by The God Makers film] which is supposed to be repugnant to today’s “liberated” women and somehow un-Christian. In reality, God has not yet completely revealed the process by which spirit children are added to His eternal family (of which we are all a part). But surely the process is more sophisticated than the nine-month gestation period and pregnancy through which mortal women suffer to give birth. It was only after the Fall that God said to the woman Eve, “I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children.” Therefore “pregnant” is a term which in all likelihood is applicable only to the post-Fall mortal condition.
See also the discussion by Geoff J. at New Cool Thang on whether or not there is such a thing as viviparous spirit birth.
 I’m aware that Latter-day Saints will disagree with this take on pre-Fall procreation due to Moses 5:11, but bear with me here. Remember that I’m not arguing here that the LDS doctrine of the Fall is wrong; I’m only attempting to show how similar ideas exist in traditional Christian thought.