Given his influence on Joseph Fielding Smith and Bruce R. McConkie, and through them the CES, the theology of Orson Pratt has always been there, just below the surface. I doubt most members are even aware of the development, but of late there has been some very interesting work done on the philosophy of the Mormon concept of God. The leader in this has been David Paulsen of BYU’s philosophy department. He recently gave an interview with an evangelical website, which is available here. This is what he has to say about the nature of God:
Our first Article of Faith affirms our belief in the New Testament Godhead. It states simply: “We believe in God the Eternal Father, in his son Jesus Christ and in the Holy Ghost.” We reject the traditional, but extra-biblical, idea that these three persons constitute one metaphysical substance, affirming rather that they constitute one perfectly united, and mutually indwelling, divine community. We use the word “God” to designate the divine community as well as to designate each individual divine person. Thus our understanding of the Godhead coincides closely with what is known in contemporary Christian theology as “social trinitarianism.” This, we believe, is the model of the Godhead portrayed in the New Testament.
Although, the idea of referring to the Godhead as God is a little odd to some Mormons, it has a long pedigree in our theology, going back to the work of Orson Pratt. Recently, Blake Ostler has laid out a fuller version of this theory in a paper entitled “Re-visioning the Mormon Concept of God.” There are some interesting implications of this. According to Paulsen:
Given the plurality of divine persons, how can there be but one God? In at least at least three ways: (1) there is only one perfectly united, mutually indwelling, divine community. We call that community “God” and there is only one such. (2) There is only one God the Father or fount of divinity. (3) There is only one divine nature or set of properties severally necessary and jointly sufficient for divinity.
I understand this to be a rejection of the idea that God the Father had a father who then had a father and so on ad infinitum. This, as I understand it, was the doctrine taught by Brigham Young, and I believe Joseph Smith. However, our “official” theology (to the extent that we have such a thing) has always been murky on this point. Ostler and Paulsen seem to be presenting a tidier, more unified, and not incidentally more palatable to other Christians version of Mormon theology. However, I can’t help but find Brigham’s version a little more exciting.