LDS Christology & Trinitarian Christology: A Comparison

The following is part of an email I sent to an Evangelical friend. I discuss the differences between LDS Christology and mainstream Trinitarian Christology. For those who don’t know, Christology is basically the study of what Christ is, answering the question of how a God could also be a man. I first describe Trinitarian views of God and man, then I describe my take on the LDS view of God and man. Then I explain why I find Trinitarian Christology to be problematic. Everything after this sentence is from that email.

Christology happens to be something I’ve been focusing on lately. LDS differ from mainstream Christians in our understanding of the difference between the divine and man. Our mainstream Christian friends (yourself included) envision God to be “totally other” in terms of our “order of being.” By “order of being” I essentially refer to what kind of species we are. For example, all dogs are of the order “dog”, and all cats are of the order “cat.” Dogs and cats are of different “orders of being.” Different species. God is understood by mainstream Christians to be a totally different order of being from man, like two different species. The nature of God and the nature of man are incompatible, they are different (in your view). I’ve even been told by an Evangelical that our relationship to God is analogous to a man and his dogs. The man loves his dogs, takes care of his dogs, and wants them to be with him. But, the dogs are dogs, the man is a man, and they simply can never be the same species. This leads into the doctrine of the hypostatic union, which I will address later.

LDS of course disagree with that idea. We instead envision God and man to be the same essential “order of being.” We are two of the same species, but on different ends of a spectrum or continuum of maturity and glory. On one end we have man, who is mortal, sinful, and weak. On the other end of the spectrum we have our Father, who is immortal, righteous, and powerful. We are fundamentally made of the same stuff, we are the same species. However, man has not developed his full potential. Here is a soundbite for you: “Divinity is the full maturity of humanity.”

Therefore, it is absolutely consistent for LDS to claim that Jesus Christ is both “fully God and fully man.” We don’t recognize a fundamental difference between the species, like you do. Jesus Christ is a man, but he is on the other end of the spectrum from us. When he came to Earth, he emptied himself of those attributes that are incompatible with mortality, but retained those attributes which are essential to the station of “God”. This is essentially the biblical doctrine of “kenosis.”

We believe that the great gospel of Jesus Christ is designed to help men move along the spectrum, further from darkness and sin and closer to light and glory.

Now, I promised some comments on the Hypostatic Union. The Council of Chalcedon was meant to resolve the tension between different groups who were trying to solve the logical problems associated with uniting two incompatible natures, God and man (incompatible to them, not to Mormons).

Here is an illustration, not meant to be exhaustive. According to traditional Christian beliefs, God has 5 basic attributes that man cannot have:

1. Uncreated   2. Incorporeal   3. Omniscient   4. Omnipotent   5. Omnipresent

Likewise, man has 5 basic attributes that God can not have:

1′. Created   2′. Corporeal   3′. Not Omniscient   4′. Not Omnipotent   5′. Not Omnipresent

It is logically impossible for the same person to hold attributes 1 and 1′ at the same time and in the same respect. The same goes for all of the attributes 1-5 and 1′-5′. I will focus my remarks on 1 and 1′.

According to your view of God, he is uncreated. He necessarily exists ontologically. According to your view of man, he is created ex nihilo. Man is created from absolutely nothing. It is obvious that a being can not be both uncreated and created. Nevertheless, this is exactly what the Hypostatic Union says. It claims that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, possesses the attributes of God in his entire person. He is the union of two natures, not the mixture of them, and not a third hybrid nature. He is the union of two totally incompatible natures.

I argue that this is an absurdity and a logical impossibility. It is impossible for a being to be both uncreatead, and created ex nihilo. Mainstream Christian Christology is utterly incomprehensible, and defies logic. On the other hand, Mormon Christology makes logical sense and is believable.

It won’t do to try and settle the issue by claiming that Jesus is uncreated in his divine nature, and created in his human nature. As LDS philosopher Blake Ostler says:

“However, this strategy will not work if the property is possessed by the entire person rather than just by some aspect of that person. For example, as a Caucasian I am light skinned but dark haired. I am thus both light and dark, but in different respects. It would be a contradiction only if I were said to be light and dark in the same respects, or with respect to my entire person. However, I am a human being with respect to my entire person and not just in some aspect of my person. It is thus inconsistent to say that I am a human being but I also have a property that no human being can have, such as being uncreated. The two-nature theory is ultimately incoherent because the entire person of Christ is essentially uncreated (ontologically necessary) as God whereas humans are necessarily created (ontologically contingent)—at least in [the Evangelical’s] view. [The Evangelical] Christology thus implicitly violates the law of noncontradiction. Nothing can be both created and uncreated in the same respects.”

If Jesus is not “fully God and fully man” in his entire person, can we really call him “fully God and fully man”? Do we not now have two persons?

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11 comments on “LDS Christology & Trinitarian Christology: A Comparison

  1. ShemaYisrael says:

    Although I do disagree with the hypostatic union, in trinitarian theology it is possible to say that Jesus is fully God and fully man because it is in the person of Jesus that the Eternal Word unites with human nature. It is the Eternal word who is uncreated, and Jesus (as regards his humanity) who is created. Jesus did not exist prior to the incarnation, but rather it was the Eternal Word who existed.

  2. James says:

    Hello Shema. I’m glad you stopped by.

    I’m not sure that your explanation does anything towards solving the puzzle. You gave the same basic reply that I warned against at the end of my post, and of which I quote Blake Ostler.

  3. aquinas says:

    I’m curious to know how your friend responds.

  4. Blake says:

    I’d say good post but … um … well, I just wouldn’t be proper now would it? To give an idea how this problem is problematic. Is Jesus, who is both omniscient as Son of God all knowing? If he isn’t, then the divine nature isn’t present in him since the Son of God is essentially omniscient. Yet Jesus doesn’t know the date of the second coming. So there is at least one thing he doesn’t know. It follows that Jesus isn’t both fully divine and also human — for no human could be omniscient given traditional assumptions. If as a human he is omniscient but doesn’t know it, then he isn’t omniscient after all.

    Is Jesus omnipotent? If he is, then he has properties that no human can have. If he isn’t, then he isn’t God. It won’t do to say that Jesus is omnipotent he just can’t exercise that power as a human, then he isn’t omnipotent because he cannot exercise his power — and he isn’t omniscient because he has a power that he doesn’t know how to excercise.

    To say that Christ, as a human, is created, but as a divine person isn’t, is like saying that Fido as a dog is uncreated but as a mammal isn’t. It is a contradictory assertion because natures characterize the entire person.

  5. I’m late to the party, but wanted to comment.

    ShemaYisrael seems to be making a common mistake in the reading of the first chapter of the Gospel of John.

    The Word, in that chapter, is Jesus Christ. The Eternal Word or the Word, both are titles of Jesus Christ.

    Plug in Jesus Christ for “Word” in that chapter, and it makes logical sense. To explain the Eternal Word as something other than Jesus Christ breaks down and means nothing.

  6. Pat says:

    This is a truly excellently thought out post, and even though I’m horribly late to the party (and possibly crashing it), I would like to offer a Trinitarian response ( and I’m not here to bash any beliefs). What has been grasped here concerning the real difficulty of the Incarnation is wonderful, and I wish that more Trinitarians would be confronted by this argument and meditate on its implications and quit being so theologically complacent.
    Today, we are all to quick to fail to make the vital distinction between truth and reality. Modernity has left us with a confidence in truth and reason that has been both our blessing and our bane. If something is true, it is an accurate representation of reality, but not the reality itself. Furthermore, we often think of the accuracy of the representation as though it were solely contingent upon itself, yet a representation has not represented anything until it has been interpreted and understood by someone, and even then, the understanding itself is still a representation, distinct from the original reality on which it is based. thus we have to concede that truth cannot escape a subjective nature. Reality, on the other hand, is objective, and though any attempt to describe reality in truths will be subjective, it does not prevent truths from being accurate in various degrees, that is, effective at representing particular facets of reality. Basically I can describe the apple tree in my backyard with effective accuracy, but I cannot describe it perfectly because it is too complex, and your understanding of my tree may be very good, but it won’t be as good as my understanding of it because you have never seen it, but no matter how truthfully I represent it, or how accurately you understand it, you will never be able to eat an apple from your understanding of my tree.
    Trinitarian Christianity is more about eating the apple than perfectly understanding the tree. The modern mind is likely to interpret “the Word” in John 1 as the eternal truth of God, but a more sound reading that is truer to the original Greek use of “logos” would be the eternal reality of God that orders the cosmos. Thus, the reality of God becomes flesh. Rather than God’s ultimate act of self disclosure coming in the form of an idea, philosophy, doctrine, science, or some mere representation of the divine reality, God actually indwells his own created image. That God enters into creation so profoundly and seamlessly, that that the Church continually receives the real body and blood of this impossible union as a sacrament, and that through Christ humans can partake in his divine nature and enter into the love and community that exists within the Triune God is absolutely absurd. This absurdity was not lost on nor avoided by the Church Fathers. We read their theological formulations through a modern lens and their logical inconsistencies lay naked and obvious before us as we simply assume that their dogmas were intended to be thorough systematic explanations of truth. The Church Father’s were not primarily philosophers or scholars, but members of the clergy or monastic orders, and then philosophers and scholars. They were concerned with how to talk about the indescribable work of God not in a way that did justice in representing the reality of God, but in a way that was worshipful and effective at directing believers toward a humble encounter with the mystery that is the saving work of Christ.
    Much of what I have put forth would scandalize many Trinitarian Christians, especially Evangelicals, but Evangelicals would probably have scandalized the Church Father’s as well. Most lay Trinitarians, and even much of the clergy, sadly, have swallowed the creeds through the lens of modernity and lost sight of the mystery and aesthetic of the zen-like riddle that defined proper worship in what was originally an ancient near-Eastern religion. Again, you are absolutely right to point out that there is a tremendous logical inconsistency in Trinitarian Christological formulations- keep arguing that because it is a point that Trinitarians need to hear, but Evangelicalism has become in many ways a theological straw man of Christianity. I don’t want to take anything away from their religious experience, but their apologetics are utterly pathetic and not at all satisfying to the skeptic 99% of the time.

  7. James Findlayson says:

    For Aquinas and orthodox Catholicism, God is not a being at all.
    Instead, God is ipsum esse subsistens.

  8. James says:

    JF,

    Thanks for sharing your comment. Would you like to elaborate on it a bit?

  9. Stan J. says:

    I’m glad I stumbled across this. I must say that both the original essay (e-mail) and the subsequent discussion have proven very enlightening and thought-provoking.

    I would suggest that the ease with which many people accept the doctrine of the Trinity probably has an awful lot to do with Pat’s analogy of “eating the apple,” and really is a function of human nature: we prefer the path of least resistance, and we prefer the practical (and practicable) to the abject.

    Considering that the lay member of any church is the rule, and the clergy/philosophers/scholars are the exception, then it makes sense that efforts would be made to process some incomprehensible concepts into something that would actually make a difference in the day-to-day lives of the lay members.

    I do believe, however, that while Christ preached a fundamentally simple, practical doctrine, that the scriptural injunction to continue learning is something that is also simple and practical, but that it sadly lacking in so much of the religious world today–at least in Christianity.

    I do not think it sinful to approach God with questions, or to question the way doctrine is presented to us by men. Even the most well-intended of men is still subject to the crippling effects of their lack of omniscience, and, as Pat aptly pointed out, will only ever get a filtered representation of the reality in question.

    God can communicate with our hearts and minds in ways *far* more effective than we mortals ever could, and I hope that more people will challenge their beliefs (notice I don’t say “forsake them”) with real, critical thinking, faith in Christ, and prayer, so as to rise above the well-meaning but lacking representations of man, and gain the kind of wisdom and understanding that our Father in Heaven would have us have.

    It may be that God teaches us something about His Divine nature that we’d never even conceive of.

  10. […] the way I had it described to be was this: in Mormonism, the major heresy here is in supposing that God is the same “kind” of being as us, only with more time, experience, and awesome under his belt. (This leads to speculative questions […]

  11. […] is how Mormons were truly hounded in 19th century America over polygamy (and presumably also their unorthodox Christology)  and to a certain extent forced by circumstances to engage in dissimulation for […]

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