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Eternal Progression: Mormonism vs. Christianity

I think Christians see eternal progression with bigger potential and glory than Mormons realize.

Let me explain.

Traditional Mormonism has followed Orson Pratt’s model of eternal progression, which holds that when we achieve full godhood we will cap out in knowledge and power, having become equal with God in all divinity, subsequently only progressing in the worlds and progeny under us. This view reminds me of a flat plateau.

In contrast, Brigham Young held the view that all gods continue to progress in all divine attributes, including knowledge and power.

“All organized existence is in progress, either to an endless advancement in eternal perfections, or back to dissolution… Nothing less than the privilege of increasing eternally, in every sense of the word, can satisfy the immortal spirit. If the endless stream of knowledge from the eternal fountain could all be drunk in by organized intelligences, so sure immortality would come to an end, and all eternity be thrown upon the retrograde path.” (Brigham Young, “Life and Death, Etc.”, Journal of Discourses, vol. 1, pp. 349-353, July 10, 1853.)

Wilford Woodruff wrote in his journal (spelling intact):

“I attended prayer meeting in the evening Circle. President Young asked Elder Orson Pratt what He thought of his preaching that intelligent beings would continue to learn to all Eternity. O. Pratt said that He believed the Gods had a knowledge at the present time of evry thing that ever did exhist to the endless ages of all Eternity. He believed it as much as any truth that he had ever learned in or out of this Church. President Young remarked that he had never learned that principle in the church for it was not taught in the Church for it was not true. It was fals doctrin For the Gods & all intelligent Beings would never scease to learn except it was the Sons of perdition they would continue to decrease untill they became dissolved back into their native Element & lost their Identity.” (Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, Vol. 4, pp.401-402, February 17, 1856).

This view holds that everyone is, with respect to knowledge and power, on a sort of divine escalator. In other words, we will reach God’s current level of knowledge and power someday (if we are found worthy and meritorious unto godhood), but by that time God will have advanced.

To approach this issue with clarity, Mormons should indicate which view they take. With either position one takes, there are hurdles to overcome. Brigham Young officially rebuked Orson Pratt in a First Presidency statement for taking the following view, which in the letter was called “not true”:

“But when they (the Saints) become one with the Father and the Son, and receive a fullness of their glory, that will be the end of all progression in knowledge, because there will be nothing more to he learned. The Father and the Son do not progress in knowledge and wisdom, because they already know all things past, present and to come.” [Aaron’s note: this is an unfavorable quotation of Pratt as found in the FPS]

Hence, if you take Pratt’s view, you need to explain why you feel the freedom to take a view denounced in a First Presidency statement.

If you take Brigham’s view, there is the problem of Bruce McConkie having condemned your view as deadly, damning heresy. In his speech, “Seven Deadly Heresies,”  McConkie said the following:

Heresy one: There are those who say that God is progressing in knowledge and is leaning new truths.

This is false-utterly, totally, and completely. There is not one sliver of truth in it. It grows out of a wholly twisted and incorrect view of the King Follett Sermon and of what is meant by eternal progression.

God progresses in the sense that his kingdoms increase and his dominions multiply-not in the sense that he learn new truths and discovers new laws. God is not a student. He is not a laboratory technician. He is not postulating new theories on the basis of past experiences. He has indeed graduated to that state of exaltation that consists of knowing all things and having all power.

The life that God lives is named eternal life. His name, one of them, is “Eternal,” using that word as a noun and not as an adjective, and he uses that name to identify the type of life that he lives. God’s life is eternal life, and eternal life is God’s life. They are one and the same. Eternal life is th,e reward we shall obtain if we believe and obey and walk uprightly before him. And eternal life consists of two things. It consists of life in the family unit, and, also, of inheriting, receiving, and possessing the fullness of the glory of the Father. Anyone who has each of these things is an inheritor and possessor of the greatest of all gifts of God, which is eternal life.

Eternal progression consists of living the kind of life God lives and of increasing in kingdoms and dominions everlastingly. Why anyone should suppose that an infinite and eternal being who has presided in our universe for almost 2,555,000,000 years, who made the sidereal heavens, whose creations are more numerous than the particles of the earth, and who is aware of the fall of every sparrow-why anyone would suppose that such a being has more to learn and new truths to discover in the laboratories of eternity is totally beyond my- comprehension.

Joseph Fielding Smith, whom McConkie largely followed in theology, also took the side of Orson Pratt, even though this view was renounced as wrong in a prior First Presidency statement (as noted above):

“The Book of Moses informs us that the great work of the Father is in creating worlds and peopling them, and “there is no end to my works, neither to my words,” he says, “For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man,” and in this is his progression.

“Commenting on this the Prophet Joseph Smith has said: ‘What did Jesus do? Why; I do the things I saw my Father do when worlds come rolling into existence. My Father worked out his kingdom with fear and trembling, and I must do the same [that is Christ must do the same]; and when I get my kingdom. I shall present it to my Father, so that he may obtain kingdom upon kingdom, and it will exalt him in glory. He will then take a higher exaltation, and I [Christ] will take his place, and thereby become exalted myself. So that Jesus treads in the tracks of his Father, and inherits what God did before; and God is thus glorified and exalted in the salvation and exaltation of all his children.’

“Do you not see that it is in this manner that our Eternal Father is progressing? Not by seeking knowledge which he does not have, for such a thought cannot be maintained in the light of scripture. It is not through ignorance and learning hidden truth that he progresses, for if there are truths which he does not know, then these things are greater than he, and this cannot be. Why can’t we learn wisdom and believe what the Lord has revealed? (Doctrines of Salvation, Vol.1, p.7)

For further reading on the Pratt/Young controversies (which included the Adam-God issue), I recommend Conflict in the Quorum: Orson Pratt, Brigham Young, Joseph Smith, by Gary James Bergera (Signature Books, December 2002, ISBN 1560851643). The book is so replete with primary sources it is almost overwhelming. It requires some patient reading.

The Christian view of eternal progression is astounding when one thinks about it. We will ever-increasingly grow in the knowledge and power of God for all eternity. For us, eternity is not simply a long amount of time with an ending point. It is eternity. Christians essentially believe in a true eternal progression more than traditional Mormons do. When Romans 8:17 speaks of Christians as “heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ”, it speaks of an infinitely large inheritance that will take eternity to appropriate. We will never get to the point where we can say we have fully appropriated and received the entirety of our inheritance in Christ. We will always grow in the knowledge and power of God, the God who is infinite and inexhaustible. Our God has full, infinite knowledge and power, and, contrary to Brigham Young, is in no need of progressing in any of his attributes. As John Piper writes, “In Christ the best is always yet to come. Always. No exceptions. Forever.”

“You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” (Psalm 16:11)

“Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable.” (Psalm 145:3)

“Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; his understanding is beyond measure.” (Psalm 147:5)

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