By Sharon Lindbloom
1 June 2016
On May 23, 2016 One News Now published a short article noting that “Seminary leaders disagree about Mormons’ beliefs.” The seminary leaders in question are Richard Mouw (who thinks Mormonism is approaching orthodoxy), and Richard Land (who disagrees). The One News Now article merely summarizes the essence of this disagreement, using barely 200 words to do so. I boil it down here even further: Dr. Land disagrees with Dr. Mouw on the basis of 1) The Mormon rejection of the biblical doctrine of the Trinity; and 2) The Mormon doctrines regarding the nature of Christ.
Dr. Land is quoted as saying some puzzling things about Mormon doctrine which, if he was quoted correctly and in context, suggest he may not fully understand some aspects of Mormonism’s Godhead. Yet at least one take-away from his comments is sound: “The Mormon Jesus is not our Jesus.”
There are many points of comparison Dr. Land could have used to support the idea that Mormonism has a different Jesus than Christianity, but this short One News Now article provided only one: According to Mormonism, Jesus is not eternal; He is a created being.
This is true, but some Mormons have taken issue with Dr. Land’s assertion. Mormonism’s doctrine of eternal progression holds that every spirit has always existed in the form of an unorganized intelligence (then it progresses into the form of an organized spirit child of Heavenly Parents, then it (usually) progresses further to become human, then divine…); therefore, Mormonism’s Jesus is eternal and uncreated – like every other spirit in existence, you and me included.
However, Dr. Land’s comments come out of a Christian understanding of Christ’s eternality. When he says the Jesus of Mormonism is not eternal, he means that Mormonism teaches that Jesus was not eternally God. When Dr. Land says the Jesus of Mormonism is a created being, he is contrasting the Mormon doctrine — that Jesus, who progressed to godhood, is the firstborn (procreated) spirit child of God the Father and a Heavenly Mother — with the biblical (orthodox) doctrine — that Jesus is God the Son, the second person of the Trinity, self-existent, eternally God.
These are important distinctions, and they fully support the “different Jesus” idea, for Jesus can’t be both eternally God, as well as a spirit who had to become a God. Thus, Dr. Land’s conclusion: “The Mormon Jesus is not our Jesus.”
Yet Dr. Land has been criticized for this statement. While acknowledging real theological differences between Mormons and evangelicals, Mormon blogger Jan Riess implied that Dr. Land was guilty of “fabricating, in our ignorance, additional differences that don’t exist.” She further remarked,
“What I wish is that Land and others like him, those who are so quick to dismiss the Mormon Jesus as ‘not our Jesus’ and engage in us–them boundary setting, would take the time to learn some nuances about what Mormons actually believe and teach.”
This is an interesting criticism in light of the fact that LDS Prophet Gordon B. Hinckley dismissed the traditional Christian Jesus as being different from the Mormon Jesus. He said,
“In bearing testimony of Jesus Christ, President Hinckley spoke of those outside the Church who say Latter-day Saints ‘do not believe in the traditional Christ.’ ‘No, I don’t. The traditional Christ of whom they speak is not the Christ of whom I speak.’” (LDS Church News, week ending June 20, 1998, 7)
“As a Church we have critics, many of them. They say we do not believe in the traditional Christ of Christianity. There is some substance to what they say.” (Gordon B. Hinckley in General Conference, Ensign, May 2002, 90)
Another LDS General Authority also stated,
“It is true that many of the Christian churches worship a different Jesus Christ than is worshipped by the Mormons or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” (LDS Seventy Bernard P. Brockbank in General Conference, Ensign, May 1977, 26)
Surely these Mormon leaders understood the nuances of Mormon doctrine, of “what Mormons actually believe and teach.” So unless today’s Mormon Jesus is different than the Mormon Jesus of 2002 (which, given the history of Mormonism’s changing doctrine of God is not as far-fetched as it might sound), Dr. Land’s assessment should stand without criticism: The Mormon Jesus is not the orthodox Christian Jesus.