Thursday, September 11, 2008

reading comments for class: sterling m. mcmurrin - the theological foundations of the mormon religion

Sterling M. McMurrin, The Theological Foundations of the Mormon Religion, 1965.

Loyd Ericson
Sept 11th 2008

Page 27 - “the finitism in the concept of God that follows necessarily from the denial of ultimate creation, a finitism that places Mormonism in a fundamental opposition to the absolutism that has been primary assumption of theological discussion throughout the history of Christian thought.”

I think this passage here gets to the heart of the reason why traditional Christians want to sat that Mormons are not Christians. Mormons have a completely and drastically different worldview and conception of God. The difference between our views of the Trinity are not the primary reason, but are entailments from this different conception of God. This is why social trinitarians mostly still hold that a Mormon social trinity is still different – because the underlying nature which holds social trinitarianism together is lacking in Mormon theology. For traditional Christianity, God is unembodied, immaterial, and absolute in all of his qualities. Traditional Christians are not just monotheistic because they only worship one God, but because there is logically only one God capable of existing to be worshiped. If God is absolutely omnipotent (all-powerful) and omnipresent (all-present), then there cannot exist a comparable being.

As McMurrin shows, the denial of creation ex nihilo and the physical embodiment of God entails that God is not absolutely omnipotent; nor is God omnipresent. Furthermore the embodiment of God denies the timelessness of God – a physical being in action can only act within time. The denial of these things implies that a being could logically exist that is more powerful than the being identified by Mormons as God. For traditional Christians such an idea is pretty much blasphemous.

For McMurrin, the finite nature of God is able to address the problem of evil in ways that traditional Christianity is unable – evil is something that God also struggles with (103). While most Mormons seem to accept a certain form of this because a relationship where both participants struggle can often strengthen the relationship, I do not see most Mormons whole-heartedly accepting this as such as struggle may also imply that God might also fail in this struggle. (If God could not possibly fail, it wouldn't seem to be much of a struggle). I think for most Mormons (I know Ostler argues this), a being which is not powerful enough to ensure victory is not worthy of worship.

Page 35 - “Finistic theology is not more popular among the Mormons than among others if they are judged by their typical sermons or rhetorical terminology. The word 'finite' stirs nothing in the soul of the worshipper. But 'infinite,' 'omnipotent,' and 'omniscient' are words made to order for the preacher and the popular writer. So Mormon theological writing and sermonizing are more often than not replete with the vocabulary of absolutism. But, like it or not, the Mormon theologian must sooner or later return to the finistic conception of God upon which both his technical theology and his theological myths are founded.”

While I agree with McMurrin, I don't see Mormonism (especially its leaders) returning any time soon to its finistic roots. One reason is because LDS scripture is full of absolute descriptions of God. While I think they are best read as language of praise and worship denoting the relative greatness of God, I think most Mormons tend to read these as absolute and accurate descriptions of God's essential nature. A second reason as to why I do not see Mormons returning to its finistic roots is the view of worship-worthy-ness of an absolute deity and the worship-worthy-less-ness of a less than absolute deity that underlies our western sentiments today. Finally, following the ecumenical approaches of Stephen E. Robinson, Robert L. Millet, and the LDS Church's public relations efforts to make Mormonism more traditional Christian friendly, the rhetoric of describing the nature of God within Mormonism and extending from Mormonism tends to strongly downplay the finistic nature of Mormon theology while further embracing a view of God that is more acceptable to Mormonism's Christian neighbors.


  1. this made me think of something my dad told me forever ago. he said that God has the choice to do evil if He so chooses. obeying the commandments gives you that freedom to choose being bound or... free. but once the choice is made to go against the commandments then you are subject to whatever may come. or something like that.

  2. wow. you read the whole thing babe?

    freedom can be a scary thing. it's so much easier to have our hands held and told what to do. i wouldn't say that god struggles with his freedom, but it seems that if we really want to call him good, he also has to make those moral decisions about what is the right thing to do.

  3. i see no problem with believing in a God that has the power to stop being god. wow thats trippy. knowing good and evil is what makes us like god. being able to never choose to do evil is what makes us not gods....and we die. i do not think God makes decisions like is this right? the way we do, but i think that he is one with the heart beat of the universes and the past present and future and therefore the right thing to do is just part of his everyday doings. make since? yeah sounds a bit hippy but you know me.


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