The Godhead and the Trinity

The nature of the Godhead and its relation to the modern Trinity concept is an important topic for LDS folks, one that I write about one my LDSFAQ page on the oneness of God. On this critical topic, FAIRLDS has just published a presentation by David L. Paulsen, “The God of Abraham, Isaac and Joseph Smith: Defending the Faith.” He looks at the LDS view of deity relative to other Christian faiths. Part of the presentation deals with an interview of him by the periodical Modern Reformation (MR). Here is one excerpt:

MR: Please briefly explain to our readers how the LDS Church’s doctrine of God is similar to or different from the traditional Christian doctrine of the Trinity.

DP: 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 [i.e., referring to whatever John 17:3 means], 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.

MR: Christian theologians from all the major traditions (Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant) are united in their belief in monotheism (only one God in this and any other universe, existing beyond time and space). Is LDS theology monotheistic or is it polytheistic?

DP: As indicated above, Latter-day Saints, like other Christians and New Testament writers, affirm that there is a plurality of divine persons. Yet, at the same time, we witness (as our scriptures repeatedly declare) that “the Father, Son and Holy Ghost are one God.” Given the plurality of divine persons, how can there be but one God? In 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.

David offers many interesting insights worth thinking about. It gets into a few heavy areas way over my head, but I enjoyed it. Nicely done, Brother Paulsen!


Author: Jeff Lindsay

9 thoughts on “The Godhead and the Trinity

  1. To me, the interesting part of the article was the concept of God by William James. For the most part, it resounds quite well in the LDS theology. Consider the rejection of the ‘orthodox’ view of the Trinity being Three Gods in one, the ‘plan of salvation’ type he mentions when God the Father proposes to humanity:

    I am going to make a world not certain to be saved, a world the perfection of which shall be conditional merely, the condition being that each several agent does its own “level best.” I offer you the chance of taking part in such a world. Its safety, you see, is unwarranted. It is a real adventure, with real danger, yet it may win through. It is a social scheme of co-operative work genuinely to be done. Will you join the procession? Will you trust yourself and trust the other agents enough to face the risk? (1975, 139)

    When questioned if LDS belief that God was a man, the 3-in-1 doctrine could play a ‘philosphical’ explanation, since they are joined together, when Jesus was born… was the Father born as well into mortality? And when Jesus walked the Earth, was the Father walking as well? Since they are ‘indivisible’ wouldn’t that show that GOD WAS A MAN? I enjoyed the explanation Paulsen gives to this giving quotes by early and modern church leaders. I do not want to offend anyone, but the line of reasoning previously stated sounds logic. As the interview with Modern Reformer concluded the answer provided to is mormonism christian is quite compelling. It would certainly enable more fruitful discussion with members of other faiths and would reduce the negative perceptions most people have about Mormonism.

  2. 1. I doubt that the nature of the Godhead and relation to modern Trinity concept is important to LDS folk. It is very clear what we believe.

    2. To understand the Trinity concept of other religions (Christian) you first must know and love them. Then it will be revealed to you.

    3. Last weeks Sunday School lesson was an embarassment. Once again I was glad not to have my christian guests there. People again talked of how we are alone in eternal families and marrige.

    4. That is NOT TRUE. That is an insult to good Christians everywhere.

    5. We MUST STOP openly being critical of others. Instead we must love them.

    6. Missionary work cannot continue when we hold others in contempt, as we did last week in Sunday School.

  3. I agree with Anonymous that we must be respectful of other people’s beliefs, not belittle them in LDS classrooms, and try to understand what they really are instead of attacking a caricature.

    I disagree with Anonymous in that we have every right and reason to stand up for the revealed truths of the restoration, including the truth that with the sealing ordinance of the temple, there are no family relationships in the hereafter.

  4. thanks Mike— I appreciate your words. Are you sure that we are the only ones who believe in eternal relationships? The Roman Catholic tradition is very supportive of eternal relationships. All you have to do is listen to them. Especially listen to them at funeral masses. They do not articulate the relationship as we do, but they do believe.

  5. Mike said:
    respectful of other people’s beliefs, not belittle them in LDS classrooms, and try to understand what they really are instead of attacking a caricature.

    Amen Mike. The next time I am in Sunday School and hear someone refer to another faith as “idiots” I will leave and go to the Stake President. Another one that I will walk out on is when our people refer to Jehovahs Witnesses as J dubs. They are Jehovahs Witnesses. They are a great and loving people.

    I recently heard a very active, well educated, Latter Day Saint refer to another Christian group by saying that

    “They are Stupid”

  6. One of my favorite quotes, from Dan Peterson:

    In Cairo some years ago, I spoke at length with a Muslim chemistry professor at the University of Cairo. He was astonished when he learned that I was a Christian. “Do you really,” he asked, incredulously, “believe that God had a Son, and that he allowed that Son to be murdered in order to buy himself off?” After expressing some reservations about how he had expressed the doctrine of the atonement, I replied that, yes, I did believe precisely that. “Oh!” he exclaimed. “How can any intelligent person believe in such nonsense?” Well, the fact is that highly intelligent people have accepted Christianity. (Origen, Athanasius, Augustine, Aquinas, Pascal, and Kierkegaard are among those who come immediately to mind.) But it was thought-provoking to find that my most sacred beliefs seemed insanely ludicrous to a highly educated outsider. It was enlightening to find Christianity, for once, in the minority, and Christian assumptions questioned as less than self-evident. How many times have I heard people say things like, “How can any intelligent person believe in Islam?” or “How can any intelligent person be a Catholic?” Yet people like al-Ghazali and Iqbal and Ibn Khaldun have been Muslims, and the Catholic Church has claimed the loyalty of such people as Cardinal Newman and G. K. Chesterton and Jacques Maritain. Reflecting on this, and on my own experience as an Islamicist, I have come to formulate what might be termed Peterson’s First Rule for the Study of Other Religions: If a substantial number of sane and intelligent people believe something that seems to you utterly without sense, the problem probably lies with you, for not grasping what it is about that belief that a lucid and reasonable person might find plausible and satisfying.

    (“Chattanooga Cheapshot, or The Gall of Bitterness,” Review of Books on the Book of Mormon 5 [1993]. Provo, Utah: FARMS. p.26.)

  7. I recall reading a comment somewhere that the idea of needing family relationships in the eternal worlds was offensive to the writer’s concept of the sufficiency of Christ.

  8. > I recall reading a comment somewhere that the idea of needing family relationships in the eternal worlds was offensive to the writer’s concept of the sufficiency of Christ.
    That’s a common question of those challenging our doctrine: “Why do we need…?”

    Well, the absolute answer is that we don’t “need” anything in the absolute sense. No one has to or is forced to enter into any degree of the Celestial kingdom.

    Although familial relationships, IE. the linkage itself, will endure, we obviously won’t all be actually living or co-habiting with our near relatives as families will be spread over three kingdoms.

    Moreover, all those who do not achieve the highest degree of glory in the Celestial kingdom will live “separately and singly” anyway, with only visits or “ministering” of beings from one kingdom/planet visiting those of the next kingdom/planet down, as described in Section 76.

    Given that the “heaven” that
    mainstream christianity preaches most closely aligns with what we call the Terrestrial, or middle kingdom, I think they are pretty close in their beliefs. Their heaven doesn’t match our heaven, because we are preaching the Celestial Kingdom, and they are preaching the Terrestrial Kingdom. They preach the Terrestrial laws, and we preach the Celestial laws.

    Section 76 teaches that Jesus, not the Father, ministers to the Terrestrial kingdom. Jesus is the God they worship, and they will receive what they preach and hope for. Section 76 teaches that the non-exalted beings of the Celestial Kingdom minister to the Terrestrial Kingdom, so they will likely be the angels that the mainstream Christians preach.

    I suppose that the inhabitants of the Terrestrial kingdom will still know who their earthly parents, children, and relatives were, but I don’t think they will be organized with them as a family unit as the exalted beings will be.

    I’m unclear about how sealings work in the Celestial Kingdom among the exalted couples. Suppose you’re in the highest degree of the Celestial kingdom, and your children or parents are in one of the other kingdoms. Does that exalted couple then get re-sealed to parents and children who are also in the highest degree of the Celestial Kingdom.

    Do sealings get re-done so that among all the exalted children of Elohim, there is a complete chain among just them? Or is it okay that the complete chain hops back and forth across all three kingdoms?

    The D&C says that there is one chain that is supposed to link all humans on this planet. That chain obviously spans the three kingdoms. But is there another chain internal to only the highest glory in the Celestial Kingdom, as they are to live in patriarchal order, but everyone below them lives “separately and singly” ?

  9. To follow up on what books of Mormon in Indy said, I also have had questions regarding the practical application of sealing families. What is a family in the celestial sense? Let assume 3 generations of my family enter the celestial kingdom. What are the relationships. I am currently the father of 3 children. I think of myself in those terms. However my father will think of me as his son who was sealed to him. The same with his father. Since our perfected bodies and spirits will be united, will parents and children relate to each others as contemporaries?

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