Among the many books available online at the Maxwell Institute (FARMS), I am pleased to see that one of the most useful books on the Apostasy is included: Early Christians in Disarray: Contemporary LDS Perspectives on the Christian Apostasy by Noel B. Reynolds (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 2005, 397 pages).
For those of you convinced that faithful, “saved” Christians lose their eternal souls the moment they accept LDS teachings in conflict with the post-biblical creeds and related traditions, it might be helpful to better understand how some of these traditions and creeds were developed and how they may differ from what was believed in New Testament times. One essay in the book that I’d like to recommend today is David Paulsen’s “Divine Embodiment: The Earliest Christian Understanding of God” (pp. 239–293).
Here are some of his opening remarks, which are followed by a wealth of scholarship and documentation to substantiate his points:
Though God’s self-disclosures to Joseph radically contradicted the established Christian creeds, it is critical to note that Joseph never claimed that what he learned about God’s nature was “new” truth, hidden by God until the nineteenth century. To the contrary, Joseph testified that his view was a restoration of the biblical and primitive Judeo-Christian understanding of God, an understanding that was lost because of a “falling away”–an apostasy—from the truths once held by the earliest Christians.
My study of the relevant evidence convinces me that Joseph is correct: biblical writings and the documents of formative Judaism and primitive Christianity consistently portray God as an embodied person, humanlike in form. In this paper, I detail this evidence, showing that the later Christian loss of the knowledge that God is embodied resulted from the attempt of early Christian apologists to reconcile their beliefs with their dominantly Greek culture.
Dig into this – it’s well worth the effort. Some important nuances are found in the footnotes, so please read them – especially in the section dealing with Tertullian’s views on the corporeal nature of God.
After reading this, you might realize that the differences in LDS beliefs regarding the nature of God are not prima facie reasons to classify us as a cult, but might actually be evidence of a genuine restoration of key doctrines from early Christianity.