The first chapter categorized much of the extant literature dealing with the nature of LDS soteriology, especially as compared to patristic soteriology, by offering seven distinct models. These models can be reduced to one of two basic types: an incompatibility view or a parallel view. Generally speaking, the former holds that the LDS doctrine of salvation is incompatible with the patristic or historically "normative" Christian view of salvation while the latter holds that there is fundamental agreement between the two. The question now becomes, given the analysis and conclusion of the last chapter, how would the viewpoint established in this thesis fit into the schematization worked out in the first chapter?
The four incompatibility models (hard incompatibility, soft incompatibility, hard patristic incompatibility, soft patristic incompatibility) are fundamentally inadequate in their attempts to make sense of LDS soteriology because of their overly simplistic approach. These models latch onto dissimilarities while failing to take into account genuine similarities. Furthermore, all of the incompatibility models evidence an ignorance of the normative significance of the heritage of the Greek Fathers of the Church. This ahistorical approach to theology simply ignores the theological and doctrinal formulations of the Greek-speaking portion of the first millennium Catholic Church. Of course, this is perhaps not too surprising when one realizes that all the authors of incompatibility models are members of churches descended from the Latin half of the ancient Catholic Church (Latin Catholics and Protestants). This is most likely another instance of the traditional Latin bias against and ignorance of the contributions of non-Latins.
Of the patristic parallel models, the pre-1984 patristic parallel model and the hard post-1984 patristic parallel model are, again, too simplistic in their approach to the question of how to compare patristic and LDS soteriologies. They recognize and highlight similarities without also taking into account the real dissimilarities which do exist between patristic and LDS doctrine. This now leaves the soft post-1984 patristic parallel model for consideration.
Given the conclusion of the last chapter, that the doctrines of theosis and exaltation are functionally equivalent yet ontologically distinct, the soft post-1984 patristic parallel model does appear to be the most adequate way to categorize LDS soteriology. It allows for similarity while respecting the dissimilarities that exist between LDS and patristic teachings. However, to the extent that this model categorizes similarities as being nominal only, it would need to be more finely nuanced. The similarities which were uncovered are areas where authentic agreement is possible and where no compromises need be made by either side. It is true, though, that on an ontological level, similarities in vocabulary or terminology are nominal only (for example, while both doctrines of human divinization under examination regard the God who makes salvation possible as "eternal," the ontologies underlying that belief are profoundly different).
The first chapter of this thesis also noted that three particular audiences were being targeted as likely finding this examination and comparison of interest; how has each been challenged by what has been presented? Members of churches that are descended from the ancient western or Latin Catholic Church (Latin Catholics and Protestants) are challenged to allow their theology and doctrine to be affected by the corrective influence of the Greek Fathers of the Church. The inability of Latin Catholics and Protestants to appreciate or understand the parallels between the LDS doctrine of exaltation and the patristic doctrine of theosis, as has been noted, is essentially a consequence of the neglect of the doctrinal heritage of that part of the church that existed in what was the Greek-speaking eastern part of the Roman Empire. Historically, Latin theology has emphasized the negative aspect of salvation—from what salvation liberates—while neglecting the positive aspect of salvation—for what salvation liberates. In contrast, Greek theology, while acknowledging the negative aspect of salvation, has consistently emphasized the positive aspect of salvation: human divinization.1 The typically Greek way of describing what was accomplished by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ has been concisely restated by the Orthodox theologian Vladimir Lossky:
Considered from the point of view of our fallen state, the aim of the divine dispensation can be termed salvation or redemption. This is the negative aspect of our ultimate goal, which is considered from the perspective of our sin. Considered from the point of view of the ultimate vocation of created beings, the aim of the divine dispensation can be termed deification. This is the positive definition of the same mystery, which must be accomplished in each human person in the Church and which will be fully revealed in the age to come, when, after having reunited all things in Christ, God will become all in all.2
Of course, Latin Catholic theology can and does occasionally acknowledge that the full meaning of salvation involves human divinization;3 but its essentially negative view of salvation predominates, especially in popular consciousness, and while not untrue, is still incomplete.
Members of churches that are descended from the ancient eastern or Greek Catholic Church (Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholics) are challenged to more clearly articulate their beliefs surrounding the authority of Ecumenical Councils and the role theologians play in the unfolding of doctrines that can develop, as did the doctrine of theosis, over centuries. In other words, this is a call for the rearticulation of a theology of revelation. There is a common perception among the LDS that councils and the work of theologians are simply human gatherings and endeavors, devoid of divine protection or guidance, where a majority vote of church leaders, in favor of one theologian or theology over another, manufactured truth and determined the standard of orthodoxy.
The Latter-day Saints believe . . . that the theology of the councils and creeds represent a radical change from the theology of the New Testament Church. The Latter-day Saints see this change between the first and fourth centuries as part of a great apostasy; scholars refer to it as the Hellenization of Christianity, meaning the modification of the Christian message into forms that would be acceptable in the gentile Greek cultural world. But in that process of modification and adaptation, Christian teaching became Greek teaching, and Christian theology became Greek philosophy. In the LDS view the admixture of Greek elements with the original message of the gospel did not improve it but diluted it. The resulting historical church was still generically Christian, but was no longer the pure, true Church of the New Testament period.4
This is not to say that new articulations of belief will necessarily convince, or are meant to convince, those who hold an alternative or different faith-stance regarding such things as the authority of the Council of Nicea (AD 325) or the normative influence of the writings of the Church Fathers. What can be accomplished, however, is a presentation of faith that will be recognized by others as a reasonable, alternative explanation for how God could have worked to govern His church and preserve doctrinal purity. The key is to build bridges of understanding among peoples of different faiths.5
Members of the LDS Church are challenged to be sensitive in how they use religious terminology when speaking with other Christians. Language used in an LDS context often has a different meaning in a non-LDS context, even though the same words are being used in both situations. This can give rise to the perception that Latter-day Saints intend to deceive others (by attaching nonstandard meanings to words traditionally defined in a particular way) when, in fact, they do not.6 Latter-day Saints define the same terms differently not because of any attempt to hide what they really believe, but because of the specific content of the revelations which, as a Church, they have received through their prophets. It does seem clear, though, that any attempts to cover over or minimize genuine differences in doctrine, no matter how well intentioned, do not help but only hinder the possibility of authentic religious dialogue and conversation.
As a result of the comparative analysis of the doctrines of theosis and exaltation undertaken in this thesis, three areas suggest themselves as possibilities for further study: the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo, "crossover theologians," and the issue of Christian Hellenization. Because one of the significant issues that arose in the course of this thesis was the distinction between the created and the uncreated—a distinction at the heart of patristic theology but one which is completely absent from LDS theology—study of the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo, or creation from nothing, would seem to be invaluable for furthering dialogue between Latter-day Saints and other Christians. The LDS scholar Keith Norman wrote on this doctrine from a Latter-day Saint perspective in 19777 but historical studies such as Gerhard May's Creation Ex Nihilo: The Doctrine of 'Creation out of Nothing' in Early Christian Thought, published in German in 1978 and made available with an updated preface in English in 1994,8 need to be incorporated into contemporary discussions of how and why and to what end the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo arose in the early Catholic Church.
"Crossover theologians" refers to those religious thinkers who have reformulated their own traditions in ways that facilitate dialogue with other religious traditions. The one person who immediately comes to mind is the Latin Catholic theologian Karl Rahner, some of whose writings on religious dialogue were used at the conclusion of the first chapter. His work has been cited by both LDS9 and Eastern Orthodox10 writers as being illuminative of ways in which the Latin Catholic tradition already contains within it, even if implicitly, the explicit insights of LDS and Orthodox doctrine. Another possibility would be the Latin Catholic theologian Teilhard de Chardin.11 However, without a doubt the most significant area for further study is Hellenization.
As was noted previously in the challenge to members of churches that are descended from the ancient eastern or Greek Catholic Church, the chief LDS objection to doctrinal development in the early church stems from the belief that the faith handed on by the Apostles was corrupted when it was recast in nonbiblical or non-Hebraic terminology and categories by uninspired men and councils. This is usually referred to as the Hellenization of the pure, apostolic faith.
We [Latter-day Saints] believe that the church established by Christ in the New Testament was changed by later Christian intellectuals who believed the simple New Testament proclamation to be inadequate. Feeling the language of the Scripture to be unsophisticated, incomplete, vague, ambiguous or imprecise, the second-, third- and fourth-century church sought to "improve" the New Testament gospel by the standards of Hellenistic philosophy, but compromised it instead.12
Thus, according to this understanding of Hellenization, all original doctrines of the primitive church, including the doctrine of theosis or human divinization, underwent "massive dislocations" over the course of time.13
However, this very serious issue of church history and doctrine needs to be reexamined in the light of ongoing scholarship in the field of early church history, especially since in recent decades it seems to be suggesting that the classic nineteenth-century thesis of "Hellenization equals corruption" might be too simplistic a reading of what actually took place in the early church.
The very legitimacy of the development of Christian dogma has been challenged on the grounds of its supposed hellenization of the primitive message; the contrast between Greek and Hebrew ways of thought has been used to explain the distinctiveness of Christian doctrine. . . . It is even more a distortion when the dogma formulated by the catholic tradition is described as "in its conception and development a work of the Greek spirit on the soil of the gospel." Indeed, in some ways it is more accurate to speak of dogma as the "dehellenization" of the theology that had preceded it and to argue that "by its dogma the church threw up a wall against an alien metaphysic." For in the development of both the dogmas of the early church, the trinitarian and the christological, the chief place to look for hellenization is in the speculations and heresies against which the dogma of the creeds and councils was directed.14
And, to prevent misunderstanding, it needs to be explicitly stated that the purpose of doing such further study is not to convince persons who hold alternative or different faith-stances regarding such things as what did or did not happen in the early church to believe otherwise, but to build bridges of understanding between people of good will who interpret the same historical events differently.
Perhaps more than anything else, this thesis has demonstrated the need for more people to be "theologically bilingual," which is to say, able to converse accurately and sensitively about another's religious tradition as well as their own. Unfortunately, very few non-Mormons seem able or have the desire to maintain professional standards of objectivity and sensitivity when comparatively analyzing LDS doctrine; an observation borne out when one examines the work of writers who hold one of the four incompatibility points of view and a reality of which Mormons are painfully aware.
It is a rare thing indeed for non-Mormons writing about the Saints to get it right even when they are trying to, and most contemporary non-LDS writing on the Mormons is frankly not trying to get it right.15
Moreover, there is the basic issue of simply knowing enough about LDS doctrine and culture before attempting to discuss it; it is often forgotten that Mormonism, like Judaism, is as much about a culture and a people as it is about doctrine and faith. In an otherwise laudatory review of The Mormon Concept of God by Francis J. Beckwith and Stephen E. Parrish, a book which critiques the LDS doctrine of deity from a conservative Protestant point of view, James E. Faulconer, an LDS professor at Brigham Young University, points out that "A major problem with Beckwith and Parrish's book is that they do not know Latter-day Saints and LDS culture well enough to establish the object of their criticisms."16 However, even well-written LDS authors are not immune from "getting it wrong" when they attempt to articulate classical Christian doctrine.
In his well-researched and very readable apologetic in defense of the "Christianity" of the LDS Church, Are Mormons Christian?,17 Stephen E. Robinson, the former department chair of ancient scripture at Brigham Young University, states the following regarding the duophysite Christology of the Council of Chalcedon (AD 451):
Of course the greatest passion of all was the suffering of Christ in Gethsemane and on the cross. Thus the central fact of the Christian gospel was also the biggest obstacle to embracing the absolutely nonbiblical Greek ideal of an impassible God—a God who cannot suffer. This obstacle was finally overcome in 451 AD at the Council of Chalcedon, when the theologians declared that unlike all other entities, which have a single essence or nature, Jesus Christ must have had two natures, one human and one divine. It was the human nature that suffered on the cross—the divine nature, the preexistent Son of God, didn't feel a thing. The human Jesus may have suffered and died for sinners, but the divine Son of God never did!18
This fundamental misunderstanding of the distinction between person and nature in Chalcedonian orthodoxy misrepresents one of the essential beliefs of Catholic and Orthodox Churches: that the person of God the Son, Jesus Christ, did suffer and die on Calvary for the redemption of the world by means of the humanity which he had assumed. Likewise, with a little bit of research and understanding of the contemporary Christian world, the following factual error would never have been made in what is an otherwise praiseworthy presentation of the doctrine of theosis by LDS authors: "Indeed, if the Latter-day Saints were inclined to do so, they could point out that they alone, among contemporary followers of Jesus, seem to possess the ancient Christian doctrine of theosis."19 As was noted previously, to build bridges of understanding, it will be necessary for participants in religious dialogue to know each other accurately: to be able to recognize genuine similarities and to acknowledge real dissimilarities.
Finally, what has resulted from taking "Another Look at The God Makers," as the title of chapter one proposed to do? As chapter three has made abundantly clear, the Mormons are truly "godmakers": as the doctrine of exaltation explains, the fullness of human salvation means "becoming a god." Yet what was meant to be a term of ridicule has turned out to be a term of approbation, for the witness of the Greek Fathers of the Church, described in chapter two, is that they also believed that salvation meant "becoming a god." It seems that if one's soteriology cannot accommodate a doctrine of human divinization, then it has at least implicitly, if not explicitly, rejected the heritage of the early Christian church and departed from the faith of first millennium Christianity. However, if that is the case, those who would espouse such a soteriology also believe, in fact, that Christianity, from about the second century on, has apostatized and "gotten it wrong" on this core issue of human salvation. Thus, ironically, those who would excoriate Mormons for believing in the doctrine of exaltation actually agree with them that the early church experienced a "great apostasy" on fundamental doctrinal questions. And the supreme irony is that such persons should probably investigate the claims of the LDS Church, which proclaims that within itself is to be found the "restoration of all things."20