Examining Latter-day Saint Theological Anthropology

Studying the theologies of other religions, including unorthodox forms of Christianity, can help Christians understand biblically based theology better by way of comparison and contrast. A good example is the theological anthropology of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (popularly known as Mormons). Our examination of LDS theological anthropology is based mainly on LDS scriptures and statements by their prophets and apostles as quoted in other official publications, with some attention to secondary studies by LDS theologians.

According to LDS doctrine, humans preexisted their earthly lives as spirit sons and daughters of a heavenly Father and Mother, both of whom are embodied. In this worldview the biblical concept of the image of God is interpreted to mean that Gods, angels, and humans are all of the same fundamental kind, so that humans have the potential to become Gods themselves through a process of exaltation. The LDS scriptures teach that spirit is a refined form of matter. All intelligent beings come from eternal elements, begin their personal existence as spirits, eventually pass through mortality as a necessary stage of development, become resurrected beings, and if worthy become exalted to Godhood. Christ’s coming to earth was therefore a normal stage of his development, albeit unique in some ways due to his redemptive mission. In LDS metaphysics all living things, including animals and plants, exist in spirit form prior to existing in biological form on earth. As preexistent spirits, we possessed spirit bodies that were anthropomorphic and anatomically differentiated as male and female spirits. These spirit bodies endure through all stages of development, which means that during mortality and after the resurrection each person possesses both a spirit body and a physical, flesh-and-bone body.

In contrast to the LDS doctrine, orthodox Christian anthropology regards human beings as coming into existence on the earth as essentially physical creatures with an incorporeal aspect (a soul or spirit). Only between death and resurrection do humans exist as spirits only, and that mode of existence is incorporeal. In the resurrection, the redeemed will become alive as glorified humans with immortality and moral perfection. Our creation in the image of God means not that we are the same kind of being as God but that we are finite, physical representations (in function, not in form) of the transcendent God whose eternal nature is infinite spirit. This means that in the Incarnation, the Son humbled himself by taking on human nature, uniquely uniting deity and humanity in his person. God the Father reveals himself as Father in an analogical, not literal sense; we are created, not procreated, by God. Nevertheless, God’s intention for human beings is to enjoy a relationship with God much like that of children to a parent—a blessed state that at present we can only dimly anticipate. Interacting with LDS anthropology thus provides an opportunity to sharpen, clarify, and deepen our understanding of what Scripture teaches about our origin, nature, and ultimate future.

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