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Evangelical Questions: Is Jesus God?
by Jennifer Roach, MDiv, LMHC
21 And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.
So, right off the bat we have an interesting point of conversation that could come up with your Evangelical friends: Who do you believe Jesus is?
This is a really important question in the Evangelical world and a lot hinges on this for them. They’re generally taught, “Get this answer wrong, and you get everything wrong.” And there is a lot to respect in their thinking here. If Jesus were just another good teacher, or just trying to help people understand the mortality of being kind to each other, then we miss a lot of what’s happening in this part of God’s plan.
And one of the things you’re going to see come up in this series over and over is that sometimes we use the same words to describe different things. Evangelicals are aware of this too and they’re nervous that they’re going to almost get tricked into believing something about Jesus that turns out not to be true. One of their greatest desires and values is to show loyalty and respect to Jesus Christ. So they might approach a conversation with you about Jesus nervously. And to be honest, that’s an admirable character trait – this is one of the ways they show their faithfulness to Christ. So in a conversation with an Evangelical friend about Christ they’re going to feel really protective of him. Also admirable.
Is Jesus a Child of God?
The thing that makes talking about Jesus with an Evangelical difficult is that they think they know what members of the church REALLY think about Jesus, and their defense mechanisms naturally kick in – they feel a lot of loyalty to Christ. Here’s some examples of things I was taught as an Evangelical, and things I used to actually think…
- That Jesus is a literal Spirit Child of a Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother.
If you’re a member of the church, that probably doesn’t sound very odd in your ears. “Of course Jesus is a Spirit Child of God – we all are!” Let me tell you how Evangelicals hear that:
“To say Jesus is a literal spirit child of God is to say that he is less than God, he was created at a point in time and therefore is not eternal. He can never be really considered God.”
Now, as members of the church that probably sounds odd to you and you might be asking, “Don’t Evangelicals say that Jesus is the Son of God?” Yes, they do. But they mean something different by it and when we say that he is a spirit child born of Heavenly Father they get uncomfortable because somehow that diminishes him. Remember, they’re not necessarily trying to fight against Truth, when they say that, they’re trying to be loyal to Jesus and they feel protective of his place. Its the “literal” child of God that makes them nervous. This is probably very confusing to you because in our church we belive EVERYONE is a literal spirit child of God, including Jesus. Let’s explore that…
Evangelicals do believe in being a child of God, but let me tell you what they mean by it….
To the evangelical God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit exist as a special species of beings called God (singular) and no one else will ever join that species. Angels and demons (to the degree that they believe in them) are a separate species. They have no information on how that species began or if any more beings can be added to it. They just know it is a different species from God, and from humans. Humans are a third species. New humans are created at the moment of their conception and at that moment God creates a new spirit to put into them. Even though humans must collaborate with God in the creation of babies, all humans are a species all unto themselves with a substance entirely different from what either God or angels are made from. A human has about as much chance to become an angel as a dog does to become a cat. And in their thinking, the idea that a human could transcend their species to become like God is impossible.
What Species is Jesus? What Species are you?
So when an Evangelical says, “I am a child of God” – and they do say that – what do they mean? HOW are they children of God if they are an entirely different species? Isn’t that like saying a kitten is a puppy? Here is what they mean:
I’ll quote the NIV for clarity…
4 But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.
Now, what they’re saying that verse says – that we are some other species and God adopts us into his family as there would be no other way for us to be considered his family – is not true. If you read the entire context of that paragraph of scripture you see it is talking about an underage heir who must live under some restrictions – and then when the time comes that heir becomes the master and functions as such. This is not a paragraph about cross-species adoption. But they hear that word “adoption” and combine it with their preconceived idea that God is a different species than us, so that when they say, “I am a child of God” they mean, “I was not God’s child, but He has graciously adopted me into His family, even though I don’t deserve the title.”
So, back to our original question, “I thought you didn’t believe Jesus is God?” you can now see what they mean by that. They mean: Because you say Jesus was born as a spirit child of God He can’t be equal to God but is somehow adopted in like we humans are.”
The question has been overwhelmingly answered right on the Church’s website. We believe in the Jesus of the Bible, just like our EV friends and neighbors do. We believe Jesus is the only begotten son of God, born in the flesh and lived among us, He suffered, died, was burried, and rose again. This article from the Church details it much more specifically. What Latter-day Saints Believe About Jesus Christ (churchofjesuschrist.org)
However, let’s not collapse all our differences. There are things we believe about Jesus that are different from Evangelicals. Because their view of Jesus is shaped through the Creeds, and ours is not, we see some things differently.
You can confidently say, “Yes, we believe these same things about Jesus, but here are the areas where we slightly differ…” And from my perspective, as a former Evangelical, this is one of the best spots for inspired conversation. So what are the actual differences?
In our church we believe that God continues to reveal himself, even now in our day. This can make Evangeliclas a little nervous because they are used to being taught that matters about God have been settled, and they can find those settled answers in the Bible and in the Creeds. They believe they’ve captured the right answers and now have them corralled into a fenced yard and if they keep those answers in, and all other answers out, they will be safe. It’s an understandable desire. This is where I was when I was first learning about the church. The idea that God could reveal more information about himself felt like a trick and my loyalty reflex kicked in. But as I came to understand that the new information God had revealed about himself was good and helpful, I began to trust it more.
When Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ visit Joseph Smith for the First Vision we see Joseph learning some things. It takes him a bit to put the pieces together, but once he does he comes to understand that Heavenly Father is material and all that implies – and what it implies is very good, more on that in another video.
The Evangelicals aren’t rejecting new information because they have particularly hard hearts or are not open to God. They reject this because they’re skeptical – they’ve been taught to be skeptical – out of loyalty. But when you can show a Evangelical friend that God revealed really means something good, they might get curious.
Jesus in the Book of Mormon
Before I read the Book of Mormon for the first time I really didn’t know what it was about. I knew the cultural references to it, and understood the basics of the story of Joseph and the gold plates. But I actually thought, as embarrassing as this is to admit, that it was about the early Utah period. So it will come as no surprise to you that I didn’t have any idea how much of Jesus was in the Book of Mormon. One of my earliest reactions was being surprised by how much knowledge they have. Part of me was skeptical that this was a heavily constructed history but I decided to judge the content of the book on its truths, leaving aside the questions about where it came from at first. When Jesus is mentioned in the Book of Mormon I decided that I would ask myself if what was being taught was true or not. And it didn’t take me very long to feel comfortable with the truths I found.
I say all of that to say this: When you’re talking with an Evangelical friend about our beliefs about Jesus don’t be too alarmed when they’re skeptical of how the Book of Mormon came to be. They don’t have to have a firm testimony of that before they can gain truth from it. And my experience with Evangelicals is that they welcome truth when they find it – as long as they can get over their skepticism. If you’re talking with your EV friend and they’re skeptical of how the Book of Mormon came to be, that’s okay. Talking about Jesus as revealed in the Book of Mormon might be a more faith-producing place to start anyway.
So, if the question is, “I thought you didn’t believe Jesus is God,” you can confidently assure your friend that yes, we believe Jesus is God and affirm what the New Testament teaches us about Him. You and your friend are on the same page there. And, as the Spirit leads, you might be able to tell them something good about the additional revelation we have received.
More Come, Follow Me resources here.
Jennifer Roach earned a Master of Divinity from The Seattle School of Theology and Psychology, and a Master of Counseling from Argosy University. Before her conversion to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints she was an ordained minister in the Anglican church. Her own experience of sexual abuse from a pastor during her teen years led her to care deeply about issues of abuse in faith communities.
Stephen Johnsen says
I became an atheist, largely because of some Evangelical ways if doing things. While, after being converted to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I was more accepting of them but still repulsed by some of their (from my perception) ignorance and blind rigidity. This discussion has been immensely helpful. Thank you.
Clint Burgess says
Thanks, Jennifer. This approach felt very respectful of other faiths while also showing that there is more about Jesus in the Book of Mormon and from modern prophets that, as you put it, help us love Jesus even more.