Monday, August 12, 2019

Terryl Givens Seeks to Weaken Church Doctrine re: “Becoming Like God”

            A couple of years ago (Nov. 2017), Terry Givens (now with the Neal A. Maxwell Institute) was interviewed for an LDS Perspectives podcast, giving his views on the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ gospel topic essay “Becoming Like God.” As he answered questions, he made a concerted effort to diminish or weaken or dilute the long-standing settled doctrine of the Church that man (men and women) can become like God; can become gods themselves.

            Some of Mr. Givens’ disturbing comments are these:

There is a good deal of folk theology that has developed around this notion, especially during the Brigham Young years. Because of the theologizing of people like Orson Pratt and others, the emphasis was often on world creation. Joseph Smith, of course, in section 132 referred to the possibility that men and women sealed in the everlasting covenant of marriage would produce seed eternally. That was extrapolated to mean that men and women who were exalted would create their own worlds and people them with their own spirits, then preside over those planets as God does over His. There isn’t, as far as I can find, any authoritative scriptural or prophetic pronouncements with that degree of specificity. I think it’s an unfortunate misdirection that serves the church poorly, both because of the delusions of grandeur which it can lead to and because the last thing we want to be known for to an outside community is the aspiration to have planets of our own.

            Setting aside the troubling issue of discounting the teachings of such inspired apostolic timber as Elder Orson Pratt and President Brigham Young, not to mention their contemporaries; and forgetting for a moment the temerity of labeling of their teachings as “theologizing” and “folk theology”; and setting aside for a moment that the Book of Abraham and modern apostles have taught that in the pre-existence the “noble and great ones” already helped create this earth as practice; the most startling comment found in this narration is that Mr. Givens has been unable to find “any authoritative scriptural or prophetic pronouncements” that directly speak of or teach that exalted men and women would one day become gods and preside over worlds/planets, “as God does over His.” And further that Mr. Givens states as a reason that Latter-day Saints don’t want to be known to “outsiders” (also known as non-members) as aspiring to have planets of their own.

            May I be pardoned at my incredulity that this supposedly educated individual couldn’t name a number of such items off the top of his head, but that he says they actually do not exist. Again, setting aside our collective gasp of astonishment, let us now assist Mr. Givens in his apparent stupor of thought, taking several from off the top of my head.

1. Mr. Givens mentioned the King Follet discourse, so let us quote from it; the Prophet Joseph Smith speaking: “God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens! That is the great secret. If the veil were rent today, and the great God who holds this world in its orbit, and who upholds all worlds and all things by His power, was to make himself visibleI say, if you were to see him today, you would see him like a man in formlike yourselves in all the person, image, and very form as a man; for Adam was created in the very fashion, image and likeness of God, and received instruction from, and walked, talked and conversed with Him, as one man talks and communes with another.” And: “These ideas are incomprehensible to some, but they are simple. It is the first principle of the gospel to know for a certainty the character of God, and to know that we may converse with Him as one man converses with another, and that He was once a man like us; yea, that God himself, the Father of us all, dwelt on an earth, the same as Jesus Christ Himself did. . . .” And finally: “Here, then, is eternal lifeto know the only wise and true God; and you have got to learn how to be gods yourselves, and to be kings and priests to God, the same as all gods have done before you, namely, by going from one small degree to another, and from a small capacity to a great one; from grace to grace, from exaltation to exaltation, until you attain to the resurrection of the dead, and are able to dwell in everlasting burnings, and to sit in glory, as do those who sit enthroned in everlasting power.” These quotations should be satisfactory to get the point across. Mr. Givens does quibble over whether we should accept the Prophet’s discourse as doctrine; I hope the fact that our quotations here come from the Ensign can help him with that issue.

2. Now we present some scripture: JST, Revelation 2:26-27, including the summary: “Those who overcome the world by obedience to Christ’s commandments will rule kingdoms in the world to come with faith, equity, and justice.”

26 And to him who overcometh, and keepeth my commandments unto the end, will I give power over many kingdoms [worlds];

27 And he shall rule them with the word of God; and they shall be in his hands as the vessels of clay in the hands of a potter; and he shall govern them by faith, with equity and justice, even as I received of my Father.

            I include the summary because there are those who might desire to willfully misinterpret the plain meaning of these inspired words. I also suggest that notice be taken of some other passages from the book of Revelation that explain the reward God gives to those who overcome the world (Revelation 2:7, 11, 17, 26; 3:5, 12, 21; 21:7).

3. There are many verses in D&C 130 and 131 that strongly imply that righteous men and women, that are eventually exalted, will become gods, but the best verses bluntly stating that such is the doctrine are from section 132:17, 20, and 37, which say that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob “have entered into their exaltation, according to the promises, and sit upon thrones, and are not angels but are gods.” Seeing that Mr. Givens referenced this section, it is hard to see how he missed the direct wording about becoming gods. Perhaps he wants to hedge on what will be done by the exalted as gods; if so, he has but to read the section a little more carefully. If he doesn’t like what the apostles and prophets of this dispensation have taught about this section (or “extrapolated” as he put it) then he has set himself above them as a doctrinal and scriptural interpreter unto himself. The chapter summary could help him with his interpretations: “Celestial marriage and a continuation of the family unit enable men to become gods” and “Promises of eternal increase and exaltation are made to prophets and Saints in all ages.” This is pretty specific doctrine, something Mr. Givens indicates in the interview that he doesn’t like and wishes the church would cease teaching and believing. He says it gives us delusions of grandeur and serves the Church poorly. Such thinking causes me to wonder: is he ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ?

4. The teaching and testimony of President Lorenzo Snow, regarding his famous couplet (see below). In the interview, Mr. Givens tries to get around President Snow’s doctrine by saying it is not canonized and therefore is not official doctrine that is binding on him to believe. I suppose this is the best and only method at his disposal for discounting the teachings of a president of the Church in General Conference (although the couplet is in church manuals and has passed modern Correlation review). Seeking such a loophole to rationalize disbelief in doctrine so personal and sacred to him would have deeply offended this prophet of God. To the conference assembled President Snow testified:

That exalted position was made manifest to me at a very early day. I had a direct revelation of this. It was most perfect and complete. If there ever was a thing revealed to man perfectly, clearly, so that there could be no doubt or dubiety, this was revealed to me, and it came in these words: "As man now is, God once was; as God now is, man may be." This may appear to some minds as something very strange and remarkable, but it is in perfect harmony with the teachings of Jesus Christ and with His promises. … This is the high destiny of the sons of God, they who overcome, who are obedient to His commandments, who purify themselves even as He is pure. They are to become like Him; they will see Him as He is; they will behold His face and reign with Him in His glory, becoming like unto Him in every particular.

            At a General Conference priesthood meeting he again bore witness: “He [Pres. Snow] appreciated the fact that he was standing before men who would in time be gods; but our glory, after all, would depend entirely upon ourselves and our faithfulness. If we fail to magnify our Priesthood it would have been better if it had never been conferred upon us. He had not been long in the Church before the Lord revealed to him this grand and mighty principle, and he expressed it in a couplet composed by himself. ‘As man now is, God once was; as God now is man may be.’”

            As part of his second major discourse (given in Brigham City, Utah) after becoming President of the Church: “President Snow spoke of the destiny of man. The time will come, he said, when we shall be like our Father in Heaven. This had been revealed to him early in his experience. He referred to the saying of John, that when Christ shall appear we shall be like Him; also to the angel that John the Revelator fell down to worship. We are told that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are Gods in eternity. We can attain to this condition by purifying ourselves as God is pure.”

            I think it more than interesting that the next man who became president of the Church after President Snow, when talking about the disbelief that some people have in this doctrine, this couplet, that men can become gods, virtually prophesied of the things said by Mr. Givens, as he followed President Snow speaking on an occasion when this doctrine was taught. It was at a reunion of stale priesthood leaders, on June 12, 1901, that President Joseph F. Smith said the following:

Beloved brethren and sisters, It is with feelings of humility that I arise before you. I have listened to many interesting things this morning, among them the early experiences of President Lorenzo Snow and the moving influence of his life, the Holy Ghost, which has directed his efforts in assisting to establish Zion. … It is impossible at this moment to speak upon any particular subject, but I call your attention to the man who took down his patriarchal blessing and to the remark of the Patriarch when the blessing was read over that he, this brother, had been so long steeped in the traditions and prejudices of the sectarian world that it was difficult for him to comprehend what was said. I’m sorry to say that I have witnessed the same thing in many men connected with the Church, but who have been born, reared and educated in the sectarian world, to such an extent that notwithstanding they have become Latter-day Saints, have been born again under the new covenant, they were yet so imbued with the traditions of the fathers that it was difficult to get the truth fully into their minds. I had an old friend, for many years a Bishop. We buried him a few days ago. There was no better man according to his understanding and according to the desires of his heart, but when he preached and how he prayed, whether at home or in public, you could see the horns of sectarianism sticking out all over him and bristling in him. There is too much of this among us. We have heard the remarks of President Snow, of the revelation that came to him in respect to our relationship to God, and His to us, as expressed by President Snow in the words, “As man now is, God once was, and as God now is man may be.” It is hard to get this idea into the heads of many of the Latter-day Saints, and it is almost an impossibility to get it into the minds of the people of the so-called Christian world. . . .

            What is more natural than that as God is man may become if we take Jesus Christ as an example. We are like Him now, but in embryo, while He has developed and advanced and sits upon His throne and reigns. This truth has been revealed to President Snow and it ought to appeal to every human being on earth, and particularly should it appeal to us because of the greater light that has been received by revelation through the Prophet Joseph. . . .

            When Jesus was on earth He had a mother there as we have. We are built on the same plan as God our Father. our destiny is the same as His, for we are formed in His likeness, and nothing is more natural than that as He is we may become. For this the world calls us blasphemous, because they worship a nonentity, a nondescript, without body, parts and passions, whose circumference is everywhere and whose center is nowhere. Yet there is no truth that has been revealed to us that is more simple and plain than this. God grant that we may all understand this principle and cling to it and never yield it while life shall last.

            Could President Joseph F. Smith have described what Mr. Givens said in the interview any more clearly—well over 100 years before he said it? It seems that President Smith would also have been offended, or at least saddened and disappointed at the weakening and marginalization of this doctrine as sought by Mr. Givens.

            Time and again President Snow taught this doctrine to the Church (I have counted more than 13 recorded instances), having had it revealed to him by vision under the power of the Holy Ghost. If someone doesn’t want to believe it, and wants to quibble and intellectualize about it with the philosophies and theories of men, they may, but perhaps they ought more carefully consider their venue.

5. The First Presidency of Joseph F. Smith, John R. Winder, and Anthon H. Lund, issued an “official” statement to the Church on the “Origin of Man.” In that declaration, which although not canonized as scripture still represents the position of the Church, they declared: “Man is the child of God, formed in the divine image and endowed with divine attributes, and even as the infant son of an earthly father and mother is capable in due time of becoming a man, so the undeveloped offspring of celestial parentage is capable, by experience through ages and aeons, of evolving into a God.” Such direct and specific language is unmistakable in meaning.

6. Lastly, I quote from the current President of the Church, Russell M. Nelson. It is true that this was taught after Mr. Givens’ interview, but is quoted here to reinforce all that has previously been stated (above). Speaking for the First Presidency, he taught: “When the Father offers us everlasting life, He is saying in essence, ‘If you choose to follow my Son—if your desire is really to become more like Him—then in time you may live as we live and preside over worlds and kingdoms as we do.’”

            I have left out many modern prophets’ and apostles’ teachings on this subject, quickly locating and sharing these six items that Mr. Givens should have had occur to him. With a little more time and effort I could easily come up with a host of quotations from scores of other church leaders teaching this doctrine. How Mr. Givens could say what he did escapes me—unless he doesn’t believe it himself and doesn’t want to, but instead desires to make the gospel more palatable to an unbelieving world.

            The doctrine of the Church is what it is and no amount of hedging and vacillating and worrying about what critics or non-members think of our doctrine is going to change it. If we determined our doctrine by what the world thinks of it we would soon become no different than the rest of the Christian world, and soon thereafter no different than the secular humanist world, with our doctrine being blown about by the whims of anyone with a loud enough voice.

            Let us hope that this “LDS Perspectives” podcast’s influence will be meager and soon forgotten. Instead let us inform ourselves of true gospel doctrine and gain a knowledge for ourselves of the truthfulness of it by the power of the Holy Spirit.


  1. What are your thoughts about items 11 and 12?

    1. This kind of a public relations Q&A is in response to anti-Mormonism, such as is found in the Book of Mormon Musical and the old "Godmakers" films. It is in response to those kinds of false caricatures. The Q&A takes its guide and wording from the weakest portion of the gospel topics essay.
      Carefully consider the wording of the question: Do Latter-day Saints believe that they will “get their own planet”? I think "get" implies "being given" and the answer would be No, as the Q&A stated. God will not be "giving" His children that become exalted gods their own planets. On the other hand, once an individual is exalted and becomes a god, like Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob now are, they will be able to, with their spirit children, create their own worlds (or planets) as JST Revelation 2:26-67 clearly indicates, and as President Nelson confirmed using similar language in the last 2018 FP Christmas devotional.
      Also, remember that the scriptures and teachings of Presidents of the Church (such as those of President Snow that Correlation has approved) take doctrinal precedence over a PR Q&A item like this (and even over a gospel topic essay), for those that would interpret it as saying something different than I and most others have. President Snow's teachings, as in his couplet, are approved doctrine. President Hinckley did not qualify his teachings about the couplet, but he did tell the church in conference not to mistake misquotes in the public press for church doctrine. Righteous people who become exalted--gods as section 132 puts it--will one day do what God our Eternal Father now does, and that includes creating and peopling worlds, but not "getting" them. After all, it is His work and His glory.

  2. Gee Dennis, stop holding back and tell us how you really feel!
    What's with this revisionist history going on at BYU?

    1. The Neal A. Maxwell Institute seems to be hiring some people who are mixing the theories and philosophies of men/women with scripture and doctrine, and their writings and interviews are consequently containing impure doctrines and philosophies. We see false notions coming from publications and interviews from Jana Riess, the Givens' and Brian Hauglid. I don't think they are purposely trying to defile doctrine, only that they are so imbued with the theories and educational philosophies of the world that it gets mixed into their thinking and therefore their writing and interviews. As a result, you have false doctrine being taught and promulgated. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland was sent to NAMI to straighten them out in November of 2018, but they have ignored his counsel. This does not bode well for the future of that weakening and troubled organization. I am constantly hearing from good faithful orthodox people who are upset with their literary, recorded, and video productions.

  3. I don't think your response provides a rebuttal to Terryl's quote about planets. Your references are explicit that we will participate with God in governing kingdoms. I think they are even clear that we will create with him. However, they are not clear, nor are your quotes that we will be off in our own spaces without God creating planets. That is what many of our faith hear. I think Terryl was referencing that perception.

    As to Terryl's thoughts on deification, he is not out of line with the views of Robert Millet. Both are upstanding LDS, and they are not pushing the boundaries of apostasy.

    I read Terryl's full Q&A, and I don't see him saying anything fringe doctrinally. I have read official church responses that have said that teachings of Brigham Young and others are out of line with the cannon. We are a living church. As a living church, we must recognize that Scripture is our constitution. While prophetic commentary is the second-best, it is still commentary and should not be swung around as unchanging truth.

    I listened to all of Elder Holland's talk. He was setting an anchor for NAMI, but I don't see him calling them out as teachers of false doctrine and apostates. I think he compliments them on meeting the real challenge of supporting both the academic and religious community. But maybe you have some additional information that helps your statement beyond the speech.

    The intensity of your post and comments is underserved for an area of our doctrine that is not fully specified. I think there is ample space in our faith for your views and Terryl's views. He is not a heretic, and we should be careful treating other views as unorthodox. I remember reading a great quote that said, "Isn't the atonement large enough for a little false doctrine."

    1. J Hathaway,
      You and I read/understand Givens very differently. I am unable to recognize the pure untained gospel of Jesus Christ as found in the scriptures and the teachings of prophets and apostles, in his writings. Instead I find hedging, compromise, and mixture with worldly scholarship and authorities and theology.
      These interview ruminations diverge significantly from what Robert Millett has taught (though neither of them speak for the church). Try this:
      and this:
      which contain excellent teachings about becoming like God.

      Section 132 says: "Then shall they be gods, because they have no end; therefore shall they be from everlasting to everlasting, because they continue; then shall they be above all, because all things are subject unto them. Then shall they be gods, because they have call power, and the angels are subject unto them." Break each of these phrases down and figure out what they mean and you will know what God and His worthy exalted children are and do or will do.
      Again: "by this law is the continuation of the works of my Father, wherein he glorifieth himself." This is the same doctrine as Moses 1"38-39. It's all there, plain to see.
      Again: "I give unto my servant Joseph that he shall be made ruler over many things; for he hath been faithful over a few things, and from henceforth I will strengthen him."
      Again: "for they [wives] are given unto him to multiply and replenish the earth, according to my commandment, and to fulfil the promise which was given by my Father before the foundation of the world, and for their exaltation in the eternal worlds, that they [wives] may bear [give birth to] the souls [spirits] of men [and women]; for herein is the work of my Father continued, that he may be glorified."

      Section 132 describes well what will become of angels that do not become Gods. They "are appointed angels in heaven, which angels are ministering servants, to minister for those who are worthy of a far more, and an exceeding, and an eternal weight of glory. For these angels did not abide my law; therefore, they cannot be enlarged, but remain separately and singly, without exaltation, in their saved condition, to all eternity; and from henceforth are not gods, but are angels of God forever and ever."
      This sounds to me like what Givens is describing; not gods, but angels.
      All the prophets and apostles are united in their teachings of what section 132 says and means. Men and women can become gods like Heavenly Father and Jesus now are. They will live in the family unit and have eternal increase; they will always worship Elohim and Jesus, but they will also do exactly what Elohim and Jesus do, create worlds and people them. We know from Revelation 1:6 that God our eternal father worships his father: "hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever." This is the work of the Gods. Listen to a temple sealing some time, it is also stated there.
      If someone is going to get their theology from the great religious teachers and philosophizers and bible scholars of the world, and from the patristic fathers, they will sound just like Terryl Givens and parrot those same doctrines
      Further, I like President Hinckley's quotation about false doctrine better than the one you shared (since Hinckley's is true): "I have spoken before about the importance of keeping the doctrine of the Church pure, and seeing that it is taught in all of our meetings. I worry about this. Small aberrations in doctrinal teaching can lead to large and evil falsehoods." (Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1997], 620.)

    2. I really enjoyed President Hinckley's quote. I think the 'since Hinckley's is true' is a bit demeaning but we move forward.

      You are grandstanding a little with the quotes above. I am specifically referencing LDS beliefs about planets. To show that Terryl is not out of line with his quote you might listen to the following two clips and then read the church's Q&A website.

      The second video gets at my statement on Millet. His views on theosis seem fairly similar to Givens. I think you are reading more into Givens statements than are there.


      Do Latter-day Saints believe that they will “get their own planet”?

      No. This idea is not taught in Latter-day Saint scripture, nor is it a doctrine of the Church. This misunderstanding stems from speculative comments unreflective of scriptural doctrine. Mormons believe that we are all sons and daughters of God and that all of us have the potential to grow during and after this life to become like our Heavenly Father (see Romans 8:16-17). The Church does not and has never purported to fully understand the specifics of Christ’s statement that “in my Father’s house are many mansions” (John 14:2).

  4. In an AMA reddit Q&A, Terryl Givens wrote, in reply to a question of what he believes about the potential of the faithful to become like God: "I dont know what "becoming a god" means or entails, but Moses 7 gives us the most information available to us. It has something to do with acquiring an infinite capacity for empathy and compassion. I incline to the belief that we will foster/shepherd/adopt or otherwise help to educate other spirit entities in the ways of the eternities, in companionship with our spouse."

    It goes almost without saying that none of this is scriptural, nor taught by the prophets and apostles, nor fits the gospel topic essay. It is his own unsubstantiated opinion and is false. Makes you wonder why his study of section 132 and the many addresses of modern apostles and prophets on the subject hasn't been up to par, especially if he is going to do interviews about it. I wish some "learned" people would do their homework before waxing eloquent and inserting the philosophies of men in place of scripture and prophetic teachings.

  5. It seems I can't spend more than a few moments reviewing the addresses of the prophets and apostles without running into references from them that teach that men and women can become like God in the full and complete sense, doing all that God our Eternal Father and His Son Jesus Christ do. From Elder Packer: "Like God. What is in error, then, when we use the term Godhood to describe the ultimate destiny of mankind? We may now be young in our progression—juvenile, even infantile, compared with Him. Nevertheless, in the eternities to come, if we are worthy, we may be like unto Him, enter His presence, “see as [we] are seen, and know as [we] are known,” and receive a “fulness.” (D&C 76:94.) This doctrine is not at variance with the scriptures. Nevertheless, it is easy to understand why some Christians reject it, because it introduces the possibility that man may achieve Godhood."

    As Elder Packer stated, the doctrine of becoming like God is NOT at variance with the scriptures, and if people interpret the church's Q&A PR statement as teaching anything else, they are wrong.
    The standard works are full of the doctrine that righteous faithful men and women can become exactly like God now is. They are not "given" their own planets; neither was God. But He created this planet and unnumbered others (by His Only Begotten) for his children to progress and grow and become like Him, if they will obey the plan of salvation. Givens just doesn't get it; too much worldly wisdom/philosophy mixing in with the true doctrines; messes up most everything he teaches, at least that I have read (which thankfully isn't much).

  6. From Pres. Oaks at the most recent (Oct 2019) General Conference:

    The work of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is ultimately concerned with preparing the children of God for the celestial kingdom, and most particularly for its highest glory, exaltation or eternal life. That highest destiny is possible only through marriage for eternity.11 Eternal life includes the creative powers inherent in the combination of male and female12—what modern revelation describes as the “continuation of the seeds forever and ever.”13

    In his talk to young adults, President Nelson taught, “Abiding by God’s laws will keep you safe as you progress toward eventual exaltation”14—that is, to become like God, with the exalted life and divine potential of our Heavenly Parents."
    These kinds of teachings from the prophets and apostles are everywhere except in Givens' writings and interviews.

  7. I continue to run into prophetic teachings supporting the fact that faithful men and women can become like God. Pres. Hinckley:
    On the other hand, the whole design of the gospel is to lead us onward and upward to greater achievement, even, eventually, to godhood. This great possibility was enunciated by the Prophet Joseph Smith in the King Follet sermon (see Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pp. 342–62; and emphasized by President Lorenzo Snow. It is this grand and incomparable concept: As God now is, man may become! (See The Teachings of Lorenzo Snow, comp. Clyde J. Williams, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1984, p. 1.)

    Our enemies have criticized us for believing in this. Our reply is that this lofty concept in no way diminishes God the Eternal Father. He is the Almighty. He is the Creator and Governor of the universe. He is the greatest of all and will always be so. But just as any earthly father wishes for his sons and daughters every success in life, so I believe our Father in Heaven wishes for his children that they might approach him in stature and stand beside him resplendent in godly strength and wisdom.