Congrats to fellow seminarian Justin White for an excellent write up on his Seminar presentation featured in the Mormon Times . Justin’s presentation was among the most intellectual stimulating and really makes one question the basic foundations of our ‘I am a Child of God’ theology.
I however, found Justin’s conclusion to be rather unconvincing as it currently stands for several reasons. First of all, I don’t think the Justin fully acknowledges the full impact of the thought in “O My Father” and how deeply that theological notion permeated the culture. This notion of literally being children of God was not uniquely found in that famous poem, however. Parley Pratt for Instance expressed a very similar thought in the Poem “My Dearest Wife” Contained in Chapter 44 of his autobiography
“Why wander far from Heaven’s eternal fold
And from the bosom of your Father there?”
Indeed, this poem most emphatically rejects the notion of a cold and distant figure and embraces the notion that our father loved us during the preexistence. Bosom is a very paternal/maternal term that does not seem to imply adoption or any loose form of association.
Secondly, I think that Justin should grapple more with historic concepts of Christianity that existed in the contemporary environment. There was great debate over this very issue. For instance, the Christian Repository had a headed debate in its 6th volume between a minister arguing that mankind and God have a special relationship and another arguing that ” Men are no more children of God than the beasts, only as they are the children of the resurrection.” This was going on in the 1820’s right around the time of the translation of the Book of Mormon etc. Significantly, the early saints seem to come down on the side those believing in a special relationship on all the key issues such as agency and the universal nature of the resurrection of the body. In other words, historically the early Saints seem to align themselves theological with those that rejected the notion that our only relationship to God comes through adoption.
These I suppose are my two major points of contention. The third comes from the timeline of the symposium research culminating in essentially 1844. It does not make sense to consider this topic without at least looking at the spirit procreation ideas that emerge under Brigham Young. Justin seems to suggest that as we move on to the temple and focus on adoption, that adoption theology becomes more prominent and yet there’s the parallel increased focus on procreation and being children of God. I think that the historical evolution of the doctrine must be traced at least a little further in order to be fully understood.