Are Christians Mormon? Reassessing Joseph Smith’s Theology in His Bicentennial

Harold Bloom, the self-proclaimed “unbelieving Jew” and distinguished scholar, recently characterized Joseph Smith as “a religious genius,” stating that the religion Smith founded “is truly a biblical religion.” More recently, Carl Mosser has written concerning the doctrine of that religion: “Mormonism’s heresies are legion; they are also very interesting and often unique in the history of heresy.” Biblical or heretical? Of these two reactions, the charge of heresy has been far more common, especially among conservative Christian critics, who consistently draw a circle that leaves Joseph’s Mormonism out.

No wonder, then, the interest in 1974 when Truman Madsen published an article in BYU Studies with the half-jesting title “Are Christians Mormon?” The title was an obvious play on the often repeated and too familiar question “Are Mormons Christian?” It was only a half-jest because, as Madsen puts it, “In our time there are renowned and influential spokesmen and writers in all the major wings of Christendom—and they are not on the periphery but at the center—who are defending and teaching what, a century ago, Joseph Smith almost alone taught.”

Now that Latter-day Saints and others have commemorated the two-hundredth birthday of Joseph Smith (1805–1844), founding prophet of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, it is time to reassess how far Christian thinkers have come in appropriating theological insights once owned uniquely, or nearly so, by Smith and his followers.

Purchase this Issue