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"For Latter-day Saints, God and man are the same species. God has substance — he is not just a force or power. He is an exalted, glorified man, and one of the purposes of the gospel is to help us become what he is."
The idea of humans becoming gods runs counter to mainstream Christianity, said Richard Mouw, president of the evangelical Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif. Confusing the two has traditionally been considered blasphemous, he said.
However, the Mormon idea does approach the Eastern Orthodox Christian notion of "theosis," or partaking in the divine energies of God, said Mouw, a 20-year veteran of Mormon-evangelical dialogue.
The God-as-exalted man doctrine has profound effects on other areas of Mormon theology, according to scholars. For example, Mormons believe that God has a celestial wife, to whom Jesus was born in a premortal existence.
"We believe that Jesus and all humanity had a life before this life," Millet said, "and in that world, Christ was the eldest — Jesus was our elder brother."
Thus, Jesus is a step below God on the stairway to heaven — and not an equal member of the Trinity.
Traditional Christianity holds that God the Father, Jesus and the Holy Spirit coexist and share one substance. Mormons "deny the [doctrine of the] Trinity and that’s huge," said Mouw.
But for all the theological fissures between Mormonism and evangelicals, some scholars say they have discovered a fair amount of common ground through dialogue.
"We are so close in some respects that when we differ, it can lead to inflammatory conversations," Blomberg said. "It’s like a sibling rivalry."
The Salt Lake Tribune contributed to this story.
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