A New York native, Terryl Givens did his graduate work in intellectual history (Cornell) and comparative literature (UNC Chapel Hill). He teaches courses in nineteenth-century studies and religious themes in literature at the University of Richmond, where he is Professor of Literature and Religion and the Jabez A. Bostwick Professor of English, and he has been a Research Fellow at both Brigham Young University and the University of Oxford. An award-winning author, Givens’s work has been called “provocative reading” by The New York Times and includes By the Hand of Mormon, When Souls had Wings, People of Paradox, and a two-volume history of Mormon thought: Wresting the Angel and Feeding the Flock (Oxford University Press). With his wife Fiona, he has written The God Who Weeps, The Crucible of Doubt, and most recently, The Christ Who Heals (Deseret Book). Professor Givens has also been a commentator on CNN, NPR, and in the PBS/Frontline documentary, The Mormons. With Fiona, he makes his home in the village of Montpelier, Virginia.
Terryl Givens discusses the somewhat controversial “Becoming Like God” Gospel Topic essay, and how some Mormons are confused about what becoming like God actually means.
This podcast has been re-posted, with permission, from LDSPersectives.
In the lecture transcript, Mr. Givens said:
“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
It is unfortunate that Mr. Givens sees apostolic and prophetic teachings about the scriptures and the teachings of Joseph Smith as “theologizing” and “fold theology.” Even more unfortunate is Mr. Givens’ inability to find any authoritative scriptural of prophetic pronouncements teaching that man can become like unto God, including creating worlds (planets) and peopling them, as God did ours.
Since Mr. Givens was unable to locate these scriptures and statements, let me assist him with this exercise:
1. JST Revelation 2:26-27, including the chapter 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;
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.”
There are also a number of other passages in Revelation that speak of the blessings of exaltation and godhood that come to those that overcome the world.
2. President Lorenzo Snow often declared, as president of the Church, the truth revealed to him in vision:
“In the revelations which God has given, we find what a person can reach who will travel this path of knowledge and be guided by the Spirit of God. I had not been in this Church more than two years when it was clearly shown to me what a man could reach through a continued obedience to the Gospel of the Son of God … It is a long time since the knowledge of which I speak was communicated to me in a vision. But it has not been forgotten. When it was first shown to me it was personal property; I dared not communicate it. It was something that I had never heard before. …
Now I will say what I received in vision, which was just as clear as the sun ever shone. The knowledge that was communicated to me I embraced in this couplet:
As man now is, God once was.
As God now is, man may be.
That is a very wonderful thing. It was to me. I did not know but that I had come into possession of knowledge that I had no business with; but I knew it was true. Nothing of this kind had ever reached my ears before. It was preached a few years after that; at least, the Prophet Joseph taught this idea to the Twelve Apostles. Now, however, it is common property; but I do not know how many there are here that have got a real knowledge of these things in their hearts. … Now, we are the sons and daughters of God. He has begotten us in His own image. He has given us faculties and powers that are capable of enlargement until His fulness is reached which He has promised—until we shall sit upon thrones, governing and controlling our posterity from eternity to eternity, and increasing eternally. That is the fact in regard to these matters, and there are some people who understand distinctly what I am saying.”
3. The First Presidency, consisting of Joseph F. Smith, John R. Winder, and Anthon H. Lund, stated in a formal declaration to the Church, the following: “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.”
4. the King Follet Discourse.
5. The recent declaration and testimony of President Russell M. Nelson, speaking formally for the First Presidency: 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…