Perfection, The Atonement and Everything Else
In Andreasen’s Tag-Team Atonement theology, it was absolutely essential for the last generation to reach sinless perfection. The entire great controversy rested on this one factor. This created a major problem for Adventist understanding of salvation by grace through faith, since, such a mode of salvation seemed to more sensibly apply to previous generations, not the last one. But, having rejected this theology as erroneous, we can approach the subject of perfection without the Andreasenist bias.
Second, we’ve also mentioned that other Christians understand human nature as consisting not only of a physical body but of a depraved soul as well. This soul retains its depravity until the second coming and therefore, such theology cannot accommodate sinless perfection. But as Adventists, we don’t have this problem.
Third, we’ve also talked about our fallen biology, with its urges and drives, persisting to the end. But here also I’ve argued that our biology cannot properly be called sin. But neither can sin be limited to voluntary actions only but must include our cultivated nature or character as well.
So, given all these factors, what do we do with the idea of Perfection?
1) Peter was able to overcome defects in his character that he was previously unaware of. Unlike our fallen biology which will not change until the end, our cultivated nature can be changed. Thus, if sin can only be applied to action and cultivated nature, perfection is theoretically possible.
2) But, considering that we don’t know our characters in their entirety, it is not possible for us to ever know that perfection was actually reached.
3) Given that we don’t need to reach perfection to win the great controversy, like Andreasen claimed, attaining to sinless perfection is beneficial but not necessary, ever. We are always saved by grace through faith.
It is only in heaven that God will one day tell us certain people reached perfection here on earth. In the meantime, God will be able to glory in the perfection of His people while they themselves will continue to see themselves as vile sinners.
Therefore, it does us no good while on earth to preoccupy ourselves with our own perfection. The one exception to this is that we should never allow ourselves to excuse known sin by thinking that perfection isn’t possible. We should keep perfection before us as an ideal without judging ourselves based on whether we’re getting close to attaining it or not. Moreover, we should always remember that perfection as God sees it places far more priority on how we treat others than on whether or not we’ve succumbed to chocolate or cheese.
“Love is the basis of godliness. Whatever the profession, no man has pure love to God unless he has unselfish love for his brother. . . . When self is merged in Christ, love springs forth spontaneously. The completeness of Christian character is attained when the impulse to help and bless others springs constantly from within–when the sunshine of heaven fills the heart and is revealed in the countenance. . . .” Maranatha p. 102
Once we discard Andreasen’s views of the Atonement, any other differences between us and evangelicals on this point are purely semantical. Because different groups use terminology differently, we have to ask what exactly do Evangelicals mean by the word ‘Atonement?’
And, most will tell you they want to know the following:
1) Was Jesus’s sacrifice sufficient or does He need to die again and again to pay for our sins? (ex. Catholic mass)
2) Were the merits of His life and death sufficient or does God need my own merits to add to what Jesus did in order to save me? (i.e. salvation by grace + works)
3) Were the merits of His life and death sufficient or does God need someone else’s merits to add to Christ’s in order to save me? (ex. monks earning merits for other people)
4) Was Christ’s sacrifice sufficient or does God need to also add Satan’s death to make it complete? (only mentioning this because of some people’s mistaken views of the Scapegoat)
And, Adventists fully agree with Evangelicals on these points. If there is any difference, it is with Calvinists and OSAS Arminians, not with Classical non-OSAS Arminians(1).
Thus, in whatever evangelicals mean by the word Atonement when they say that the Atonement was complete at the cross, we agree with them as much as any other Arminian would. However, we do at times use the word ‘Atonement’ more broadly than evangelicals as referring to God’s complete plan of salvation and, under that definition, the Atonement wasn’t completed at the cross. Each denomination tends to develop its own internal vocabulary, but this isnt’s something anyone should get hung up on.
Adventist theologians have repeatedly categorized the evangelical QOD delegation as Calvinist, even though they themselves resisted this label. And, this was a mistake on our part. Walter Martin and his crew were not Calvinists. They were mixed. Walter Martin himself was Baptist and therefore Arminian; a significant difference. It was important to them to be recognized as a group that acknowledged and represented the different soteriological perspectives in Protestantism. Had we recognized this fact, we could then have more effectively brought their attention to the fact that there are three camps in Protestantism not two, when it comes to the theology of salvation: Calvinism, Once Saved Always Saved Arminianism and Classical Arminianism. And, while they had representation for the first two groups, we as Adventists belonged to the third.
Had this issue been clarified, it would have been a lot easier to explain doctrines like the Investigative Judgment to them as the result of combining Classical Arminianism and Soul Sleep (see this article for details). And, what I’ve written above about how a rejection of the immaterial soul changes how one approaches the subject of the Nature of Christ, would have resolved their concern on that topic as well.
Their only other issue would have been Ellen White. And, frankly, Adventists need to stop speaking out of both sides of their mouth on this issue. While we believe Ellen White had prophetic authority, we don’t believe she had doctrinal authority. If this had been made abundantly clear by the church, Walter Martin would not have been talking about Ellen White being our ‘Infallible Interpreter of Scripture’ years later (John Ankerberg show).
The idea that our church has delayed Christ coming is closely tied to Last Generation Theology and Andreasen in the mind of most Adventists. In reality, this concept is unavoidably derived from the traditional Adventist understanding of 1844 and related concepts. If God has set up 1844 as the date when He would begin the pre-Advent judgment as the final element in His dealings with sin, it does not make sense for us to still be here 170 years later. Not just because an investigative judgment shouldn’t take this long, but because, for this to be meaningful as a message of warning for the world, the second coming would need to take place within a reasonable time after 1844. The passing of several generations since then seems out of tune with the nature of the message (see here for more on this).
Thus, any rational Adventist today is in the precarious position of either accepting the delay or rejecting 1844. But an acceptance of the delay carries serious implications. As a denomination, we desperately need to stop, figure out where we went wrong, and fix it.
For six decades our church has been interrupted by the split caused by QOD. If this paper is correct and the division was in fact unnecessary and superficial, it’s time for our people to put aside our differences and work towards healing.
1) The Protestant world is fairly evenly divided into three camps: Calvinists, Once Saves Always Saved Arminians and Classical/Traditional Arminians who reject OSAS. Regarding the Atonement (as evangelicals define the term), we take the same stance as all the other traditional Arminian groups.