(Originally written for a group of Adventist ministers. by Mike Manea)
I have over the years written many articles addressing the various objections raised against the doctrine of the Investigative Judgment(IJ) (http://bit.ly/IJcompilation). I’ve argued that we’re making a mistake debating critics on their exegesis when the real issue is their methodology. Significant work has been done in the field of Hermeneutics since Gadamer pointing out the limitations of exegesis to get to the ‘author intent,’ fully justifying Adventists for building their theology on the Canonical model instead. In this essay I will primarily focus on the question of whether the IJ is relevant and whether there is room for theological pluralism in the Adventist Church.
As far as I’m concerned, the IJ and related topics are the pearl of Adventism, because they solve so many major problems in Christian theology. It’s as if a king gave a little girl an expensive diamond necklace, but, because some of her immature friends made fun of it, she now covers it with a scarf, when it should really be the source of her pride. I long for the day when Adventist ministers will appreciate the value of what they have and preach it with the appropriate enthusiasm.
Before we start, let’s address a few preliminaries:
1) Adventist theology must come entirely from the Bible, without any help from Ellen White. EGW will not be used in this article, and hopefully, not in any critique the article receives.
2) When we learn math in school we start with number sense, then basic arithmetic, then, with time, we move on to algebra and maybe even calculus. The reason math is taught in this particular order is that the concepts at each stage build on concepts from the previous stage. Theology works in the same way: some concepts are more foundational while others are built on top of concepts at a lower level. The most foundational level in theology has to do with a particular theological tradition’s theory of knowledge (epistemology) – what sources of information it considers trustworthy, the nature of those sources, and their relative weight. In Christianity there are multiple schools of thought that differ from each other at the most foundational level. http://bit.ly/epistemicmodels
3) When two parties disagree on any given topic in theology, it is important to determine the level at which they diverge and have the discussion there. Trying to have a debate at a higher level when there is disagreement at a more foundational level is like debating algebra when you disagree on basic arithmetic. In almost all cases when someone disagrees with the IJ or fails to see its relevance, there are in fact theological differences on far more foundational matters.
4) Adventist theology is the theological descendent not of the magisterial reformers (Luther, Calvin) like modern day evangelicals, but of the radical reformers (ex. Anabaptists), the key difference being that we reject the hermeneutical role of early Christian tradition in theology. We are often confused theologically with either conservative evangelicals or with neoorthodox evangelicals and evaluated through those prisms when in fact our theology is built on the very different, and lesser known, Canonical Theology Model. This has significant methodological implications: http://bit.ly/ExegesisCanonicalTheology
With that in mind, let’s begin.
The Great Controversy vs. the Gospel
Many Adventists grow up viewing religion as a long list of do’s and don’ts. This might be due to parents enforcing rules without an explanation, due to exposure to various LGT groups, due to reading poorly arranged EGW compilations, etc. At times, this might lead to people leaving the church, becoming discouraged or else, treating religion more as a cultural identity. If fortunate however, they might also come to understand the gospel and trust in Christ alone for their salvation.
The gospel, especially when someone has first tried to be saved by works, has a powerful impact upon the individual. It tends to color the way they view everything else in theology. And, this is generally a good thing, except that the gospel, on its own, isn’t a complete hermeneutic for Scripture. The reason is that, while the Gospel offers a diagnosis and a solution for humanity’s problems, it doesn’t explain why those problems are there to begin with.
Thus, if we took ten people, explained the gospel in the same way to all of them, gave them a bible and asked them to read it from beginning to end using the gospel as their hermeneutic, we could well end up with ten different theologies, depending on how each person chooses to resolve for themselves the primordial questions of the biblical narrative.
Not just this, but the gospel itself comes in multiple versions. If someone accepts the starting premise that salvation is by grace through faith, they could still follow a Calvinist approach (predestination), an Arminian approach (free will) or an Once Saved Always Saved(OSAS) approach (free will only until someone accepts Christ). Thus, a gospel-centric hermeneutic generally leads to theological fragmentation. (I should also mention here that the Gospel-Centric Hermeneutic is sometimes also referred to as the Christ-Centered Hermeneutic, although the latter phrase is also used by those coming from a Neoorthodox perspective in a very different way)
Adventist theology is built through a hermeneutic that uses a combination of the Great Controversy macro-narrative and the gospel as seen through the lens of the Sanctuary. Will explain this in a minute.
A Grand Unifying Theory
In the history of science, reality has been viewed through multiple prisms. In the middle ages, science was Aristotelian. This worked great for quite a while, until it started becoming evident that the paradigm failed in properly accounting for large clusters of data. With time, Newtonian physics became the leading paradigm which lasted into modernity, but was eventually also replaced by relativity and quantum mechanics.
Each paradigm took the same data and incorporated it into a matrix that allowed scientists to make sense of the individual elements in light of a bigger picture. The motivating factor in switching paradigms was that too much data had accumulated that simply could not be accounted for by previous models.
The great controversy motif holds a similar role in theology. Christianity has worked with multiple such unifying themes over the centuries but the Controversy theme best accounts for all the Scriptural data (I challenge anyone to propose a better alternative). Let’s consider some of the other options:
1) The Soul-Making Motif
The idea here is that the reason suffering and sin exist is so that individuals could grow and mature, something they would not be able to do if there were no trials. Mormon theology is built on this framework.
2) The Calvinist View
God is sovereign and does as He pleases. He chose for sin to exist so that it can bring Him glory for sending Christ to die.
3) The Manichaeist View
There are two equal but opposing forces in the cosmos, one good, one evil.
4) The Platonic View
God is ontologically so far above humanity that sin and suffering exist due to the sheer ontological distance, God being the only source of good. Kind of like a planet that is really cold because it is too far from the sun.
5) The Non-Answer View
We don’t know why God allows sin to exist because Scripture doesn’t reveal it.
I propose that all these (and other) macro narratives leave large segments of scriptural data unaccounted for.
Why isn’t the Controversy Motif more widely accepted?
Adventists did not invent the great controversy concept; others have thought of it prior to us. None the less, the idea isn’t very popular among other Christians.
The reason for this however isn’t because of any flaw with the concept itself. Historically, Protestantism has placed a high value on early Christian tradition (this is one of the main reasons for the split with the radical reformers). Modern historians however have demonstrated that the early church fathers were heavily influenced by platonic/neoplatonic thinking. This thinking comes across in their Doctrine of God known as Classical Theism.
People who buy into classical theism are instinctively repulsed by the view of God found in the great controversy theme. However, any honest evaluation of the Scriptural data shows the latter view to be far more compatible. While the ancients believed that their god-concept was the unavoidable conclusion of sound philosophical reasoning, it has by now been thoroughly demonstrated that philosophical reasoning lacks the capacity to access such knowledge.
Another reason some people take issue with the great controversy hermeneutic is because they rely on an interpretative methodology that has its roots in the fundamentalist movement of the late 1900’s. The idea here is that we should not hold any view that is not explicitly taught in Scripture. We should not attempt to ‘fill in the gaps’ or to try to organize concepts in a logical framework.
I should mention here that Adventists are under no obligation to respond to such criticism since fundamentalist theology is not taken seriously in academic circles (although they did come up with their own ‘academia’). But if we did respond:
1) It would be impossible to arrive at the conclusion that Jesus was the Messiah if this hermeneutic was applied to the Old Testament.
2) This is not how Jesus Himself interpreted the Old Testament.
3) This leads to fragmentation; every individual makes up his own theology.
4) It moves people to accept extra biblical frameworks to make sense of Scripture.
What is the great controversy?
Once we accept the Scriptural view of God as a Being that is willing and able to condescend, so as to be able to have a two-way relationship with free-willed beings created in His Image, everything else falls into place.
God is omniscient; He understands the circumstances under which large numbers of free-willed beings can coexist eternally in loving harmony both with each other and with their creator.
Created beings are not omniscient; they can either take God at His word or learn for themselves by trial and error. This leads to three scenarios:
1) God lays out the parameters under which all of creation can exist in harmony and then, all free-will beings take God at His word and choose to abide by those parameters for the rest of eternity.
2) If anyone chooses not to take God at His word but rather to go a different direction, this places the well-being of everyone else in jeopardy. God could try to address this quickly, but this problem could come up again and again throughout the ages.
3) God could step back and allow rebellion to unfold for a limited duration under quarantined conditions. Given enough time, sufficient data will be collected such that non-omniscient free willed beings will fully understand the consequences of sin. Not only will they never choose to rebel again of their own free will, but this will also provide the legal precedent to prosecute potential future dissenters without alienating everyone else. This ensures the security of the universe for the rest of eternity.
RELEVANCE OF THE IJ
# 1 – It’s the whole point of the exercise
If the entire reason sin and suffering exist is so that created beings could understand the character of God, the character of Satan, the nature of sin, its consequences, etc.,
If for thousands of years now data has been collected on this matters to be finally evaluated once all the data is in,
If by the second coming of Christ all these issues will have already been forever settled,
Then the IJ is quite possibly one of the most consequential events in the entire history of the cosmos, past and future.
It is now that the final results of the entire experiment can be seen, it is now that Satan has the chance to make his final case, it is now that the forever decisions are made. Dismissing all this on the grounds that it is not relevant to one’s own personal salvation seems incredibly juvenile.
# 2 – It maintains the integrity of the Biblical narrative
Adventists, along with a few other groups, have departed from orthodox Christian theology by adopting (or reinstating) the Biblical doctrine of soul sleep. People don’t go to heaven when they die but await the resurrection. According to the Biblical narrative however, at the second coming, only the saints are resurrected while the wicked await the second resurrection. The living wicked are slain. Essentially, the eternal fate of everyone has already been decided by the second coming. None the less, there is a strong judgment motif all throughout Scripture, and judgment always happens before sentencing. The logic of the story itself requires a pre-advent judgment, if we are to present a coherent theology.
# 3 – It resolves Protestantism’s gospel conundrum
As previously mentioned, Protestantism spawned three distinct groups, all claiming to believe in salvation by grace through faith: Calvinists, Arminians and OSAS. Just for clarification, most soteriological perspectives can be classified as follows:
– salvation is not needed, only growth – ex. Buddhism
– salvation is by works – ex. Paganism
– salvation is by grace + works – ex. Catholicism
– salvation is by grace through faith – Protestantism (Calvinists, Arminians, OSAS)
– salvation is by grace alone – Universalism
After a long struggle with sin and guilt, Luther came to understand the complete depravity of the human heart and the fact that, if man is to be saved at all, it must be by grace alone through faith alone. This is the element all Protestants agree on. Within a short while however, Luther was called upon to defend his theology before prominent theologians and this necessitated a theological frame around his concept of righteousness by faith. To do this, he turned to Augustine who had built his soteriology on assumptions of Predestination.
The predestinarian framework was soon after picked up by Calvin and much more fully developed, hence the label ‘Calvinism.’ Melanchthon, Luther’s closest associate, eventually reverted back to a free will framework, but because Calvin was the first reformed theologian to produce a full-fledged systematic theology (besides other socio-political forces) he had a much wider influence upon the Reformation.
To be fair, the predestinarian framework did succeed in hammering in the most critical concept of the Reformation: that there is nothing we can do to earn our own salvation (if our eternal destiny has already been settled, our actions are irrelevant.) However, by the second generation of reformers, this framework raised serious theodical concerns. As Arminius put it, if God predestined sin, He is not only Himself a sinner, He is the ONLY sinner (paraphrase).
Arminius reintroduced free will in protestant theology (though it had never completely died off) making sure to protect the integrity of the central tenets (total depravity & salvation by grace through faith) by making use of concepts like Prevenient Grace. This succeeded in resolving the theodical issues caused by Calvinism, but it created a new set of problems regarding the Assurance of Salvation (a serious concern for a faith-based soteriology).
Think of it like this: you and your best friend attend a gospel presentation, become convicted of sin and accept Christ as your Lord and Savior. You both trust God entirely with your salvation, you are both filled with the Spirit, you both experience a complete transformation in the life and have full assurance of your salvation. There is no difference in experience between you.
Ten years later, however, your friend apostatizes. And the question is, how can you still have assurance of salvation given that your friend had this exact same assurance and yet still apostatized? What’s to say the same thing won’t happen to you in another ten years? Under the Calvinist system one can say that the friend was not among the elect to begin with but was just going through the motions; but your Arminian theology doesn’t allow for this.
To resolve this conundrum, the OSAS perspective was introduced. The idea here was that a person can still have a choice, thus protecting the theodicy, but once they chose, their destiny was sealed, thus also protecting their assurance.
This, however, created another problem: cheap grace. Someone can accept Christ, then live like the devil and still end up in heaven. Even Calvinists had major problems with this because, under their system, if the elect fell into sin, they would most definitely (be predestined to) repent before they die (like David).
For five centuries now, Protestants have been debating and changing sides between these three factions with no real solution in sight. Where a person ends up is entirely a function of which of the three problems they can most comfortably live with, in order to avoid the other two.
Adventism however does offer a solution to this problem through the sanctuary’s two-room salvation process. The sanctuary separates the Saving from the Judgment and places the judgment element only at the end of history prior to which heaven’s entire focus is on saving.
Adventism is definitely a descendent of the Arminian tradition. However, it allows for a condition similar to OSAS for as long as a person is alive, since the judgment only comes after death.
The traditional Arminian model is built on choice: choice to accept Christ, and choice to later reject Him. And, since as Christians we’re prone to make bad choices, this model is fraught with insecurity.
The sanctuary model takes the initial choice to come to Christ as the individual’s permission for heaven to take over their ‘case’ and to work in their life. At this point, God enters into a covenant with the individual to do all in His power to save them. Any subsequent choice to turn away is ignored and God’s entire focus remains their salvation. Just like with OSAS, it doesn’t matter what the person does after they accept Christ, they can still have the assurance that God is on their side. But unlike the OSAS model, the sanctuary model does take into consideration the individual’s choice after they have died and there is nothing more that can be done to save them.
In the great controversy scheme, while our experience in this sinful world is unavoidable, God is doing everything possible to save as many as possible. It is an all-out rescue effort, undistracted by the individual’s lack of interest. This does not mean however, that God will in the end force individuals into heaven who have clearly decided they don’t want to be there.
Just imagine for a second how much healthier a relationship with God our members would have if they knew that, for as long as they are alive, God is entirely on their side no matter how far they’ve fallen; there is no judgment, no condemnation. They don’t need to doubt God’s love or their standing with him just because they have, yet again, succumbed to a life-long bad habit. It is impossible to have any firmer a basis for assurance without adopting either Calvinism and OSAS.
All this, however, does raise the question of what happens to those of us who do live after 1844 and especially after the close of probation. LGT has left many thinking that probation could close anytime and they could be lost and not even know it.
But even after 1844, people continue to be judged only after their death, so everything above still applies. The only exception is the generation still alive when Jesus comes, and for them, probation closes not so that they could no longer change their minds but BECAUSE they are no longer changing their minds. I explain this here: http://bit.ly/CloseofProbation
#4 – It reorients our eschatology and informs our mission
A key problem with Christian eschatology in general, is that history has continued much longer than a plain reading of the New Testament would seem to indicate. Christians by and large don’t have a good answer to Christ’s 2000 year delay and different work-arounds have been proposed over the centuries that have impacted biblical hermeneutics (ex. shift the focus to meeting Christ at death rather than at the second coming, interpret Christ’s coming as the Empire converting to Christianity, assume Biblical eschatology applies only to the Jews and insert an unaccounted-for gap called, ‘the time of the gentiles,’ etc.)
Adventists however have, what I would propose to be, a much better explanation for this. The Great Controversy/Sanctuary paradigm intrinsically presupposes two things:
1) That God will not end human history before sufficient data is collected to ensure the experiment does not need to be repeated again, and,
2) That human history will not be prolonged beyond what is needed to accomplish this.
With that in mind, the New Testament does warn of a ‘falling away’ in the Church and Paul speaks of a ‘man of sin’ to be revealed before the coming of Christ. Between the books of Daniel and Revelation, the 1260 year period is repeated seven different times (a point that other Christians really should take more seriously). All this brings us to around the 1800’s, so Christ’s delay is more or less accounted for. Apparently, a significant body of data to be used in the great controversy to determine the effects of sin, revolves around how humanity would respond to God’s grand gesture of love in the sacrifice of Christ: it turns out that it proved to be a powerful tool that the Church could use to oppress and manipulate the masses.
This big-picture/bird’s-eye-view understanding of history has given us a different perspective on eschatology. We know why God has allowed sin to exist to begin with. We know that it was necessary to allow history to unfold even after the cross, so that the effects of the gospel message on humanity could be clearly seen. We know that a long-enough period of time was set aside for this much in advance (1260 years). And, we know that, once this time-period expired, a sufficiently strong case against sin and Satan would have been built for heaven to begin the closing proceedings. We don’t know how long this closing inventory itself will last, but we do know that there is a work for us accomplish while it is going on.
The Closing Work
The second coming of Christ, as Scripture describes it, creates a complication that lacks parallel in previous human history: the typical probationary time has to be interrupted. Throughout history, probation for every individual has lasted for some limited duration: generally a few decades. Probationary time for different individuals however, has always been staggered; as some people die off, new people are born. ‘The Lord is not slack concerning his promise…. but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance’ (2 Pet. 3:9).
If Jesus ever plans to return, however, He will either have to cut some people off, before they have a chance to ‘come to repentance’ or, He must orchestrate events in such a way that people’s probationary time becomes ‘unstaggered,’ or, that people at different stages of life come to make their decisions around the same time. (I explain this in more detail in my Close of Probation post above http://bit.ly/CloseofProbation)
There are two ways to speed up people’s decision-making processes: negative incentives and positive incentives. An example of a negative incentive is the falling of the plagues on Egypt: by means of hardship, the people of Egypt were pressed to make certain decisions that affected how they would be impacted by the very last plague and its aftermath. An example of a positive incentive is the ministry of Christ on Israel. This unprecedented revelation of divine grace moved people to take sides much faster than they would have otherwise. According to Revelation, God is going to use both of these methods at the end of time and He evidently wants His people to cooperate with Him in this work. There is however a third factor that plays a significant part.
The Third Angel’s Message as a Testable Prediction
We live in a time when Christianity puts out so many conflicting messages, that it’s next to impossible for sincere people to navigate through the clutter. There are so many different religions in the world as well as much skepticism regarding any and all religious claims. How are we to effectively prepare an entire planet for the close of probation when there are so many voices pulling in so many different directions?
When we take a bird’s eye view to history, we see that Satan has often relied on powerful human forces to accomplish his ends: empires like Egypt, Babylon, Rome, as well as the Imperial Church throughout the dark ages. These systems of deception took centuries to develop and fine-tune and therefore cannot easily be discarded/replaced in time of need. This fact allows Scripture to make testable predictions regarding how Satan will work at the end of time.
The Bible explains that the world will end with a time of crisis. Under such circumstances, people generally begin to awaken out of their carelessness, which poses a serious threat to Satan’s kingdom. To address this, Satan will once again rely on systems that he has taken millennia to develop and as such, his behavior is predictable. In that critical hour we will be able to point to the fact that, for over a century and a half, we have predicted a specific (and fairly implausible) scenario, that has materialized. This will add a level of credibility to our message that will set us apart amidst the plethora of competing voices and help us to give the final warning effectively.
The preaching of the third angel’s message is not anti-gospel or a distraction from preaching the gospel, but rather it sets the stage to help people make decisions during a special time when probationary opportunities are cut short.
Neither should this be taken to mean that Adventists are more special than others for understanding this, since the same approach to Scripture is available to everyone. But the fact that others are not preaching it is a major reason why the Adventist church has organized itself for a global work.
It should therefore be abundantly clear by now that the IJ, if correct, is not only relevant and highly important but it also calls for a work that is extremely important. This raises the question of how we should relate to segments of our church who don’t agree with the IJ or see its relevance.
THEOLOGICAL PLURALISM & THE SDA CHURCH
In this last section I want to take up the question of how Adventists should relate to theological pluralism in general and to rejection of the IJ specifically. But before we begin, let’s do a quick overview of the Adventist approach to theology.
What is Adventism?
Adventist theology is where one arrives when they begin their theological reasoning with two distinct presuppositions: the Bible is the most trustworthy source of theological truth – significantly more trustworthy than all other truth sources, – and, none the less, the Bible is NOT inerrant (the best label I’ve found for this approach to theology is Canonical Theology).
I would propose that this particular set of presuppositions is at least as sound as the presuppositions that any other Christian group builds on. Let’s consider a few:
1) Traditional Protestant – while in theory they claim Sola Scriptura, in practice they give early tradition a hermeneutical role, and there are good reasons not to trust early tradition.
2) Catholic – the Church is the authorized interpreter, and, there are good reasons not to trust the Church.
3) Fundamentalist – the Scripture is accepted pressupositionally and regarded as Inerrant, positions that are indefensible by any common standard of sound reasoning (here is the Adventist alternative to inerrancy: http://bit.ly/limitederrancy).
4) Liberal – This article explains why reason and science lack access to theological truth http://bit.ly/liberalepistemology
5) Neo-Orthodoxy – It inherits many of the problems of Liberal Theology explained in the article above, inherits the problems with tradition of both Protestant and Catholic theology and, lacks a coherent approach to Scripture.
Now the point of saying all this is not to completely downplay all alternative theological approaches in Christianity, but simply to point out that there are issues with all of them. All one needs to do is to search the Christian literature critiquing every one of these positions to know that there is no perfect system.
The more conservative Christian traditions rely on Orthodoxy – the collective Christian witness of the past two millennia – which unfortunately is such a labyrinth of conflicting ideas that its usefulness as a guide is highly debatable. The more Liberal traditions tend to begin with science, reason and culture and then look for theological perspectives that can accommodate these. However, science, reason and culture also have their limitations while the theological traditions built to accommodate them don’t have a very strong epistemology (see link on liberal epistemology http://bit.ly/liberalepistemology )
Therefore, whatever someone might have to say about the starting presuppositions of Adventist theology, there just isn’t an alternative system out there that can do a whole lot better. As long as these starting presuppositions don’t fail the basic criteria for intelligibility (the way the Fundamentalist presuppositions do), they remain a valid basis to build a theological system on.
If someone does accept the two basic presuppositions of Adventism – the Bible is not inerrant but still the only authoritative source of theology – then this leads to several unavoidable methodological implications (a major problem in Adventism is that many have accepted the presuppositions without thinking through the methodological implications):
1) Deconstruction – because we all come to Scripture with theological baggage that unavoidably colors our interpretation, the first step must be to make every effort to get rid of this baggage and approach Scripture with a blank slate.
2) Data Trends rather than Data Clusters – Because of the assumption that errors can exist in Scripture and because of the intrinsic limitations of exegesis, theology has to be built on patterns of thought throughout the entire Scripture rather than on isolated passages. See this as well http://bit.ly/ExegesisCanonicalTheology.
3) Top-Down Approach – the above has to be applied to the macro-hermeneutical elements first as these guide subsequent interpretation. We need to first study Scripture to determine the Big Picture and use this in interpreting everything else. Otherwise a ‘small picture’ element, or an extra-biblical element, inevitably takes over the hermeneutics.
4) Unifying Theme – when working with the Biblical data alone, the best unifying theme of Scripture is the Great Controversy, as explained earlier.
5) Historicism – A strictly Bible-based theology needs a Historicist approach to prophecy as an epistemic credential. I explain this here http://bit.ly/SDAHistoricism.
Thus, in summary, Adventist theology is the result of starting with a set of presuppositions, that are at least as sound as any other presuppositions used in Christian theology, and following the logical implications of those presuppositions through in the methodology.
There are some who have been led to believe that there are serious problems with Adventist theology and the denomination is refusing to address them. These ‘problems’ however, when examined, betray rather that the critics have not seriously engaged with the inner logic of the Adventist system of thought. Even though I’ve written much more on this elsewhere (http://bit.ly/IJcompilation), I will briefly cover some of these objections here as well:
1) Adventism is not a complete theological system or the theology fails to meet certain basic standards of viability
This is a straw-man argument. Adventism is portrayed as an arbitrary collection of doctrines with no particular inner logic or as a system of thought on par with groups like the Mormons, JW’s or Fundamentalists. It should be fairly clear from this paper, however, that there is nothing arbitrary about Adventist theology. When it comes to these other religious groups, Mormonism is a theology who’s entire weight rests on the veracity of one single, untestable claim: that God really did speak to Joseph Smith. Jehovah’s Witness theology depends entirely on the trustworthiness of the Watchtower governing body (similar to Catholic trust in the magisterium). Fundamentalists rely on two presuppositions that cannot ever be questioned: the Bible is inspired and inerrant (similar to Muslims and the Koran).
Adventism is nothing like these groups and its entire system of thought is composed of elements that can withstand scrutiny at least to the same degree as any other human system of thought.
2) Conflating Adventism with LGT
It is not uncommon for critics of Adventism to view Adventist theology through the lens of Last Generation Theology when in fact LGT has about as much to do with Adventist theology as the Shepherd’s Rods. See additional information on LGT here: http://bit.ly/LGT_Articles
3) IJ is anti-gospel or anti-assurance
It should be fairly clear from the first part of this paper that nothing could be further from the truth. There are additional resources on this here as well http://bit.ly/IJcompilation.
4) Hebrews states that Jesus entered the Most Holy Place at His ascension, not in 1844
This point is not relevant to the debate because Adventist theology revolves around Christ’s ministration not His spatial location. The biblical basis for the IJ is the Hebrew liturgical calendar with its Spring and Fall (harvest) festivals as it correlates with the ‘harvest’ motif throughout Scripture. The book of Hebrews does help us to establish the fact that there is a sanctuary in heaven but otherwise has a completely different agenda primarily addressing the theological controversies of the first century church.
5) That the IJ is a massive theological structure built on nothing more than a handful of KJV texts
The real foundation for the IJ is actually Arminianism and Soul Sleep, doctrines that have a deeply biblical basis. http://bit.ly/IJcompilation
6) The Adventist interpretation of Dan. 8:14 is not exegetically sound
I would encourage the reader to take a look at the alternative, so called ‘exegetically sound,’ interpretation of Daniel 8 that the critics are proposing.
Imagine we found an atheist who was an expert in ancient Greek and Hebrew but who knew nothing about Christianity or the Bible and gave him a copy of just chapter 8 of Daniel. According to the critics, such a person would have all the skills necessary to adequately interpret the chapter, since there is nothing they themselves are doing that this atheist would not also be able to do (i.e. linguistic analysis).
This approach to prophetic interpretation presupposes certain things about the nature of Scripture in general and apocalyptic prophecy in particular that are categorically incompatible with Canonical Theology. It is an attempt to superimpose on Canonical theology the methodologies of other theological systems.
The critics simply take it for granted that their hermeneutical methodologies are universally valid, as if they descended from heaven on tables of stone. They argue that, apart from such methodologies, there would be no textual controls preventing interpreters from running wild in their interpretations. This is ironic given that virtually everyone follows this same exegetical methodology and yet, you can hardly find two people who agree on anything. The Canonical Methodology has a much better track record, as will be seen in a bit.
Canonical theology views symbolic prophecy as one of the pinnacles of Scriptural interpretation, something that cannot be deciphered correctly without a thorough understanding of Scripture as a whole.
7) Liberal Objections
The issues mentioned above tend to come from the Evangelical-leaning contingent of the church. Progressive-leaning critics take issue with Adventist theology at a much deeper level that generally transcends the IJ and deals with more foundational matters.
[In case it isn’t yet clear, I’m using the term ‘Liberal’ in its formal sense (ex. Schleiermacher) and the terms ‘Progressive’ or ‘Liberal Traditions’ as umbrella terms that also include other perspectives like Neo Orthodoxy and possibly even post-Vatican II Catholicism, because they have adopted some of the foundational assumptions of liberal theology.]
As previously mentioned, liberal theology tends to start with science, philosophy, culture, etc. and then looks for ways to adapt or harmonize Christian theology with these ‘more trustworthy’ truth sources.
Now it must be acknowledged here that, while Adventists have wasted a lot of time trying to respond to the immature objections coming from the Evangelical side, we have neglected much more serious objections coming from the Liberal side. Science, philosophy and culture are important knowledge sources that deserve an intelligent response, which, as a church, we have not always provided. Scientific objections (evolution, critical scholarship, etc.), for example, are going to need much more work to be done by the church than what has been done so far (I propose some possible pathways here: evolution http://bit.ly/reEvolution and higher criticism http://bit.ly/reHigherCriticism )
That said, here are some reasons why Adventism is still a viable option:
a) We live in POST-modernity, a time when confidence in science as a source of knowledge has come down to a more realistic level vs. previous generations when the Liberal theological traditions were being developed. Progressives need to reevaluate the foundations of their thought process because history has moved on.
b) Regardless of one’s confidence in science, theology cannot start with science because science, by definition, lacks access to the supernatural. And, whatever the chosen primary source of theology is, as previously mentioned, it very likely also has serious epistemic problems.
c) Adventism as a perspective is still young and has limited resources. Just because we don’t have good answers to certain challenges now does not mean that we won’t have them later. Every viable theological perspective needs time to develop before it can be properly evaluated.
8) On Methodologies
I want to use a couple of illustrations to give the reader a better glimpse of the interplay between the Liberal and Conservative theologies, the limitations of exegesis and, how the Canonical Methodology can help.
The issue of slavery in the Bible is a perfect example of how different people reason through their theology. If we applied the exegetical methodology to the New Testament slavery passages, the most we can conclude is that God is neutral on the issue of slavery. If we applied the same methodology to the Old Testament, we could even conclude that God was in favor of it.
That being the case, some people will take what the Bible says as evidence that the Bible was not intended to be a primary truth source in our theological/philosophical development. After thousands of years of recorded human experience (aka culture), if humanity has learned anything, it has learned that slavery is bad. Therefore, culture must be given a hermeneutical role in theology (or they might say that Scripture’s primary role is to point us to Christ and is not necessarily meant to be a guide for us in other respects).
At the other end of the theological spectrum, someone committed to sticking with only the Scripture is forced into the ridiculous position of having to approve of slavery (or, they might try to downplay the Old Testament, since the New Testament position is slightly more defensible.) And slavery is just one example.
Thus, a commitment to the exegetical methodology pushes someone either into fundamentalism, because it creates so many problems that the only solution is to shut off one’s brain, or else, towards the liberal approach.
Now let’s consider an analogy. We walk over to the library, pick up a book without looking at the covers, open it to the middle and start reading. We read of a father holding down his son as another man saws off one of the kids forearms. We are immediately shocked by the cruelty of this father doing something so horrible to his own son so we flip back through the book to see what’s going on. It turns out this story is set several centuries in the past where a group of people are trying to get away from a war zone. The child injured himself, developed an infection and they were amputating his arm trying to save his life.
Context, of course, makes all the difference. Canonical theology makes the assumption that the Bible has its own context and that it must be read in this context. It assumes that God exists and that He guided the human authors such that, when their writings were brought together, they collectively provide the context within which to understand the individual parts.
Therefore, Canonical Theology starts Biblical interpretation with the big questions: who is God, what is He like, what is He trying to accomplish, etc. Before we even approach the slavery topic in Scripture, we already know that God is categorically opposed to it. Sin would have never existed if God didn’t have a high regard for creaturely freedom. Thus, whatever the reason for those slavery passages, it is not because God is in favor of it (hence the confident Adventist opposition to slavery at a time when other Christians supported it or wavered on the matter.)
This is not to be taken to mean that exegesis itself is bad. We would not know what the Bible says without it. The problem is a certain methodology or hermeneutical philosophy that insists theology must start with the text: if the text that talks about slavery says slavery is ok then our theology must be developed around the idea that slavery is ok. We cannot bring from elsewhere in Scripture ideas regarding how God feels about slavery and then reinterpret the texts accordingly but must get that information from the slavery passages directly. Such a methodology is clearly broken (driving people either into fundamentalism or liberalism), and yet our critics insist that we must apply it to Daniel 8.
With that in mind, how should we relate to theological pluralism in the Adventist church? This is especially important when it comes to ministers, theologians and administrators. Keeping in mind that we are not here talking about minutia but about the essential elements of a theological system, consider the following:
A. Pluralism is NOT a Positive
Many people today have been conditioned to think that theological pluralism within an organization is a sign of maturity and the lack thereof, a sign of a cultish mindset. In reality, it is a sign of unproductiveness.
Organizations exist so that the abilities of multiple individuals can be harnessed to accomplish a greater good. People with differing skills and talents working together can do more as a group then the collective achievement of each person working individually. But to work together, people have to have a common purpose. The civil rights movement would never have produced lasting change if the movement’s leaders had been divided on whether African-Americans really did deserve equal rights.
Theological Pluralism is a plague and an embarrassment to Christianity. It is one of the main arguments against the religion, as far as outsiders are concerned. It exists purely out of necessity, because theologians just can’t agree on anything, and the most anyone can do is to try to get by in spite of it.
Consider the different attempts at unity used or proposed by the different theological traditions in Christianity:
1) Catholic – use church authority to force consensus and punish dissenters
2) The Cults – Charismatic leaders and brainwashing
3) Liberals – dilute the essence of the religion so much that there is nothing left to argue about; popularize expressions like, ‘the sin of certainty’ or, ‘the gospel of uncertainty.’
4) Charismatics – Focus on the experience and forget the theology
5) Neo-Orthodoxy – Hold up Christ in such a way that He becomes the proverbial rug under which to sweep all the theological disagreements.
Contrast that with the Adventist approach to unity whose basis is simply a hermeneutic that has the capacity to produce it, if followed. We should not take it for granted that pluralism is inevitable just because that is the case for other groups.
B. Theological Proximity
Picture in your mind an evolutionary tree of life. Without endorsing evolution, most of us are familiar with the depiction of organisms according to their genetic and evolutionary ancestry. So a dolphin, for example, might look very similar to a shark, but is genetically miles apart, being a mammal while the shark is a fish.
Theology works much in the same way. Theological perspectives might appear similar on the surface but could in fact be miles apart at the genetic level. People who disagree with the IJ almost always have a theological DNA that is a lot closer to other theological perspectives than to the Adventist perspective. Their connection with Adventism might be cultural but, theologically, they would be a much better fit elsewhere. And, in Christendom at large, people change their affiliations all the time.
Given that Adventists are probably the only denomination that builds its theology on the Canonical Model and given that, for any alternative theological perspective there are literally hundreds of religious groups already representing that theology, why insist on changing Adventism into their image as well? The story of David and Nathan comes to mind here (2 Sam. 12:1-4).
C. The Evolution of Truth
There is much talk these days about truth being progressive (aka PRESENT Truth), about Adventists not having a Creed, about Ellen White encouraging the church to be open to new light, etc. Few who bring this up ever consider that what they are proposing is in fact actually REgressive: an attempt to revert back to theological systems that were consciously rejected by Adventism’s founders.
None the less, the Adventist church does have a mechanism in place for dealing with new light and it’s actually those calling for progress who are sabotaging the mechanism. Anyone convinced that Adventist theology needs improvement has nothing more to do than to propose a better alternative. Instead what we see is:
1) Criticism in a vacuum
People finding fault with the theology without ever revealing what alternative position they represent. This is a cowardly approach because it is a way to avoid coming under scrutiny for one’s own theology. Given that there are problems with every theological school of thought in Christendom, how can we know that we are adopting something better without having two perspectives that we can contrast side by side? The clearest evidence of the dishonesty of a critic is the unwillingness to produce an example of a better theological system than the approach they criticize.
2) Phony Consensus
Another common sight in Adventism is people coming from widely different theological perspectives joining forces to discredit Adventist theology. This gives the impression that, if people who can’t agree on anything do agree that Adventism is wrong, then it must be wrong. This is about as compelling as a bunch of Communists, Nazis and Muslims joining forces to discredit Democracy.
3) It’s All About Jesus
Another strategy is not to criticize the theology but to make room for a plurality of views by taking the focus away from the differences and placing it on Jesus. After all, what could be wrong with focusing more on Jesus?
In reality, what this creates is the equivalent of a bunch of people trying to move a kart by pushing in opposite directions. The theological differences among us are so substantial that, for all practical purposes, each faction would be focusing on a different Jesus.
So instead of turning Adventism into yet another useless organization, those dissatisfied with the present state of things should instead come together and formulate a viable alternative that the church can evaluate. We can all then study the two options side by side and decide if we want to collectively adopt the new view, collectively stay with the old view or, go our separate ways. If the latter, then each group will be much more effective in accomplishing its distinctive mission.
The problem of course is that it would be next to impossible for Progressives and Evangelicals to come to a consensus on any viable alternative, given that the only thing they have in common theologically is that they disagree with the Adventist position. Moreover, Liberals denomination don’t usually do very well because, while Liberal theology could be intellectually stimulating, the average member can find much better things to do with his time and money. The Evangelicals on the other hand tend to do slightly better in that department, but, because of their fragmented hermeneutic, the most they can usually hope for is a congregational setup. And this is not ideal either because it’s hard to keep a congregation satisfied for long periods of time to maintain a steady paycheck. It’s much better to be part of a global organization with a tithe-based system. The ideal situation then for all these factions is to function as a sort of parasite with the SDA denomination playing the role of the host. They need to destabilize the church just enough so that its natural defenses don’t create problems for them but, not so much that they destroy the host in the process. This would explain why the church’s ‘new light’ mechanism is being sabotaged.
This one applies specifically to ministers, theologians, administrators and others drawing a paycheck from the church.
The Adventist Church, because of its unique features, tends to have a higher entering threshold than other denominations. People who join the church usually do so because they have evaluated the other options and came to believe in what the church stands for. They are willing to take one tenth of their hard-earned money and give it to the church with the understanding that these funds will be used to further the church’s mission.
There is no scenario where someone could, with a clear conscience, take tithe-compensation and then preach against Adventist theology, preach foreign theology or just not preach the Adventist message at all.
E. Should We Even Exist?
If we get rid of the unique features of Adventism, why have an organization at all? Does the Christian world really need yet another denomination that is more or less a replica of the others but disagrees on minutia?
F. Forbid him not
“And John answered him, saying, Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name, and he followeth not us: and we forbad him, because he followeth not us. But Jesus said, Forbid him not: for there is no man which shall do a miracle in my name, that can lightly speak evil of me. For he that is not against us is on our part.”
Mark 9:38-40 KJV
Is there any possibility that, as much as one might disagree with Adventist theology, there are certain people in this world that only we can reach? Why not just let us do our thing then and we’ll sort out the differences after Jesus comes?
G. The Real Question
So many today feel that, for the Adventist church to enforce its theology, would be un-Christ-like, dictatorial, even Catholic. But the real question is this:
Can a group of people study Scripture, come to the conclusion that God has a message for them to take to the world, and, organize themselves in such a way that, as they grow, they could continue to take that message to the world?
Who came up with this ‘universal law’ stating that, once a group grows large enough, they must make room for dissenting voices hindering their ability to accomplish their goals?
H. Historical Foolishness
At this present stage in Adventist history, theological pluralism has come to be regarded as the norm. For several generations now, different groups in the church have grown up thinking their version of Adventism WAS Adventism, while everyone else belonged to the fringes. This present state of things however is actually the result of a long series of really foolish historical mishaps:
1910’s & 20’s – While the world was at war, while much of Christian America was experiencing a Fundamentalist reaction to modernist trends, while Ellen White was making her way off the scenes, Adventists reacted to all this by adopting a spirit of isolationism and EGW fundamentalism. We really should have known better than to move off the Sola Scriptura platform, but we did anyway.
1930’s & 40’s – Andreasen rose to theological prominence and introduced his last generation theology. Adventists should have immediately recognized the heretical elements in his theology, but they didn’t.
1950’s & 60’s – QOD – Were it not for the previous two moves, Adventism might never have come up on Walter Martin’s radar. Even if it did, the church really didn’t need to give a group of fundi Calvinists the time of day. Regardless, none of this measures up to the degree of unnecessary damage done the church by Andreasen’s conspiracy theories surrounding QOD. A wall of suspicion was raised between lay leaders and church officials which has split the church ever since. Independent and self-supporting ministries rose up promoting ‘real’ Adventism, that have given the church innumerable headaches for decades. A spirit of anti-education/anti-intellectualism was popularized in the church that has sabotaged the future of many promising young people depriving the denomination of much needed brain power. This issue is addressed in this series: http://bit.ly/T1Ppart3
1970’s & 80’s – Glacier View – There very likely would never have been a Glacier View were it not for the aftermath of QOD. The endless debates about nuanced matters like the nature of Christ and of sin, caused much of the laity to check out of the church’s theological process. The independent ministries dissipated Andreasen’s heretical LGT views far and wide leading to a widespread sense of insecurity regarding salvation in the church. At the other end of the spectrum, Froom’s legacy left many Adventists with the notion that ‘genetically’ speaking, we were more or less almost identical to Evangelicals, except for one or two anomalies. All this set the perfect stage for Ford to introduce his views (I addressed these in the Criticism section).
Post-Glacier View – One would expect that, after Ford, we would see a significant rise of fundi-evangelicalism in the church. What we witnessed instead was a rise in Progressive Adventism (an umbrella term for Catholic, Liberal and Neo-Orthodox perspectives). This is not surprising given that Ford tampered with the one element in Adventism that counter-balanced liberal theology: our Historicist Methodology.
We could add to all this the fact that, as this was going on, other people decided to stop wasting time sorting through complex theological matters and endless debates and focus instead on evangelism. Through 21-day ‘pressure cooker’ series, they brought in large numbers of emotionally driven converts. Half of them left soon after, but those that stayed, possessing only a surface understanding of Adventism, contributed to the cultural pluralism.
Ministers in the field, bombarded with ‘real life’ problems (death, sickness, abuse, in-fighting, heresies, etc.) came to lose interest in a theology that seemed too heavenly minded to be of any earthly good. Never mind that, because of the theological shifts in the church, they were functioning under a ministerial paradigm that had no basis in anything to do with Adventism. There are millions of unchurched people in the world who go through their entire lives never once thinking they are in need of a minister. Yet somehow our members can’t seem to get by without us, making us feel the weight of the world is on our shoulders. Essentially, we have taken upon ourselves responsibilities that God intended the entire church community to bear.
Administrators at all levels, though aware of the problems, chose not to rock the boat and instead placed band-aids on the ever more infected soars.
Needless to say, as a result of all this, the most critical piece of the organizational puzzle – the local church – is today in deplorable condition. The local church is where members are supposed to develop into mature Christians and effective workers. It is the point of contract between the denomination and the world. It creates the member pool from which the next generation of ministers, theologians and administrators rise up and from where we select our GC delegates. Thus, a vicious cycle has been created.
So no, the state that the church is in today is not normal. It is the result of a century of foolishness, incompetence and laziness on the part of previous generations of Adventists. If someone heading home takes a long series of bad turns and ends up in the middle of the desert, the solution is not to build a shelter and settle there, but to figure out where they went wrong and course correct. Which brings us to our present conundrum…
The Current Predicament
It might seem that the issue of women’s ordination should have little to do with the present discussion but this is in fact a detour that we definitely must take.
Just to be clear, I consider the conservative obsession with WO on par with many other historical Adventist blunders: giving EGW an epistemic role in Adventist theology, creating a space for heresies like LGT and 1888MSC to flourish in the church for generations, etc.
Adventist theology is not sacramental; we have no place in our theology for the idea that any kind of supernatural grace is being bestowed on ministers through the laying on of hands so that they can then perform other sacraments like baptism, marriages, funerals, communion, etc. In Adventism, ordination holds a similar role to tenure in academia or to permanent employment in certain businesses. Basically, you can have a young person go through the 2-year master’s program at the seminary and come out the other side with straight A’s and yet, when they take over a church, make a total mess of things and then figure out ministry is not for them. The church therefore gives beginning pastors several years to prove themselves and to determine if this really is their calling before conferring on them full ministerial privileges. Given that ministers are in a position to bring serious embarrassment to the denomination, this is a wise move.
But now we have created this situation where males and females can go through the seminary and do equally well, take over a church under ministerial license and do equally well, and yet, once sufficient time passes, the male is recognized as trustworthy for ministry while the female never is. Not just this, but with enough experience, the male can move up the leadership ranks and influence the future direction of the denomination while a female with identical experience and qualifications never can. This is a ridiculous state of things and undeniably discriminatory. I fully understand that those who disagree with WO do so in all sincerity believing they are only being faithful to Scripture, but their hermeneutic is definitely fundamentalist, not Canonical.
With all that said, the one thing no one in the church seems capable of recognizing is that the debate has stopped being about women’s ordination a long time ago. I repeat,
THE PRESENT DEBATE IS NOT ABOUT WOMEN’S ORDINATION
The current debate in Adventism is about whether the unique features of Adventist theology are correct and whether we really do have an important message to take to the world.
How is that possible? The unique features of our theology – our presuppositions regarding Scripture, our methodology, the great controversy, the investigative judgment and the third angel’s message – are the reasons behind why our church structure is set up the way it is.
We have a very important message no one else is preaching so we need to structure ourselves in such a way as to reach the whole world. Moreover, we have a theology that is within the reach of the common member. We don’t need people to study philosophy for years like the Catholics or become experts in dead languages like the evangelicals, before they can participate in the church’s theological process (yet another benefit of the Canonical approach.)
Our theology fully supports the protestant concept of the priesthood of all believers. It views ministers not as care-takers and workers but as trainers of care-takers and workers, calling everyone to contribute fully to the work. Our tithe-based system gives everyone the opportunity to support the advancement of the cause.
Because of this, everyone has a say in the direction that the church is to take, from common matters to significant changes in our fundamental beliefs. It is of course not possible to bring 20 million people from all over the world into a room to vote on issues, so we rely on a representative system, but we give this representative body full authority over church matters. This ensures that we can progress together as a denomination and that the global work can proceed effectively in unison.
When we say that the General Conference in Session is the voice of God on earth, we don’t mean that God takes over the voting process to make sure the decisions are always correct. Rather, we mean that we’re going to submit to those decisions, even when wrong, and then follow the process to bring about corrections (like David who refused to lift a hand against the Lord’s anointed even when Saul was clearly in the wrong). We do all this with the expectation that once decisions are made, they are followed through.
Today however we find ourselves in the strange predicament where Session decisions are no longer followed through. Attempts by the GC to enforce those decisions are spun to appear as some sort of dictatorial, Catholic-like overreach and ridiculous notions of Firewalls between unions and the GC are treated as fact. Prominent leaders and theologians seem to have sold their soul to the devil in their determination to dismantle the organization and sincere, well informed, intelligent people who fully believe the Adventist message are gobbling down the Kool-Aid with no second thought.
If a firewall really did exist between the GC and the unions, the perfect time to bring this up would have been during the session vote in San Antonio. Then and there the Session should have been informed that it was voting on something over which it had no jurisdiction.
To anyone who still agrees with Adventist theology and believes in the importance of our global message, it should be clear as daylight what the consequences of a Firewall would be:
Segments of the world with widely different cultures and theological/philosophical backgrounds (Hindu, Muslim or Buddhist, etc.) could come up with their own versions of Adventism and there would be nothing the church could do about it.
Heretical movements like Anti-Trinitarians, etc., could take over entire regions, amend the fundamental beliefs and the Firewall would prevent the church from acting.
Moreover, it’s no secret what is on the agenda for the unions that are currently pressing the Firewall issue: homosexuality, evolution, major changes in our theological method, etc.
Essentially, a Firewall would allow segments of the church to stop being Adventist in their theology, formalize that change through official belief statements and then entire regions of the world would be blocked from the Adventist message since the church already has a presence there that is using all its resources to proclaim a different message.
The ironic thing in all this is that the Firewall notion is a bad idea even for WO. Sure, the privileged few who are lucky enough to live in the right regions would receive their ordination, but everyone else will be prevented even after the GC vote passes, because the Firewall works both ways. Those regions opposed to WO will be equally justified to ignore the Yes vote: an institutionalized Jim Crow. There’s a reason why David waited so long to accept the crown: once accepted, the kingdom was established under him.
What most boggles the mind in all this is not that it is happening, but that no one is speaking out about it. Everywhere I turn I hear only two voices: those who think the ordaining of women is an apostasy on par with accepting the Sunday law and those who will have ordination even at the cost of demolishing the organization, whether aware of what they are doing or not. It is absolutely amazing to me that the propaganda machines coming from both the left and the right have been this thoroughly successful in brainwashing otherwise intelligent people.
This is not to be taken to mean that I’m in favor of the childish measures currently being proposed by the GC: reprimanding speakers, etc. The working policy has the solution – disbanding the union – and any measure short of this creates a compromise that weakens the Session’s authority and robs the church of its ability to adequately fulfill its mission.
No one wants to see the nuclear option in action. But if it is utilized, the GC definitely isn’t the responsible party. The process could be halted any time by the non-compliant unions coming into line with the session vote.
The Adventist Church has a sensible and well thought out belief system that, if correct, carries significant implications and calls for urgent action. We cannot this side of heaven prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that Adventism is correct, but we can prove that the likelihood it is correct is at least as high as the likelihood the best alternative options are correct.
People are free to buy into our premises and join with us or join another group working under a different paradigm. They are also free to hang with us and come along for the ride, even if they disagree. Moreover, they are always welcome to propose better alternatives if they feel there are problems with our system, and we’ll take their suggestions into consideration.
What they are not free to do however is to sabotage or to take over the mechanisms we’ve set up through which to accomplish our mission. They are not free, through fake news, to brainwash our membership into sabotaging their own denomination, even if prominent, influential leaders join their ranks. Such a thing is unacceptable and, if no one is able or willing to speak out, the stones will cry out.