A Summary of the Memorial Service of Dr. Desmond Ford

(Eric Rasmussen) #41

Perhaps this will help someone: By far the most helpful Adventist book I ever read relating Justification, Sanctification, and a final pre-Advent judgment according to one’s works was written by — an Anglican!

I’ve reread N.T. Wright’s book Justification: Gods Plan & Paul’s Vision at least four times. (For those who haven’t heard of him, he is probably the world’s most influential N.T. scholar, is the name most associated with “The New Perspective(s) on Paul”, and when he wrote the book he was Bishop of Durham, which means he lived in a castle, was member of the House of Lords, and I think 3rd in the hierarchy of the Church of England. He is a brilliant scholar who shares the cheerful and courteous humility characteristic of Dr. Ford, and also like Dr. Ford has many detractors who are convinced he is a dangerous threat to “the church.” The book is a response to one of them.)

At any rate, to counter those who feel he is a threat to their version of the gospel, N.T. Wright uses the helpful analogy of the steering wheel and the car. Often when people use theological terms like “justification” (or “sanctification”) they load onto them a whole host of concepts that the Bible never gives them — even if the other concepts themselves might be a valid topic of discussion in themselves. So endless misunderstandings and arguments result, and people feel threatened if we point out that correctly naming the steering wheel does not mean we are denying the car or the process of driving.

Later in the book, he discusses the theological term (as opposed to the Biblical term) of “sanctification” and suggests the difficulty reconciling it with Paul’s gospel of justification is resolved when we understand union with Christ (which never comes without the added blessing of the Holy Spirit, just like the steering wheel is always attached to the car but is not the car), and suggests our theology is “not sufficiently Trinitarian.”

The stunning aspect of the book, though, is his insistence on the underlying themes in Paul of Covenant, Lawcourt, Messiah, and Eschatology, and his insistence that to understand the mind of Paul properly when you read him on Justification you really must read another book: the Book of Daniel!!

He explains the prophecy of the 70 weeks in Daniel 9, and the heavenly judgment scene of Daniel 7 (elsewhere he has pointed out it is a heavenly event and not Christ coming in the clouds to earth). (About the only thing left out is Daniel 8:14, of course.) His point is this: to be justified by faith is to know the verdict has already been given in your favor at the final judgment.

Imagine what might have been at Glacier View if Adventists always had understood and spoken of the judgment that way, instead of the monstrous faith-destroying baggage that eventually got attached to the IJ!

Sorry for the extreme length, but in deep gratitude to Dr. Ford and his legacy, here are two personal reminiscences on his legacy:

In the months after Glacier View, Desmond Ford came to Berrien Springs and spoke in town, since he was banned from campus. I walked to each meeting and took copious notes. A fellow student (we were just freshman undergraduates!) saw him in town and asked if he could privately come answer a few of our questions. Dr. Ford happily obliged, and took a few hours from his very busy schedule to come and answer some very elementary questions. I will never forget his humility! He was sincerely as happy having a Bible study and prayer and sharing words of encouragement with an audience of four or five teenagers as speaking to a thousand as he had just done the day before. Years later I would watch from Colorado in the middle of the night many of those Sabbath afternoon talks streamed from Peachester to bask from long distance in that same fruit of the Spirit that was in him.

Exactly thirty years to the week after Dr. Ford’s firing at Glacier View, during a local pastor’s conference in that very auditorium at Glacier View Ranch (I believe Martin Webber was leading the discussion), a small group of pastors reflected on the tragedy of that day and what opportunities the church had lost. In the care going back down out of the mountains, a younger pastor said to me he had never seen the Glacier View Manuscript. I lent him my marked-up copy from college days, falling apart. A month later he returned it with the comment “I really don’t understand what all the fuss was about. For the most part it looks like pretty much what we all learn at the seminary nowadays.”

(Patrick Travis) #42

“For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are being made holy”.Heb.10 Greek literal. Set apart for growth in holiness is different than being reckoned holy/righteous in Justification. Thank God for Des’ clarity on this issue that was the same for Calvin and Luther.

(Patrick Travis) #43

I respectfully disagree with you that Des would agree with NT Wright concerning Justification. Wright minimizes the Reformation view of JBF “alone” by replacing it with covenant membership. It minimizes how one becomes a part of the covenant community. Having been justified by faith “alone” we have peace with God…Wright repaces justification with a meaning of covenant membership. Justification deals with how one becomes a part of the twice born covenant community…not visa versa.

(Gillian Ford) #44

Des told me a lot of good scholars disagree with N.T. Wright on justification, as he did, and I think Patrick explains it well.

(Eric Rasmussen) #45

Yes, I understand. In a hastily-written, error-filled, and too-lengthy post, I realize I was oversimplifying a lot, but having also read some of Wright’s more massive scholarly volumes and listened to hours of his lectures (his 1992 Regent College series “Romans in a Week” is a great place to start), I think Wright would protest that “it’s not an either/or” when discussing his views. (And I hardly mean to imply full agreement with Wright either.)

He is a New Testament scholar trying to suggest Paul isn’t quite saying things in the way the great Reformation tradition has tried to make him say it — witness the resulting rows of seminary bookshelves filed with endless debate on Paul and the Law and trying in various ways over the decades to resolve Paul’s “contradictions” between Romans and Galatians.

Wright has claimed he is simply trying to advance the conversation by trying to take a more scriptural route, but believes he is still getting to the same endpoint the Reformers did. Paul started out asking a different question (“How can we know who are in ‘the Remnant’ — the true covenant people of God?”) than Luther and the Augustinian tradition did (“How can I as an individual find a gracious God and be saved?”). They get to the same place — justification by Christ alone, by faith alone. But the different starting points and terminology will lead to different overtones and different theological arguments, much like starting with a musical overtone found when a chord is played leads to a different key altogether than the original chord.

**The parallel for Adventists is this: ** whether or not he has correctly built on the work of Charles Cranfield, Wright found himself fighting a massive church tradition that insists that if the language used is not exactly like that found in the writings of Luther, Calvin, the Thirty-Nine Articles, and the Westminster Standards and its spinoffs, we must cry “Heresy!” It claims to believe in Sola Scriptura, but in practice uses 16- and 17th-century concerns and confessional standards as the yardstick with which to judge Scripture. (Again, I am not endorsing all of Wright’s conclusions as correct.)

And Dr. Ford likewise fought a massive tradition that was threatened and cried “Heresy!” when his starting point and language was not that of the little Red Books, even though the author of those books would undoubtedly have welcomed his message on Christ’s righteousness as a breath of fresh air had she still been alive to hear it (witness her response in her time to Jones and Waggoner at Minneapolis or to Prescott at Melbourne). Yet starting from Ellen White has led us to a very different place than simply starting from Scripture as she tried to do (with her 19th-century Wesleyan background and language and the Stone-Campbellite background of her husband and Joseph Bates). And looking through the lens of that tradition, many within Adventism (some “good scholars”, even) feel threatened and simply were unable to see (or refused to see) what he was trying to say.

As Wright has put it in the first chapter of the aforementioned book, “The greatest honor we can pay the Reformers [or Ellen White and the Adventist pioneers] is not to treat them as infallible—they would be horrified at that—but to do as they did [look to Jesus alone, study Scripture for ourselves and question tradition].”

Heartfelt thanks to you, Gillian, for continuing to speak out for Des as you have done and getting his invaluable Glacier View manuscript and other books out on Kindle! My prayers are with you and the family. Only heaven knows for now how much good you have done to people you have never met.

(Andreas Bochmann) #46

I would like to be named as one of the “many”. And “dismayed” is a rather polite term. It is outrageous a Division interferes with memorial service arrangements of a church for a church member.

At the same time, I can testify to this (having watched the service very early Sabbath morning in Germany):

And even here on Spectrum … no trace of bitterness in those who actually were close. If that is not the fruit of the Spirit - what is? Thank you for that lesson in Christianity!
And yes … I do feel ashamed for my church … once again.

(Frankmer7) #47

Thanks for a concise description of Wright’s arguments, and the parallels between his battles and Des Ford’s…theological differences notwithstanding.

I often feel when listening to the emphasis on individual justification within Adventism that two sources spur the discussion. First, it is the reaction against legalism and perfectionism that the denomination has tradionally been mired in. Secondly, it is built on the concerns of the Reformers, especially Luther, in the quest to individually find a gracious God, and to find assurance of his acceptance in place of condemnation. It is the attempt to close off all avenues of works righteousness and moral striving to find salvation, and to lead people to reliance on the imputed righteousness of Christ alone for peace with God. This has been the evangelical presentation of the gospel for the last several hundred years. I think that both of these concerns have been very legitimate ones within their historical context, and that the proclamation of JBF has done much to free people of heavy spiritual burdens, and bring them a sense of relief and gratitude for the grace of God, freely given in Christ.

While all of this can be found in the letters of Paul, I just don’t think that this is what Paul himself was emphasizing when he spoke of the gospel, or of justification by faith. His bigger picture gospel was about the kingdom of God. It was the proclamation that Jesus, the Messiah, is Lord, and that through him, God was faithfully fulfilling his covenant promises to Israel and to the entire world. Those promises contemplated more than just the individual forgiveness of sins. They were about the restoration of God’s entire creation, and the reconciliation of all people, not only to himself, but to one another.

This is all over letters such as Romans, Galatians, and Ephesians. Almost everywhere Paul speaks of JBF, he continually says things like, “There is no difference…is God the God of the Jews only, no, he is the God of the Gentiles, too…God is one,” implying that the circumcised and the uncircumcised were one as well, Torah observance and its covenantal distinctions making no difference. This is the direction from which Paul came to righteousness by faith. To make it and the gospel solely about individual justification, is to reduce the scope of his gospel, and to nearly render his statements about the unity of Jews and Gentiles as irrelevant addendums. They were not. They demonstrated his central concern for the unity of the body of Christ vis a vis the gospel and JBF.

If we take Paul’s starting point seriously regarding these issues, it leads to different contemporary applications than what we usually encounter in Adventism and traditional Protestantism. The concern is not simply over what is the basis for individual acceptance with God, but who belongs to the people of God? Can a denomination such as Adventism find any real justification for calling itself the remnant, the true covenant people of God, and make belonging contingent upon holy day observance and kosher laws in addition to faith in Christ? What does this do to Christian unity and Christian freedom and diversity within that unity? What does it say about denominational exclusivity in general?

The disunity of the modern Christian church may be one of the biggest stumbling blocks to people viewing it from the outside in. A privatized, individualized gospel and view of JBF has done nothing to solve this. I think that Paul would have plenty to say about this were he still around.



(Patrick Travis) #48

You and some others may find this brief analysis of NT Wright’s “new perspective” on JBF of interest.
Dr. Hill was a NT professor of mine at RTS.

(Gillian Ford) #49

Frank Merendino, I enjoy your posts and expect what you are saying is true, but for people through the ages, their faith has largely depended on ‘Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so’. That he was their substitute and representative means he took their place. Justified means just as if I’d never sinned. The Reformation model uses Paul to tell us how it works, and it certainly works for me and a host of others throughout the ages. It’s a shame the church makes it ultra difficult to understand, because it’s quite simple really.

(Patrick Travis) #50

Gil, I also appreciate Frank and some things NT. Wright says. People can believe what they want.
Dr. Hill rather succinctly dismantles the thrust of minimization that Wright and others have towards JBF.
It is not 500 yrs. Of Protestant history that needs to defend itself but the new perspectives that attempt to minimize the hub of the wheel, Jesus Christ who died for forgiveness of sins that we as individuals and church of the twice born might live! Our God Reigns!
Blessings to you and my expressed love for Des and the gospel He loved!

(Eric Rasmussen) #51


I’m still not convinced Dr. Hill captures the nuances Wrightly. But perhaps I need a New Perspective!

(Frankmer7) #52

I have not minimized the reality of JBF, and its impact on individual believers, if you read my post above. What I have said is that Paul’s starting point and on the ground context for this was different than the reformers. It simply was. Paul never speaks of justification in his letters outside of the controversy of what to do with Gentiles, their basis for belonging in the community of faith, and the relationship of Jews and Gentiles vis a vis the Torah.

If we take that context seriously, we come away with different emphases than just individual salvation. It is more focused on Christian unity, community, and reconciliation of all peoples to God and to one another as the witness to the cosmos that God’s kingdom in Christ is afoot. It would get us to look more seriously at issues of denominationalism, division, bigotry, gender discrimination, etc., within the church, since they are integrally tied to justification by faith within such a contextual view of it.

Yes, Jesus loves me , this I know. Beautiful and simple. But the focus of JBF within this traditional view ends up being me, my salvation, my peace with God. This reflects Western individualism, not just the biblical text. Paul’s focus was we. It was united and loving community. The unity and equality of all who have faith in Christ.



(Patrick Travis) #53

I first read “What St.Paul Really Said” by Wright in 1998. I “dogeared” the same pages and had the same comments as Dr. Hill who later that year guided us in writing our Greek exegetical paper.
Often it is not what is said but what is not said as focus that is the problem. Please don’t internalize the minimization.
Reformed Theology is all about “Covenant.”
Dr. Hill pointed out that he agreed with many of the ecclesiology issues that Wright addresses.But,
JBF is about soteriology.
Faithful Abraham ask where is the Lamb? John the Baptist answers, Behold the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world.
The focus of covenant fulfillment is in Christ. Rom.3 declares at the present time God has shown himself just by the propitiation found in Christ.
So, JBF was the means by which covenant was fulfilled and is now and not yet fully realized until His appearing.
The point is JBF is not “a merely” it was Gods way/means of fulfilling all the covenant promises. The blessings of ecclesiology, your concern etc. follow in its train.
Cars may look alike in many respects and can have many analogies but the engine that drives and creates the power can be very different indeed. Jesus and JBF are the engine of covenant faithfulness for Jew & Gentile alike.

(Patrick Travis) #54

Pratt was one of my OT profs. at RTS

(Frankmer7) #55

That is precisely the point, Pat. The historical context in which Paul spoke and wrote of JBF cannot be divorced from ecclesiastical concerns. That was the on the ground situation that drove him to frame his argument in these terms. It was not the situation of the Reformers as they interpreted what Paul was saying. Jews and Gentiles were alike portrayed on common ground concerning sin, the need for forgiveness and redemption, and concerning God’s powerful grace and mercy…equally, without the distinction of the Torah and its covenantal obligations. The idea of a two tiered people of God, as opposed to a united and equal people in Christ frames the entire discussion of justification. Aside from its soteriological dimension, it is ecclesial, community, and kingdom oriented, if you will.

This doesn’t change the nature of justification. It does widen its implications and what it really speaks to, beyond individual, private salvation. While this may have been the main concern of the Reformers, particularly Luther, and Western evangelical Christianity for the past 500 years, it just was not Paul’s main concern in Romans and Galatians. An individualist approach simply leaves too many loose ends on the floor concerning Jew/Gentile, the historical nature of covenant obligations, and, I think, even misapprehends what he is saying about the Law in relation to the gospel and the life of the believing community/new creation.



(Patrick Travis) #56

My last comment on this strand.
Consider that at the time time of the Protestant Reformation that “covenant belonging” was assumed to be found in the RCC.
The challenge to the church both in soteriology and ecclesiology was found in who had a right to belong to God’s people and how. Soteriology and JBF is indeed individual and not a corporate entrance. Ecclesiology deals with “saved” individuals who become “one in purpose” in the church…keeping in mind that “not all Israel is of Israel” and all in the visible church are not saved “just by belonging.”

(Gillian Ford) #57

I have enjoyed these posts and will come back and read the extra sources. I appreciate Dr Young writing this remembrance piece and am thankful for our many friends. I knew Des as few knew him. Once he understood the gospel as a teenager, he was driven by a mission to proclaim it all his life. He was an extraordinary student with amazing capacity who was seen as exceptional by both his PhD supervisors. Neal Wilson told us in the Friday afternoon meeting at Glacier View that his father (who was the president of the Michigan Conference at the time Des did his PhD in Lansing) told him that Des’s teachers noted him as one of the brightest students they had ever seen. F. F. Bruce commented to Norman Young who was at Manchester at the same time as us about the speed and quality of the work Des handed in. Despite his brilliance, Des was often treated as though he was an idiot by people in the denomination. He was a rock of offence, and many liked to try and hone themselves on him and try to bring him down.

Des was also known for his self-discipline and careful habits and his use of time. He was an autodidact, a person who was widely read and had an intense focus on his mission for Christ. If you look at the amount of correspondence Des achieved (some ministers didn’t answer their mail at all), if you heard the personal stories two weeks ago, as I did from people who had known him for 50–60 years, of how he helped and ministered to them; if you look at his written output; if you look at the immense amount of travel he did with GNU in America, if you look at his many videos and podcasts—it is absolutely remarkable. Yet, the greatest thing about Des was his loving spirit, the way he dealt with his enemies. He saw the best in people; he made excuses for them, because he believed we must forgive as God forgives us. He was a Christ figure, walking bowed in the footsteps of his Master. He came to his own, and his own received him not.

(Eric Rasmussen) #59

Amen! And may all of us here become “one in purpose.” Whether or not we agree if trends in Pauline scholarship such as Wright’s version of the New Perspective either try in some way to build on the Reformed doctrine of justification (as I think Frank agrees with me) or to undermine it, I am still one hundred in percent in agreement with the Reformed doctrines of penal substitutionary atonement and the life of Christ and the death of Christ in place of my own. And I have learned — first from Dr. Ford, then later from a growing chorus — that no amount of sanctification (in the “progressive growth” sense, not the Biblical “setting apart” sense), no amount of Holy Spirit-assisted works, no Remnant theology, nor any Last-Generation perfection I somehow manage to achieve will still ever be enough to counter my innate Total Depravity in the old Adam or add one iota toward my “justification,” my “covenant membership,” or my title to heaven, however salvation is spoken of. Only faith (itself a gift of God) in the blood of Jesus and faith that I have been placed by God “in Christ” as the Second Adam and therefore His life and death are mine in union with Him is trustworthy in the judgment (“investigative” or otherwise), not my pathetic good works done in His name (though my actions will indicate whether or not I was a believer or a deliberate rebel who fought against God’s love and sovereignty).

And the more I study, the more I am convinced that none of this contradicts one bit the statement from Ellen White (when properly understood) regarding justification being our title to heaven, sanctification our fitness for heaven. The relative (never absolute) sanctification she spoke of is the sine qua non (Melanchthon), the “not without which” which always comes along with justification as the fruit of the Spirit, but is never the root or ground of it and (as has been well explained in posts above) should never be understood as a part of “Righteousness by Faith” in itself.

Therefore, as for all the sad caricatures people have made of Desmond Ford’s teaching who claim he taught “overcoming sin is useless, just be content happily sinning as much as you want until Christ comes and changes you” — well, Desmond Ford’s own Christian character and strongly self-disciplined life that Gillian mentions was always the best rebuttal and rebuke.

His clear teaching on Justification by Faith Alone recovered for us the message of the Reformers and their successors that The Great Controversy both endorses and insists the Advent movement is progressively building on. (Perhaps those who love to quote the last chapters so much should pay more attention to the middle and ask themselves if our direction continues or reverses what those Reformers did.)

Though Dr. Ford was either misunderstood or outright rejected by so many, I have been blessed to see how he has made an indelible mark in the Adventist church that will not fade. It lives on in the hearts of uncountable people like me who grew up in an era when (truly well-meaning) evangelists who did not know better would explain salvation with a chart that showed the timeline of your life with the cross in the middle (the moment of conversion), justification forgiving your past sins, and then a jagged line of “sanctification” trending upward ever nearer to the top, until, after your death, Jesus would fill in the 5 or 10 percent (!) you fell short of His perfection. (As if one could reach the moon by jumping high enough.) I pray I will never see another of those abominable charts, and thanks in large part to Dr. Ford raising the consciousness of the church and a “post-Fordian” generation of pastors and teachers (at least here in America), my prayers may be answered.

Assurance of salvation (not “once saved always saved” Eternal Complacency) as Desmond Ford preached it has been the greatest motivation for me to know and love God, even while I still continue to strive with all my might to reach the .000001 percent of Jesus’ absolute perfection I seem to be capable of on this earth this side of glorification.

What a gift we have been given! And we have been given another gift whenever God has raised up one (and He will raise up more) who could unwrap that gift so clearly for us!


Glad you acknowledged that you were dealing with a single tree in the forest. Exegesis is a single tree in the forest of Hermeneutics that, unfortunately for some, becomes the whole forest. For Des, he denied the year-day principle based on the single tree of exegesis, blinding him from the forest of hermeneutics which opens the door to the year-day principle. In the same way, to treat the exegesis of texts on sanctification as the whole forest is to miss what the whole Bible says about sanctification, which considers sanctification as not only a new relationship and status but also moral growth in goodness, not only belonging but also becoming, the “already” of God’s consecrating activity, leading to the “not yet” of God’s conforming activity (something Dr Blazen has articulated clearly).
By the way I enjoyed reading your book on Des, had hoped to visit with him this year but sadly cant now. Even so, in spite of my disagreements with him I hold him in highest regard and totally expect to meet him in heaven.

(Eric Rasmussen) #61

Indeed. But I doubt one in a hundred Adventists know much about “Covenant Theology” or could explain anything about it or its competitors.

Marcos Torres (a pastor in Perth) has helpfully explained the great divide in Protestantism on the Covenants and the Law and the place of Adventist thought within those systems. He used to sell it in booklet form online but I can’t find it. But here it is in blog post form (1st post):

And here it is in a helpful summary chart (developed in his posts):


Reformed Baptist Jon Zens developed the alternative of New Covenant Theology in the 1970s. He subscribed to Present Truth / Verdict and met with Robert Brinsmead and Jack Zwemer to present his views while they were conducting a weekend conference in Nashville in August 1979. (This was right after Brinsmead had released his initial edition of 1844 Re-Examined, which prompted the disastrous Angwin Forum request for Des Ford to talk in response to the issues that October, which then got him into trouble.) Brinsmead was intrigued with Zens’ views, and called him in January 1980 to say that he was closely studying the issues Zens had raised. Then in June 1981, a year after Glacier View, after further correspondence with Zens, Brinsmead came out with the Sabbatarianism Re-Examined issue of Verdict and endorsed the views of NCT. (I think Brinsmead’s 1983 issue of what he now called The Christian Verdict titled Justification by Faith Re-Examined marked the beginning of his break with Christianity.) The Tkachs, who led the Worldwide Church of God after Herbert Armstrong died, studied Brinsmead’s Verdict issues, endorsed the views of NCT, and so splintered that denomination. They formed Grace Communion International with the members that stayed and followed them.