A Tragic Flaw in “An Invitation to Uplift Jesus”

The quick sequence of interlocking articles that caught my attention was either fortuitous or perhaps providential. Whatever it was, my limited knowledge of the One Project was expanded by a rapid succession of essays on the topic.1 My process of enlightenment began with Nathan Brown’s robust essay in the Record titled “The End of the One Project” (March 16, 2018).2 He fired quite a cannon ball at administrators for not defending the One Project against unfair criticisms despite their having authorized numerous investigations of its bona fides. He made the accusation that “most Church leaders have remained silent, out of the understandable fear of the political risks of speaking up.”3 In Brown’s opinion “that we struggle to accept that Jesus is enough or that Jesus could be ‘all’ demonstrates deep flaws in our theology.” This is a very serious charge and may have its own shortcomings.

Whether by design or accident, the response was swift for on April 11, 2018 the General Conference Leadership and Division Presidents posted their invitation to uplift Jesus, though apparently this statement never appeared on the agenda.4 The statement begins in apparent agreement with the focus of the One Project: “As we proclaim the three angels’ messages let us make sure that Christ stands at the center of all our activities and initiatives [and contextually also “beliefs”]. The statement assays to give members guidelines for assessing the orthodoxy of independent ministries, such as the One Project. Indeed, the leaders must consider this entity the model for all such unofficial groups, as it is the only one listed. The leaders give seven “crucial questions” with which to assess the independents.

There is a clear concern lest the “Jesus-only” message be disconnected from doctrine, hence several questions test this; for example, question 2 asks: “How do they understand the role of doctrine in Christian faith? Is there an organic connection between the person of Christ and the teachings or doctrines of Christ? Is there the understanding that knowing Christ necessarily includes knowing and living His teachings and the Biblical truths He taught” (italics added)? The answer to this question is surely yes. Jesus was repeatedly referred to as “teacher” in the Gospels — “that is, teacher of Torah, for there was no other textbook in the curriculum, and one who radically divorced himself from the Torah would not have been called ‘teacher,’ by interested audience and hostile Pharisee and Sadducee, as well as by his own disciples.”5 So what is wrong with the GC statement?

The first to have an opportunity of reply were two of the former leaders of the One Project, Japhet J. De Oliveira and Paddy McCoy, but both of them chose to turn the other cheek and give a testimony that affirmed the centrality of Christ in their lives. McCoy asked to be judged by the fruits of his ministry. Like Paul (2 Cor 11.16–33), he felt obliged in his defense to boast as a fool about his achievements.6 And it is a very convincing defense. The former Review and Herald editor, Dr. Bill Johnsson, was not quite so reserved when he posted a swift rejoinder on the Spectrum website on April 17, 2018.7 Johnsson’s main concern was with the statement’s emphasis on doctrine: “The statement is all doctrine, doctrine, doctrine. Doctrine is important, but living is more important.” Johnsson accuses the GC of dissociating Jesus from the doctrines: “What an opportunity is lost in this document claiming to uplift Jesus! Why doesn’t it invite the reader to what lies at the heart of the Scriptures — a personal, living, growing relationship with Jesus as our Savior, Lord, Best Friend?”

So what do I think is the tragic flaw? I do not think it’s doctrine as such, for doctrine is not only important, it’s also actually indispensable. Let us remember that doctrine simply means teaching. One cannot clarify who Jesus is, what he taught, or why he died without exposition. One can have doctrine without Jesus and that is seriously tragic. But on the other hand, one cannot have Jesus without doctrine/teaching, for that is impossible. Catch phrases may be true but they’re inadequate. Jesus cannot be reduced to a slogan.8 Consider a conversation on a train.

Him: I see you are a Christian from what you are reading. Me: Yes I am. Him: I’m a sort of a Hindu myself. Tell me, who is Jesus? Me: Jesus is a name above all names. Him: Did he actually live in history? Me: He’s the center of it all. Him: Center of what? Me: No other name but Jesus. Him: How did he die? Me: Nothing but the blood of Jesus. Him: What’s his importance to you? Me: You can have all this world, give me Jesus. Him: This is my stop. I think I’ll stay a sort of a Hindu, thanks.

Such catch phrases give us a truncated Christ; not the Jesus of the Gospels. But nor should Jesus be squeezed into doctrines like jelly and cream into a donut. Doctrines or teachings must not be treated as if they stood alone awaiting to be infused with Him. The doctrines grow out of Jesus; never the reverse. Take, for example, the so-called “state of the dead.” This is not merely a proof against Plato’s immortal soul or even a claim that we have the truth. It’s about the resurrection of Christ, from which the hope of a general resurrection arises. The sequence is the first fruits and then the harvest (1 Corinthians 15:23).

I know that resting in a grave seems to most mourners a poor hope compared with the immediacy of a soul being with God in heaven. Yet Christianity from its inception was a communal faith. The final hope is also communal; we enter the resurrected life not as fans pressing into the football stadium through the turnstiles one by one, but as Paul says “at the same time and together with them [the raised]…to meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall always be with the Lord. So comfort one another with these words” (author’s translation). Without the resurrection of Jesus there is no hope and no comfort (1 Corinthians 15:17–19). “And this is the testimony: God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life” (1 John 5:11–12).

The Christ-centeredness of Paul is patent. For example, when reminding the Corinthians of their pledge to support the Christian Jews with a generous offering during a famine in Jerusalem, he gives as the basis of his appeal the example of Christ: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9, NRSV, modified by the author). Of course the promised riches are salvation and not monetary wealth.

We should also remind ourselves how central God himself is to the New Testament’s authors. Take for example the central redemptive acts of Christ — his death and his resurrection. Notice how God is the subject of the action. First his death and then his resurrection:

In the crucifixion God gave his only Son (John 3:16) God sent his Son (Galatians 4:4) God put forward Jesus (Romans 3:25) God spared not his own Son (Romans 8:32a) God delivered him up for us all (Romans 8:32b) God made him to be sin who knew no sin (2 Corinthians 5:21)

In the resurrection But God raised him up, having freed him from death (Acts 2:24, 32) The Author of life, whom God raised from the dead (Acts 3:15, 26; 4:10; 5:30; 10:40; 13:30, 37). We who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead (Romans 4:24; 8:11), God raised him from the dead (Romans 10:9; 1 Corinthians 6:14; 15:15; 2 Corinthians 4:14; Galatians 1:1; Ephesians 1:20; Colossians 2:12; 1 Thessalonians 1:10; 1 Peter 1:21).

Perhaps we should be singing “God only” and “God is enough.” So I agree with the uplift-Jesus statement that one cannot proclaim Jesus without teaching (doctrine). It’s a false dichotomy to pit Jesus against teaching. I also agree that Jesus-only phrases do not tell us much. However, I agree with the One Project that doctrine that’s not centered in Jesus is deadly. Christian teaching must issue from, be centered in, and focused on Jesus. So what is the tragic flaw in the GC statement?

The seven questions are formatted without any reference to Jesus, as Johnsson rightly complained; they stand alone as a given. And even worse, when we examine them we find they exalt not the Jesus of the Gospels or even the Epistles, but the doctrines peculiar to the Adventist denomination. What we get when we align Jesus with the seven test questions is a thoroughly Adventist Jesus. A Jesus defined more by our interpretation of Daniel than by our reading of the Gospels.

What the statement advocates is a Jesus who teaches not only his return to the Father who sent him, but also a Jesus, who since 1844 ministers in a heavenly sanctuary (test query 3); a Jesus who favors the Adventist church above any other Christian community, especially above the Evangelicals (test query 4);9 a Jesus who affirms not only the Sabbath, but also a literal six-day creation “in the recent past” (test query 5); a Jesus, who, when he appealed to Daniel, as he does, used the historicist hermeneutic, or he would have, if he’d known it (test query 6); and a Jesus who had compassion on an adulterer and a prostitute (John 8:2–11; Luke 7:36–50), but no care for those of the LGBTQ community (test query 7). Where does Jesus teach any of these things in the Gospels?

This GC statement gives us a Jesus who conforms to our doctrines; it does not give us teachings that conform to Jesus. No wonder Johnsson boiled over and got mad.10 But we can answer his question: “It seems as though most everyone has heard that there’s something not quite right, but no one can inform me where the problem lies.” Here’s the answer as I see it. Yes the One Project teaches Jesus, and yes it presents the doctrines that cluster around him, but the One Project does not teach the Adventist Jesus. Indeed the One Project shapes the Adventist beliefs by the Jesus of the Gospels; and that, Bill, is its sin in the eyes of those who lead us. It’s a sin of omission rather than commission; it’s not what the One Project says, but what it doesn’t say that condemns it. The GC clearly believes that Jesus should be shaped by the 28 fundamentals and not the reverse. So there’s your answer, Bill. God help us.

Notes & References:

1. I have never attended one of the seminars, but we did have Dr. Lawrence Turner and Pastor Japhet De Oliveira join us in our home for a meal one time when there was a One Project program at Avondale College. I did not quiz either of them on their orthodoxy lest they repaid the compliment and reversed the interrogation onto me.

2. It was republished on the Spectrum website a few days later on March 19, 2018.

3. Brown exempts the SPD from this charge and cites the Field Secretary’s supportive article in the Record; see Graeme Humble, “The One Project: Jesus in Adventism,” Record (September 20, 2016).

4. “An Invitation to Uplift Jesus: A Statement from the General Conference Executive Leadership and Division Presidents,” Adventist News Network (accessed on June 6, 2018). It was available on the Spectrum website by April 12, 2018). According to Bonnie Dyer the statement was posted onto the ANN site without it ever having been on the agenda (“Spring Meeting Postlude,” Spectrum website, April 12, 2018).

5. James D. G. Dunn, Christian Liberty: A New Testament Perspective (Grand Rapids; MI: Eerdmans, 1993) 44.

6. Bonnie Dwyer, “Responding to the General Conference’s Latest Document,” Spectrum website, April 12, 2018.

7. William G. Johnsson, “‘The Uplifting Jesus’ Statement: A Theological Perspective,” Spectrum website, April 17, 2018.

8. In my church I happily sing songs such as “Jesus at the Center of it all,” “Jesus, only Jesus,” “Christ is Enough,” “It’s all about Jesus,” “Jesus, all for Jesus,” “None But Jesus,” and “Only Jesus.” However, these hardly scratch the surface of the Gospels’ accounts of Jesus.

9. On Adventist ecclesiastical exclusivity, see Leroy Sykes, “The GC Says ‘Uplift Jesus.’ Say What?” Spectrum website, May 14, 2018.

10. William G. Johnsson, “The One Project: Why I'm Mad,” Spectrum website, September 1, 2016.

Norman Young is Conjoint Associate Professor at Avondale College of Higher Education, Cooranbong, NSW, Australia.

Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/8841

Well said Norm! Amen.

Both the General Conference and the One Project have much to learn from your correctives herein. I have highlighted what I consider are the most important points of your essay.

Adventists often suggest that we proclaim the gospel in the context of the three angels messages. But then we have almost wholly neglected to understand what those messages entail within the context of the book of Revelation.

I consider that we Adventists often have a very superficial understanding of the three angels messages. This cuts both ways or should I say at both ends of the Adventist theological spectrum. Please General Conference and the One Project take note. Perhaps if both these entities understood more clearly what the summons of the three angels of Revelation 14 is, a more mature understanding of what Adventism really is would be engendered.

Here is my attempt at a more enlightened understanding of the message of the first angel who comes preaching the everlasting gospel.

In the Bible, the word “gospel” has a specific meaning! The word “gospel” or “euangelion” literally means “good news” and not just any kind of “good news.” The word was a technical term in the Greco-Roman world for good news from the battle front – “We won the battle” or “The war is over, and there is peace.” It could also be used about a new king on the throne, which often was the case after the war was coming to an end.

The Bible uses the word “gospel” in the same sense:

Isaiah 52:7:

“How beautiful upon the mountains
Are the feet of him who brings good news,
Who proclaims peace,
Who brings glad tidings of good things,
Who proclaims salvation
Who says to Zion,
‘Your God reigns.’

This verse is built on the metaphor of a fast runner coming over the hills and arriving in town with a message from the war front that the war is over and that their favourite leader is finally on the throne. The phrase “brings good news” in Isa 52:7 in the Septuagint is “euangelizo.”

The king who has won the war and was finally on the throne was Yahweh. The gospel message is that Jesus has come, has won the battle and is now ruling. In his ministry on earth King Jesus began to drive the enemy from his kingdom.

Dr Reimar Vetne, Prof of New Testament at Pacific Union College has said it well,

“The gospel is not just about my sins and my salvation, but about Jesus as King and that we should obey Him. Do you see the subtle difference?

"As loyal subjects of King Jesus, we are calling people to join in the revolutionary movement of loyalty and allegience to our King instead of loyalty to the corrupt and selfish princes (sic) of this world….

“Now go out and tell your friends how proud you are of your King Jesus. This is what evangelizing is about – recruiting obedient loyal subjects for the awesome King Jesus and expanding His kingdom. It is about moving the whole world toward glorifying and worshipping God.” Reimar Vetne, Jesus in the Book of Revelation (Bibloy Press, 2016)

Afterall, the first angel is preaching the gospel in mid heaven by saying “Fear God, give Him glory and worship the Creator in the time of universal judgement.”

For an enlightening exposition of the third angels message one should look no further than both Mark Finley in the June 1, 2018 issue of the Adventist Review and Gavin Anthony in the his musings on ‘God’s Seal or the Beast’s Mark’ (June 15, 2018) on this blog site.

I understand that Dr Remwil Tornalejo, a Professor at the Adventist International Institute of Advanced Studies has given a paper at the 4th International Bible Conference in Rome, Italy titled “The Kingdom of God and Its Implications for Eschatology and Social Responsibility.” The precis of this paper says in part - “The key to a better understanding of the interrelatedness of present and future aspects of eschatology is found in the kingdom of God. The correct understanding of the kingdom of God has vast ramifications not only on the future, but also on the present moral and social aspects of the life of the believer.”

In summary, the gospel as far as the Scriptures are concerned must always be understood as ‘the gospel of the kingdom.’ It announces the coming of the King of Kings and calls for loyalty to Him as our Creator and Saviour.

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At the center of this shadow boxing is the question: what about the One Project is in opposition to Adventist doctrines?

If no opposition, then why the continual argument about perceptions of Christ. The Adventist Church has codified its belief that Christ is the Creator and the Redeemer. How much more does the denomination have to believe in Christ in order to satisfy the One Project?

If the purpose of this intellectual merry-go-round is to somehow cast away the fundamental beliefs of the Church, then what we are really dealing with is a narrowing of the understanding of Christianity. In other words, if the teachings and morality of the Bible are trivial and actually paying attention to them is somehow anti-christian, then one has to wonder why the Holy Spirit would have impressed the prophets to write it up to begin with. However, if it is truth and not a clever trap of damnation, then why the argument?

It seems easy enough for the One Project to just state that “we believe wholeheartedly in the truth of the Adventist fundamental beliefs and do not question them at all. In addition to that, we are a ministry that focuses on Christ, and we acknowledge that the Adventist Church does this already.”

Otherwise, the administration is quite grounded to be circumspect of the One Project if its result is to diminish the importance of the doctrines through fallaciously pitting them against belief in Christ.

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The fundamental problem with any slogan is the strong temptation for puffery. I recall the song Climbing Jacobs Ladder. Christ came down that ladder we didn’t go up. Let us walk humbly and teachable without sloganeering

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Exactly … herein lies the problem. Jesus as a little add on, a “nice to have” once you concur with all the doctrines. Indeed - that may not have been the view of the One Project…

Paul for sure would not have been a good Adventist. Amidst the power struggles of Corinth he said: I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. (not even the High Priest, mind you, or the coming Lord… … shame on Paul!)

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There is no problem with the statement. Use of the conjunction phrase “in addition” does not imply that the succeeding clause is subordinate to the preceding.

Nevertheless, if it makes you happier, feel free to reverse the order of the clauses being parsed.

One of the basic rules of theological conversation is that one summarizes the other person’s point of view so well that he or she says, “Yes! That’s precisely what I believe.” Although I’m better at this than I used to be, I still have a very long ways to go. As I read the expressions this way and that about Project One, I think that I am not the only one.

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“What the statement advocates is a Jesus who teaches not only his return to the Father who sent him, but also a Jesus, who since 1844 ministers in a heavenly sanctuary (test query 3); a Jesus who favors the Adventist church above any other Christian community, especially above the Evangelicals (test query 4);9 a Jesus who affirms not only the Sabbath, but also a literal six-day creation “in the recent past” (test query 5); a Jesus, who, when he appealed to Daniel, as he does, used the historicist hermeneutic, or he would have, if he’d known it (test query 6); and a Jesus who had compassion on an adulterer and a prostitute (John 8:2–11; Luke 7:36–50), but no care for those of the LGBTQ community (test query 7). Where does Jesus teach any of these things in the Gospels?”

This summarizes the issue very well. Not of the One Project, but of our myopic view of what the central teachings of and about Christ truly are. The GC identifies those largely as Adventist distinctives. The NT reveals something else, simple and more commonly held Christian beliefs and practices.

Thanks…

Frank

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Let me clarify and be a little more blunt. The criticism of the One Project by the GC has been pretty clear. To put Christ first may be a killer of doctrine (incidentally, the One Project people have not been shown to be doctrinal dissenters in all the investigations).

I would want to go on record that I rather have Christ - and no doctrine, than all doctrine but not Christ. Now obviously - the former is not really possible - unfortunately the latter is. That the GC criticism focussed on a ministry which is perceived as leaning towards the former - but keeps silent about the latter, does speak volumes.

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This article focus only on the criticism of the One Project. What the "An invitation to uplift Jesus does is pitching ASI against the One Project “Church leaders are often asked for advice on how to relate with some initiatives and organizations, some of which are well established and widely accepted, such as ASI-recognized entities, which have long cooperated with the church and its leadership. A more recent development is the One Project (now apparently transitioning to become the Global Resource Collective), about which some questions have been raised.” Witch indicates that everything under the umbrella of ASI is ok and that the One Project does is questionable.

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Unless you or anyone else enumerates what you believe to be the errors of doctrine, then presenting this matter as a controversy is wasted breath.

It is a catch, however, since enumerating your differences places you at odds with orthodoxy – perhaps a position too exposed for comfort. Thus, we end up back to circular platitudes. And if that is where we are, then there really is no argument.

The One Project WAS NOT an Evangelistic Crusade to get persons baptized.
SO IT DID NOT NEED to focus on ALL the 28 Doctrines of the SDA church.
In fact, it DID NOT NEED to focus on ANY of the 28 Doctrines.

They were focusing on how to have “Christ in you, the hope of glory”.
Focusing on How to have the mind of Christ.
Focusing on Learning How to have a Life Centered In Christ.

President Wilson just wanted to have something to complain about because it
wasn’t one of HIS FRIENDS who were putting it on — D. Batchelor, Bohr, 3ABN.

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For Spectrum
May I venture a word to William Johnsson, Norman Young, my personal friends and brothers in Christ, and to all supporting the One Project?

Why these conscientious protests against a denomination that majors in minors and refuses to crown Christ as Lord while simultaneously supporting (by default)—the chief root of the church’s ecclesiastical blunders—1844 and the IJ? 1844 has taken the place of the Cross though no atoning blood was shed in 1844. The IJ has displaced Christian assurance that the verdict of the last Judgment is already in the possession of every believer.

I appeal to my friends—stop fiddling with secondaries—stab at the loathsome heart which, festering, has dishonoured Christ our Saviour and Lord. Desmond Ford

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The One Project certainly did not shy away from doctrine; how could they preach Christ and not present doctrine? Indeed, they did not even shrink from the 28 Fundamentals according to the participant’s report of Nathaniel Tan (Marcos Torres and Nathaniel Tan, “The One Project: Danger or Blessing?” Spectrum Online (August 25, 2014). I think Andreas that we are in agreement. Thank you for your comment. Grace & peace, Norman

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Desmond’s own sad journey convinced me that 1844 is itself a secondary. I leave it to others to decide whether my piece is “fiddling with secondaries,” but I must protest against the thought that William Johnsson is in anyway guilty of doing that. Just read some of his recent books about Jesus and post San Antonio. With warmest regards and gratitude, Norman

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Thoughtful embrace of any tradition is embrace of the _best _of that tradition.

Elder Wilson and those who agree with him seem to reject the very corrective sensibility that distinguished Jesus from the “fundamentalists” (or whatever they should be called) of his own day. To the degree that such an attitude characterizes any church leader, that leader a misleader.

The author’s point–what I take to be his conviction that talk of Jesus must address the complex web of teaching that underlies and sustains our conviction of Christ’s importance–is indispensable to deeper comprehension of our role and work. The One Project (I attended and reported on several “gatherings”) was _not _ blind this. But is there there more doctrinal work to be done?

Yes, and let’s get on with it. Let’s advance what is best in Adventism!

Chuck

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Norman_Young. Thanks for an even-handed and insightful analysis which is far from “fiddling with secondaries.”

Desmond Ford: many thanks Norman. But anything that downgrades the Cross and places it under the shadow of an insignificant historical date is not a secondary. Blessings! Des

Gill Ford: Des is not criticising the quality of Norm’s work; everything Norm writes is excellent; what’s Des is talking about isn’t mentioned in the article.

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I just saw an ad for yet another edition of “THE 28”. I suppose it’s going to be zeroing in on Genesis, LGBT, and women - or some combination there of. When we cut through all the underbrush, the Adventist “hope” gets hung on a couple of verses in Revelation - "These are they that keep the commandments of God (always understood to mean the 4th); and hold to the testimony of Jesus (defined as Ellen White’s writings). So, in a nutshell, we are saved by the Sabbath and Ellen White’s writings. Where is the cross? For traditional Adventist faith base, Jesus hangs around in the periphery.

If the gospel doesn’t define and inform every belief (doctrine) we have, that belief (doctrine) is totally irrelevant.

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Clearly I’m misunderstanding Des, and some are misunderstanding me, and I take responsibility for that. Since I quote some of the NT’s key passages related to the cross and the resurrection (as an example of God/Christ centered doctrine) it seems Des is not accusing my brief piece of “fiddling with secondaries,” as I assumed.

Secondly, I intended my essay as a support of the One Project and its emphasis. I know many of the presenters and think highly of them. And at the same time in conceding one point to the GC statement, overall I was trying to expose its shortcomings. Not even “Desire of Ages.” “Steps to Christ,” or “Thoughts from the Mount of Blessing” could pass its seven-test-questions requirement.

In saying things such as, "a Jesus who teaches not only his return to the Father who sent him, but also a Jesus, who since 1844-ministers in a heavenly sanctuary (test query 3), the latter clauses are meant as a criticism not an approval. Clearly I need to use headings to improve my clarity. My apologies.

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