Apocalypse and Neutering: A Review


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Readers of virtually any book written by George Knight over the last three decades have come to expect an intriguing, if not shocking, title. Despite such preparation, The Apocalyptic Vision and the Neutering of Adventism still causes most readers to pause at first glance. Before beginning an intriguing look at the question of Adventist relevancy in the twenty-first century, Knight tackles the title directly. Few people will look at the title and pass it off as just another book, and that is Knight’s point.

To “neuter” is rarely a passive act, and Knight immediately takes on those on both extremes of Adventism who he believes threaten its very relevancy. Knight makes the argument that without a proper understanding of the apocalyptic grounding of Adventism, the movement ceases to have any reason to exist. Knight argues that Adventism threatens to make itself irrelevant in two ways: “beastly preaching” and succumbing to a politically-correct Christianity. Knight describes “beastly preaching” as preaching an apocalypse devoid of an emphasis on Jesus as the lamb who is sacrificed for each sinner. Knight argues that the other side, which seeks an Adventism that preaches “gospel alone,” to the exclusion of the historic Adventist emphasis on apocalyptic, leads one to ask “why bother to have Seventh-day Adventism at all?” Knight’s argument is not against the concept of gospel preaching. What he fears is a neutered gospel. He states, “Biblical preaching is not gospel versus apocalyptic but gospel and apocalyptic” — the lack of either is what constitutes “beastly preaching” (emphasis Knight, p. 21).

After a review of how apocalyptic became part of early Adventism, Knight makes a case for why it is still relevant. Taking each of the numerous elements of the Adventist interpretation of apocalyptic, Knight makes an argument for why most of the core elements are still relevant. He tackles the concepts of Historicism, the “year-for-a-day” principle, Revelation 10 and the Unsealing of Daniel, the meaning and place of Daniel 8:14, the Pre-Advent Judgment, the Sanctuary and the Remnant. While arguing for the relevancy of a portion of traditional Adventist apocalyptic, Knight does not always use the traditional arguments. When talking about the importance of the Sanctuary message, Knight says, “Adventism has faced endless snarls and challenges on its sanctuary doctrine because it has been tempted to overemphasize geography and exact parallels from what the Bible calls parabolic or shadowy knowledge” (74). He argues that “Hebrews is neither for nor against the Adventist position.” In the end he states that Adventism is “on solid ground when it comes to our sanctuary doctrine, but not when it comes to the way that some teach it” (76).

After defending the essence of Adventist apocalyptic, Knight again focuses his attention on those whose weariness at waiting for the coming has caused them to seek answers other than those traditionally espoused by Adventism. He contends that those who see the primary answer to the mission of the church in our time as a reframing of the apocalyptic preaching to a mission of “social justice and feeding the poor” also neuters Adventism. He argues that “the ultimate message of both the book of Revelation and the synoptic apocalypse is that the only real solution to poverty and injustice is the return of Jesus. It is that solution which makes the Adventist message relevant to a dying world” (101).

In the end, Knight’s book is unlikely to sway many readers in either of the camps that he fears are “neutering” Adventism’s apocalyptic message. He makes it clear that “beastly preaching” denies the core message of Adventist Apocalyptic which should always place the lamb at its center. Knight also criticizes “politically-correct” Adventists, those who may more aptly be described as holding the views of Liberal Protestantism or even Social Gospel, to take seriously the fact that at its core Adventism is an eschatological church. Knight’s basic argument is that after working his way through the basic elements of Adventist apocalyptic, the foundation is still plausible. He then challenges others to follow his lead and take traditional Adventist apocalyptic seriously. He challenges them to work their way through it and see if they come to similar conclusions and if not, join a conversation that will allow Adventism to remain relevant well into the future.

Paul McGraw is the chair of the history department at Pacific Union College and specializes in American religious history with a specific focus on Adventist history and the development of the designation "cult." This October, he participated in the Conference on Ellen White in Portland, Main.

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/2017