Calvin Thomsen’s Discussion of Chapter 3 of “Where Are We Headed? Adventism after San Antonio” Assails Neo-Calvinism

It might seem ironic that a person named Calvin Thomsen would criticize the impact of Neo-Calvinism on Adventist thought and life. Yet this is what he did at the Roy Branson Legacy Sabbath School (RBLSS) in Loma Linda, California on July 8.

These criticisms were part of his discussion of Chapter 3 in Where Are We Headed? Adventism After San Antonio by William G. Johnsson. The title of this chapter is “Waiting for Jesus: The When or the Who?” He did not claim that Neo-Calvinism is present in this chapter but that it is apparently in the minds of some other Adventists who are also addressing this topic.

Probably the only person in the world who has earned doctorates in both ministry and neuroscience, Thomsen is a professor in the Loma Linda University School of Religion. Before that he pastored a number of small and large churches in Southern and Southeastern California.

William G. Johnsson edited the Adventist Review for many years. A New Testament scholar from Adelaide, Australia, he previously served at Spicer Adventist University in India and at Andrews University in the United States.

The chapter begins with “The Problem of the Delay” of the Second Coming of Jesus. Johnsson challenged the assumption that there has been a “Delay.” He wrote that thinking in these terms is contrary to the New Testament which speaks of it only occasionally and of “finishing the work” only once. Johnsson warned against an “eschatology by works” which wrongly leaves the impression that the timing of the Second Coming depends upon us.

This is an interesting issue about which opposite errors are possible. On the one hand, too much emphasis upon the contributions of human beings does not do justice to divine providence and the Christian confidence that in the end it will prevail against the forces of evil. On the other hand, too little emphasis upon human endeavors makes divine providence wholly and solely responsible for everything that happens throughout the entire universe and in our own lives as well.

This is not the place, or it is not the only place, at which Thomsen challenged Adventist Neo-Calvinism. On this occasion he expressed even more concern upon what he takes to be its negative impact on Adventist understandings of Scripture, religion and science, the proper relationships between men and women, and so forth. His larger point was that Adventism is theologically conservative but that not all forms of theological conservatism are Adventist. Some types of conservatism are alien to Adventism and should be treated as such.

If Roy Branson were still alive, I think that he would have reminded the group of his distinction between a “Millerite Mindset” and an “Adventist Mindset.” In terms of Johnsson’s chapter, the first mindset focuses on the “when” of the Second Coming and the second focuses upon the “Who.”

Those who were there will long remember Thomsen’s confession in the original meaning of the term. It was that all of his life, from his childhood onward, despite his youthful games with other children about the “Time of Trouble,” the Second Coming of Jesus has always been about the “Who.”

RBLSS is grateful to Adventist Forum for making this discussion available to a wider audience. It also expresses gratitude to Alan Alipoon for making the video.

WATCH: Calvin Thomsen on Chapter 3 in "Where Are We Headed?" by William G. Johnsson

See also:

William G. Johnsson Explains Why He Wrote Where Are We Headed? Adventism after San Antonio, The Professors Valentine Expand Upon Chapter 1 in "Where Are We Headed? Adventism After San Antonio", and Laura Alipoon Highlights Adventist Diversity in Chapter 2 of “Where Are We Headed? Adventism After San Antonio”

Dr. David Larson is Professor of Religion at Loma Linda University.

Image Credit: Video Still

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

Throughout the presentation, Calvin Thomsen made a distinction between some of the Calvinistic influences that are creeping into Adventist attitudes; saying they weren’t part of “traditional” 19th century Adventism. Since Adventism isn’t supposed be a “closed” religion, but rather, a “movement,” why are we so intent on keeping this 19th century paradigm intact, when it comes eschatological issues - (not that we need to incorporate Calvinism, per se)., while there doesn’t seem to be a problem with west coast liberal environmentalist influences due to smog in LA that has taken hold in the west coast Adventist focus.

The second point, Thomsen draws a distinction between “religious apocalypse” and the “scientific apocalypse”. The apocalypse by any other name is still the apocalypse, is it not. It would seem, the event can be described in many different terms. When the world ends, does it matter if it it’s based in science, sociology, or religion? The same event has many different facets, depending on who is describing it. It seems like we can’t see beyond 19th century interpretations.

One thing is for sure, the picture Jesus gave in Matt. 24, is pretty scary, and I think it’s meant to be scary when we’re dealing with “the image of God” without the spirit of God. It may have been their way of sounding as scary as they could imagine. For us, it might be a nuclear winter; or, North Korea launching an attack with, or without China; or, a number of other scenarios. The point is, the “end time” and its accompanied “apocalypse” has been a possibility in the eyes of every generation; but I say again, there has never been a time where total annihilation has been a real possibility, until now. Given, that Jesus wondered if he would find anyone alive to greet him when he returned, gives our current time a more plausible possibility of being “it”. In any case, the “end” has been a real experience for every generation since Jesus described it all.


i have often wondered what would move our country from the beacon of free speech and right to religous worship to a totaltarian society. After seeing our freedoms erode as a result of 9/11 and our efforts to stay ‘safe’ and watching and hearing the commentary after the last election, I figure that the 1st ammentment to the constitution will probably be anilated by the government to keep us ‘safe’ AND as a byproduct of the desire for more civil discourse in the national conversation. I think that the streamlining and subsequent revision of the 1st ammentment will simply eliminate the right to worship God as we choose…


The real church is headed to eternal life.
Individuals are headed to where they choose
Choices>habit>personality>character >destiny

Calvinism has ruined Christianity. Those who understand the acronym TULIP realize this.
Most of the population have priorities of affluence & security and whatever the government does to maximize this is fine with them.
“When freedom destroys order, the yearning for order will destroy freedom.” Eric Hoffer.

The 4 gospels reveal that the most oppressive, dangerous & threatening group of people at His time were the clergy. (see first part of JOHN 10:10) The same is the case today.
Crime & clergy connection = trickle down immorality.

Adventism is too obsessed/fixated/paranoid with eschatology and their boom in doom scenario. To address the anxiety of members, the SDA clergy have presented soft sell-sugar coated concepts of gospels & salvation which deceive them into thinking that Jesus will wave a magic sanctification/perfection wand on them at translation or 1st resurrection. An example of this is the article :“Gospel of Imperfection”

I am going to hear a sermon this morning where the guest speaker will prod members to be more active and/or consecrated and yet will avoid sharing what the gospel is because he assumes everyone knows what it is.

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I’ve just come home from listening to a speaker who said (again) that it’s our fault that Jesus hasn’t come yet. He quoted a lot of Ellen White to prove his point. He said that we all have to become ‘better’ or reach some unspecified level of goodness. I’m weeping because this is exactly what was so discouraging to me as a child and youth and adult. I first remember feeling guilty about this at camp meeting in 1949, when I was too young to understand why it was my fault, and I’d better get ready. I’ve heard this all my life - get ready, you’re not good enough - and it’s crushing my spirit now that I’m old.


Nothing has made me question the link between Christianity and fear more than the ‘christians’ that put a man, with no moral compass, into the Whitehouse. Fear, a tactic that unsettled millions of Americans, a campaign assuring crowds of spellbound followers that he was the only way to salvation.


“When I reflect upon the number of disagreeable people who I know have gone to a better world,
I am moved to lead a different life.” ―Mark Twain

Is it about the ‘who’ ? . . . or about the ‘how much’ ?
Is it about the ‘character’ of whoever ? . . . or about the ‘credentials’ of whoever – their public ‘reputation’ ?

the Christ came the first time,
‘He’ – the Son of Mary, but NOT of Joseph – was born only from a woman’s ‘fallen’ DNA,
‘He’ was cradled in a slobbery livestock feed trough,
‘He’ refused to take His own ‘throne’ or even to live in His own Father’s house.
‘He’ was finally ‘crowned’ and humiliated as if a criminal, and was buried in a grave borrowed from a ‘violent’, ‘wicked’, ‘deceitful’, and thereby ‘rich’ . . . ‘PhD.’
(“And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death;
because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth.” Isaiah 53:9)
And, now He has promised, 'Look, I am with you always, even to the end of the world.'
Now, that’s ‘eschatology’ for you !

I fail to see any difference between the ‘when’ and the ‘who’, here ? Because, if I don’t ‘choose’ to have that humiliated ‘Chosen One’ of the ‘Godhead’ come in and form his own Godlike, humble character in my ‘heart’ right now, as I type this out (‘unprofessionally’, with one finger) . . .
I’m never going to want to see Him coming in a vast innumerable ‘cloud’ of like-hearted – AND like-slandered – angels of the same ‘character’.
(“And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night.” Revelation 12:10)

Back when I was young enough to not fully discern the insult in the ‘compliment’ (?), I was told by a Loma Linda alumnus – and friend of the Graham Maxwell study group – who is now a retired PhD that, ‘With some education you could be someone.’

I’m now 60. Last week I worked long days in the Minnesota summer humidity and heat lifting and bolting steel purlins into place for supporting solar panels. Another (younger ?) overheated worker was spitting up blood on Monday, so they sent us home after 9 hours. On Wednesday he collapsed and was taken to the hospital . . . how can I NOT be thankful I chose to be a healthy ‘no one’, with Jesus present with me every moment, showing me constantly how weak and fragile my body and my ‘character’ are ? Especially, without Him ‘coming in’ to me, constantly, to keep me from collapsing both physically and in spirits ? And the only way He will consent to ‘come in’ to me, is if I consent to open the ‘door’ of ‘pride’ that guards my ‘heart’, where Jesus stands constantly – right now – knocking.

Again, I will echo that still-ridiculed contemporary of Mark Twain, an ‘uneducated’ enthusiast who still maintains a bad ‘reputation’ among too many SDAs – Alonzo Trevier Jones :

“The tendency is, even with us, to read of the sanctuary and its services
and God dwelling in the sanctuary and the text,
“Make me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them,” and say,
Yes, God dwelt among them in the sanctuary and that pointed to the sanctuary that is in heaven
and the time is coming when God will dwell with His people again,
for He says of the new earth,
"Behold the tabernacle of God is with men,
and God will dwell with them and be their God
and they shall be his people."
So when the new earth comes God is going to dwell with His people again.
But where is God now?
That is what we want to know.
What matters it to me that He is going to dwell with His people on the new earth?
What matters all this, if He does not dwell with me now?
For if He cannot dwell with me now,
it is certain that He never can dwell with me on the new earth nor anywhere else,
for He has no chance.
What I want to know and what every soul needs to know is, Does He dwell with me now?
If we put Him away back yonder in the days of the Jews
and then put Him away off on the new earth,
what does that do for us now?
How does that give Him to men now?
In that way, how is He with us now?
That is what we need constantly to study.”
{March 5, 1895 ATJ, GCB 476.4}

“As through Jesus we enter into rest, heaven begins here.
We respond to His invitation, Come, learn of Me, and in thus coming we begin the life eternal.
Heaven is a ceaseless approaching to God through Christ.” DA 331

So, the ‘second coming’ of the Christ is not so much dependent on ‘God’, as it is on each heart that has rebelled against Him and will not ‘come’ – will not be ‘drawn’ – to the humiliated character of Christ. At the Christ’s first ‘coming’, He was born just a short walk from the well-educated Temple, and the wealthy Throne, of Judah. But, only the truly wise and wealthy ‘heathen’, risked their lives through days of hard travel to ‘come’ to Him, and to be humiliated before a ‘baby’, before a . . . a mere ‘child’ ! . . . Who was, indeed, ‘SomeOne’ . . . and Who yet, never attended the rabbinical schools, until He taught the rabbis with questions at the age of 12.

‘Who’ are we ?
‘When’ will we ‘get it’ ?

When ?
Back in the late 1800s, Mark Twain – the tragically ‘orphaned’ father and ‘widower’ – and his adoring like-hearted fans around the globe, desperately needed the open-hearted ‘knowledge’ of Himself that Jesus had blessed Alonzo Jones and Dr. Waggoner with.

Who ?
It is the best indicator of who ‘we’ are, today – as ‘Seventh-day Adventists’, generally, whenever conferring – that we still too-proudly refuse to pass that blessing along to those in ‘Babylon’ who still need it, because we don’t ‘know’ that we do. (We seem happier when able to ‘compete’ with ‘fallen Babylon’, on ‘her’ terms – in order to attain to ‘her’ reputation – instead.)
And that ‘know’ comes only through our humiliation as ‘no one’,
not through an exalted reputation as ‘some one’.

“For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy;
I dwell in the high and holy place,
with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit,
to revive the spirit of the humble,
and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.” Isaiah 57:15

The powers of ‘contrition’, ‘humility’, and ‘revival’ are NOT MY POWERS, but HIS, alone,
and they are always needed by me, NOW.
I cannot wait for His mere ‘second coming’. By then it will be too late.


i think i’m a little confused by this presentation…is calvin suggesting that san antonio is an example of neo-calvinistic encroachments into our church because an insurgence of non-adventist headship defeated WO…or is he saying that neo-calvinism is emerging because people are still saying that christ is coming soon because they believe end-time events are fulfilling, we’re finishing the work, and we’re getting ready…

i can see the WO connection - especially if i were a gifted woman denied recognition because god predestined me to be a second-class tithe-paying church member in a church founded by a woman - but i don’t see the second coming connection…to me, to say that we can influence when jesus comes is decidedly non-calvinistic…it’s putting our future and fate into our own hands…on the other hand, if our position were that christ is going to come when he comes, regardless of what we do, and whether we finish the work or not, i think this would be calvinistic…it would suggest we’re just pawns in a grander scheme that is out of our hands…i don’t see any evidence that this is what people are starting to think…

in general, i can’t say i see any problem with continuing to say that christ is coming soon even though thousands of yrs have passed since this teaching began circulating…the tension between believing that christ is coming soon, and seeing that he probably isn’t coming in one’s lifetime, seems to be a believer thing, common in every age from apostolic times…certainly to say that christ’s soon coming is a nothing burger because he hasn’t come yet, and that we should therefore stop saying to people that he’s coming soon, or even that he is coming soon, but we should stop saying to people that he’s coming soon, seems a bit out of the tradition of both the apostolic church and our pioneer church…

i’m personally not too concerned with people having frightmares over our eschatology message…reasonable people can keep things in perspective, and unbalanced people would likely find something else to trip over if our eschatology message weren’t there…it is a fact that our daniel and revelation seminars have been good for at least some people…i was at someone’s house for lunch not too long ago and it turned out that almost everyone there, except me, had joined the church as adults because they’d attended a daniel and revelation seminar…i’ve gotten in conversations with new people in my church i’d never met before who are there because they’ve attended daniel and revelation seminars…

but let’s cut to the chase and face it: what would adventism be without a future time of trouble, in which adventists will have been sealed after the latter rain has begun to fall; probation will have closed while adventists will be living without a mediator in heaven; and all over the world, adventists will be running for their lives from people with the mark of the beast because they refuse to give up the seventh-day sabbath, which the united states and the catholic church, together with demons, have convinced the rest of the world needs to be changed to sunday…this kind of background meta narrative is part of being adventist…it’s like church school, campmeeting, vegetariansim, egw, and probably friday night haystacks and the heritage singers if you’re over 40 or 50…you don’t have adventism anymore if you take it away…

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Or you would have a healthier Adventism based on a sound understanding of apocalyptic, rather than the sensationalism that grew out of a failed prophetic movement of the mid 19thc. Add to that a conspiratorial mindset that arose from anti Catholic hysteria of the day, and you have a church culture that sees itself as the center of the universe rather than Jesus and the good news. The whole scenario breathes dysfunction.



For a paper by Calvin Thomsen about Headship Theology, Neo-Calvinism and Adventism, please visit:

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I feel sorry that you have been burdened for so long by the Adventist teachings you speak about. So, I hope you will consider another way to look at what the Bible means by the gospel and the New Covenant.
I ask that you read and study an article of several pages length entitled ‘The Two Covenants’. It explains the differences between the Old and New Covenants. I think you will be able to identify with the author’s struggles to become ‘perfect’ and I hope you will be blessed by the understanding that he received. It was so different from what I had been taught that it took me a while to digest it. You’ll have to be open to looking at things differently and I’m quite sure that you won’t agree with everything he says on some other issues (that’s ok), but it’s crucial that you understand what God, through Christ and the New Covenant, has promised to us.

Here is the link to the article: