Can Adventist “Progressives” Overcome a Fatal Tendency?

Given the Good News of the Holy Spirit, “progressive” is an apt description of Adventism’s non-fundamentalist wing. The word suggests self-congratulation, an unfortunate downside, but “progressive Adventism” has caught on, and in one respect it is exactly right. The Holy Spirit’s testimony concerning Jesus is meant precisely to correct and expand Christian understanding. We humans may naturally resist changing our minds, but in his farewell remarks to the disciples (John 16:12-15), Jesus, the Spirit in mind, declared unmistakably: just do look for fresh interpretation of my life and work; just do be ready to change your minds; just do embrace perennial reformation—in thought as well as life!


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/12016
4 Likes

Excellent followup to Valentines book. MY mind is constantly reforming and at times that is very troubling!

1 Like

Yes indeed. I want to congratulate Chuck Scriven on an enlightening, thought-provoking, and important article.

1 Like

What a beautiful celebration of doubt. We need this reconstruction to begin anew, and upwards and higher until we again consider the most fundamental of all questions for all who espouse belief in a diety - is there a god? There really is no proof of this, and Spectrum proves that it is impossible to consider this world of ours, and to cast a diety who is comparable with all our human desires for justice and love. That’s what we’ve done, and in that way I don’t think this goes far enough. However, the author can’t take that step as he spent a career earning a living from the donations of fundamentalists.

1 Like

Not sure where you’re going with this but if you’re looking for proof of the existence of god, or anything else, for that matter you won’t find it in any human endeavor given that all human knowledge is finite.

In other words, even our most rigorous science can only ever be a “best guess” estimate about ultimate reality.

That said, if you’re saying we need to rethink our notions of our creator, I definitely agree and I suggest that we do so by re-examining the concept that we are made “in god’s image”.

I’ve said this before but if this is the case, it seems we can understand this “being” better by understanding ourselves.

For example, perhaps our maker exists as evidently as we do but is as uninformed about his inception as is every neonatal when he comes onto The World Stage. So he, she or it is as interested as we are about the results of scientific investigations into cosmology and the origins of life.

Similarly in this scenario, there is no reason to blame our maker for the existence of sin and evil as he is as un-omnipotent as each of us. If god is like us, he has no more power to prevent or eliminate either than I had to stop the hurricane that passed through my neighborhood last week simply by wishing it away.

Perhaps most importantly however, this perspective forces one to reconsider not just Adventism, but the notion of religion, in general. That is, does the consciousness which called everything into existence want to be worshipped blindly or have idolatrous tokens of our faith in his existence recited mindlessly once a week in a church setting?

Or, like each of us, is this Creative Essence interested in constant companionship and the ongoing chance to share with all of his fellow creatures the infinite range of emotions and experiences made possible by a fascinating but essentially unknown (and therefore somewhat scary) universe?

(And if you’re also saying that such “novel” ideas-which are at least as old as the first chapter of Genesis-are unlikely to come from a paid professional religious adept, I share that skepticism. :wink:)

1 Like

It would seem that the orthodox body resists progressive ideas since collectively, they represent a reconstruction of the church into something very different — and are interconnected like falling dominoes.

For instance, were the Church to accept the position of Ford on the interpretation of Daniel 8, then beliefs regarding Adventism as a Remnant Church, the gift of prophecy of Ellen White, and historicist prophetic interpretation would logically fall almost immediately.

This is not to say that the progressive disposition is never correct. We can see, for instance, in a rather innocuous issue like women’s ordination a palpable resistance to an issue that is not, in fact, biblically delineated, and yet it is argued by that resistant group as if it is a commandment that only men should be ordained ministers.

This opens up the temptation for opposing fallacies. The orthodox side may incorrectly view women’s ordination as a gateway to other progressive imperatives that do actually challenge biblical teaching. In like manner, the progressives may incorrectly deem that since they are correct about this issue, they must be correct about the others as well.

It would appear that since women’s ordination has substantial support beyond the “progressive minority” that this is an indication that it is an item working its way through generational change — much like the 40 years in the wilderness for the Israelites.

However, other substantially challenging issues that progressives coddle such as LGBTQ affirmation, biblical interpretation methodologies, outright striking down or majorly modifying fundamental beliefs, and acceptance of concordist or evolutionary origins are too far afield for the orthodox body to ever accept, and no amount of hoping and pining will change that.

2 Likes

Perhaps, instead of focusing on what’s wrong with Adventism, I challenge myself to recognize what’s “right”, but once you realize Adventism, like all other man-made institutions, is flawed, that’s all you see.

There are all kinds of reasons members question. The least talked about, is the theology of Adventism. Ever since Ford, an attempt is being made to combine traditional Adventism with what became obviously a theological problem. A variety of reasons are responsible - predominantly, job security and life style issues.

There is no cleaning up the theology since Adventism sits on a foundation that is unique, without which, it loses that foundation and becomes meaningless. The name alone takes the theology into strange paths when compared to the “Gospel of Christ” Christians are asked to spread throughout the world. The most obvious being the pre-advent judgement. This sets up a false fulcrum - perfectionism - the antithesis of the basis of Christianity to begin with.

Stepping out of the security of infallibility, denied but practiced in Adventism, brings confusion, but also fresh air. When there is no earthly security blanket, you’re left with just you, and your perception of God. For those born into the church, that perception comes from the very teachings you’re stepping away from.

Maybe it doesn’t have to be so drastic. If the church was able to drop the “ego” in all this, and become even somewhat humble, we might get enough commonality to have a community.

6 Likes

Thank you for mentioning R. Bruinsma in this good article. One wonders, however, if reconstruction can only come from the American Adventist intelligentsia.

Chuck Scriven lays out the task before us. His words are salted with references to scholars, many who have been highlighted in Spectrum and have brought freshness and relevance to Seventh-day Adventism. As former board chair, he highlights the purpose of Adventist Forum. The Spectrum team is committed to carry this vision forward with energy and kindness and to avoid a fatal tendency to bask in correct understanding. There is always more to learn, and God’s truth (theology?), inevitably, will impact people in all levels of social structure. I covet your prayers.

4 Likes

I see two kinds of fundamentalists In Adventism.

The first, the most vocal right, are those who are intent on preserving and enforcing a status que orthodoxy.

The second and way more interesting and likeable … and much much smaller group are those who are passionste about spreading the good news of Jesus. They believe all the traditional stuff, frame it all in terms of good news for those who don’t know Jesus and get on with making the world a better place.

They spend almost no time actually debating theology finding it to be a wrong focus. They really only care about the great commission.

When it comes to progressives they are actually are not much more likable (except by their own kind) than the “dogmatic enforcing fundamentalists” because they so convinced they are superior in their approach. It comes across as smug and condescending.

Not any more kindhearted or open minded than the first group of fundamentalists.

The problem is that it is easy to see what progreasives hate, what they are critical of, what they are fighting against, but they have seemed to in effect striped Jesus of being anything more than a man with some good ideas who lived a long time ago.

I never hear them talking about the power of Jesus, The power of the Holy Spirit to transform lives. They perhaps seem almost embarrassed to be seen as Christian. They are so intent on fighting against the old, that the transforming power of the Gospel gets lost, or perhaps is not a progressive belief.

Perhaps the real problem is that both sides care way to much about the unimportant and care to little about the important.

I suspect that if Jesus were walking the earth today,
neither progressive Adventists or Fundamentalist Adventists would like him very much.

Fundamentalist would want him to care too much about the past; and progressives would want him to care to much about whatever the current social justice waves are.

And Jesus would just care about people. He would love and be way to sympathetic toward the other side. Fundamentalist and progressives.

My thoughts, I could be wrong!

7 Likes

What struck me about this article is that much of the positive, progressive theological work that was going on in the past had little to do with this. Much was quoted about that work concerning new views of the significance of the sabbath, atonement theories, theodicy, and denominational relevance to the world at large, but literally next to nothing on what is central to all Christian faith, life, and mission…the gospel of the kingdom of God as expressed in King Jesus and experienced by us through the Holy Spirit. The universal gospel that carries the power to transform lives, relationships, and indeed communities.

If fresh theological insight needs to happen in Adventism, it’s on the gospel itself, that puts ancillary matters such as diet and days into perspective, and can be the foundation of warm, supportive, inclusive and caring community.

Frank

6 Likes

I would say something quite different. They both want the same thing, that is the church organization and property! I derive this belief from the fact that the Progressives do not go out and create their own organization, their own churches, their own schools. Why not if they are so sure they are right and the other side is wrong, just split and be over it. As I said the reason is that they want the material of the organization.

1 Like

Good point.

Spectrum, A Today, Adventist Review (Circulation 30k?) Insight Magazine in its day, PPPA publications among others have limited exposure world wide.

Even Adventist World is sent in bulk to Union Offices and sits there due postage cost and the limits of postal service.

There was a time where a few of the elite would get tapes from revising gurus, but most rank and file couldn’t have cared less.

In 2003-2005 the TED paid good money to around 25 scholars (PhD class) to write up our beliefs for the post modern educated mind. They were compiled into a coffee table style book, Experiencing the Joy. it gathered little traction.

Large swathes of our members in struggling countries are attracted to variants of Liberation Theology, the Doctrine of Man, Health and Educational opportunity, all contributing to dignity and wellbeing. Quite different to the agenda of academia.

Characterization of people as Progressive and Conservative is not particularly constructive.

The issues at stake are largely True or False.

A belief in the Archimedes Principle may represent schooling but not much about orientation. At stake is a relationship to truth and integrity. Honest believers will confess that mistakes have been made.

There are too many myths of convenience.

The Johnny come lately Adventists who regard social welfare as liberalism seem to forget that our founding passion for Missions was based largely around Schools and Hospitals.

1 Like

Yes. I totally agree. How our mission hospitals and schools as well as their respective governing bodies (unions) operate-- with transparency and accountability, or lack of the same-- are more important to us.

related to this may be the realization that fundamentalist dollars are needed to maintain the church superstructure…another alternative may be the need to be a hero, which is obviously more readily achieved from within than without…still another alternative may be that progressives are seeing what fundamentalists do not, that continual growth and transformation are existential…

in the end, though, i think religion boils down to personal perception and experience…church affiliation and belonging can only be meaningful to the extent personal perception and experience find resonance…perhaps different persons require different levels of resonance…

Knowing how much this essay meant to Chuck over these past months, how agonizingly he wanted it to be fair, balanced, insightful and hopeful for the future, I add my enthusiasm for what he’s written. Having lived through that period, Chuck’s highlighting those who creatively proffered new proposals for the church is historically and communally important. However, as he points out, most progressive energy was directed at showing the weaknesses of a fundamentalist approach with tentative proposals for change that would not unduly upset church authority.

Many see the failures of not having a more balanced, well-informed theology and discipling experience for our members or evangelistic audiences. Many of our professional peers are beyond any approach that subordinates “Christian reason” (think e.g. C. S. Lewis) to an unexamined Biblical authority. I myself know dozens of Adventists “on the edge” or fallen off the cliff of faith, pushed by arrogant certainty that nothing we believe can be questioned.

Chuck astutely suggests it is time for a more detailed vision of how “progressive” Adventism would strengthen congregational life and make our witness and evangelism appealing to those not already conservative believers. Not all agnostics are settled in their thinking or feeling, not all very liberal Christians are closed to the conservative-progressive understanding of Jesus and the gospel. A helpful start was made decades ago, as this essay suggests. But it was piecemeal and not as available to a wide SDA audience as present media will allow. We should not let this moment pass without doing even more to reach that goal.

2 Likes

Those are both possible but likely not the reason, To be the hero of the church you must destroy the foundations of the church…not very logical. So they could be the hero really only from the outside. Then they would be a hero to the larger community instead of the Adventist community, so again start your own churches. The second part that the progressives see that continual growth and transformation are existential is not all that likely as the church is growing but it is growing in places where the people like the conservative SDA teachings, not in places that want LGBT stuff. So if the transformation is what the progressives want then again start your own church!

My impression as a former Progressive SDA is that the whole movement became corrupted into progressive i.e. Leftist politics and that has replaced the church, Now the church must be destroyed and made into leftist political positions. You can see this in the progressive SDA media. For example, in the US there is a big discussion on abortion. It used to be you could find both perspectives in both political parties. Now there is the leftist pro-abortion side and that is the only side reflected in progressive SDA sites like Spectrum and Adventist Today. Why would that be? I submit the answer is politics and the abandonment of SDA progressivism into political leftism.

3 Likes

If I may ask, what “present truth” do progressive Adventists believe?

this point is well taken…i think there seems to be an increasing affiliation with politics, on both the right and the left…i took a look at Fulcrum7 not too long ago and saw David Read go on an on about how the left has used the vaccines, and in fact the pandemic, to control the public, and bring in communism…David has also claimed that the 2020 Presidential election was stolen, which is another GOP talking point…

it seems our church really is taking up the same polarization that exists in the surrounding political climate, which doesn’t bode well for any kind of unity moving forward…

i’ve seen Carrol Grady use the term in connection with LGBT…i don’t know if she considers herself a progressive, but i’ve seen a few progressives follow her lead…

I appreciate the tone, and often the substance, of these replies. Thank you.

Two themes so far deserve comment. One is that it’s impossible to throw off fundamentalism and still have Adventism. The other is that “progressives” somehow don’t embrace the Gospel, don’t speak of Christ. Both of these only illustrate my point: we too often languish in deconstruction, and don’t notice constructive effort.

I have written two non-fundamentalist books (“The Demons Have Had It” and, long after 1979, “The Promise of Peace”) that attempt to construe Adventism in a new key. Both uphold Christ, both uphold (a fresh take on) the Sabbath, both uphold (a fresh take on) Adventist eschatology.

Others with more effect that my own are offering their own proposals, some of them mentioned in my essay, some in essays or books brought out after 1979. Pastors, church members, and scholars need to consider such efforts, critique them (!), and offer fresh proposals.

But real effect? I allow that that is hard to achieve. Especially in late-modern (or post-modern) times, when the search for truth seems naive and thus hard to maintain.

4 Likes