Can this Be Adventism?

I’m in a crisis. One leader at Andrews University and two in Silver Spring have indicated to me that Adventist disagreements about how to interpret the Bible cannot now be addressed in open, public conversation. What? Actual Adventist leaders actually believe this? Let’s see what you think — but first, some context.

David Ripley, a delegate to the 2015 General Conference Session, declared, just after the debate and negative vote on women’s ordination, that Adventists are very “divided” on “hermeneutics or rules of [biblical] interpretation.” Would church leaders, he asked, please address the topic before 2020? Word came back that the General Conference’s Biblical Research Institute (BRI) would follow through on his request.

The issue of how to interpret the Bible thus acquired new urgency, and a few months later, at their annual meeting, scholars of the Adventist Society for Religious Studies (ASRS) considered whether to recommend that the church’s official Statement of Belief about scripture become explicitly Christocentric. Under the proposed recommendation, the church would say what its official statement does not now say, namely, that, in accordance with Hebrew 1:1-3, Jesus Christ is the ultimate criterion in determining the Bible’s application to Adventist life and thought.

Members of ASRS voted that proposal — down.

During a meeting break afterwards, I noticed Roy Gane, of the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary, speaking with a huddle of what looked like his students or former students. They were discussing disagreements over how to read the Bible, and I overheard Professor Gane say that here everything depends on your “presuppositions” — whether or not, as I supposed, your starting point gives credence to historical science, say, or to the possibility of divine influence. His remark stuck with me because I had once heard him struggle with Old Testament stories about God-commanded genocide. In a paper for an earlier ASRS meeting, he’d said he didn’t really know what to do with these stories; genocide seemed reprehensible — out of step with other Christian convictions — but there it was, divinely endorsed in certain passages of Holy Writ. One of Gane’s presuppositions, it seemed, was that inspired persons cannot misapprehend or miscommunicate the divine will; hence his dilemma concerning genocide.

Gane’s dilemma resonated, I am sure, with many listeners. For us, the Bible is authoritative. It is, as the Second Letter to Timothy says, “inspired,” or “God-breathed”; it is “profitable for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” But how can the Bible be our guide if some of its lessons veer away from others? How can it be reliable unless its parts fully cohere?

I identify with these questions. We can all agree that if the Bible is to teach us aright, we must be able to make sense of it. But I have come to think that the best strategy for making sense of it is one that comes through in the Bible itself. I refer here to the New Testament claim, often stated and never questioned, that Jesus himself is the ultimate measure of the divine will. Jesus is the Word of God made flesh, the invisible divine made visible. As the first verses of the Letter to the Hebrews put it, God spoke “in many and various ways by the prophets,” but the Son is the “exact imprint” of God’s being. So the best hermeneutic strategy, I now believe, is to deal with problem passages by making Christ the criterion. Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life. You ask about genocide by asking about him.

I understand why some people claim that under certain circumstances God really did endorse genocide. Since the Bible says so, anything less would compromise its authority, and take us down the dreaded slippery slope, the slope toward putting human judgment above the Bible. But this argument overlooks another point in the Letter to the Hebrews, namely, that, as chapter 13 says, Jesus Christ is “the same yesterday and today and forever.” No one sees in the Jesus of the Gospels someone who would endorse violence, let alone genocide, against an enemy.

If any disagreements in Adventism are important, the one about how to read the Bible is surely one of them. So a couple of years ago, awash in naiveté, I conceived a plan: I would try to facilitate open conversation about this issue, something that could be recorded and made available to the Adventist public. I first spoke with Ekkehardt Mueller, an associate director of the General Conference’s Biblical Research Institute with whom I had connected before. He said no, such a public conversation (at least the one I described) is not what the BRI does. I should get in touch with the Seminary at Andrews.

I discussed my idea with a friend on the Seminary faculty, and he said I should communicate with Jiří Moskala, the dean. I did, at first by email. I was not proposing an expensive conference, just a Sabbath afternoon conversation on whether or not our doctrine of Scripture should be Christocentric. It would be carried out, as I was imagining, in the generous spirit I remember from a Bible study weekend I once spent with Professor Gane and several others. If I myself should be an impediment to the idea’s realization, that would be immaterial; others would leap to defend the Christocentric view.

Once, at an Andrews University social event I happened to attend, I approached Dean Moskala in person about all of this. He had not responded to my email; now, too, he showed no interest. Still later, after I’d sent him another (also unanswered) email, I called his administrative assistant. Could she help me speak with the Dean by phone? She said yes, but he chose not to talk with me, and asked her to pass along his “conclusion that the timing for holding such a discussion is not right.” She did; the email was from her.

About this time I again telephoned Ekkehardt Mueller, now to find out about progress on the assignment the BRI had received from the General Conference. The organization had gotten a “late start,” he told me, but his colleague Frank Hasel was now editing a book of essays on hermeneutics that could serve as a guide for students and other interested church members.

I connected with Dr. Hasel, and he told me that the Biblical Research Institute Committee (BRICOM), a group of 40 or so Adventist scholars, had already approved both an outline for the book and a list of chapter authors. I asked if a request for essay proposals had gone out to Adventist theologians in general. Hasel said no. I remembered that when Alden Thompson, a widely known and much respected professor at Walla Walla University, wrote a book about the doctrine of scripture, Frank Hasel co-edited an entire volume of criticisms of his work. Professor Thompson had not been asked to contribute a response. Had he now been asked to contribute to the new book? No. Would it be possible, I said in a longshot question, for me to see the draft outline of the book? Again, no.

It seems one “presupposition” that now holds in some places is this: As for the interpretation of Scripture, open conversation is unnecessary; when differences invite review of official teaching, it’s best, indeed, to stymie public debate, or even to resort to a certain secrecy. Perhaps Adventism’s don’t-rock-the-boat culture means this attitude springs as much from fear as from want of humility or kindness. Be that as it may, how does an attitude like this square with the New Testament ethos, or with that (on the whole) of the Adventist pioneers? Or how does it square with hope for a truthful community? If truthfulness suffers from refusal of good-faith conversation, as it surely must, so does community itself. Now there are — as if by design — insiders and outsiders; now some parts of the body say to other parts: “I have no need of you.”

Can this be Adventism? It can. But need it be? If we have the freedom to choose, we have also, in both the obscure places and the centers of church influence, the freedom to reform.

Charles Scriven is the former board chair of Adventist Forum, the organization that publishes Spectrum.

Photo from Pexels

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/9740
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Yes it is Adventism but not Christianity. The issue is if the Seminary would be candid they would be canned.

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Wow, what an input. Thank you, Charles!
My answer is, yes, it can be Adventism, since Adventism isn’t merely an idea, but people. And people can change and vote for change. And people can also be stubborn and inflexible and faulty.

I have similar experiences and am told several times that the traditional SDA way is the right way to interpret scripture, because it is a high view of scripture and all else (including questions) would diminish its authority and should be banned as low view.

At this moment, there is no space for such discussion, unfortunately the Adventist world respectively academic circles are more constricted with every passing day. Forget about freedom of research right now. Or even freedom of discussion. Some topics including this one are simply unattainable. It is even worse than people can imagine. There are just very very very few islands with more hard-earned freedom. This can change and probably will someday.

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The fact that the “approved” scholars and administrators will not even allow other scholars to engage in the discussion suggests strongly that they cannot defend their so-called “high view” of Scripture, or inspiration, or even the nature and ground of biblical authority. One cannot dare them to do this for the good of the church because they alone “know” what is good for the church. Arrogance masquerading as piety and holiness. Where do we see that in the gospels?

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Hebrews 1:1 is a “Pandora’s Box” for Adventism. Welcome to the Des Ford Club.

There are certain passages of the Bible that the church can not tackle without placing the entire belief system in jeopardy.

Not having the willingness to have an open discussion of the subject is bad enough; the bigger problem is the unwillingness to recognize Christ as “the Word”, as he is identified in scripture. Christianity is by definition, Christ centred. Any other focal point for biblical hermeneutics is something else.

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A true “scholar” invites review, examination of, discussion of, publication of, and replication of one’s research. If not, it is truly not scholarship, is it? The goal of scholarship is to add to the accumulation of knowledge, not to keep it secret or from examination.

Open scholarship is healthy for truth, but maybe not for promotion in theology at Adventist universities. Sad.

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At least [or I should say, “So Far”] there is freedom of thought, and freedom of
“speech” to discuss the Either/Or questions.
Sometimes we CAN come up with the answer of BOTH.
The Bible is LIKE a LIBRARY – it is a collection of 66 separate Books and Letters.
Written by many different persons, perhaps some were even “edited” after being
written, over many 100’s of years.
But ALL are attempting to define what life is like when the Great God is one’s God.
And the writers do so within the time they lived in and the culture at their particular
time.
Even the Gospel writers were attempting to present their understanding of Jesus
and His mission and teachings. John is honest in saying this is only a small portion
of what Jesus did. But for them, the MOST important to create the pictures they
wanted to present.
There ARE contradictions that seem to appear in the Bible as stated in this article.
Especially so for 100’s of years. Scholars and Readers have complained that there
seems to be Two [2] Gods in the Bible – The Old, The New. And do NOT seem to
be anything alike.
Our problem as the Author stated is HOW we can see the NT God IS the OT God.
Ex. 33:19 – I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and I will have compassion
on whom I will have compassion."
Ex. 34:6.7 – “…merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and
truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by
no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and
the children’s children to the 3rd and 4th generation.”
Verses that follow describe God’s NEW Covenant with the people [like He did with
Abraham. One sided. God would PERFORM IT] and describes how God would
rid Canaan of the False worshiping, the False gods, and the paraphernalia that
went along with facilitating the worship.

When we understand the HORRIBLE things that went on and were REQUIRED
by the Canaanite worship practices, perhaps God WAS being merciful in ridding
the land of it, and putting all those people to “rest”, “asleep” to stop the Horrible
worship practices.

Perhaps we need to interpret Scripture by God’s description of Himself. [in other
Library Books “God” repeats these] and to look at the Old Testament in the Eyes
of Jesus Christ of the New Testament.

We SAY SDAs are NOT Fundamentally Minded, but what the Author has described
regarding the FEAR of finding Alternative Pictures of God is definitely Fundamentally
Minded – we had all the information from the Bible at the beginning in 1863 when
organized. And we DO NOT need to describe anything different.
The 28 just Describe what we knew in 1863 because we had it ALL then.

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Charles, thanks for your candidness in sharing your experiences here at Spectrum.
This reminds me of an article I read recently “10 Signs You’re Probably in a Cult”
https://medium.com/@zelphontheshelf/10-signs-youre-probably-in-a-cult-1921eb5a3857
1. The leader is the ultimate authority
2. The group suppresses skepticism
3. The group delegitimizes former members
4. The group is paranoid about the outside world
5. The group relies on shame cycles
6. The leader is above the law
7. The group uses “thought reform” methods
8. The group is elitist
9. There is no financial transparency
10. The group performs secret rites

How many match so far?

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I came up with eight and possibly nine but can’t really prove the ninth one.

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Chuck, realistically I think the “progressive wing” of SDA should leave the “mother church.” In the case of the Presby the conservative PCA left the progressive “PCUSA” over biblical interpretation.
Realistically the divide will not close.
What is the problem with that?
You could start a “progressive SDA church” based on theistic evolution, non-JBF "“alone”( alternate views), LGBT+, and other social justice issues as you see fit. Why is that a problem? Division is not all bad. So that “those approved of God might be manifest.”
Different views dont have to always be embraced. There are other remedies. Why not?
Regards

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Couldn’t agree more. But conservatives usually have difficulty with change or different views. They tend to want everyone to wear red shoes if red shoes are the clubs chosen color.

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Well, in this case it seems the progressives dont want the change of their own fellowship. Hindus are willing to include other views if that is the standard of correctness. :slight_smile:

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You are free! In your detachment from institutional employment, you can speak and write and demonstrate how Jesus is the filter for understanding the Bible. Be that freedom for persons stifled by workplace fundamentalism. Be that freedom for persons who never realized Jesus is The Word of God, not a rung or two down some hierarchy. You can live in delight and pray for those who are not free.

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The situation you describe arises if/when magisterial knowledge claims are made
by some people re. certain scriptural understandings. Getting asked deep and
perplexing questions may then become very threatening for them.
Others might think it’s wiser to say little or nothing prematurely, rather than rush in
and open a Pandora’s box of unforeseen consequences (Fools rush in where angels
fear to tread.).
Hermeneutics - Its etymology coheres with Hermes, the mythical Greek messenger
god with winged feet, a trickster who, among other things, was co-opted by thieves
and rogues! Is there some irony in all of this?

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“Can this Be Adventism?” Yes, this IS Adventism - and every other “- ism”. Many - most - all “isms” are beliefs searching for validations. Once time and effort have birthed a belief, there is no more discussion possible. Weather it be the 2300-day prophesy, the investigative judgment, or rules for interpreting the Bible, there can be no growth or change possible. You pull on one string and the whole fabric unravels. It is a legitimate worry. For Adventist hermeneutics the bottom line is what we call, “the Spirit of Prophesy” - which, in itself, must be interpreted.

…and so we have this:
God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. Hebrews 1:1, 2.

In ancient times God spoke through the mouths of prophets and apostles. In these days He speaks to them by the Testimonies of His Spirit." Testimonies Vol.IV, p.148; Vol.V, p. 661.

End of story - for conservative Adventist hermeneutics.

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We have never satisfactorily unpacked the source of biblical authority and how believers should wield it in the world or relate it to it within the church. One begins that process by carefully looking at the canon itself: its history, development, and its use and abuse in the Christian faith. The canon is not like other sacred texts which cannot be questioned. It must be questioned if it is not to become–not an “authority”–but an authoritarian, despotic text used by uncritical believers for the wrong reasons and in a malicious manner. I leave it to the readers to think of both historical and recent examples.

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Adventism has always defined itself as a movement, rather than a denomination. To silence (muffle) discussion does not stand true to the definition it holds. It might as well cloister its hierarchy to deal with questions the “ordinary” people are incapable of understanding - which is what the article describes. It’s an age-old concept of some being more qualified than others, in opposition to “priesthood all believers”. That’s where “ordination” comes in, I guess. It appears to be a self regulating process of stagnation.

Which voices should be heard is the crucial question.

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Really no one? Yet even in the story we here a disciple saying “shall we call down fire”. All that the Christo centric view does is add another level of subjectivity as people who just use their view of what would Jesus do to every argument. And remember in the WWJD book (the book In His Steps which popularized the term WWJD), it’s point was prohibition of alcohol. No doubt today it would be what would the social justice Jesus do. Can there be anyway there would be a Christian founded nation state with the sermon on the mount. It would be gone in almost immediately. Somewhat like how Israel was attacked so soon after it became a nation again. So the Christo-centric view must be no nations! But what of the old testament nation of Israel? No, it is far more likely that the Bible contains records of what people thought God was saying, thought God was like. some of it is probably true and other maybe wishful thinking. But at least with that view you can move on to rational arguments about why you do or don’t do things.

James Londis

I agree that the CANON of scripture, decided in the third century AD by a group of Catholic monks / scholars / churchmen may not be inviolate / sacrosanct / irreproachable.

As Adventists we have been taught to consume every particle of Scripture, —-every verse / chapter /syllable as having equal weight / value.

When segments clearly conflict with what Christ mirrored / embodied should they not be discarded?

The Old Testsmemt with its god ordained genocide, — a compendium of atrocities and ghastly tales —if accurately filmed by Hollywood, would be both R rated and X rated.

I have Adventist friends who no longer use OT stories as bedtime fodder for their toddlers — too violent,

The two conflicts currently dividing Adventists — the women’s ordination issue and how to deal with our LGBT community ,are all created by Paul’s misogynistic and homophobic pronouncements.

Paul’s “epistles “ were aimed at a sliver of culture in Asia Minor, mid first century AD. What would be the number of all the Christians in those mid first century churches — my friend Pastor John Mc Clarty hazarded a guess of one hundred thousand.

Even if Pentecost and the Holy Spirit converted huge numbers, at best there would have been one million Christians Iin Asia Minor / Rome.in Paul’s era.

Surely Paul’s remarks were aimed at this specific sliver of a demographic with its existing limited cultural mores / attitudes / practices.

Paul’s emphatic endorsement of slavery — SLAVES OVEY YOUR MASTERS — a sop to his wealthy Sanhedrin friends who owned unruly slaves - is surely not applicable today.

So why would his misogynistic texts — trotted out by our anti WO brethren be sacrosanct?

Why would Paul’s statements about male on male sex — clearly aimed at straight Roman men having adolescent boys as sexual playmates outside the marital bed, be used to denigrate monogamous same sex couples today!

Why should texts written to a small cultural demographic ( at best several hundred thousand ) have to still apply to the current nearly eight billion on this planet, now that two millennia of cultural advancement has occurred ?

Time for Adventists to discard their blind devotion to every syllable we call “scripture “. If portions of scripture conflict with loving inclusiveness — what Christ embodied — then we need to move on!

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Patrick Travis,

Further division just to satisfy “progressive” hankerings (which I largely share)? If we all thought the convictions of our fellow believers had to perfectly match our own, we’d all belong to one-person “denominations.” I want conversation, not division. But I realize such a perspective is hard to credit, at least for many people.

Let me say, too, that I do believe–passionately believe–that Christianity NEEDS a community that combines apocalyptic hope with Sabbath devotion. The former sharpens our sense of the inadequacy of the present order, and so undermines all’s-right-with-the-world self-satisfaction. The Sabath connects the church (at least ideally) with prophetic zeal for the redemption of the here and now; it affirms what God created and what God did in liberating Israel from political oppression.

In sidling up to pagan thinking–and not least in (slowly) giving up the Sabbath–early Christianity lost some of both its gratitude for the created world and of its zeal for the healing it. Unfortunately, however, official Adventism has largely not caught on to the radical (and highly Jewish) implications of the Sabbath. In light of this institutional failure, it’s easy to lose heart. But no evil, I think, is more insidious than sheer cynicism, so we must all do our best to avoid that.

Ron Corson,

Yes, Christocentrism has its difficulties. But your comment does not even address the BIBLICAL evidence. That evidence is what I am addressing. Whether my point obtains, or the presently official one, conversation would have to continue. (The best “Neo-Anabaptist” thinkers are where to go for further insight.)

One thing I will now say: The first Christians never envisioned the church being in charge of a nation. And Christianity has again and again failed for wanting to share power with political authorities who do not really share Christ’s values.

Thus more fodder for conversation. Nothing here is easy, and with secularism’s ever-sharpening assault on traditional religion…we’ll, we’ve got our work cut out for us, or we throw in the towel.

Or we just pretend all is well. It’s not.

Chuck

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