Carla Gober-Park Expands “the Main Thing” in Chapter 4 of “Where Are We Headed?” by William G. Johnsson

“Will We Keep the Main Thing the Main Thing?” asks William G. Johnsson in the fourth chapter of Where Are We Headed? Adventism After San Antonio. In her July 15 response at the Roy Branson Legacy Sabbath School in Loma Linda, California, Carla Gober-Park enlarged what the chapter says “the main thing” is.

Johnsson served for many years as the editor of the Adventist Review. This is Seventh-day Adventism’s official journal for its own members. He previously served at Spicer Adventist University in India and at Andrews University in the United States. A New Testament scholar, he has published many books and far too many articles to count.

Gober-Park has at least three major responsibilities at Loma Linda University. She is Assistant Professor in the School of Religion, Director of the Center for Spiritual Life and Wholeness and Assistant Vice President for Spiritual Life and Mission. She has degrees in nursing, public health, marriage and family, and religion. A specialist in the interaction between religion and psychology, she earned her Ph.D. at Emory University. Yet she says that her favorite title is “Wife of One Husband—Gordon!”

This session could have been either fierce or flat. On the one hand, because Adventists have so many different understandings of what “the main thing” is, and because honest and intense Adventists advocate each of them, the session’s hour might have felt like an eternity in hell.

On the other hand, the participants might have exchanged cheerful but empty pleasantries in order to avoid sparking the flames of controversy and nothing would have been accomplished.

Neither of these things happened.

Johnsson’s chapter says that “The main thing, the matter of first importance, comes to just five little words: ‘Christ died for our sins.’”

When I read this, I immediately remembered one of A. Graham Maxwell’s most famous Loma Linda sermons which he titled “Christ Died for Sinless Angels Too!”

What would Carla say? What would Bill think? How would the session end? Watching the video is the only way to know (see below).

Stick with it! Carla’s presentation was for me more like hiking among the trees in a forest, stopping to enjoy each one in turn, than it was like speeding down a freeway.

“Where is she going with this?” I asked myself more than once. Not until her persuasive conclusion did I realize the importance of each seeming detour. William G. Johnsson had the last comment and he was very positive.

Those of us who are associated with the Roy Branson Legacy Sabbath School in Loma Linda, California believe that many good things happen where we live that might be of interest to quite a number who live elsewhere. This is why we are making videos of our sessions and posting them on the internet.

As everyone knows, it is easy to get on the internet but hard to get noticed. This is why we are grateful to all those at RBLSS and Adventist Forum who are helping us to get started.

For more information, please visit

WATCH: Carla Gober on Chapter 4 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", Laura Alipoon Highlights Adventist Diversity in Chapter 2 of “Where Are We Headed? Adventism After San Antonio”, and Calvin Thomsen’s Discussion of Chapter 3 in “Where Are We Headed? Adventism after San Antonio” Assails Neo-Calvinism

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

The problem in Adventism is that the “main thing” is the main thing.
See Rom 5:9 & 10


That is not the gospel, even though the events give clues to it. Most people in any church don’t know what the gospel is because they really don’t hear it from pulpits.
And what many hear are warped, pseudo gospels.
Also, most SDA pastors do not preach 28 of anything.

Here is another gospel spin from A Graham Maxwell
"God is not the person Satan makes Him out to be…arbitrary, exacting, vengeful, unforgiving and severe."

At the church I attend, I asked the pastor. Here is his response.
the gospel is that "God kept his promise."
I have not yet heard him say that in the pulpit though.
I posted my gospel for the unchurched street person on another thread.
Look on this week’s Sabbath school lesson thread

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A short summary of the Gospel as preached by Paul, and re-preached by Paul in his letters is –
Christ died
Christ arose
Christ is coming again

This is THE Gospel we should be preaching, not necessarily 28 Rules and Regulations.



Seeing how you criticize everyone else’s understanding of the gospel, why not share yours? Maybe a productive discussion could ensue in which your own understanding may be challenged, as well as ours.

With that said, while this left brained doing of theology is something I do find stimulating, I think Paul had it right when he said that knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. Whatever our parsing of the gospel or terms like justification, sanctification, etc., may be, without practical love for others, it’s little more than empty rhetoric.




Gospel, or glad tidings, is a term that first shows up in the OT, in Isaiah 40-66. The good news is announced that YHWH would comfort his people, bringing them back from captivity. That YHWH was the only true God against all the false gods of the nations, and that his victory over them was for the deliverance of his people.

This understanding undergirds the NT usage of the term gospel/euangellion, along with its meaning in 1st c. Greco-Roman culture. The euangellion could be the public announcement of the birth of the emporer, of his ascension to the throne, or of his military victory. Such is the way the NT writers adapted the term to Jesus, his birth, his victory over the power of sin and death as evidenced by his own death and resurrection, and his appointment to the throne by the Spirit as the Son of God with power.

In short, it was the public proclamation that Jesus is Lord, that his eternal kingdom is afoot, and all that this implies. And, if Jesus is Lord, then Caesar is not, a risky business to be about at that time in the Roman Empire!

We proclaim this same Jesus as Lord and Savior over every hostile power that enslaves people today. The power of sin, death, and every false god and false deliverance with their empty promises. And, the appropriate response that God is looking for is the same as 2000 years ago. It is faith. Faith that says yes to God and what he has faithfully done for us in Christ. Faith that joins us up with Jesus to follow him alone. Faith that expresses itself in love, that is the fruit of the Spirit that Jesus gives to all his followers, and the ultimate sign that we are his followers.

This is how I understand the gospel, and the response to its proclamation that God seeks. The gospel is Jesus… period. What we do with him is what can change our lives, for good or ill.




“The main thing is God’s love.” Carla Gober

What we know of God is truly a perception but if that perception resonates with all, then God becomes a reality. Since we all have experienced unconditional love by virtue of being born to a set of parents, that experience is imbedded in our memory and serves as a template with how we relate and create our world, from how we see ourselves, how we maintain relationships with others and more importantly, how we perceive God.

Because of this, how we see God in return is an index for others to see and discover our true inner selves. Case in point, look around.


So much to say …

First - all secular entities Carla starts out with, have, for their “main thing”, profit. All business is based on making money. Some appeal to greed; others appeal to comfort; some appeal to family, or health, or education (all good things) - and some to religion to make money. When I was in my teens, all advertising was geared to youth, - because of the baby-boomers. Now, that the boomers are approaching old age, business focuses on health and looking younger than you are, through vitamins and lotions - big business. So, let’s not kid ourselves, Starbucks doesn’t care about inclusion when they put messages on their cups; or when they discontinues Christmas decorations on their cups. They are simply appealing to the current social trends to bring in more customers - money.

The second point - Jesus’ focus was straightening out his own people. He presented himself as the “awaited Messiah”- not as a military figure, as the aMessiah was pictured; but as the herald of “the kingdom of God”. The Jewish system had evolved into just another Rome appeasing nation, focused on economic survival - abandoning the identity they once had as “God’s people”. Their religious system was only a form without substance, where even the heathen were more loving than they (God’s people). Jesus’ message was never to establish a new religious SYSTEM, which we might call a “church”. He appealed to individual people, who recognized their need for redemption - the tax collector - the blind man who thought he was blind because of someone’s sin - the lepers, the ultimate price for sin… . While his initial focus was his own people, Jesus left his message to be distributed to the Gentiles - to Paul.

The SDA “movement” in its infancy, saw itself as a continuation of “the people of God” and has focused on that identity ever since. Jesus’ message was not to re-instate a special people that can be recognized by a motto or a name. His point of recognition is LOVE, which is an ambiguous term, defined in many ways. Our only example of God’s definition of the term is - “For God so loved the world …”. This makes Jesus’ death on the cross “the main thing”. All the rest that man has connected to that statement is up for discussion and interpretation.

We may have a problem with the idea that Jesus HAD to die for God to redeem mankind- but we are looking at those words many centuries down the line. Meaning of words change, as do cultural attitudes. We may not like to define God’s love that way; but they did, because they were used to slaughtering lambs to pay for their new beginnings after a year of sinning. - And so we have Hebrews 9-10 explaining that to a people used to blood and sacrifice. Do we NEED to see God and His Son in this context? Does it mean anything to us? Does being sacrificed on a cross mean the same to us? What would it take for us, in the 21st century of special effects slaughters on the screen, to move us to understand the price God paid? And so the question is “…when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8).


I appreciated Carla’s creative and stimulating approach. Inevitably when one tries to reduce the full narrative to a single essence, something gets shed along the way.

That ‘the love of God’ is the main thing is hard to dispute, but it is the equivalent of the bumper sticker ‘Jesus is the answer’, from which we get - ‘What was the question?’.

Maybe we if we could agree on ‘what the primary question the Bible seeks to answer’ is, we might find better consensus.

Carla asserted the primacy of the healing ministry, which raised my eyebrow a little. Loma Linda people would say that wouldn’t they. Maybe their primary question is: why personal pain?

If the founding question is: why suffering? The response and meaning of Christ’s life, death and suffering might become a little wider? to incorporate pain, poverty, injustice and the span of other questions that Job poses.

Addressing the primary question enables us to determine whether our response to secondary questions, adds to, or reduces the problem of suffering, for example.

The life and death of Jesus Christ become the main thing, because God embraces the problem of pain, suffering, ignorance, disease and poverty, in person.

God is with us, not extracting us from, but through every situation.