Christ and the Catastrophe of Arrogance

How can you say, “We are wise, and

the law of the LORD is with us,”

when, in fact, the false pen of the scribes

has made it into a lie?

—Jeremiah 8:8

Self-satisfaction is the assassin of Christ-centeredness, and today it looms over Adventism as surely as elsewhere. All too often, we ourselves are a self-satisfied church. Consider the evangelists, the dominant Silver Spring administrators, all those who study the Quarterly but read little else. For these Adventists, we are the final chosen: we have the truth; we are the Remnant. But they overlook — or defiantly suppress — one invincible fact: the future appearance of Christ implies limited awareness now. As Paul said in 1 Corinthians 13, we today see “dimly,” know only “in part.” On earth the faithful are fallible; our words, even our prophecies, are fallible.

But what is more persistent than the defeat of humility by arrogance? What is more commonplace than human selves (or institutions) ascending a pedestal on which Christ alone should stand?

Consider a current debate in Adventism. Thoughtful members, the conservative and less conservative alike, agree that today no church issue is more urgent than that of how to interpret the Bible. This is the question of “hermeneutics,” and here differing perspectives lead to differing views on justice and equality, science and religion, the meaning of apocalyptic consciousness, the church’s mission in the world. These are all crucial in Adventist conviction, and crucial, too, for any Christian effort to withstand strengthening secular criticism of religious faith. If we misread Scripture, we cannot give a rightful defense for the hope that is in us.

A key debate concerning the interpretation of Scripture is this: Does human participation in the authorship of the Bible have human effects, or does God erase these effects? Human authorship suggests that the Bible is a library of perspectives, each reflecting the time and place of composition. It suggests differences of outlook that amount, in their effect, to grist for a long conversation. The human factor would seem to entail, in other words, that certain limits go along with Scriptural magnificence. But not all agree.

A related issue is whether all the Bible’s parts — all its chapters, all its verses — have equal authority in Christian life. Some parts of Scripture envision a chosen people who share the same ethnicity; others, as in accounts of Isaiah and of Jesus, imagine the inclusion of all peoples. Here and there the Bible calls for genocide; elsewhere, as in accounts, again, from both Testaments, it calls for mercy and nonviolence. Other disagreements also occur. In this light some Adventists, following passages like Hebrew 1:1-3 and the Gospel stories of Transfiguration, say that the Christ who is the center of authentic Christian experience must also be the ultimate criterion for moral and spiritual conviction. Christ must be the Lord of the Bible as well as the Lord in it. But not all agree.

Our official doctrine of Scripture seems not to agree. Belief #1 in the church’s Statement of Fundamental Beliefs does not even refer to Christ, nor does it even acknowledge Scriptural limits. This makes the adequacy of that belief an issue today, and since so many are so bound to official views, debate itself — conversation itself — can come, at least for some, to feel subversive and forbidden. But if that were true, self-satisfaction, or the sense that our present knowledge is fully adequate, would be a virtue, and Paul would be a liar.

A friend writing a book-length study of Deuteronomy told me recently that the most conservative Adventists resist the idea of Christ as hermeneutical criterion because it pits parts of Scripture against other parts. He did allow that genocidal instruction in Deuteronomy makes him uncomfortable. “I don’t like it,” he said — adding that his study would devote little space to such instruction. But is “liking” or “not liking” an adequate criterion when dealing with scriptural difficulty? Don’t our present limits require a more dependable lever toward true comprehension? These seem like fair questions, and help explain why, despite official pronouncements, hermeneutical debate persists.

I am on one side of that debate, but these past few weeks what troubles me especially is ongoing evidence of denominational self-satisfaction. I have in mind leaders in Silver Spring who not only fail to engage views different from their own but also keep trying, one way or another, to screen them from view.

At the end of the current Sabbath School Quarterly, an “abbreviated” statement of the church’s 28 Fundamental Beliefs appears. But it omits — baldly omits — the statement’s “preamble,” which anticipates future “[r]evision” of our beliefs under the Holy Spirit’s guidance. The preamble thus explicitly rejects the definitiveness of the 28 statements that follow. This is hardly something fair-minded readers would overlook or lay aside, so the omission feels both deliberate and disingenuous. It testifies, moreover, to a longstanding reluctance, or even mindset. Soon after the 1980 Statement of Fundamental Beliefs appeared, the General Conference Ministerial Association produced a book-length commentary on it — and the same omission occurred: the preamble was not even mentioned. Afterwards (and in subsequent editions) it did appear, though with minimal elaboration. There is still no chapter-length commentary on the preamble; nor does the Ministerial Association’s chapter on the fundamental belief concerning the Holy Spirit emphasize, or even express, the corrective aspect of the Holy Spirit’s work.

Since 1980, leaders in Silver Spring have actually appealed to the preamble to justify their own proposed changes to the Statement of Fundamental Beliefs. But they persist in failing to champion the mindset of humility and self-correction in overall Adventist life, and so continue to gloss over the requirement of discipleship evidenced in Jesus’ own teaching about the Holy Spirit (John 16). The oversight all but guarantees ongoing self-satisfaction, and so all but guarantees further weakening of the humility that pervades authentic Christ-centeredness.

Now consider Holy Scripture again. In the January 2020 issue of Adventist World, the widely circulated magazine put out by the editors of the Adventist Review, a “concise primer” on “rules of biblical interpretation” appears under the title “Making Sense of the Holy.” Scripture must “be its own interpreter,” the article declares; if you want to understand a topic, read “everything the Bible includes” on that topic. But if, without taking Christ as Scripture’s final norm, you did read everything the Bible includes about, say, genocide, you would end up as puzzled as the friend of mine who is writing about Deuteronomy. Nevertheless, the author of the article does not even refer to Christ, let alone acknowledge Adventist scholarship that makes Christ the key to biblical hermeneutics. He feels that he doesn’t need to.

The January 2020 issue of the Adventist Review features the same theme, “Hermeneutics,” on its cover. Inside, several articles ask how we can “see the Scriptures clearly.” But again, the sort of difficulties that cry out for reference to Christ as Scripture’s criterion go unremarked. Christ, indeed, is hardly mentioned, and certainly not the passages like Hebrew 1:1-3 and the Transfiguration accounts that make him supremely authoritative relative to other prophets. This means — here make no mistake! — that a conversation now going on among Adventist scholars is being kept from the magazine’s readers.

Again, the debate itself is not, just now, my first concern; my first concern is lack of debate, or better, of acknowledgment that debate even exists. This is a suppression of necessary self-questioning and open-mindedness, an expression, in other words, of self-satisfaction. In light of 1 Corinthians 13, and perhaps also of Matthew 18, where Jesus himself calls the disciples to difficult conversation, we may call it, indeed, by its right name of arrogance, or catastrophic arrogance. If God is in heaven and we are on earth, recognition of this humbling distinction matters more than ever. Much of conventional Adventist doctrine developed while Christianity was overwhelmingly Eurocentric and American culture was overwhelmingly Protestant. As is becoming indisputable in the twenty-first century, neither of these is true any longer. If ever we have needed fundamental re-examination of Adventist thought, whether about Scripture or anything else, it is now; if ever we have needed to dethrone ourselves and elevate Christ, it is now.

According to Jeremiah 6:17, God raises up “sentinels” to sound the trumpet of alarm. Then follows a harrowing sentence: “But they said, ‘We will not give heed.’” It seems likely that this latter — this unseemly persistence of self-satisfaction — will remain true of us and our leaders. But it doesn’t have to.

Charles Scriven is a member of the Adventist Forum Board.

Photo by Rod Long on Unsplash

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/10222
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It’s very simple. Loyalty to the uniqueness of Adventism trumps humility in listening to the voice of Christ.

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Well stated, and I agree that there is a pervasive arrogance among those who think of Adventist doctrine as somehow settled, once and for all, and that we need never revisit any of our beliefs about anything, including hermeneutics. To persist in the hermeneutic that the “Bible is its own interpreter,” with no need to access any other source of facts or moral reasoning is a great case in point. Of course, the truth about our hermeneutic approach is more complex, since even the recognition that commands to commit genocide make us feel uncomfortable means we are accessing some other sources of moral reasoning external to the Bible, we just fail to acknowledge it, or to systematically apply such external sources of moral reasoning.

That other sources of moral reasoning are relevant is proven by our recognition that slavery is morally wrong, in spite of the lack of such a clear argument from scripture alone. It concerns me that our leaders can be so smug about other beliefs, such as the claimed Biblical injunction against ordaining women as pastors, where external moral reasoning should also be applied, especially so since ordination is a post-Biblical Catholic sacrament imported into our church.

What I find equally troubling is the arrogant insistence that Genesis, properly interpreted, leaves no room for anything other than a purely literal interpretation, in spite of the existence of clear, contrary data from the physical world. What is our hermeneutical approach when physical evidence disagrees entirely with doctrinal proclamations? Is there any room for evidence from science and the natural world in our hermeneutical approach?

All evidence says that officially there is no room for contrary data. There is not even room to acknowledge that the current doctrinal interpretation of scripture is wholly at odds with evidence from science and the natural world. The attempt seems to be to simply shut down the discussion and just proclaim that whenever disagreement occurs, however relevant and credible, scripture is assumed to be correct, never recognizing that those who see these discrepancies, and want to grapple with them, are not denigrating scripture, but rather the hermeneutical approach used to decide how scripture must be interpreted.

I fear that unless we can get past this kind of arrogant authoritarianism we will lose many thinking people. No scientist wants to be told that in order to be an Adventist he must check his brain at the door. Not that there aren’t any arrogant scientists and other thinkers out there too, but that is no excuse for spiritual arrogance from church leaders.

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The Bible is an idol in Adventism, as in much of conservative Protestantism. The first fundamental belief reveals this.

The primacy of Christ and the gospel of the kingdom is the lens by which the NT writers view the entire scriptures. It is clear from just reading the NT. The fact that Adventism trumpets a flattened out biblicism that seeks to interpret the Bible by itself, without regard for the priority of this lens, and without regard for human cultural and historical conditions that shape the various portions of the scriptures, speaks to a muddling and misunderstanding of the NT, its relation to the OT, and of the entire scriptural narrative.

Thanks…

Frank

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Genesis read and “literally” interpreted as a science text is simply a categorical mistake. It takes no account of how such a text, written to ancient people, with an ancient cosmological view and understanding of the world, would have been understood, or intended. In the name of literalism, violence is done to the Bible, and to thinking people.

Thanks…

Frank

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I have come to the conclusion that inspiration is often messy, imperfect and contradictory. I have come to accept it on these terms. I see that Jesus voiced approval of Moses, yet much of Moses’ theology is repugnant to modern ideals and often the antitheses of what Jesus taught (salvation by faith or obedience).

Further conclusions–Perhaps God accepts the fact that humans are deeply flawed in their understandings, in spite of the Sprint’s efforts to inspire and educate. Even human love at it’s best, is flawed. Thus God is not perturbed when inspiration is likewise flawed. God is more interested in the big picture–faith, trust and love (compassion). Salvation is not found in compliance to the details of fundamental beliefs (28 of them), but in the heart that seek after God. For by grace we are saved, through faith, not of works (28 of them)–is our gospel treasure. Thankfully.

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Frank, just curious, … are you getting older too? … :roll_eyes:
In my experience, the older I become the more I say “I have come to the conclusion that …”

Basically, it appears that, the more I learn, the more I live, the more I observe religious people, the less I understand it all. Many people appear to have an opposite experience. The more they live and learn religion, the more they understand it. I am jealous, for example, of people like @ajshep, who already know everything and everything makes total sense to them… :wink: Compared to them, I feel like a mere “fool”… :open_mouth: … But for me, especially after I crossed the mark of age 60 (10 years ago…) I have the impression that I understand religion LESS., and less, and less. The religious dots are no longer connecting “as perfectly” as they did when I was younger. I have more un-answered questions now than then…

Maybe I need to be seen by our on-call-24/7 Psychiatrist ‘par excellence’ @elmer_cupino to check if this can already be an early sign of dementia or so… :thinking: :laughing:

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You’re in good company, George! I share your understanding, or lack thereof. Also, people like Job, Solomon, and Paul seemed to echo this. Paul said it…“ Now we see through a glass but dimly… now we know in part… we prophecy in part…”

I’ve gotta wonder about those claiming lock down certainty on God and faith. Perhaps they haven’t understood Paul… or real life.

Thanks…

Frank

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Helpful, courageous responses so far.

I don’t doubt the challenge faced by anyone holding on to faith these days. Betrayal by the religious right, by the Catholic hierarchy, by the current General Conference leadership…all this piles up. The mountain standing before the faithful gets higher and steeper.

But remember, most people who live under secular regimes are treated far worse than we in the West are–think China and Russia. And who would deny that Trump is the most secular president in memory? In any religious setting–prayer breakfast or otherwise–he is dumb as a stump. Most agree that as a person (if not as a policy-maker) he deserves no admiration at all. Secularism, too, has a lot to answer for.

Even if a proof can’t be offered, a case, surely, can still be made for religious faith.

Why can’t all thoughtful Adventists agree that Christian faith would be more persuasive, and more coherent, if we DID read Holy Writ through the lens provided by the risen Christ? Many (if not all) of the difficulties associated with being Christian today would thereby diminish, and we could all concentrate on discipleship.

But who among the best known and most influential Adventists even dares to participate in public conversation about a controversial matter? The fear of open conversation, evident everywhere, is a warning of lost energy and movement decline; it foretells doom, or at least mounting irrelevance.

Why can’t a responsible leader or theologian who opposes what I have argued here chime in, right now, with a reasoned, biblical critique? We need–and surely I need–to hear a corrective voice.

Chuck

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This is a hallmark of concrete thinking, prevalent and a normal trait among children. Have you tried reasoning with a child? As the brain matures and develops more synapsis are made and strengthened among brain cells and the person is able to conceive abstract thinking. However, there are a number of factors that could arrest and/or cause regression to childhood thinking but nothing can trump religion particularly when it is used to advance personal gains and biases. Right Dr. Tichy? @GeorgeTichy

Let the evidence speak for itself.

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Yes, I believe it is an age related ‘thing’! With more data input and the belief that I don’t know or understand everything, I am left to rely on a more simplistic view of reality in life and spirituality. Life, the universe, God, belief systems, etc is vastly more complicated than what I was aware of at each stage of life. So what am I left with? For one, its a great time to be alive! Two, I don’t need to know and understand everything! Three, I continue to enjoy learning and incorporating it into my life. And lastly, For spiritual well being, KISS methodology works for me!!

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No one for fear that the scaffold that supports their reasoning would collapse at the first question from Frank @frank_merendino

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I would question what the fear is. I am more inclined to believe it is a fear of loss of employment. I have had private conversations with my pastor on issues both past and present. I get the sense that they can be very guarded when in print. One I remember, views were quite different when He retired. That to me, is the elephant in the room.

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And thus the Bar (and Bat) Mitzvah, when a child magically reaches the Formal Operational Stage of development. This suggests there a lot of Adventists who are stuck in the pre-12-year-old stage. Is that what you’re saying, @elmer_cupino. And how do we snap them out of it? Maybe @GeorgeTichy knows some tricks.

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Adventism in its fundamentalist form facilitates a spiritual arrested development. @bness

Thanks…

Frank

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I would argue that our current GC leadership has chosen to think in concrete terms to satisfy their corporate agenda. The have ignored the 60% female church population, marginalized the LGBT members and are in the process of weaning off the sinners from church in preparation of attaining perfection and be counted among the 144,000.

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George my life experience and profession has shown me that there is a very thin line that separates arrogance from confidence. Arrogance does not need facts or as the SDA’s like to say “having the truth”. Confidence on the other hand demands facts. Without naming people, D.C. is 99% arrogance and I suspect churches, many churches have a plethora of arrogance pretending to be confidence

The Des Ford situation exposed the stark reality of what happens when the driver of the agenda is arrogance rather than confidence by leadership. During a forum at PUC about a year after Des had presented his rational and findings which brought him to R by F the church leadership that had been invited to participate, were exposed and came across as being arrogant. While Des and his supporters came across as having confidence. There was no reason to debate because the ace was played during the opening prayer. ( Don’t you just love it when public prayer is used to preach a sermon to the unwashed masses )

Following the forum, few day later, Fred Veltman and I shared lunch and a conversation. In my eyes Fred was pretty upset at leadership because the fall back answer was well our prophetess EGW says… Confidence welcomes debate and alternative views. Arrogance on the other hand runs from debate and alternative views. Nothing is less welcome under the tent than alternative views or debate.

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Well said, Chuck!

Arrogance is often (always?) accompanied by bullying, as well as manipulation. I’m sure we’ve heard this manipulation in some of the prayers from the pulpit (as you mentioned). I really hate that kind of tactic. It makes me want to say, “how stupid do you thing I am?” Ugh! No thanks and no more.

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…" Bullying and manipulation. At least there was non of that happening prior to, during, and after San Antonio. They just had the same App the Iowa caucus used to count votes. Guess the Democrates didn’t go to the GC session. I am sure TW offered his services and henchmen to the good people of Iowa.

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I think it’s more than mere ignorance, which I think would be forgivable.

In a modern setting where information is quite abundant, it’s nothing less than the plain old fashioned…

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