The big problem is not biblical literalism, not hostility to scholarship, not laziness of mind. At the church’s hierarchical top, the big problem is fear of conversation, or better, contempt for it. The attitude is unmitigated, self-deceived, and lethally routine. It qualifies, moreover, as sin—persistent, unrepented sin—against the Holy Spirit. Official, or General Conference, Adventism is now dead to God’s teaching, or corrective, presence, and that threatens to deaden us all, make us dead to renewal, dead to discipleship, dead to any prospect of a faithful, enlivening future. The Advent movement—the church as challenger of indifference and vessel of hope—is gravely at risk.
I’m reminded of this quote from Augustine, who had similar thoughts 1,700 years ago:
"Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel [non-Christian] to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics [of creation and science]; and we should all take means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up [notice] vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of the faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men.
"If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books [the bible], how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason?
“Reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon the Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion.” [emphasis in the original text]
St. Augustine, The Literal Meaning of Genesis, Book 1:39, AD 401-415.
Notably, based on my reading of the book, “Literal Meaning” to Augustine meant something like, “What does Genesis really describe, as what the text says is somewhat lacking when we examine it logically and compare it to the actual world around us?”
Well said. To say it from another perspective, the official Adventist church has made verbal inspiration and its corollary, that the Bible was written by God from an eternal perspective, fully unconnected to any cultural matrix of its human writers, Fundamental Belief #1, and thereby become irrelevant. The Bible provides ample evidence of the cultural world views in which its authors, writing in different cultural settings over more than a one thousand years period, expressed their faith in the God creator of heaven and earth…
After reading this excellent essay, I experienced a brief moment of joy and excitement imagining Bettina Krause being elected our next GC president. She’s smart. But we know, of course, that the next GC president will be another old guy who hit his ceiling forty years ago. Well, that fleeting moment was nice while it lasted.
But I’m about convinced the contempt for conversation is what a lot of us unconsciously want. Not what we need, but what we want.
See, we’ve been told over and over: We’re The Remnant and we have The Truth. There’s a sense of certainty to it, and after a while you internalize that. It’s easy! It feels good! Really! Who wouldn’t want to feel like that? (It’s also unbearably arrogant at times, but never mind that.)
Reflection and open conversation might challenge us (boo!) and that’s uncomfortable, so we shoo it away. Better to let the GC tell us what to think, and that’s why Mark Finley and Ted Wilson’s videos from just a couple of weeks ago already have a quarter million views.
While I appreciate the angst you’ve expressed, Chuck, I’m convinced this refusal to engage is not a new thing.
It’s a “church” thing.
IOW, organized religion isn’t threatened by conversation.
The paradigm is that church leaders try to emulate the god of their books who only and always communicates verbally and who can best be understood by studying his “word”, emphasizing the singular, one-size-fits-all aspect of those words, no matter how unintentionally ironic that concept is.
(To call the Bible “God’s Word” is as simplistic as saying that the world is “one single solitary thing”. )
Thus, if made analogous to a road map, church is, as it always has been, a philosophical cul de sac and an inspirational dead end where the Holy Spirit can effectively be considered DOA.
As in our current political states of affairs, the temptation of leaders to become autocratic, especially when they have abandoned careful, nuanced thinking and praying over the “mysteries” of God’s leading, leads to fighting for the truth with deception and ignorance. Thus, the false become true, the garbled clear, and those who disagree the real problem. We are in a cul-de-sac which leads to another. It needs to be demolished and we start “over” with a new understanding that respects Ellen White’s plea that we be open to “new light” and progress.
God bless you Chuck for your courage to say what needed to be said. Your agony is transparent.
I think the problem goes deeper to their understanding of the gospel, or lack thereof. The three angels message is all well and good but if we do not understand the ‘everlasting gospel’ then what is it that we are taking to the world? A little while ago I was thinkng about the church and an impression came into my mind of a tree, it had a beautiful green canopy but was full of ugly dead wood in the heart of the tree. Either the tree needs to be pruned or the green canopy will die. Fear is of course at the heart of this. But I came across a quote recently as well “people do not resist change, they resist loss.” What does the church fear it will lose?
Special status as the “remnant”, which has become a title. The SDA description of the “remnant” are those who keep all the commandments, meaning the fourth. But it’s interesting that Paul describes the remnant as per “God’s gracious choice” - Rom 11:5. It continues, however - 11:6 - "But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of WORKS" Salvation based on keeping any or all of the commandments is salvation by WORKS.
The church should welcome (plead for) open, honest conversation. That is the only way others will understand them. If you don’t want open, honest conversation it is because you have no faith in what you are saying. (Maybe the church doesn’t really want to be understood).
Re: (No top administrator, nor any theologian subject to General Conference oversight, will reply to my remarks here, nor likely even read them.)
Unfortunately for the church this has been my experience regarding a most basic question that has on the surface no connection with theology but deeper investigation reveals the doctrine of Rome pagan and papal stands or falls on this, the 476 A.D. date for the fall of Rome.
Logic requires Rome to be not only present in 538A.D. If Justinian was the Roman Emperor who decreed the Papacy to be the head of all the churches in the Roman Empire. Cf. the following historical evidence that supports the 1453 A.D. held by Adventist scholars and evangelists associated with Revelation chapter 9.
For 45 years I have questioned this date, the most recent, an email forwarded to Pastor Wilson for a response regarding his recent presentation, “Revelation’s Biggest Surprise.”
The email did not reach Pastor Wilson, instead it was forwarded to the BRI for a “response.” The response, basically the same as a response, nine years earlier, did not answer the question. But here is the “problem,” a response does not require a specific answer, nor does it require the scholar to engage in any aspects of the response. Consequently 45 years on the World wide church, through the official publications upholds the 476 A.D. date in spite of there being at least five dates proposed for the fall of Rome, three of which are held by prominent Adventist Theologians associated with various Adventist Universities around the world.
If the church is unwilling to accept the basic principle, “History confirms fulfilled prophecy,” then I, from experience, concur with your closing summary. Furthermore and sadly, the comment regarding “fear,” is also acknowledges by Pastor Finlay in a recent Adventist Review interview.
I may particularly relate to Charles because the hierarchical, unidirectional structure of SDA pedagogy, which he opposes, became apparent to me, quickly. It happened as soon as I started thinking about how to falsify my conclusions about remnancy; conclusions which opposed the church’s.
The first obstacle into which I ran was in the SDA Church Manual. On p. 124, it reads:
Testing New Light—Members who think they have new light contrary
to the established views of the Church should seek counsel from responsible leaders.
“There are a thousand temptations in disguise prepared for those who
have the light of truth; and the only safety for any of us is in receiving no new doctrine, no new interpretation of the Scriptures, without first submitting it to brethren of experience. Lay it before them in a humble, teachable spirit, with earnest prayer; and if they see no light in it, yield to their judgment; for ‘in the multitude of counselors there is safety.’ ”—5T 293.
In other words, the statement presumes “brethren of experience” will “see no light in it.” It doesn’t give instructions for what to do if, in a manner far and distantly akin to the pubescent Christ, you answer all of these learned men’s questions.
It doesn’t tell you what to do when the line goes dead, either: In February, after I wrote my formulation on Genesis 6:3 — mine opposes the view Noah took 120 years to build the ark — for my Substack, HERETIC., at my dad’s suggestion, I sent the link to soon-retiring, Pioneer Memorial Church head Dr. Dwight Nelson. I asked for his take on my essay.
Over the next two to three months, the document was opened five times, either by Nelson, or by people with whom he, or others, shared it. However, I received no response.
As he was officially retiring from 40 years of overseeing the Andrews congregation in June, I waited until the second week in June, and re-sent the first email, asking if he’d gotten it and, if so, what he thought of it.
Or, at least, nothing yet.
If it wasn’t for…
• a God who knows and hears my objections;
• a wife who seeks to do the same, and who often agrees with me;
• siblings who listen, as well…not to mention certain church and ex-Adventist friends, incl. a liberal pastor;
• a forum, like Spectrum, where I can voice my doctrinal disagreements;
• a blog like HERETIC., where I can develop my ideas briefly, or at length, to my pleasure;
• the “brethren of experience,” like Desmond & @gford1, Jon Paulien, William G. Johnsson, and others who responded to it, with tact and wisdom…
… if it wasn’t for the above cloud of witnesses, I don’t know what I’d do. I’m not sure I’d still be an Adventist-in-good-standing.
Because of them, and others, I’m even thankful for the “Present Truth” adherents I seem to run into, more and more, these days: I ask them to nullify my positions, and I get to see how they respond.
As Raymond Cottrell made clear, there will likely not be a release from the conditions Chuck decries. If Cottrell is correct, and if Charles Scriven is, also, every person is going to have to learn to row their own boat…after building one, first.
I think the directive to “work out one’s salvation” merely means one is responsible for the degree to which they access the benefits of Christ. In other words, you can’t smuggle yourself onto The Truck Bound For Heaven by avoiding eye contact with others; this, like someone in an alien invasion movie trying to get onto an army base by acting low-key and not getting noticed.
If this is so, I see the counsel to seek out the advice of others as wise. It’s essentially a form of peer review, that being a system for advancing knowledge which, though not perfect, has real benefits.