Delimitation of Academic Freedom at Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary

A new policy that acknowledges the limits of academic freedom in a religious institution has been created, approved and distributed to faculty at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary on the campus of Andrews University. The document comes as a result of ongoing discussions between the IBMTE (International Board of Ministerial and Theological Education), which is a General Conference entity, and Presidents of Adventist Colleges and Universities in North America.

As previously reported, in September of 2016, the presidents presented a unanimous statement to the IBMTE saying they were, “fundamentally unable to support” a proposed IBMTE endorsement process that called for religion teachers “to be supportive of and work within” guidelines presented in the form of five denominational statements. The North American Division Association of Adventist Academic Administrators, the North American Division Ministerial Association, and the North American Division administration also stated they did not support the process.

In response, the IBMTE met in October and agreed to make changes to the process which included allowing policy creation to begin at academic institutions, rather than top-down from the IBMTE.

The seminary’s new policy, however, appears to uphold the IBMTE’s original request and more. The two-page policy, which bears the title, “Delimitation of Academic Freedom for the Faculty and Staff of the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University,” begins by stating the seminary “values and promotes academic freedom,” but goes on to state it “also expects from its faculty a firm support of and commitment to the beliefs and lifestyle of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.” As such, the seminary, “hereby delimits the academic freedom that you as a faculty may exercise in your teaching and writing as well as in your personal life.”

Six items follow the preamble:

1) “You will hold the Bible as your only creed and rule of faith and practice.”

2) “You will support the ‘28 Fundamental Beliefs of Seventh-day Adventists,’…in all your teaching, both in and out of the classroom, in your publications and lifestyle. At the same time, this does not preclude you from discussing or even raising questions about the Beliefs responsibly and in the appropriate circles. Furthermore, you will support the GC document ‘Methods of Bible Study’ and ‘Academic and Theological Freedom and Accountability.’”

3) “You may not interpret the Bible employing methodologies that undermine the authority of the Bible as the Word of God, including historical-critical methodologies…This does not preclude you from discussing historical-critical methodologies in your teaching or publications, nor does it prohibit you from belonging to and actively participating in scholarly societies, conferences, or gatherings organized by critical scholars…[or from] forming collegial relationships with such scholars…”

4) “You may not employ theories of macroevolution, including theistic evolution, to interpret the Bible and its creation account in your teaching, either in or out of the classroom, or in your publications. This does not preclude you from discussing or mentioning such ideas in your work or lectures.”

5) “You will support monogamous, heterosexual marriage as the divine pattern in all your teaching…Monogamous, heterosexual marriage is the only divine plan for marriage. In addition, you will abide by the ‘Code of Ethics for Seventh-day Adventist Educators,’ and the ‘Pastoral Ethics.’”

6) “You may not make personal attacks against a colleague’s character and competence at the SDATS in your teaching, either in or out of the classroom, or in your publications, as well as in your private conversations. This does not preclude discussing their ideas in the context of respect and collegiality.”

At the end of the document, faculty are requested to sign that they, “accept the above stated terms of engagement for my lifestyle and academic activities as long as I am employed by the SDATS at Andrews University.”

The full policy can be found below.

When asked for comment concerning the new policy, Teresa Reeve, Associate Dean and Associate Professor of New Testament Contexts, stated:

The idea of the Delimitation of Academic Freedom document originated with a faculty member in a faculty meeting in which we were discussing the plans being made for the new IBMTE endorsement process. The faculty voted this action, worked together to create the document, and then voted on the final draft. The reasoning was that it would be better for us to express in our own words our commitment to God, to Scripture, and to the fundamental beliefs of the church. It is an expression of our academic freedom coming out of our own institution. We hoped that producing our own statement might be a model that other institutions could follow if they wished. The faculty were simply invited to sign the document. It is my understanding that all our regular faculty have signed the document.

A source close to the process said the seminary’s policy has indeed been circulated at IBMTE meetings as a model for other Adventist academic institutions to follow.

The GC has not responded to several previous requests for comment on the subject of the IBMTE endorsement process for religion teachers.

Alisa Williams is Managing Editor of

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Herein lies the problem that goes beyond the content of the document. The “invitation” surely is not meant as an option you are merely “invited” to accept … thus it is not “simple” but quite existential for those who choose not to accept the kind invitation.

In legal terms, this is a reversal of evidence. No longer does an employing body or church have to show that you are out of bounds with your biblical understanding, but you have to prove your orthodoxy by signature… This cannot but mute all open discourse.

I hope not. Andrews University has given a model of how to cave in to pressure from outside.

In terms of content this quote may suffice. “Including” means: any historical-critical approaches (notice the plural in the statement) plus anything else that is deemed to be undermining the authority of the word of God (who decides, I wonder). This clearly is the end of serious theological work. Whatever we call the method, it will always be looking critically at historical contexts to better understand the text. Or … just use the Bible as a devotional book you open at random and explain a text in accordance with your needs.

Overall, it is hardly bearable how much distrust the document portraits. By implication the “safeguarding” suggests that our theological faculty is disloyal to the church, undermines the authority of the word of God, uses methods that are invalid, are unethical in their life style and unchristian towards their collegues. One really wonders on what terms faculty has been employed in the past…

Perhaps the only potential difference to a document written directly by IBMTE and feeble attempt to soften the document. Teachers are allowed to acknowledge there is a reality outside of the campus. Wow … I would have thought Andrews could do better than this.


I was admiring the stand taken heretofore by the university presidents, though the pressure to cave in, I’m sure, has been intense. The institutions writing their own statements is the lesser of two evils, but I wonder how the other universities will respond–Loma Linda University in particular, which employs a ton of non-SDA faculty by necessity, as there are not enough qualified SDAs to fill the faculty positions in the various health and science programs.

I’d guess the Presidents are between a rock and a hard place. And the so-called academic freedom of the faculty will get squeezed even further. I’m all for showing respect to the employer, but signing a form? The AU statement seems mighty restrictive.


“Historical-critical methods are the specific procedures used to examine the text’s historical origins, such as: the time, the place in which the text was written, its sources, the events, dates, persons, places, things, and customs that are mentioned or implied in the text.”

This definition of the historical-critical methodology is typical of a variety of definitions that I can find.

Where’s the problem? How can we understand Scripture without this methodology? Just asking. I don’t get it.


There nothing wrong with the histo critical method. Any method can be abused. Much more serious is the dependency on extra canonical sources as equal to the Word i.e. Ellen White and the 28.

Adventist higher education may face an accreditation problem. Academic Freedom states that a denominationalinstitution make include limitations in its policy. However, existing faculty were hired under a different set of mission. Thus the issue can a faculty be dismissed because of a rule change after the hire. this applies primarily to tenured faculty.

What we see here is. A denomination. Under Siege. They are trying to plug a leak in the dyke while the flood waters are overwhelming the entire barrier. Ellen White had been discredited. dan 8:14 is a. Lost cause. rev 14 is misunderstood. LGT has no legs. Headship is brain dead. Worship is not a designated time thing. So they make rules after the Fact.


Absolutely brilliant. Seriously, if you cannot sign this document you shouldn’t be teaching in Adventist institutions. Heavy handed yes, but circumstances dictate that it’s necessary.

Actually, there’s nothing controversial in the document. It only appears do to those who wish to continue to subvert the church and teach things contrary to Adventist beliefs. If that is you, secular employment is the place for you…


C’mon Spectrum, what is this? One bad news after another! What’s going on there in your America? Is masochistic behavior the new trend there? First the president of NAD jots down his own (less painful) punishment and now the dean of the flagship of Adventist higher education the medieval rules for their faculty. Has someone “bewitched” them (Galatians 3:1) that they should follow the “works of the law” rather than the “Spirit”? Oh please, say that these are only Fake news and alternative facts!


My firstborn will be going off to SDA college in about a year and a half. Three more will join her in the years that follow. I have worked diligently to fund their academy tuition as well as getting a good start on their college futures…I will not be sending a dime to any of our left-leaning institutions. My kids are free to go there, but if they do, I will be putting a hold on that money for later needs.

I will not be (ultimately) paying an individual to undermine what has been sacrificed for so long at high cost to build up. Teachers that resemble Trisha Fam., Ryan Bell, Aubyn Fulton etc. won’t be funded, no thanks.

The Enemy of our Souls will be tearing at them relentlessly, I don’t need to help the cause along.

I’ll always be grateful for the dozens of excellent SDA teachers I was blessed to have. Deeply committed Biblical Christian men and women. Linda Wiggin, Leona Odell, John Cuva, Karen Blanchard, Ed Goodman, Roberta Merrow, Gary Frost, Dean Davis, Alberto Sbacci, Stacey Nelson, WG Nelson, Morris Lowry, Erwin Sicher, Fran Mosley, ex Major Leaguer coach Chuck Harrison. All wonderful, may God bless them.

A good Bible-based Seventh-day Adventist education is worth every penny. May their enrollment numbers ever increase.


Two observations:

  1. Items 1 and 2 are plainly incompatible. The operative word in item 1 is “only,” the use of which eliminates the 28 Fundamental Beliefs as an authoritative document that expresses the teaching of Scripture. Authoritative statements of the teaching of Scripture are called creeds, which are expressions of church tradition–and item 1 seems clearly to be a disavowal of the authority of tradition.

  2. The Adventist Church is by this policy asserting doctrinal infallibility. The policy, as it is spelled out, suggests that any future changes to Adventist doctrine (which may be the result of scholarship) are to be elaborations of existing doctrine, clarification of existing doctrine, or resolutions of tensions that exist within existing doctrine. But existing doctrine will remain unchanged. The 28 Fundamental Beliefs are to occupy the same position as an apostolic “deposit of faith.”

Among the policy’s many implications, perhaps the most notable is that this is an admission by the Adventist Church that authoritative theological tradition beyond Scripture is unavoidable and perhaps even necessary. This admission surely constitutes a departure from Adventist remnant theology–the Adventist Church, according to this policy, is not a reforming movement in the Church that calls Christians to faithfulness, but is effectively a new Church of Christ. This sort of supersessionism, in which it is supposed that God has abandoned the churches that preceded the Advent movement and has simply founded a new (Catholic) Church, is not only theologically dubious, but also a transparent betrayal of the Adventist tradition.


This is a creed. Period.

James White would NEVER have signed such a thing.

Where are we heading?


My first reading left me stunned.

How could they have conceded everything?

On the face, this document felt so incongruous with their statements opposing such topics as ‘male headship’ as well support of women’s ordination and opposition to using mere policy to determine conference eligibility within the denomination.

I was utterly disheartened by the faculty openly declaring this document to be a ‘delimitation’ of academic freedom specific to the Seventh-day Adventist Seminary.

And then upon thoughtful review of the document, it appears to have been carefully crafted to ‘support’ the G.C. overlords’ views specifically on all of the current hot-button issues while masterfully explicitly retaining all of their core freedoms.

Whether this document will be sufficient to protect the Seminary Faculty from what appears to be a determined effort by the G.C. to acquire the right to license religion teachers in denominational schools around the world is another thing.

In a related matter, I would like to read George Knight’s effort to give this document historical context within Seventh-day Adventism. Would he agree with harrpa that James White would never have signed such a document? And what is there about denominational leaders today that they have such fears … or is it aspirations … that they want to use the International Board of Ministerial and Theological Education to license teachers around the world in denominational schools?


Will this certification be coming to other disciplines, or is religion the main thing?

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I am eagerly anticipating a forthcoming statement from the HMS Richards Divinity School!

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This is a good Statement. Here are some suggestions about how it should be interpreted:

  1. The Seminary faculty have responsibilities that are both scholarly and confessional. The tension between the two can never be resolved in such a way as to eliminate the tension, so we should not attempt to do so.

  2. The Seminary faculty do not object to utilizing historical-critical tools to determine the most accurate meaning of the biblical text. What is objectionable is historical-critical ideology that presumes that we can “criticize”, i.e., challenge or question, the truthfulness of the biblical text. This distinction is made clear in the essays on hermeneutics written by Richard Davidson. His essays explicate Methods of Bible Study’s brief and cryptic rejection of historical-critical ideology.

  3. We have observed since Methods of Bible Study was voted in 1986 that its brief and cryptic rejection of historical-critical ideology is the only provision in the document that has withstood the test of time, that has had legs, as it were. For many Seventh-day Adventists, Methods of Bible Study has become synonymous with rejection of historical-critical ideology and the rest of the document has not generated much thought or comment. Consequently, I interpret the Statement not as a substantive endorsement of Methods of Bible Study in its entirety but as an endorsement of the document’s rejection of historical-critical ideology.

It is important to understand that there were no Seventh-day Adventists in 1986 who understood the multi-disciplinary study of hermeneutics. There were no Seventh-day Adventists in 1986 who had read the standard literature. That Flacius is the most important hermeneutist of the Protestant Reformation and that Gadamer is the most important hermeneutist of the twentieth century were mysteries to GC Executive Committee members back in 1986. That the study of hermeneutics is indeed multi-disciplinary was not even known. For example, we can see that Alberto Timm’s excellent essay that chronicles 150 years of Seventh-day Adventist frustration regarding the issue of thought/word inspiration is in reality a chronicle of 150 years of Seventh-day Adventist ignorance of the relevance of the study of linguistics, which is a subsidiary discipline of the study of hermeneutics. At best, a few Seventh-day Adventists in 1986 understood the limited contributions theology makes to the study of hermeneutics and were able to incorporate within Methods of Bible Study a meritorious rejection of historical-critical ideology. Since 1986, our understanding of the study of hermeneutics has grown, although there are still a few (who do not teach at the Seminary) who remain fearful and defensive about a subject matter that they do not understand. We should not disparage and belittle the intelligence of the Seminary faculty by interpreting their endorsement, limited as I think it is, of Methods of Bible Study as a rejection of the study of hermeneutics.


They only seem incompatible, but with the SDA interpretation techniques they are in agreement. There is the 28 fundamentals…that is a creed! Then there is the historical and completely meaningless the Bible is our only creed. That has and will always be a fiction. There is no one ever that has an entire book as a creed. So the first statement is a throw away. Rather like saying you agree to breath as long as you work for us. As there are vast differences in rules of faith and practice based on the Bible it thus is a technique to begin with something that sounds good but has no real meaning. Now that second one…that has always been the purpose for the 27/28 fundamental beliefs and now they are throwing authority behind it to make it a complete creed.


I find this discussing interesting.

The more liberal feel such a condition for employment is draconian and steps on all sorts of toes. The more conservative think such a policy protects the children they send to our institutions from convinced advocates of positions that undermine the church. And I might add, such convinced advocates exist on our campuses.

What is the purpose of an Adventist institution?

I attended Andrews for 2 years, at he seminary, 2000, and 2002. We were allowed to take a course or two free. I took a course in Biology, an introductory course by a faithful Adventist. But he had as guests to his class other faculty, the one who was an expert on radio-dating and another whose area of expertise I do not remember. The head of the department spoke at an academic award ceremony I attended and he was a believer in evolution. The radio-dating guy thought the fossils were from deep time.

I wrote a letter to the president about my experience, but it went no where.

So, if the purpose of the institutions are just to train people to do a job, we should stop sinking all the money we do into them thinking they will be supportive of the church. If they have the purpose of fostering faithfulness to the church, with exposure to the world, in a church supporting way, then we should do what is necessary to make that possible.

It was clear to me that some on campus were not interested in supporting the church’s positions. If the church pays the salary, it is not outside of propriety to expect the employee to support its positions. If you are not happy with the church’s stance, would not basic honesty compel you to separate yourself from its employment? Seems any other action would be hypocritical.

The situation that I saw has compelled this action. If you cannot trust those you employ to work with you, what are you to do?


Academic “freedom” extends only as far as the limitations which exist in the pillars of our faith.

Whether the “progressive” wing of the SDA Church likes it or not, there is such a thing as heresy. Why would anyone who professes to be an Adventist not want to support the doctrines which they claimed to believe when they became a member?

I’m glad that one our our institutions has finally worked up the courage to stand for principle. I would hope this list becomes standard at all our institutions. Numbers 3, 4, and 5, are especially important, given the nonsense which has been taught in some of our institutions. If a teacher doesn’t like it, and doesn’t believe what the church teaches, it’s time to seek employment elsewhere.


US NEWS AND WORLD REPORT, the pre-eminent college ranking publication, lists three of our NAD Adventist Universities as ranking highest in the nation, among those colleges graduating students with the highest student DEBT.

None of our NAD Adventist schools achieve any ranking in the area of ACADEMIC EXCELLENCE.

So our Adventist students are going into debt, for what is basically not a stellar education.

Academic Freedom is the HALLMARK of prestigious educational institutions.

This MUZZLING of professors and limitation of freedom of discussion and thought, can only further impair the already low profile of our institutions.

Prospective students should regard this as a RED FLAG.

They would receive a better and cheaper education at the nearest public school/college where open communication, transparency and honesty of ideas are a priority.


The Seminary faculty do not object to utilizing historical-critical tools to determine the most accurate meaning of the biblical text. What is objectionable is historical-critical ideology that presumes that we can “criticize”, i.e., challenge or question, the truthfulness of the biblical text. This distinction is made clear in the essays on hermeneutics written by Richard Davidson. His essays explicate Methods of Bible Study’s brief and cryptic rejection of historical-critical ideology.

The statement that the objectionable feature of H/C is its “ideology” that presumes we can etc. the truthfulness of the biblical text. What does that mean in actual practice? Let me give an example: Some SDA scholars are convinced that the biblical texts which depict yahweh “ordering” the slaughter of “innocents” are “untrue” in the sense that God as Love could not possibly be guilty of that command. There are ways to interpret the text as reflecting Hebrew modes of thought about every event that “happens” is caused by God, even the negative and evil ones (“God hardened Pharaoh’s heart,” e.g.). As I understand it, Davidson would not tolerate such a reading since it ignores, per the MOB, the “plain and simple reading of the text.”

What do we do with inherent contradictions in the various texts? Their plain and simple meanings cannot both be true? H/C “ideology” would approach the texts as reflective of partial human understanding, much as Jesus scientific statements which are not “true” in any sense we can defend (“stars” falling from heaven"). This almost neurotic fear that we must let as little of the human element as possible into our understanding of how the Bible developed and was canonized is driving us into untruth and irrelevance.


Allen, you repeat what has been a long running theme within some circles of the church–the idea that whoever “pays the salary” gets to lay down the “positions”, and that whoever is employed by the church therefore has only one “honest” option: total obedience/conformity or immediate separation. You assert that “any other action would be hypocritical.”

Following your logic, it seems rather hypocritical for General Conference officials to accept tithe dollars from Unions and Conferences that do not support their positions. Why does “basic honesty” compel individual church workers to leave church employment when they hold dissenting views but not compel GC officialdom to forego the salaries, perks, and privileges that flow to the world body from still generous “liberal” parts of the church in North America and Europe?

Leaving such questions aside, though, I must point out that you and others seem to be norming church life according to essentially corporatist and market values. You seem to think that being a believer entails a kind of brand loyalty like being a Nike or Apple factory employee who is fully dedicated to promoting only Nike or Apple products. If a worker starts advertising for a competitor, they should be sent packing.

But there are numerous other institutions you might have compared the church to other than a corporation. For example, what if Adventist colleges and universities were seen not as businesses with CEOs at the top but rather as deliberative bodies much like the Supreme Court. When the Supreme Court issues a ruling it serves as the law of the land, but Supreme Court justices also frequently issue dissenting opinions. They are not being unpatriotic or disloyal in doing so. And the law can be changed by later courts which might take dissenting opinions into account. The health of a democracy in fact depends on this kind of openness to loyal dissent. It is only totalitarian regimes that cannot tolerate such ongoing contestation of the law.

When it comes to some issues Adventists have adopted something like this kind of open-ended and ongoing embrace of “loyal dissent” from the consensus beliefs of the community. This is especially needed where complex questions arise for which there simply are no tidy answers or unproblematic positions. For example, the Church has several officially voted resolutions on pacifism that emphatically and unequivocally state that the Adventist church rejects any kind of voluntary military service and is committed to an ethic of nonviolence. The question of pacifism directly relates to a fundamental belief of the church, namely, our understanding of the meaning of Christ’s life and ministry, as well as the meaning of discipleship. There are no more pressing doctrinal questions for followers of Jesus. But the church has not turned pacifism into a litmus test of Adventist loyalty or identity or a condition of Adventist employment. I think this is wise, despite the fact that I am deeply committed to nonviolence and think that uncritical enthusiasm for military service among many church members (especially in the United States) marks a stunning betrayal of Adventist identity.

The fact that the church has allowed for dissent when it comes to questions of nonviolence and war is, incidentally, very fortunate for many individuals who rail against theistic evolutionists in the church. Why? Because many of these same self-proclaimed “historic Adventists” are in open defiance of the official church position and completely out of line with the beliefs–and voted statements–of the Adventist pioneers. All of their talk about needing to get rid of “dishonest” and “hypocritical” employees is, in other words, a rather striking example of selective memory and willful amnesia. Their enthusiasm for protecting “pure” and “true” Adventism is entirely self-serving and yes, hypocritical, since they regularly exempt themselves from the logic of their own rhetoric.