Des Ford: The Perils of Being Right

(Patrick Travis) #44

By the way Douglass. In Brimsmead’s journey I am indebted to his “Present Truth” mag stage in the early 70’s, after he left perfectionism, for my love of the richness of Reformed Theology.
Des was a gentleman. He practiced a true humility not a weak sister people pleasing. Thanks.

(Patrick Travis) #45

Recorded in Chattanooga. Went to one of the debates. Martin was also a gentleman but not amused by unsupported hubris.

(Cfowler) #46

I agree. The culture in Paul’s day (and for probably thousands of years later) was very family, tribe, community oriented. In fact, I think most cultures were this way. The western culture is very individualistic…almost too much, maybe. I heard a sermon (or read it) by Tim Keller that addressed these differences. I’ll see if I can locate that. It certainly shed light on the thinking of previous cultures, as opposed to the more recent western, individualist worldview.


Here is an item with which I was unfamiliar. It speaks, I feel, to the mind-set of those who will themselves be judged:
Notice–"…regardless of repentance and reformation." !!

by Smuts van Rooyen | 11 March 2018

To be dismissed from ministry is more like a divorce than the loss of a job. Overnight I was no longer an esteemed teacher of religion at Andrews University, but a nomad chasing sun devils across the desert. At this wind blown point in my life Des Ford offered me a position with Good News Unlimited in Auburn, California. For two years we preached the gospel together from Finland to New Zealand. I am forever grateful to him. As we all know, he too had been defrocked for heresy by the General Conference. When the vote to dismiss us was taken at headquarters it stipulated that we were never to be reinstated to ministry “regardless of repentance and reformation.” Somebody on the disciplinary committee seems to have had quite a bee in his bonnet. But years have passed—and Des has too

(Cfowler) #48

No he was not. Getting a straight answer from WJ was impossible, and he came across as dodging and weaving. I thought Martin and Ankerberg were very nice, but the lack of answering questions straightforwardly made it difficult to have an honest debate. Martin wasn’t going to be fooled again.

I’ve always felt that the men who spoke with Martin back in the 50’s were not being honest either. Martin was only in his late 20’s, so he may have been a bit naive. The real position that EGW holds in Adventism is always kept out of view to outsiders, but if pushed on the topic, she is very much minimized and presented as not that important.

That must have been interesting! Were there lots of people from Southern? Do you have any interesting remembrances? Were you working for the church then?

(Gillian Ford) #49

Chuck: I did think you were at Glacier View and I interpreted ‘shown more humility’ as being arrogant. Sorry. I think of the Tuesday late afternoon scenario where Heppenstall appealed to Des to see the judgment in Daniel 7 as he did in a hope to save him. Because he revered Dr. Hepp., Des went into a long rambling soliloquy. At that point Neal Wilson hopped in and said to Des, you are always right, you never listen. Here our esteemed professor appeals to you and so on. People there accepted Neal’s comments, not seeing the power play behind it. The brethren went through the motions of having a grand drama at Glacier View. They brought in the scholars, did not accept or understand their conclusions and that they supported Des in some very important areas. The committee on Friday afternoon never used the consensuses as I’ve said and were amazed that Des was happy with them. One of the VPs said, If I’d known that, I wouldn’t have voted for it—which says volumes. They used the ten-point statement, which was a bald statement of where Des differed from the traditional view of the sanctuary. Several of the six who wrote it (such as Norman Young) could not have agreed with that statement themselves. But this is critical to seeing how Wilson engineered the whole thing. On the first day as I recall, he said clearly what was going to happen. Something like we have met at Dallas (2-3 months before). We have come up with the 27 fundamentals. This conference is not going to change it. There will be a vote at the end of the week and it won’t be half this and half that. He gave freedom to the scholars to be honest and say what they thought, but he never intended to change anything. He did not realise that the Dallas Statement had already moved in its statement on the sanctuary from traditional Adventist position. He said at Dallas that it was just a modern rendering of what we have always believed. Unless the denomination concedes that the sacking of Des was pre-planned and NOTHING he could have done would have changed it, they will forever blame him for what happened. There is a huge background of stratagem and stealth behind Glacier View. I know some of it, but much of it lies hidden. I think of Arthur Patrick in Australia, who lost his position as the head of Ellen White Centre (sorry, our son Paul has arrived for the burial this morning so this will be disjointed) some time after Glacier View. This was a lifetime position, and the way he was treated was cruel. The reason? There was an international meeting to tell the people of EGW’s borrowing. When Arthur came back and told Elders Parmenter and Taylor, they forbade him to do it. Des read the correspondence and was deeply upset. My point in telling this is that Arthur was a lamb of God, and he was treated the same. If you take the focus off of how Des did or didn’t behave (and people saw it differently to Bill), then you will have your eyes opened to what really was going on in those days.

(Patrick Travis) #50

No, I was a dentist in Atlanta. I saw a few I recognized from Southern. I was just happy the problems were being exposed. I loved the church and was hopeful that these guys would provoke change towards a more evangelical church. Obviously my hopes were unfounded.
I heard Ray in the basement of a Lutheran church in Atlanta where about 75 SDA’S came. About a year earlier.

(Cfowler) #51

We lived in the ATL from 1977-79. Husband was a teacher at AJA in Decatur. I was a brand spanking new SDA at that time.

Many years later, I saw problems with the church’s beliefs, and I hoped it would change. But I realized that wouldn’t happen. The SDA church must be defended at all costs. The SDA church always seemed more important than truth.

(Andrew) #52

It’s hard to see much daylight on the political battle lines between Australia and the US. If anything, the US is much more ideological and tribal. I don’t think Bill is accurate on the black/white front.

It’s hard to imagine, having lived in the US for most of his life, that he thinks that the land of abortion and gun rights laws, where a court hearing is the answer to all ideological differences, that he holds this view.

(Patrick Travis) #53

Gil, the issue wasn’t really Des had to be right. That’s hubris that they didnt have an answer except the traditional view held by EGW.
Rest dear wife, the cowardice still remains. Cherish Des’ life and preaching and know many of us that knew him dont see the man they present to cover their choice.
God alone is Des’ judge …and their’s.
My prayer is you Enjoy Peace in the midst of false accusations and innuendos… much less your terrible sadness at your loss.

(Kim Green) #54

"The great heart-pump of this house has stopped."

Perhaps…but I feel the rich lifeblood flowing through you. God Bless.

(Patrick Travis) #55

The organization was more important than truth.

(Cfowler) #56

It’s good to hear the rest of the story from Gil. In Adventism, there is so much disinformation and demonizing of anyone who critiques the church. In looking back at how EGW treated her critics, how Adventism treats it’s own who present honest issues, it has always responded in the same manner.

Thank you Gil for telling us yours and Des’ story, even in this time of grieving. It desperately needs to be told. One day, there won’t be any one left to do so. Prayers for you and your family…God knows His own.


(George Tichy) #57

Hi Douglas,
We welcome another therapist to this discussion(s). This will total five of us who work in mental health: you, @elmer_cupino, @cincerity (Kim), @pattigrant, and myself.
The site is becoming gradually “more sane”… :wink: :innocent:

(milton hook) #58

I’m saddened by Bill’s use of the anecdote about Margit Heppenstall in order to illustrate his accusation that Des thought he was always right in theology. When I read it I immediately recognized it as banter. Des loved a joke. His typical reaction was to slap his thighs and laugh out loud. One of the earliest photographs of Des is an elementary school group with him in the front row, He is the only one slightly out of focus because he is rocking back in laughter.
I’m also saddened by the inference that some blame rests with Des for not being amenable to negotiation. Surely he realized that a discussion with WJ and Duncan Eva would not resolve the matter. He knew that hidden behind those two men was a phalanx of church administrators and ‘concerned brethren’ who either refused to read his thesis or did not even have the exegetical training to understand the questions. How is it possible to negotiate with a group who believe they have “the truth” and every other Christian believer is an apostate? Des was quite happy to give some ground and accept the Consensus Statements, illustrating his humility.

(Patrick Travis) #59

Yes and I would also think Bill violated Margit’s confidence not meant for public consumption, alive or dead. Tells me something of Bill’s desire to be justified. Much less, the bad judgment and insensitivity of timing of this article!

(Angus McPhee) #60

So, Margit Strom Heppenstall related this:

Margit: “The trouble with you, Des, is that you are always right.”

Des: “No, I am not always right — except in matters of theology!”

This is the same man who wrote (in “The Adventist Crisis of Spiritual Identity”, 239-240): “All of us are sinful and all of us are ignorant and in error to some extent. Even teachers are one-eyed leaders of the blind. I tell my classes continually at the end of a course, ‘I know that fifty percent of what I have taught you is wrong, but I don’t know which fifty percent!’ So though the Holy Spirit is given to lead the church into truth, and deliver it from sin, it is a progressive work like the tide coming in.”

An elder of a congregation I once pastored ridiculed Des to my congregation, and in my presence, as a teacher who didn’t know whether he was right or wrong.

Too bad that Dr. Johnsson has taken Des seriously.

Too bad that that elder quoted what he had heard, and appreciated neither Des’s humility nor his encouraging his students to devote themselves to personal and persistent study.

Just one more thing (at the moment!): I’d love to know what ground the Church’s negotiators offered to give, in the attempted reconciliation process.

(Peter Marks) #61

Good morning everyone,

Des and my late father grew up in the tropical garrison city of Townsville. My father was some twenty years Des’ senior. Both his mother and my grandparents listened to Adventist evangelists, most probably in the 1920’s. Des’ mother was a lady around town. My grandfather, Major HB Marks was the civilian commander of the Northern Military District during WWI, a noted city father, Secretary of the Townsville Chamber of Commerce (1906-1943), Anglican Diocesean Secretary and sometime heckler of Adventist evangelists.

My father, having been converted to Christ while working for a coppra merchant on New Britain in 1928.was a ministerial student when Des was born.

Fast forward to 1950. My father was living in the Avondale community. My oldest brother, Stewart Marks and Des Ford were students together there. All of my six siblings and me, save for my oldest sister Mairi subsequently had the joy of having Des as our lecturer during the 1960’s and 1970’s.

My family returned to the Avondale community in 1965 after an absence of thirteen years, this time with me in tow. Subsequently, my parents became prosperous business people there. They were quickly amazed at the near reverence that the locals and the Avondale students had for Des’ every word. If Des said it, that settled it for them. Des was among the very first PhD academics at Avondale in 1960 or 1961. He was the Australasian Division’s chief heresy hunter and hatchet man. The Division employed him to deal with Bob Brinesmead and his followers throughout the whole of the 1960’s.

Des’ other major role, together with a growing band of Avondale academics, was to change the nature of Avondale from that of a missionary college into a fledgling Adventist academic institution.

Meanwhile, Des’ own theological journey away from the Adventist mainstream was beginning. Des had long championed a forensic only gospel. Now he molded his understanding of apocalyptic prophecy and the judgement to be in sync with the forensic only gospel while attempting at the same time to adhere to Ellen White’s advocacy of health and many other aspects of the sanctified life.

For the majority of his Avondale students before his departure for PUC in mid 1977 it was a satisfying, even thrilling mix. A decided minority of his students reacted otherwise. Indeed, one Avondale student of that era has confided to me that Des’ student following often reacted to the plainer and less nuanced presentation of the Adventist message in a very similar way to the reaction of the political left against the conservative forces in Australian politics of the 1970’s. For my friend, such a reaction raised red flags in his mind. [Unfortunately, such politically styled agitation has often been introduced into Adventist theological discourse on a wide front over the last 30 years and particularly on social media].

Subsequent to Glacier View in 1980 Des’ theological evolution has picked up pace. One prominent example of this is Des’ championing of a no-literal creation week.

Allow me for a moment to enter the discussion of Des’ humility. Des was lauded at every turn by nearly the entire host of Australian and New Zealand Adventists plus a growing host of American Adventists, as well as Adventist leaders globally for a full 15 years and more, I believe in this case that it would be well nigh impossible for any individual not to become supremely confident of one’s own opinion.

I therefore believe that Chuck Scriven’s critique of the individualistic tenor of Des’ gospel is correct. And I believe that perhaps the best bulwark against such an individualism is a more mature understanding of the cosmic controversy worldview. Probably this is a better response to such an individualistic tone within our understanding and presentation of the gospel than the “New Perspectives.”

I am assured by those who are in a better position than I to know, that the depth and breadth of the mainline Adventist understanding of the gospel of the kingdom, which embraces an apocalyptic message, has continued to grow apace over the last forty years. Perhaps Norman Gulley and John Peckham are good representatives of such maturity.



Hi Frank, I’ll add to the topic just a little.
The one concept I have taken away from the “new” perspective of Paul relates to Greek interpretation. I am no expert, but this is what I gather.
Several texts in the New Testament that have been translated “faith in Jesus” could also be translated “faithfulness of Jesus.”
The new perspective would endorse that faithfulness of Jesus is a better translation. It shows no action on our part, but points to the constancy of God’s part. That puts a different spin on what happens when God saves humanity. It is done because of the faithfulness of Christ. Carmen

(Frankmer7) #63

Yes, I’m familiar with that idea, Carmen. I’m certainly no expert either, but it seems the Greek could be translated both ways. In some places the context seems to be stronger for the faithfulness of Jesus, in others, it seems faith in Jesus would be the stronger option.

With that said, I don’t think that the New Perspectives is advocating that the response of faith is not necessary from those who hear the gospel, even with this translation. I would take it that the emphasis on the faithfulness of Jesus has to do with covenant faithfulness, not the elimination of human action or response.

First, Jesus is the yes of God to the covenant promises he made to Israel, as Paul said in 2 Cor. 1:20. God’s faithfulness through Christ is the move of God towards Jews and the covenant promises he made to them under the Sinai covenant, and also to Gentiles, apart from the Law. He is the God of both, and faithful to both. Both received the promised Spirit in the same way, and both were gathered into the people of God around his Son, because of his faithful life and death that opened the way.

Continuing this thought, Jesus was also the faithful human being. Through his faithful death, Jesus received the full force of the covenant curses meant for unfaithful Israel, opening the way for the blessing of God to be bestowed upon all who believe, for the Jew first, and also for the Gentile.

Again, I don’t think they are advocating that faith in Jesus is not necessary, even if they translate the Greek as the faithfulness of Jesus:

"The righteousness of God that comes through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ to all who believe…" (Rom.3:22) Jesus faithfulness is the first move of God, and faith is the human response that God is looking for, whether from Jews under the Law, or Gentiles apart from it: "…there is no difference."

This is what God is still looking for from human beings. It is faith/joining up with Jesus alone, that opens us to the promised Spirit, who is enough to create, sustain, and empower the people of God as one diverse and united body…the very thing that people in Paul’s day, and in our day still fight against, whether over points of Law, WO, denominationalism, racial divisions, etc.

I think that Paul was trying to press home the idea that God was fully faithful to his covenant promises through the faithfulness of Jesus, his faithful life and death, even when it seemed that uncircumcised, believing Gentiles who were not living under the Torah covenant, and Jews who had the Law but by and large were not responding to the gospel, seemed to call the faithfulness of God to his promises into real question. This was one of the objections to Paul’s gospel, that God was shown to be unfaithful to his covenant promises to Israel.

This context seems to throw a very different light upon this issue than whether or not faith is a necessary response from individuals. Thanks for making me think, Carmen!