Difficult Conversations—in Adventism

Some years back, when my wife was training to be a mediator, she was introduced to a book titled Difficult Conversations. She found this material to be both excellent and more generally useful than being limited to a professional setting. The book considers how people, in various interpersonal contexts, can more productively approach issues that are really hard to deal with. These are difficult conversations because there is a high danger for discord and, thus, a big downside relational risk. Typically, we humans are seriously conflict-averse and thus too often allow simmering, unresolved problems to keep floating around forever. Because my wife was especially impressed with the book, she encouraged me to read it. I did and reached the same conclusion.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/12009
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You say that Adventists support “thought inspiration.” When I was a student at the SDA Theological Seminary in Takoma Park, Adventist supported what was claimed to be Mrs. White’s view: Inspiration was of “the men” who then used their own way of expressing it. Now the Fundamental Beliefs say that the Bible is “the written word of God,” and that it is “infallible.” If that is not total submission to the evangelical view of “verbal inspiration” I can’t find what else they refer to.


There’s nothing more to say than what’s been said before on these subjects. So, you just stay on the treadmill, or you become invisible within the SDA caste system.


i think this entire issue boils down to whether you believe the bible or not…of course everybody wants to think they believe the bible…but when you look at actual responses to these and other questions, it’s clear that some people believe the bible, and some people just don’t…it isn’t a question of nuances, or conversations that need to happen…it’s that some people believe the bible, while others prefer to believe themselves, and their world around them…

faith and unbelief really are what they look like…

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I’m afraid it’s not that simple.

The price of truth is the willingness to search out errors we’ve been taught and unlearn them.


The “testing truths” in any evangelistic outreach by Adventists, as far as I know, have remained the same, namely: Imminent Second Coming, Sabbath observance, dietary restrictions, tithing.

The issues enumerated in this piece may be of concern to a minority of intellectuals/progressives in certain congregations resulting in transfers of membership. More important to a substantial majority of our members, in my observation, are issues of transparency and accountability regarding our so-called “organized work”.

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i think it is that simple…

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I think only one, which is then quoted two or three times. And the text where it appears in Leviticus clobbers quite a few other things as well, and offers severe punishments for offenses, which even the so-called biblical literalists mostly blithely ignore.

I find it interesting that many modern, educated Jews correctly see the creation story as a story - not to be taken literally - and see no issue, no resulting challenge for the Sabbath. They correctly understand two other reasons for the Sabbath, from scripture:
The Tanakh and siddur describe Shabbat as having three purposes:

  1. To commemorate God’s creation of the universe, on the seventh day of which God rested from (or ceased) his work;
  2. To commemorate the Israelites’ Exodus and redemption from slavery in ancient Egypt;
  3. As a “taste” of Olam Haba (the Messianic Age).
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The question may be phrased this way: “Where are difficult conversation allowed, or even encouraged?” One would think that the BRI is one place–not happening. One might think it is at the Adventist Seminary in Michigan–not happening, even to the dismay of at least a few of its own professors who have been honest on the rare occasions they feel safe. One might also point to the West coast centers of religious study at LLU and/or La Sierra. That is, as I see it, one place where such conversations may take place without reprisals.

What must be acknowledged is that we need an “extended conversation” that would take years and much prayer to arrive at a “modest” agreement. And it may never happen no matter what. So we pray and hope the Spirit will help us through it, even after new generations replace us.


What does it mean to “believe the bible”? How many christians claiming to “believe the bible” believe the command to sell all they have and give to the poor applies to them? How many christians claiming to “believe the bible” believe they can drink poison and handle venomous snakes without danger? How many christians claiming to “believe the bible” believe that those who “delight in the law of the lord” will prosper in everything they do (Psalms 1)? Deuteronomy also clearly teaches material prosperity to those who follow the commandments.

The bible is clear that believers and followers of Jesus will prosper and cannot be harmed by poison or snakes. His followers are also commanded to sell all their possessions.


Nothing is that simple. Your, “either you accept what I believe or you a non-believer” approach falls far short. Ted Wilson’s definitely falls short. I am sure that my beliefs fall short as well. How can we help non-believers when we can’t conclusively believe everything ourselves?

I have stopped teaching Sabbath School because I did not feel comfortable presenting either the indoctrinational lesson studies, or my own views. I finally came to the conclusion that wrestling with so many issues including actual biblical contradictions itself, that the best thing I could do was participate from the pews and not stand in front and rail into my own, less than perfect, take on the subjects at hand. I do remember the quarter on the gospel of Matthew, that I pointed out that there were over 170 places in that book that were in disagreement with one or all of the other three gospels. After saying that, and having a list of proofs, I still felt like a heretic and fortunately, I was not burned at the stake. I have noticed that people are no longer that welcoming at church. The “don’t question what I believe which is carved in stone”, is a strong compulsion for Adventism. Later, I read a several hundred page commentary written by Walter Rae, who’s heart wrenching account of uncovering first the Davenport debacle and then the “White Lie” for which he was literally roasted on the hell fires of the conference for doing what he was instructed to do and then thrown in the caldron for it. No one on earth was a more ardent admirer of E. G. White than Rae, that is, until his research uncovered the flaws and outright thievery.

Why doesn’t God give us definitive answers? And please spare me with the inerrancy of scripture or of Ellen White’s. I know God uses flawed vessels. But those flaws shouldn’t cause souls to be lost including mine.


Except for your first item on the list of five, these are issues that if doctrinal belief shifted to the progressive preference, the Adventist Church would cease to be what it is and would instead join Mainline Protestantism. Given the biblical prophecies, a replacement church would then have to spring up to replace the formerly Adventist Church.

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There actually are no such biblical prophecies.


The use of certain terms here tells us that there is a lack of understanding in the church among both “liberal” and “conservative” members about the meaning of inspiration. Since the 1919 meetings this was not thought through nor has it been since. Many liberals are as wedded to literalism as are their opposition and that makes biblical study and other devotional reading difficult to understand.
Those who see the Bible as literal should believe in hell to be consistent. Adventists, including EGW, make it clear to me that we don’t believe in verbal inspiration and that circumstances change. Apparently our leaders don’t acknowledge this. A wise person once said the Bible is inerrant as a guide to salvation. We lose the meaning of events if we focus on whether they happened exactly as stated by the inspired writer who may know about an event but describes it through his own lens.


And this is a price that Adventism is not willing to pay. Denial of errors is a pattern in Adventism. But admitting to errors is not a common practice in Adventism.

What we learn from Adventist history is that errors are usually swiped under the rug and hidden from the public – until someone starts digging and finds the truth. The church has been neither transparent nor honest. Several nondenominational books have proven this catastrophic reality.


In that case, overturning fundamental belief #13 should be added to the above list as item #6

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RE "The price of truth is–

So true, cf. some points regarding the Kings dream in Daniel 2 and some simple questions that arise from the current church teachings, below.

Daniel says the four kingdoms rule sequentially. However our scholars claim Rome began her rule in 168 B.C. But history and Daniel 11 reveal Greece did not fall until 30 B.C. No theology required here.

History reveals Rome ruled until 1453 A.D. as the majority of Historians, supported by the lineage of the Caesars confirms, again no theology required here. However if correct, the concept of Rome, pagan and papal, is little more than a supposition.

Where in the Scriptures bible do we find the Papacy attacks heaven, i.e., that “a Papal host has entered heaven, overthrown the heavenly host, and currently controls the ministry in the heavenly MHP?”. A position that has been steadily developing since the Glacier View meetings in 1980, cf. publications such as the DARCOM series, the Bible Commentaries, the Sabbath School Lessons, and the Biblical Research Institute.

The above are questions, among others, I an Ex Mason, have been asking our leading scholars and leaders for over 40 years without any success. In my experience if you are seeking truth in today’s climate in the church, it is up to you. You have your Bible, study it for yourself. We have much to learn and much to unlearn.


The “four kingdoms” theory of ancient history is of course nonsense. It skips over the Assyrian empire, ignores the fact that the Greek and Medo-Persian empires coexisted for most of their history, ignores the fact that the reconstituted Persian empire coexisted with the Roman. And if one wants to look past antiquity and consider medieval and modern periods, it ignores all the far greater empires which succeeded Rome and surpassed Rome in wealth, strength, population and power (Mongolian, Chinese, Spanish, British, etc.).


From Wikipedia:

Falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus is a Latin[2] maxim[3] meaning "false in one thing, false in everything

So yes, it is relatively correct to say that there are no difficult conversations to be had amongst Adventists, or any other organized religion for that matter, as all such disputes are simply the product of those who cannot or will not give up on at least one-or in some extreme cases, any-of the lies in their purportedly “holy” books or the sycophants who will not renounce the supposed inscrutability of their preferred “righteous” persons.

IOW, any internecine squabbling in the SDA sub-cult is merely pigs wrestling in one pen over the latest schism, while all of the other pigs in the barnyard carry on similar disputes in their respective stalls.

On a much broader scale, however, humanity as we know it is simply doomed unless and until Christians start criticizing Christ, Islamists feel free to question Allah and the Koran, Jews demand better of Yahweh, Confucius is acknowledged as having fostered confusion, Siddhartha Gautama is no longer believed to be the embodiment of enlightenment, etc., all of which seems reasonable given the inherently dubious nature of every human endeavor…including this comment.

In this manner, and rather than shying away from any of the unavoidable deficiencies of religions, politics, science and faith, these flaws-or “cracks in everything” as Leonard Cohen called them-are best celebrated and embraced as they let in new light and could potentially rescue our species.

(But no, I’m not holding my breath!)


With much of the world church existing in patriarchal cultures, this conversation will not happen.

This issue concerning cultural perspective of the biblical authors, that also colors the creation stories and so much of the Bible, is rejected out of hand within fundamentalist circles. With that set aside, we should believe that the earth is held up by pillars, the sky is an expanse that separates the waters of chaos, and that there were three literal twenty four hour days before there was a sun. This is also a conversation that is too threatening.

This dovetails with the concluding sentence of #2. As long as the Bible is viewed as being written directly to us, hermeneutical and interpretive confusion will reign. As Rich said, we read with modern eyes. We read the Bible as western individualists from the post enlightenment, disregarding that the Bible was written in largely eastern, collective cultures. How we understand central aspects of the biblical narrative, including the NT and what it says concerning the the gospel, JBF, and so much more that is central to Christian faith, is colored by our tinted lenses…that we often don’t even realize we are looking through.

Ted Wilson rejects this enculturated view of the Bible out of hand. Until a more open and theologically informed leader is in place, this is also a non starter.