Does Adventism Have Anything Interesting to Say?

Recently, I sat with a friend who lost two close friends this year and listened as he told me how he has been reengaging with the Adventist doctrine of the soul (specifically what is called psychopannychism, or soul-sleep): “Do we really expect to throw a few verses at people and expect them to happily accept that mom and dad aren’t in heaven, playing golf with Jesus?” My friend wasn’t abandoning the church’s teaching, but asking: “Is this all we have to say about death?” 


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/11275
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As in all heirarchically organized structures, shall we say that its the top that sets the tone?

More than 40yr ago, my former college Bible teacher ventured to say something to stimulate thinking on a topic Adventists appeared to have an interest in. The IJ was of no interest to anyone else. We had it all to ourselves. I’m not sure Des said much that was new. Many before him had expressed heterodox views on the topic. Glacier View taught us that it’s unwise to say anything too “interesting” in the church – not that Des said it in church. It saddens me to have to acknowledge that the SDA Church isn’t a safe place in which to say anything interesting. Toe the official line or you’re out! Everyone knows the necessity of reflecting the right thoughts. The church is a safer place for reflectors than it is for thinkers.

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Yes, you would think, as we’re living in these days when “knowledge has increased” to the extent that it has, we would have a better composite and integrated view of it all. Instead we have created bubbles in which to float - be it geographic bubbles to keep other peoples covid out of our territory; or, bubbles of information that has relevance only within the bubble.

Compartmentalizing is the only only way to survive when it all seems so disconnected. What we may hear in church has little to do with what we hear from science; and it’s all wrapped up in larger partisan mega bubbles of ideologies. We could use a nice big needle and burst them all and see what we end up with.

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In a world where millions are caught up in one form of spiritualism or another, Adventism has nothing to say?

In a world where millions are caught up in the nihilism created by evolution, Adventism has nothing to say?

In a world where 24/7 burnout affects millions, Adventism has nothing to say?

In a world where millions are eating themselves into heart disease and other lifestyle ailments, Adventism has nothing to say?

In a world where utter injustice reigns, where evil seems to triumph and good languishes, Adventism has nothing to say?

The problem isn’t what we say but that the author of this piece isn’t listening to what we do say.

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We don’t say, we quote. And we’re talking to ourselves most of the time.

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What I am trying to sketch out here is why (to oversimplify) the Ellen White era of Adventism witnessed so much theological growth while post-Ellen Adventism hasn’t added much to our theological wealth, at least on a popular level. My goal wasn’t to say that our understanding of Sabbath or state of the dead or creation is wrong, per se, or that our beliefs make no difference in the world. My contention is that our thirst for “the truth” (as expressed in doctrine) has essentially stagnated and that a major reason for this is that we have, as a people, lost touch with the world around us. And this, I believe, is why we see so many in Adventism abandoning these doctrines. We go on about Constantine when there are simpler and perhaps more effective ways to explain the relevance of Sabbath to people today. As I make clear above, that doesn’t mean Adventists have to abandon the Constantine line.

And so I don’t personally feel that you and I are really on opposite sides of this my friend.

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When my husband was in school in Philadelphia, he invited one of his friends for lunch one Sabbath, and we spent the day together. The following week he told my husband that, it had been the most pleasantly restful day he had spent. It hadn’t been so for me - prep, dinner, clean up, but most of all, trying to fit all that into the SDA prescribed mold of Sabbath keeping. Since then, Paul convinced me that the Sabbath isn’t a day; and Hebrews convinced me it was about rest. Other things factored in, I have been able to shed the Sabbath that looms large in any SDA Bible topic from Genesis to Revelation, and I find myself relishing the rest by choice rather than command.

All that you have listed as Adventist contributions are just words from a time long past - words sitting on our shelves, that SDAs themselves no longer find relevant. (Illustration: on a Sabbath afternoon, a pastor’s wife got a call from her husband, attending some kind of pastors’ meetings at Andrews. She asked what he was up to. A group of them had just been to MacDonalds for some ice-coffee.)

I’m going to have to quote myself right here. We think by “reading recipes to the hungry” we have fed them. Not until all those good messages are re-imagined will anyone pay attention.

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Good question! Perhaps we should follow the footsteps of Christ and ‘do’ instead of ‘talking about’ things that are current of interest to those around us. The conversations need to ‘fit’ the audience. One example of the ‘talk’ vs ‘do’ would be ‘injustice’. What do SDA’s bring to that issue? Reasons to not get involved, ie its a Marxist movement, etc? When people are looking for hope and a future, do we ‘talk’ about evolution or spiritualism to them? Lets get real, what do we bring??

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That is a loaded question. Can I borrow it for my FB page?

This article depicts the Adventism the author knows best. Also, as we are all tempted to do, it generalizes from the Adventism which the author knows best to the whole of it. All I can say is that he does not portray the Adventism which I know best where people are making outstanding contributions in many fields. The Society of Adventist Philosophers has many members who could not be better informed about or engaged with the intellectual issues of our time. One does not expect this kind of work from evangelists, who have differernt gifts and understandings, but from academics. I suggest that the author attend to the massive literature in all the major denomination’s about Richard Rice’s “Openness of God” theme which is an outworking of Adventism’s Wesleyan emphasis upon freedom. Finally, it might better to say or write or say something interesting than to complain that others aren’t.

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Probably not. Appreciate your measured response.

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Yes, I can only discuss my limited experience. In an earlier draft I thought about “balancing things out” by talking about those in Adventist who really were trying to develop our beliefs but that would be a different species of writing and in a different place. I believe it was best to stay focused on the central thrust and trust that the exceptions don’t add up to mortally wound it.

I was at San Diego for that Society of Adventist Philosophers meeting but don’t feel I have an apology to make on this point. There is great work being done in some circles, but this work is generally isolated (by choice or not) from the general body. The ivory tower is easily ignored. I think Tonstad’s book on Sabbath is probably the best Adventists have ever written, but who will read it? Who will come down and take it to the people?

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I was pleased initially to see you had commented on the issues raised by the article, but then very disappointed that you responded only with questions. The author was only too aware of the emptiness and aching roblems of society these days–his issue is with why are we repeating the “same old” material that seems to have little traction and to be scratching where society does not itch. If you want to claim that his assessment is wrong, you need to show how Adventism is in fact speaking to the issues you listed in ways that are relevant to the people.

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Ron. I believe our message has the answers; one could justly argue,perhaps, that we could do a better job in framing it and showing it’s relevance. But the Sabbath, the state of the dead, Christ’s death, the second Coming. I mean talk about relevant!

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Adventism does still have things to say, but in a cult-y weird way (as evidenced by continuing tracts featuring beasts arriving anonymously by mail to the entire zip code). For instance, even non-religious people speculate about what happens after death, but is the SDA take on it any less speculative? After death, people are asleep, decaying, gone until Jesus comes to raise them up. Okay. But then we teach that millions of space aliens (“heavenly beings”) and millions more on “unfallen worlds” are viewing our situation daily in ghastly living color to determine, hmmm, is God good or not? They can see us without suffering massive PTSD but our dead relatives couldn’t possibly be innocent in heaven, although for them the twinkling of an eye isn’t long? Thinkers who think this through are going to wonder, and that’s just one of the doctrines…

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I agree with the idea that we must adapt our application of our doctrines to meet people’s needs in this modern world. The sabbath being about equality is one example of how everyone can find meaning in it. The beauty of God’s word is that since it was inspired by an eternal timeless Being, it can be applied to all places at all times. And I do believe many ministers are trying to do just that.

I also believe we have to be careful and not changed our beliefs to try and stay relevant. Noah had a relevant message and only 7 followed him. Moses had a relevant message and most wanted to go back to Egypt. Elijah had a relevant message and wondered why no one was following him.

Our message is exactly what the world needs…and we need to pray that God grants us wisdom to present the Bible truths in an interesting relevant manner without changing His intended meaning.

Good topic for an article!

Sir, why do we have teachings not taught by Jesus and his disciples? Isn’t that a contradiction to Galatians 1:8-9?

“But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!”

Will we not be a better church and community if we only preach and teach what Jesus and his diciples did?

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Plenty of traditional evangelism is still being done with Daniel 2 (which people increasingly think was written post factum), with portraying the pope as the villain (does anyone care about the pope?), and talk about Jesus in the gospels, assuming those four books are trustworthy (ignoring that more and more people have familiarized themselves with the ideas of Bart Ehrman or Amy Jill Levine). In these public presentations we largely still pretend evolution is not a thing. In that sense, our understanding of our beliefs may be true, but also irrelevant because we are speaking to the past. Or at least, we are speaking past people by ignoring those barriers and pressing on down our list of topics.

A.G. Daniells once said (to paraphrase) that he had no idea whether Ellen White stopped breathing in vision or held a Bible above her head or some of those things that were said of her. He wasn’t there. But he had developed his own reasons for believing in her. I take that to heart. The Lisbon earthquake or the Leonid meteor storm are just unpersuasive, in the same way Daniel found those early witness accounts of Ellen White’s supernatural habits while in vision unpersuasive. We have to find, like Daniells, some new reasons to believe.

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Can you comprehend what a few thousand years means to eternal beings? The Great controversy is a massive issue which will end soon… The Adventist view of death is caring, keeps one out of a myriad of other errors, is Biblical and taught by Jesus. Can’t think of a better place to be…