Ecclesiastical Adventism and Truth-Telling: Can Our Universities Fill the Void?

Dr. Niels-Erik Andreasen, former Andrews University president, spent 25 years at the helm of the church’s flagship university in Berrien Springs, Michigan. At a Michiana Adventist Forum meeting held at the school’s Chan Shun Hall on September 24, 2022, he reflected on his 50-year career in Adventist higher education. During the presentation, titled “University-Church-Beliefs: Some Thoughts on a Lifelong Engagement with Adventist Education,” he discussed the church’s early incursion into post-secondary education with the 1874 founding of Battle Creek College.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/12038
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I Have often admired and expressed my admiration by the way in which Matthew Quartey has been drawing attention to the sensitive issues that are at the forefront of the Adventist mission to the world. I think that his column this time is the best he has written so far. The Adventist promotion of higher education, as he points out, has reached the point where it is beginning to fulfil its mission. That is, to be the prophetic voice within the church which calls the ecclesiastical leaders to account on their unjust ways. It is high time for the ecclesiastical managers to attend to their mission as the providers of means for the proclamation of the Gospel and to let the Gospel be preached in terms that the contemporary audiences can recognize as true and effective. They have been functioning as the Inquisitors who control doctrinal irrelevancy for too long, much to the detriment of the church they are supposed to support. Christianity is not an ideology to be affirmed. It is a way of being that demonstrates God’s love for the world and therefore reveals His justice.

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This is a razor-sharp analysis of Matthew Quartey. I couldn’t agree more.

The clash between academic research and traditional Adventist dogmatics is inevitable. If Adventist higher education does not maintain its academic integrity, it will end up as mere propaganda machine.

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Has education ever found a way to teach those who think they have nothing to learn?

Can the wisest person on the planet enlighten those who are certain that they are the smartest ones in the room?

Will scholarship, through brute force and with the sheer power of overwhelming evidence, ever be able to overcome the virtual omnipotence of ignorance combined with arrogance?

While it seems likely that SDA universities should be able to elevate Adventism, isn’t it predicable that the advocates of inerrancy and who hold the trump cards-i.e., the title to all the real estate and the passwords to all the bank accounts-will ultimately “take the trick”?

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Thank you Matthew, as usual, for an insightful and challenging piece. I’m hardly the first to point it out, but I think there is also an underlying difference in mission between SDA Church leadership and Adventist Universities. The goal of most in university leadership seems to be education and open-minded inquiry, as it should be. But this is not the stated goal of education if you ask SDA leadership. At every opportunity, they remind us that the goal of SDA education is to make more Adventists. They are not trying to open young minds, but close and lock them into SDA dogma.

The issue is not simply a lack of intellectual integrity and honest truth-seeking, but a deep and pervasive belief that these most basic tenants of critical thinking are an existential threat to Adventism. They are right. Honest truth-seeking does tend to lead people away from traditional SDA beliefs. And so the church reacts by thrusting its head ever farther into the sand.

For me, at least, it was this attitude that finally sent me packing. There is a deep and dangerous kind of hypocrisy here. The church that claims to have a special revelation and “truth” actively manipulates, misinforms, and spreads lies in order to maintain its own existence and protect its members from anything as uncomfortable as learning or growth.

Frankly, I do not expect change. I expect a slow, suffocating death. It will be self-inflicted and well-deserved.

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I would like to join the chorus of praise and thanks to Matthew Quartey for taking this bull by the horns.

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Let’s see … :thinking:… NO.

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I, like the commentators above, resonated with the article. I also very much enjoy the dialogue in the comments, as much as the underlying article. Thank you Matthew, and, thank you to all those who take the time to react, whether I agree or not. The Adventist community is richer because of the conversation. Thank you Spectrum for hosting the open conversations!

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With the Catholic Church’s denial of teaching authority to Hans Kung in mind, I wonder if Mr. Wilson is aiming toward a more Roman Catholic ability to deny teaching authority to teachers whom are considered to have and share heretical beliefs. The North American Division and its union conferences acted as buffers between the unions and the GC denying the GC the ability to have its way with women pastors, I suppose the same could happen for teachers who teach in institutions run by the union conferences.

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The other two points seem to have direct application to the university, this one seems to be thrown in just to make the count of 3. As for the acceptance of EGW and I am pretty sure that in the Theology classes the students are being taught a much more comprehensive understanding of her than 20 years ago. Also, I don’t think there are really any science classes that don’t acknowledge old earth and evolution. The theology classes may counter it and they should, even if they can’t do very well with the counter argument it is always good to have a counter argument presented because it can focus the minds upon the idea that nothing ever stays the same and there are always new things to learn and questions to ask.

What the church will do with universities is likely what other universities will have to do as those attending have already fallen by 7% and the universities must all begin to offer more value for the money spent.

True. And Ellen G. White’s prolific writings include a great deal of erroneous statements, contradictory statements, and harsh public criticisms and attacks of people.

It’s like she didn’t remember Proverbs 10:19.

Many of her behaviors seemed senseless and self sabatoging. She hired and fired Fanny Bolton four times ( toxic workplace), is said to have slapped her (assault), claimed to have a divine vision where she is told that Fanny is her enemy and after Fanny goes to an insane asylum she discredits her. Poor Fanny.

Her writings display several instances during her life of her doing the opposite of what she instructed others to do. She claimed divine authority to give instruction on marriage, sex and children but clearly she had more troubles than the average person in all of those matters. Biographies about Queen Victoria implicate that she didn’t enjoy children much but it looks to me that she did seem more content with marriage and sex than Ellen G. White.

EGW claimed to have envisioned the future, so perhaps she left some special instructions in a vault for church leadership to open at a certain time (maybe really soon) on what they need to do concerning the issues of her writings as well as the straight foreward testimonials of those who knew her.

Among a myriad of health complaints, EGW claimed to have had melting kidneys and bloody flux, so that the bath water is of any good is also questionable.

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Following this, the denomination supported Ellen White’s GRANDSON, Arthur White, in writing a 6-volume biography of her. That nepotism makes the biography worthless for any research purpose.

This was followed with years of interference by Arthur White in the operation of the church - repeatedly seeking to influence Robert Pierson especially. Why would EGW’s grandson be given such a role of prominence? He persisted in cultivating the inaccurate myth of his grandmother.

Also, for many decades now the church has sough to control its colleges and universities, while providing a smaller and smaller percentage of their operating costs. though Ted Wilson seems to actively be attempting to micromanage it an continually threatens and criticizes it. How long will it be until a healthy system of Adventist higher education will be able to exist.

It seems to me that Ted is insistent of preserving a type of Adventist belief that is insupportable, i.e. the “sanctuary doctrine”, age of the earth, promoting The Great Controversy and its inaccuracies and plagiarism, etc.

Oh, my dear church that I have loved so much for so many years (as did my family for generations before me). I weep for the condition you are in today.

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A religión operating a university is a tough proposition. So much of what we believe is faith based. And universities are not faith based. Science will not teach that man was created directly by God, but that he evolved over ages. We believe that many people died and came back to life, Jesus being chief among them, but science will absolutely deny that possibility. So I think we have to decide the purpose of sda universities. Is it to prepare scientists, or to prepare missionaries and spiritual leaders. If we try to do both, we will inevitably come to this conflict. Science cannot justify life after death, resurrection, heaven, spiritual beings that can appear and disappear at will like angels do etc.

But one thing I don’t agree with is that youth leave the church because plagiarism from EGW, or 6k year old earth (The author mentions that Sda’s believe the universe is 6000 years old and I have never heard that. Many believe there are worlds created and in existence way before our own. So though many belive earth is 6k yrs old, I haven’t heard Many say the entire universe is 6000 years old) I work with Youth and I see a lot of challenges they face and why they leave the hutch but I have never seen a single one leave the church because of Ellen White or the 6000 year age of the earth belief

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I also deeply appreciate Matthew’s ongoing conribution to the informed Adventist conversation. I would be intrigued to know the extent to which this conversation is known in Africa, his homeland, and whether there is a collection of informed Africans who reflect his perspective and promote it within the life of the church and its universities in Africa.

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is this really factually true…do we have evidence that young people left the church in droves over San Antonio…if they left the Church in droves at the time of San Antonio, do we know they did so because of the no-vote against WO, and that they would have stayed had the vote been yes for WO…

when i was young, none of us cared, or knew, about the GC…none of us would have been able to name so much as the GC president, or any of the Division presidents (if we even understood that our Church was sectioned off into Divisions)…the GC wasn’t at all a part of our lives…we left the Church without thinking twice of what the GC was thinking, or doing…we weren’t even interested in what the universities we were attending were thinking, or doing…

i don’t think university engagement is going to change any young person’s mind who wants to leave the Church…at that age, people aren’t interested in being guided by authority of any kind…the feeling is self-sufficiency, self-reliance, a determination to call one’s own shots, and the thrill of self-discovery in what has always been forbidden…

all of this is normal…it happens in every generation…is a more engaged university superstructure going to up end, or reverse, the way nature works…i don’t think so…

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I don’t know how things were in your household, church or school but when I was a kid, if any adult-almost all of whom were SDA’s-had asked me how I really felt about EGW, the absolute last thing I would have said was that I had issues with her writings.

Not because I didn’t have any questions but rather I’d have either kept my mouth shut, or lied out of a sense of self preservation. IOW, my parents would have killed me if I’d said I thought she was a plagiarizing, hypocritical spiritualist whose inspiration was of much more worldly source than she claimed, so I never expressed any reservations.

I’m not saying you’re in denial about the youths with whom work, just as I’m not suggesting that Adventism is like the Titanic after it hit the iceberg; i.e., destined to split in two and sink to the bottom. Instead I’m only saying that I don’t see how can you be sure that the kids are not just trying to do both you and themselves a favor by telling you exactly what they know you want to hear?

:wink:

Are there any tickets left for that Egyptian cruise?

You know, the one on De Nile?

(And please pardon my French!)

:rofl:

Here in the UK, the church has had very little success within the educational sector, with Newbold being the only place of note and a few primary and secondary schools dotted around the country, church sponsored education has been on life support for a long time.

With the majority of our youth going through public/state education, the questions raised by Matthews article seems irrelevant however the end results looks identical, youth are leaving the church en masse and when questioned about their understanding of EGW or 6000 year old earth, both doesn’t even register as a question they care about in any way.

The problem I think is one of relevancy (or lack off), the churches stance on some topics are so far removed from reality that it’s not even a point of interest for youths and to a greater extent, even the middle aged members.

What state eduction has taught our young people (correctly so) is to think for themselves using information and logic to arrive at an optimum answer for life’s problems. This same skill identifies our churches doctrines as bearing no value for living in the 21st century.

What state education doesn’t do however is offer a solution to the idea of faith and hope, something our church should excel at but because our youth have already dismissed the church, the 5 minutes window they have to appeal to to them is already lost.

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Okay.

I get that I was raised in an era and environment that must seem as if it was on another planet to what most students who attend Newbold grow up in. But for my parents, this was not optional. EGW had said the worst SDA school was 20 times better that the best public one and even though there were five of us and money was always tight, they believed that not sending us to church school was tantamount to condemning us to a quick dip in a lake of fire! :flushed::flushed::flushed:

That said, are you sure there’s even a five minute window available to SDA’s to make their pitch?

In another thread, @bness described how people who leave SDA-ism only arrive at that decision slowly and I agree with that as this was my experience.

But isn’t it also the case that it can, and should be a slow, deliberate process when trying to convince someone they should throw away everything they’ve learned through secularism-most of which seems reasonable enough-in exchange for the speculative promises and seemingly incredible stories about people, places and things that are as alien to them as my SDA upbringing would have been?

In developing countries, where beliefs in voodoo, animism, cannibalism, tribalism, vampires and zombies are considered common knowledge, Adventism isn’t much of a stretch, philosophically.

But in places where science, humanism and skepticism are run of the mill, isn’t Adventism’s “window of of opportunity” as brief as a blink of an eye, if it exists at all, except perhaps in TW’s dreams?

:wink:

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In my UK experience, and from quizzing my twenty-something kids, of the three issues raised here I reckon:

  • EGW, they really don’t care. Not an issue. The UK church hasn’t had an EGW fetish for some years now so they didn’t grow up with it.

  • YEC. A problem for the more scientific amongst them. Not a big factor for most. It’s all a bit ‘unbelievable’ but they don’t see it as a faith-breaker (as long as belief in YEC is optional, which I fear is no longer the case).

  • Role of women. This is the big one, this and the whole gender/sexuality issue. There’s complete bafflement that such sexual hierarchy should exist and that we must take it seriously. Followed by a general “why would I listen to these people if they think that?”

I know others will have different experiences and I’d like to hear what others have discovered. Even better, get the 20-somethings to reply themselves! (Am I right in thinking that the average age of the commenters here is, how shall we put it, somewhat more than 20😀??)

For me, the biggest issue is how to get theism taken seriously (let alone Christianity, or Adventism).

If what Adventism provides is The Answer then what exactly was The Question?

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Having been involve with kids on the intermediate level; and having been one myself, I can tell you the farthest thing from their minds is what EGW said, or how old the universe is. However, initially, the younger ones want to know where the dinosaurs went, and the older ones want to know when the next social event was happening.

The questions about the “younger” generation of SDAs is age dependent. By the time they reach our universities they should be ready for real science and some thought provoking discussions in all their classes. The problem isn’t the kids (sorry, “young people”), but how religion was presented to them by their homes, and their schools before they get out of grade 12. At that level, honesty is what is missing, and they know it. The kids can’t trust their elders to give them straight answers.

To be fair, the teachers (some) are between that “rock and hard place”. I know, I was there. At the intermediate level, you can always appeal to the “text book”, teaching by rote. Honestly, that’s how it’s meant to be taught - something like all the SS quarterlies, from cradle roll through adult lessons - questions, followed by quotes. All this, is meant to create more Seventh-day Adventists. But, when we get to the universities, it needs to be, “game on…” - unless your dream is to rise to the pinnacle of Adventism.

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