Embedding Last Generation Theology in Sabbath School Lessons


(Spectrumbot) #1

Which of the following random statements would an average Adventist consider problematic?

1). The current General Conference (GC) leadership is openly conservative.

2). Last Generation Theology (LGT) and traditional Adventist conservative ideology is blurring.

3). The Adult Sabbath School Study Guide (ASSSG) is gradually adopting LGT positions.

The first two observations would likely be met with an indifferent shrug. The assertion that LGT has made serious inroads into contemporary Adventist conservatism, especially within the leadership ranks, is no longer deniable or shocking. It is the emerging picture of LGT “talking points” in the pages of the ASSSG that is generating attention.

Generally, the Sabbath School (SS) lessons are written by “principal contributors.” These experts often write their lessons years before they are published. In normal times that would mitigate against manipulation. But these are not normal times because it is now common for approved manuscripts to go unpublished for five years or more. Couple this with not knowing if what was “approved” is what gets published, so lesson authors have reason to demur.

Increasingly there are justified reasons for concern. The fluidity of publication dates and loss of writers’ control over final products have led to suspicions that the quarterly lessons, and the process of creating them, are being exploited for ideological gain. Last fall, when it came out that significant changes were made to Ranko Stefanovic’s lessons on Revelations by a few unidentified individuals, many were disturbed. But when we learned that those changes were made to align with a factional viewpoint, after the manuscript had been approved and sent to the printers, it served as the latest reminder of the blatant steps taken behind the scenes to skew church orthodoxy.

There has been murmuring by some recent lesson authors who complain that, due to heavy-handed content editing, they could not recognize key portions of their own writings. So I understand and sympathize with contributors who find themselves in the unenviable position of having to take ownership of doctrinal positions they did not author, and might reject.

Over the last several years GC leadership has made what some consider to be lip-service public pronouncements about unity, while at the same time advancing policies that have polarized the church. The SS lessons have historically provided a contemporaneous platform for the whole church to study the Bible and the church’s doctrines. The theme for last quarter’s SS study was Unity, which seemed prescient considering the unity challenges our church has experienced since San Antonio.

During my preparation to teach the week 12 lesson on “Church Organization and Unity,” I was struck by two statements. The first, on Tuesday, contended that the church preserves unity by “keeping [our] doctrines pure.” The next day, the nexus between purity, church preservation and discipline was cemented by the following statement: “Church discipline centers on two important areas: preserving purity of doctrine and preserving purity of church life and practice.” (Italics supplied) I am not a betting man, but if I were, I would wager that the purity statements quoted above did not originate with the lesson author, Denis Fortin. I don’t claim to know Dr Fortin well, but I have read some of his work and would be surprised if he shares these sentiments.

In the two statements, the concerning words are pure and purity. These words, used in the context of doctrine and lifestyle, are not innocuous. The words are used intentionally because they evoke self-determinism and mastery. Last Generation Theology proponents maintain that Christ is waiting on a few people in the church to attain a sinless state where they no longer need Christ’s intercession. It is only when these few attain sinlessness that Christ’s return would be triggered. For them the proof that they have attained that state is measured by the purity of their “beliefs” and “lifestyle.”

The church should pay attention to these teachings because we’ve been here before. The LGT emphasis on purity harkens back to our pre-1888 flirtation with salvation being possible through perfect obedience to the moral law. After 1888, the church seemed on a better path, as we recognized that “all our righteousness is like filthy rags” which only Christ’s sacrificial robe could cover. But here we go again, re-litigating the works and faith battles of yesteryear.

An insistence on doctrinal purity manifests in disavowing alternative interpretations of the Bible or our doctrines. Doctrinal purists in the church define our beliefs in such detail and specificity as to close all “loopholes” that allow other understandings. The 2010 re-wording of our Creation dogma in Fundamental Belief #6 is an excellent example of this approach. After 2010, we are limited to the understanding that the universe was created “in a recent [euphemism for 6,000 years] literal six-days.” If this restrictive imagination of beginnings cause some to feel squeezed out of the church, that only proves the LGT point that those leaving were not pure enough.

When the purity test is about lifestyle, advocates emphasize tangibles like dress codes – especially the absence of jewelry, but mostly as applied to women – and food. Men could sport the most expensive cuff links without ruffling any feathers. But a woman wearing the cheapest earrings? That’s a sin. As to our food choices, Leviticus 11 is by no means enough. Nor is it enough to be a garden variety vegetarian. The gold standard is veganism.

But purity, whether in doctrine or lifestyle, is a “dog whistle” LGT advocates sound to mark doctrinal borders. What LGT supporters and hard-core conservatives are really getting at, when they prescribe purity as standard, is an attempt to narrow the Adventist spectrum. Their doctrinal goal is biblical literalism. As such, they see such books as early Genesis and Job only through that prism.

These purists are apt to declare inerrancy in both scriptures and Ellen G White (EGW). They insist, with zealous conviction, that Joshua, for example, literally “stopped” the sun’s movement because the Bible writer says so, unmindful or unconcerned about the catastrophic consequences in our cosmos if the sun, and by extension our earth, were to stop its orbit around the Milky Way Galaxy even for a second. They generally endorse a verbal view of inspiration and are reluctant to concede that both biblical writers and EGW explain phenomena according to the general understandings of their times.

Genesis’ writer(s) describe(s) a cosmology with a solid dome firmament above the earth separating the waters below and above. We now know, based on accumulated knowledge and experience, that this conception is wrong. That biblical writers sometimes got it empirically wrong does not make them “uninspired,” it just means they reflected the common observations of their era, understandings we can now update. Future generations, armed with even better insight, would correct what we get wrong in our day. Biblical literalists would rather that we make believe that there is a physical ceiling above our heads than acknowledge that the Genesis description is non-literal.

Why should we reject the purity doctrine? If I was limited to a single sentence answer, it would be this: The purity doctrine disavows the cross and diminishes us. But more than that, when the goal is purity, we become tribal and think only in terms of the few members of our clan. And even within the clan we find ever more ingenious ways to limit and exclude each other. In this sense, God’s covenanted people have always misunderstood their mission. The Israelites made it wholly about them, overlooking the fact that in the original covenant with Abram, his descendants were to be the channel through whom all the nations would know God. And in our case, we have become so myopic about our “mission” that, in the end we see only us, the Remnant, the Little Flock; up in the mountains, juxtaposed against God’s billions on the other side.

How then should we approach our doctrines and lifestyle message? Instead of viewing them as settled propositions that need protection from outside corruption, we would do better by viewing the 28 FB as ongoing conversations. Do we really want to reach a final solution in our doctrinal understanding? Not this side of heaven. We have too much diversity of thought and experience within our Adventist family to think that any understanding is definitive.

Paul, even while pointing us forward, still made allowance for developmental accessibility and comprehension of knowledge. His “When I was a child” and “when I became old” comparison was never meant to posit longevity as a state of arrival where all questions are answered. We learn from Paul that experience is the best teacher. Therefore we should not aim at purifying our doctrines. Such an exercise, like LGT sinlessness, is unattainable and keeps us in the wilderness. Paul cautions that outside of Christ’s righteous covering, all our best attempts at good-doing amount to nothing. So we should express our beliefs in ways that allow for growth and new insights as we journey on.

Likewise, our approach towards lifestyle choices, such as what we eat or wear, should not be based on purity. These things are not accretive to our salvation. For most people in the wider world such choices are phantom luxuries and, where present, are based on what is locally available. The Sekondi/Takoradi (Ghana) of my upbringing relied disproportionately on seafood, not only as a source of protein but as key barter for communal sustenance. Because of our communities’ proximity to the Atlantic Ocean, fishing was not only the lifeline industry, it was the core staple in our diet. We did not, and still don’t, have enough arable land to cultivate suitable crops that could sustain a viable vegetarian lifestyle. If Adventists in places like Sekondi/Takoradi are “shamed” into adopting vegetarianism or veganism wholesale, unmindful of environmental constraints, they would be courting an avoidable nutritional disaster.

I now live in Michigan where for three months during winter, hardly any edible crops grow in the fields. Yet, everyday throughout winter’s barrenness, the grocery stores are stocked with every imaginable “fresh” farm produce that supports a vegan lifestyle. We in the Western church have resources and advantages that make vegetarianism a seamless feasibility. But we make a mistake to assume that such a lifestyle is currently supportable everywhere on earth. A workable alternative to the purity lifestyle should be the golden mean, an admonishment to moderation in all we do.

So whether in doctrines or lifestyle choices, we should eschew purity positions and aim for edifying discourses that inform, enlighten and build us up as a community. Our goal should be to enlarge God’s tent, not shrink it by insisting on a purity ritual. This calls for inclusive language, often metaphorical, that leaves room for expanded understanding. In doing this we recognize that we are a part of humanity with intersecting destinies. A recognition that demonstrates our solidarity and oneness with all of God’s others, who otherwise would be excluded when our focus is only on us and our naval gazing self-purification.

Matthew Quartey is a transplanted Ghanaian who now lives in and calls the Adventist ghetto of Berrien Springs, Michigan, home. Previous Spectrum columns by Matthew Quartey can be found at: http://spectrummagazine.org/author/matthew-quartey.

Image Credit: Unsplash.com

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/9426

(Tim Teichman) #2

Great article!

RE:

You’re quite kind in your description.

I will add, with exasperated concern, that these adherents’ attitudes seem cult-like. Organizations that spout these sort of un-thoughtful ideas appear ridiculous.

As the process of scientific discovery continues, these positions of the church become less and less believable - except for those who have consumed the kool-aid.

With developments such as results from the Human Genome Project and other genetic research we know more and more about our biology. It’s relatively easy to determine genetic relationships between people in amazing ways. I’m related to King Tut, for example, but am not a direct decedent. We share a common ancestor something like 9,000 generations back. That blew my mind.

With new knowledge regarding cosmology, we know more about the universe than ever before. In the last 100 years or so we went from wondering if there were other galaxies to knowing there are hundreds of billions of them. Billions. Of galaxies. And that they are still all pushing away from each other at an ever increasing rate of speed. Which is bizarre and amazing, and has a scientific explanation.

I love this stuff.

And then, tragedy strikes! …

I recently found out that a person I went to Monterey Bay Academy and Pacific Union College with, who is educated, who is currently getting her doctorate in Psychology, actually and seriously believes that the world is flat, is the center of our solar system, space is made up of water, the moon landing was a fake, gravity is not real (clearly!), stars are dots on the firmament, there is no milky way galaxy (much less any others), NASA was created and is headed by Nazi’s, and that they and any other org. that tries to tell you the world is a sphere are in league with the Devil. So, that’s pretty much everyone - except the few true believers that have seen the light.

And I bet you’ll never guess why she believes these things, so I’ll tell you: She believes them because the Bible says so.

And she’s right. It does say so: If you treat the creation story literally, and you understand what it says and meant to the original reader, and you think that as part of your faith you have to accept what it describes - because everything the bible states it literally and factually true - then you have to accept that the world is flat. And then, in order to explain away all of science, things start to get really out of hand.

While I can’t comprehend how she could have made it to this position (she describes careful bible study and sites many internet based resources) I acknowledge that it is a natural extension of biblical liberalism, when it is faithfully practiced - which the church, starting with our fearless leader Ted, has recommended.

I see this sort of approach as a harmful form of anti-knowledge and I can’t go there.


(Elmer Cupino) #3

Tim, perhaps after listening to Dr. Ramachandran, a neurologist/neuroscientist of UCSD, you would comprehend why intelligent individuals can hold inconsistent beliefs.

Watch the YouTube clip where he talks about neurology and religion.


(Peter) #4

Yet another aspect that I believe should be taken into account is culture. I spent many years as a missionary (places other than North America or Western Europe). I found that authoritarianism has often accepted in those places, and especially the authority of “white” missionaries. While that is not universally / generally true, I believe it influences the way the General Conference is viewed. Sad to say, people born and raised in countries with less access to higher education often view authority differently. WE ARE A DIVERSE CHURCH! The way we see authority is not uniform. How can we then expect people to believe uniformly?

I believe this has been an advantage for Ted Wilson. He appears to depend on a “base” (familiar tactic?) in places other than North America or Western Europe to support him. A base more likely to accept authoritarian leadership. Perhaps this is why the “world” church will ultimately separate - we are too diverse to be uniform.


(Tim Teichman) #5

A great clip. I didn’t mean that I really (really, really) don’t understand. I know people can be deluded, but I’ve just always thought of them as some ‘other’ that didn’t share my world experience.

In her case she used to be what I’d term normal, but then in the last year so (at about the age of 50) she ‘discovered’ this wonderful truth, that the world is flat, which is even more shocking to me. And no amount of me telling her she needs help seems to trigger any sort internal reflection or pause. She seems to know without a doubt that she is right. It’s like she’s a Stepford Wife in real life.

I think you’d like this book. I found it a rather awe-inspiring review of brain science and recent discovery. It helped me adopt a much more gentle view towards people - with all of their differences. Among other things, Patricia points out in some detail how we are tied to our biology far more than we’d like to admit:


(Cherry) #6

:woman_facepalming:t2:I did not learn those things when I attended PUC!


(Caddy) #7

Tim, you’ve no doubt heard the phrase “Things are not always as they appear”. That’s why the Bible describes such things as the clear dome with doors and windows above with an ocean above it where God resides and controls the droughts, rains, blessings and punishments etc. To those observers in the OT times this was “present truth” to them. This is what it looked like; seemed. We know now that it’s ridiculous to hold to those literalisms. And, we also know that things have also progressed from our understandings of things both religious and scientific from that which we once perceived." Present truth" simply means, as we now percieve things thus far, but as more information comes about we have to make adjustments. “Present truth” is always held in a tentative state. There is no such thing as perfect understanding from the human perspective.


(Tim Teichman) #8

Right. Exactly. And she probably isn’t learning them at LLU either, where I think she is getting her PhD. And while she seems interested and excited to explore the science of the brain, she is at the same time committed to ideas that are antithetical to her goals.

All the more confounding.

Yes…

Well, some of us do. But then there are what I term the “true believers”, who seem to have taken a different track.

Well, unfortunately I think for the SDA corporate church and many of our leaders, the Present Truth is now locked in time - about 1900. New science, new information that informs us of the actual nature of creation (the big bang) is not welcome, even if it can be incorporated into a cosmology that includes a creator.


(Sirje) #9

Those of us who have been around Adventism must realize that the current fixation with “end time perfection” is nothing new. In fact, this just harkens back to the basic SDA teachings. What’s happened is that our social constructs have modified all those “truths” because they don’t make sense in light of the GOSPEL Only those who have somehow escaped the 20th century, not to mention the last eighteen years of the 21st, can honestly believe all that stuff, and still claim to be Christians. It’s not hard to imagine that people like that still exist - for instance, children from ultra conservative upbringing who have rotated only within a conservative bubble, may never know that even the Adventist world has progressed to accept a round earth, and stars that are billions of lightyears away.

The rest of the Adventist community (the non-ultras) are, themselves, living with a doctrinal dissonance, trying to combine a basic Adventist teaching of a pre-advent judgment, ( which includes the beasts and the perfection), and a gospel of “saved by faith”. It’s a mess all the way around for anyone who is trying to navigate within the church.

The idealism of the “ONE” project is refreshing, and hopefully is the continuation of a start to penetrating the gospel. Too bad the gospel had to be put on hiatus, while the beasts have emerged yet again.


(Thomas J Zwemer) #10

Ted Wilson is determined to make Adventism a cult. Read Paul “Of Wretched man that I am.” We are saved by Grace not by works. Getting old doesn’t mean having overcome as much has being worn out. That is why old men sit down front.


(Stephen Terry) #11

It is a sad truth that both within and without the church, those things which are self-evident are often suppressed by political maneuvering, and politics, as ever, are driven by money and power. As several generations have grown up with “Animal Farm” and “1984” on educational reading lists, it seems naive that we can be sometimes blind to these machinations when they take place within the denomination. The institutional church has been historically so often complicit in such movements in the secular realm, why would it not by experience be as skilled at such maneuvering within the religious one? The skill I see manifest in what is essentially political methodologies within the denomination is very troubling.


(Bryan Ness) #12

I continue to find it fascinating that people can come to this conclusion when even the ancient Greeks, as faulty as their cosmology was, by and large accepted that the earth is a globe. Last I checked, scholars are still not certain how the ancient Semites viewed the planet. Clearly there is water above, that much is clear from Genesis, but they also may have recognized that the earth is a globe. As I understand it, ancient manuscripts from multiple sources don’t quite make clear whether they viewed the earth as a globe or flat.


#13

What percentage of believers around the globe today are flat earthers? It’s a fringe of the Fringe, even for Adventism Biblical literalism.


#14

I doubt that’s the case. Flat Earth would actually be a viable observation from their limited vantage point…

http://hermiene.net/essays-trans/relativity_of_wrong.html


(Johnny Carson) #15

The SS Quarterlies have seemed to me to be contrived at best, at least since the time I was in the Junior Room as a kid and quit participating in that particular church drama.

It doesn’t mean that I quit believing church teachings back then. No, I waited a few decades to begin questioning. I’m still not necessarily a non-believer, nor am I necessarily a believer in 99% of what is claimed to be important teachings. In my opinion church authority places such high emphasis on the 28 F’s because, well, because authority.

So… I don’t find it surprising that there is dishonesty going on behind the scenes at GC and/or at our printing houses when it comes to the SS Quarterlies and Study Guides. In fact it follows quite well that such things would exist. One only need look back at the '70’s and Merikay Silver vs. Pacific Press to know that corruption runs deep in high places.

Shrug…


(Mad) #16

What empirical scientific fact, observable repeatable evidence, that contradicts the Bible?

eg. The Age of a stone you pick up from the Beach is not an empirical scientific fact but conjecture.


#17

Sure, but you can’t put all conjecture on the same level. Deriving the age of stone by making viable assumptions about radioactive decay and other variables we observe today is a much better conjecture, than let’s say, assuming that it just came into existence exactly as is 10 minutes ago.


(Bryan Ness) #18

I don’t disagree, it is just that the earth as a globe is also a viable observation, and thus the uncertainty among scholars. My point is simply that assuming they saw the earth as flat back then is not as solid an assumption as one might think. Of course, the fact that some today have concluded the earth is flat is astounding.

One of the motivations for seeing the earth as flat today is to make the Noachian flood more plausible and to make it fit better with cosmology. If the dome above that holds back the waters is part and parcel of an earth that is flat, then where the water for the flood came from is solved, since conventional geology and hydrology provides no evidence for the amount of water that would have been required to cover all the land on the earth.


(Mad) #19

What evidence is there that the earth is flat in the Bible?


(Tim Teichman) #20

4%.

Seriously, though, that’s probably an un-anserable question until someone takes a survey.

Here’s some fun reading. You never know, you might be converted!

https://theflatearthsociety.org/home/