Genealogy and Outcome of Today’s Adventist “Delusional Thinking” – Presidential Annual Council Sermon - 2

(system) #1

Notwithstanding the good intentions, generous words and the formal spiritual paintwork, Ted Wilson’s presidency has a strongly divisive, manipulative and populist character.

  • Divisive, because presently it is severely polarizing Adventism, even though one important presidential goal should be that of being president of all Adventists. And the division is external as well as internal. The Adventist Church today looks more and more cut off from the external world, religiously and culturally. It appears allied to the ideological, regressive and shortsighted forces in society. And this is often interpreted as the evident sign of a deeper fidelity to the gospel. Perhaps, but while others can mislead us it's also equally true that others can reclaim us. Because is up to others, not ourselves, to say if we are delusive or not.
  • Manipulative because instead of correcting the theological structural imbalances Adventism has, this presidency is hardening them and taking electoral advantage of them. A GC president's aspiration shouldn't be how to be re-elected but how to correct some evident and chronic structural imbalances.
  • Populist because, contrary to the general opinion of this presidency’s public discourse, Wilson’s is not a remnant message. It paradoxically says only what the majority of Adventists want to hear. It addresses our survival instinct. In this sense it is unable to create “Present Truth” and its managerial-theological tone is unfitted to cast a vision.


What is the genesis of this religious attitude and leadership? Without becoming obsessed with exhaustive etiological explanation it is nevertheless helpful to re-visit and interpret our past. This presidency's attention to Adventism’s purity/truth/efficiency rather than relations/context/complexity doesn't emerge in a historical vacuum. It is actually the natural extension of Adventism itself. Historically and theologically Adventism has fashioned its own profile. Under this paradigm the validity of an Adventist believer, pastor or church is defined by standing alone and against everyone else. It has represented our way of existing and becoming meaningful. Ellen White’s famous sentence on Adventist education exemplifies this religious orientation:

The greatest want of the world is the want of men-- men who will not be bought or sold, men who in their inmost souls are true and honest, men who do not fear to call sin by its right name, men whose conscience is as true to duty as the needle to the pole, men who will stand for the right though the heavens fall.” Education, p 57.

I think that fundamentally we were right in modeling Adventism then, after what might be called a “coherence paradigm”. It was the result of a pertinent understanding of ourselves, the Bible and society of that time. But from our pioneers and past history we need to copy the “how” more than the “what”. Uncritically and unilaterally this “coherence paradigm” has been elevated to an absolute dogma. And especially so from this presidency. Here a central question needs to be asked: shouldAdventism adhere so tightly to this paradigm while society today is diversified and has alternative paradigms in an attempt to understand our continually changing reality? All while the Bible and Ellen White both work with diversified and even contrasting paradigms of religious experience?

History has not stopped at 1844, 1888 or 1915. We now have seen: two world wars, global warming, heterogeneous society, fall of the iron curtain, financial globalization, new fundamentalism and the technification of human life. All this in the radically transformed world of today’s Adventism. But equally important, we have changed. Sociologically and psychologically we are not a homogeneous community. Numerically and demographically we have irreversibly changed our structural profile. Thus while a “coherence paradigm” is still necessary it is surely not sufficient to understand the Bible, ourselves and each surrounding society. Particularly, we need to understand that this paradigm, praised in Adventism as the panacea – and diffusely used in this presidential address – has evidenced its limit. An identity can’t be assessed only by measuring itself with itself. We need to add a “correspondence paradigm” that balances and completes our traditional one. This “correspondence paradigm” is both Biblical and consistent with Ellen White’s conceptual categories. Within this dynamic we are not evaluated independently of others or even against external circumstances but also through what we are in relation to others and by the capacity we have to cope with uncontrolled external situations. We can’t always be against everybody, secular or religious. Other churches and civic entities also have missions and ministries trusted to them by God. It’s part of a basic religious and ethical attitude to acknowledge this and also acknowledge that we Adventists are not equipped to do everything alone. For this reason we need to rely also, albeit critically, on other Christians and people led by the Holy Spirit.


Finally, consider two possible outcomes of maintaining our traditional paradigm, as this presidency does.

First, there is what the South-African sociologist Stanley Cohen calls the insurgence of “Moral Panic” (cf. Folk Devils and Moral Panics). This “moral panic” is a public, general and excessive reaction to an issue that threatens or shocks the sensibilities of a pious and right-intentioned community. This is often fanned by sensationalist and selective reporting in the media and exaggerated accounts offered by "moral entrepreneurs" – a category that includes politicians on the make and religious activists in search of a cause. Moral panics can result in what is a real phenomenon being blown way out of proportion or a false phenomenon being widely believed to be real. Moral panics often feature a caricatured or stereotypical “folk devil” on which the anxieties of the community are focused. By seriously considering apostasy, heresy or religious incoherence as real dangers inside and outside the church Adventism should never embrace the reductionism of moral alarm. It almost never helps to prepare an adequate answer to the challenge and worse, it doesn't help to individuate the real enemy.

Second, maintenance of a unilateral and reductive “coherence paradigm”, reinforced by the “Moral Panic” strategy, also damages our theological balance. There are various ways of explaining eschatology. We might define it as the ultimate concern and hope about God's coming kingdom. But eschatology has two structural ways of speaking about this future – an apocalyptic way and a messianic way. While the apocalyptic way underlines “judgment”, the messianic way underlines “fulfillment”. It's not enough to claim to be eschatological. It must be balanced, integrating these two souls of Biblical eschatology: messianic and apocalyptic. While Daniel and Revelation are apocalyptic books, Isaiah instead is a messianic book. And a paradigmatic example of how to maintain both souls together is given by Isaiah chapter two where we find, in the first part a messianic, and in the second part an eschatological picture of God's Kingdom.

There is no doubt that Adventist theology has always had an almost exclusively apocalyptic approach to eschatology. But what could have been relevant in the past, due to particular historical conditions (the euphoric belief in 19th and 20th century progress), is today no longer the case. Although we believe we are following a Biblical paradigm we are skipping something. We continue to hold to an unbalanced apocalyptic eschatology. This is exemplified in the recent GC evangelistic campaign which included distributing millions of copies of The Great Controversy. This noble and generous effort reinforces our unbalanced eschatology, deforming and manipulating our own prophet. Why? Because, in a way similar to the Bible, Ellen White has a balanced eschatology we lack. And while The Great Controversy represents her apocalyptic understanding, The Desire of Ages represents her messianic understanding of eschatology. We should have at least distributed both books together.

The unilateral and stubborn maintenance of a traditional and exclusive “coherence paradigm”, together with a shortsighted “Moral Panic” strategy, doesn't help us toward a balanced eschatology and build up a meaningful theological profile for today. The final result is that a simple administrative intervention, such as the Presidential Annual Council Sermon, evidences a theological anomaly that is sold as incarnating both what we Adventists really are and what we should be preaching to others. And by avoiding with a holy zeal the dialogue and confrontation with others, and by stigmatizing internal experimental alternatives, we don't succeed in correcting our chronic religious imbalances.

Hanz Gutierrez is a Peruvian theologian, philosopher and physician. Currently he is Chair of the Systematic Theology Department at the Italian Adventist Theological Faculty of “Villa Aurora” and director of the CECSUR (Cultural Center for Human and Religious Sciences) in Florence, Italy.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

(Carolyn Parsons) #2

I find it ironic that many of the ideological and regressive forces of society has had such a strong influence on the GC. This makes their push for more rigid theological control as being both influenced by a certain portion of society while fighting another slice of society. One way or the other, they are being moved by social changes.

(Thomas J Zwemer) #3

an excellent definition of the problem, but no real answer to the solution. Adventism is an excuse not a solution. let us start back before the corn field. the Gospel is here for us, let us rejoice in it. Tom Z

(le vieux) #4

Yeah, I figured were were about due for a “dogpile-on-Ted Wilson” blog. Anyone who is committed to the Advent message will be vilified, especially those in leadership. I pray that he will stay the course, ignoring the vitriol hurled at him by those who should know better. But that someone who teaches in one our institutions would publicly attack him, his sad indeed.

(Why don’t you just critique the content? Naked accusations such as these are not constructive. - website editor)

(Pagophilus) #5

Because there is not much content. A lot of words, a lot of bluster, not much meaning.

It’s possible to be inventive and pile onto Ted Wilson in innumerable ways. This seems like one of them.

(Tom Loop) #6

Well, I have read this blog and I probably need to go over it again, very slowly a couple times, before I venture too much commentary. But I would like to offer this. I sincerely believe that the leader of our worldwide church should see his position as that of a servent leader. That was the entire attitude of Jesus when he was here on earth. Service to others.
From the very outset of his election as GC prez in 2010, I see TW seeing his posiition as more like that of a coronated king. He has literally ruled the church from the top down. Our church was meant to run from the bottom up. He thinks he is saving the day and has behaved in an increasingly reactionary MO. He needs to step aside in 2015 and let someone else head the church, someone who is truly a servent leader, who isn’t fueling more division in our church. I’m afraid that 5 more years of him at the helm will lead to more of the same,and many just leaving our church.
You can’t use the methods of the beast to do the work of the Lamb. PERIOD.

(le vieux) #7

You’re being kinder that I would have been. The word “blather” came to mind. I know; naughty, naughty. Hey, at least I’m honest.

(Elaine Nelson) #8

Early Adventists conceived and gave birth to a message of moral panic, and this has been the consistent message for the larger time of its existence. Now that the apocalyptic message has become worn and no longer causes excitement in members or the public, there needs to be a new face on Adventism if it is to gain attention.

No longer do current events enthrall the public as they have become so common they are rarely given more than a few minutes of our time. Religion has little place in modern life in our growing urban cultures and unless Adventism is to gain a voice in all the daily tragedies and military conflicts, it must drastically change the focus that it has emphasized for its entire history. Few people are really interested and it is only the third world that is influenced by the large crowds of religious gatherings. Without a better educated leadership that understands this, there will be no growth within the first world.

The President’s speeches and tone in his writing is a backward call which has had a very polarizing affect on members. His message and stye is 50-100 years past.

(Christ Follower) #9

I have struggled for sometime the direction our church is going. I have struggled with comments like, “that’s not Adventist material, so you can’t use it.” yet the church doesn’t have information on those topics, especially for our young people…so then their questions go unanswered. I have felt that under this presidency that we have gone back to the '60s and '70s…a time without grace. A time where it’s more important to prove out “rightness” instead of “His Righteousness”. A time where we should be showing more heart knowledge instead of head knowledge. Why is it we have to bring people to Adventism, when we should be bringing them to Christ first! I was saddened to see a posting on FB where a parent was so happy his daughter was baptized into the Adventist church…he should have been happy to see her baptized into Christ. Really saddened at the direction the church is going…where is the relevance?

(Billman) #10

Birder. Your criticism does not stand up to further critique. There was nothing like the amount of criticism heaped on the previous GC president compared to this one. That is, unless the conservative quarter were doing it and I wasn’t reading their blogs. So if the current GC pres attracts a lot of criticism, whats changed. Simple. The person himself who is standing in the role.

Was the previous GC president committed to the Advent message. I believe so. Was he vilified. Not that I am aware of. So your statement is at best unproven, and in my opinion (because I haven’t undertaken all the necessary statistical research) false.

Personally, I couldn’t care less who is in the top job. I left.

(jeremy) #11

whatever hanz thinks, ted has not been divisive, manipulative, or populist…he has done what has needed to be done - and very well - to keep our church on track with our historic mission and message…he has excellent leadership and polical skills, integrity, and drive…he projects just what our church needs to be known for: adherence to our inspired blueprint, no matter what…

i can’t think of a single person i personally know who doesn’t think ted is the right man for the job…many people are praying for his re-election…

(Billman) #12

I have a special needs kid. One thing I have discovered is that he is always honest. Honest in his perceptions, honest in his recollections. The lily has never been gilded.

That does not mean he is always right.

Birder, you may be honest. All of the time. But, you know where this is going. You may not always be right.

(Winona Winkler Wendth) #13

Yes, from the bottom up; however, we have invested greatly in our seminaries and our theologians and take them seriously—to a great extent, they are the carriers of the “Present Truth” along with those church members who have wisdom and insights that help us move forward. Just as any servant leader should take business advice about the flow of material and human resources from trained and experienced business people, a person in this position should take advice about sociology from sociologists, anthropology from anthropologists, and theology from theologians. This is a complex, multi-cultural denomination whose future should be determined by a careful navigation among the needs and understandings of very different peoples. Balance. Progress. Not possible entirely from the bottom up. But not possible, either, from the very top down.

(Rheticus) #14

It is said that there are two types of sciences - those that use big words for simple concepts (eg biology and sociology), and those that use little words for complex concepts (eg chemistry and physics)

The article falls into the former. It makes the topic more murky for the average person, not clearer.

I shall try to simplify: Ted is a savvy politician who thinks that the bulk of the voters at the next election are in the “can’t admit we were wrong” subset of SdA.

This subset thinks that being disagreed with by outsiders proves that they are right, hence they are extremely resistant to change. Any evidence that they are wrong is proof that they are right. Ted appeals to them by saying he is one of them, that they are right, and that anyone who disagrees should not be an SdA.

It remains to be seen whether Ted’s view of the SdA is right. I think he is right, and the organization is going to continue its plummet to irrelevance with the people at the controls and the loyal passengers seeing the loss in membership as proof that they were right.

After all - it is a remnant, right! Remnant’s aren’t supposed to be big, or any different in pattern to the previous 150 years of the roll.

The test will not be San Antonio. It will be the willingness of the local conferences to continue to represent their membership rather than to elect a pope.

(Elaine Nelson) #15

That is understandable, but what about all those who comment here?

(Andrew) #16

I think you need to get out more!

(Andrew) #17

Very well said. I think Ted sees himself as a last days prophetic figure with a mandate to shake loose all those that are luke warm. He can’t lose really, whether the Church grows or splinters, he will still have created a legacy.

(Aage Rendalen) #18

The curse of Christianity, and especially Protestantism, has been the idea that orthodoxy is God’s chosen vessel from which the believer must imbibe the free grace of God. Outside of orthodoxy, there is no salvation (which is the meaning of the Catholic dictum “extra ecclesiam nulla salus.”) This has kept Christians forever attuned to foreign theological accents, and organizational split has followed one upon the other for two thousand years.

The sad thing about Adventism is that it’s at the outset a miniscule movement on the margins of the Christian mainstream. In the industrialized world, its membership is either regressing or barely holding its own (thanks to immigration from the developing world). If anything, the SdA church should try to break out of its sectarian cocoon and join the rest of the Christian world in finding ways to prosper in an increasingly secular world. Instead, we see the movement turning inward, and threatening to split over Amish-like issues related to modernity.

What Guitierrez is calling for is another Jan Paulsen: an intelligent leader with a heart, one who is comfortable in both the 19th and the 21st century.Instead, it seems like you’re stuck with a black-bumper Adventist leader, one who–to use the “liberal” Amish as en example–will allow people to drive cars, but only if they paint the chrome black.What the church needs is not members turned into ideological pretzels, but a generosity of soul that will welcome all people who’d like to sit at the Adventist table and partake of its fellowship. I know it’s at the very least ironic for me, a non-believer, to remind you, the believers that your religion is not a creed but a person. It’s a fellowship, not an evening class in theology. But if you want to destroy Adventism, keep on trucking.

Another problem Adventists have, is an inability to see themselves from the outside. In 1975, Christianity Today published a report from the SdA GC Conference in Vienna. Today I only have the Norwegian translation I used for a sermon in 1980–a sermon so controversial, by the way, that the pastor of the Academy church called all students back to church in the afternoon in order to contradict everything I had asserted. So with the caveat that this is a translation back into English and not the original words, here is Christianity Today:

“The terminology was very peculiar. When Adventists spoke about God’s call for unity in Christ Jesus, it meant unity among Adventists. ‘The Remnant church’ and ‘God’s people everywhere’ were a reference to God’s Adventist people everywhere. “Lands untouched by the gospel” were those who had not heard the Adventist message. The Adventists spoke as if they alone were struggling to evangelize the world. Typical of this attitude, was Duncan Eva’s statement: ‘God has given the SdA church the task of saving the world. We have God’s package solution…the Gospel from A to Z.’ References to other Christian churches were few and usually critical.”

From what I read here about Wilson II, it appears that it’s all about Back to the Future.

(Gene Fortner) #19

Spectrum Bot
Ted Wilson’s presidency has a strongly divisive, manipulative and populist character.
Divisive, because presently it is severely polarizing Adventism.

Can you be specific,?

The Adventist Church today looks more and more cut off from the external world, religiously and culturally. It appears allied to the ideological, regressive and shortsighted forces in society…

Seventh Day Adventist Theology is based on the Bible not “forces in society”.

Manipulative because instead of correcting the theological structural imbalances
Adventism has, this presidency is hardening them and taking electoral advantage of them.

Can you define “theological structural imbalances”?

Populist because, contrary to the general opinion of this presidency’s public discourse, Wilson’s is not a remnant message.

The Remnant message is found in Rev 14. What do you think it is?

Typical vague attack on Seventh Day Adventism.

(George Tichy) #20

So just for being an employee one can no longer have an opinion and voice it?
Are you suggesting total depersonalization and subservience to the system, "just because?"
Why to promote a “Soviet Style” interaction in the Church?