How Healthy is Adventist Eschatology? A Missiological Imbalance (Part 6)


(Spectrumbot) #1

As we have been considering in previous columns, Adventist Eschatology is modulated and recognizable by some typical traits. First, by the priority of Apocalypticism over Messianism; second, by the earnest and fervent defense of prophecy and prediction rather than by a contingent and open future; and third, by the radicalization of its pre-millenialist ethos over and against our surrounding secularized more post-millenialist socio-cultural context. All this ultimately has a consistent impact on the way we understand the church, human beings and finally our own end-time mission.

It’s not a theological fault in itself to be an apocalyptic or pre-millenialist church but it can become one if we forget two important theological mechanisms. First, that ours is not inherently “the biblical” position but an interpretation of biblical eschatology. For pedagogical reasons we are allowed to say that ours is a biblical eschatology because it’s based in the Bible. But at a certain point we are obliged to differentiate between what “is the Bible” and what “is based on the Bible”. Our eschatology is not "the Bible”, it is only based on the Bible. We will never be able, and this is valid for every church, to overcome the structural distance between our derived interpretations and the Bible itself. In other words we’ll never become identical with the Bible. In this sense we’ll never be completely “biblical”. Ours will always be a biblical derivation. Important, serious, coherent and persuasive – but still a derivation. “Hands off the Bible”, is a primary rule of any healthy Christian hermeneutics. There is not an interpretation, even if inspired, which alone could express the richness, complexity and balance of biblical eschatology. Every interpretation is structurally unilateral and limited. For this reason it has a short life span. And for this same reason it must continually go back to the Bible, not to reaffirm what it has initially found, but rather to balance and complete it with new elements which were overlooked in the original, primordial interpretation. Adventist Eschatology is certainly biblical because it’s based on the Bible but at the same time is not biblical, and it will never be such, because it doesn’t express the totality of the biblical complexity and richness. To be truly biblical, doesn’t mean "getting it right” but rather the opposite. It means to confess that we always have a precarious, insufficient and unilateral understanding of the Bible.

Second, what we get from the Bible as current interpretation is not automatically relevant for our present situation. For this reason we need to try to find a more complete message. And, in the same measure, we also need to better understand our own human situation to which the Bible is speaking. We have here a double challenge: understanding biblical eschatology in its complexity, and comprehending our current time as thoroughly and accurately as possible. None of these two elements are negotiable. Both must coexist in tension in order to understand what a “biblical eschatology” is and means today. This strong bond of attention and duty of understanding our own human situation is not external to the Bible, as it apparently may appear. It derives from inside the Bible. In fact the Bible is only such when it becomes Present Truth, an updated word of God, as its general meaning becomes particular. This is why the “Sola Scriptura” principle could lead us, if understood improperly, to become paradoxically “unbiblical”. External reality, or what we could call the “reality principle”, is indispensable, not only to prove the validity of the claims advanced by the Bible, but also because without this external reality the Bible can’t produce Present Truth – its specific message for us today.

So on one hand our current Adventist interpretation will never be as complete and rich as the Bible itself, and on the other hand it will not necessarily take from the Bible what is best for us today. And this double shortcoming can happen while we are perfectly biblical in the sense of repeating verbally what the Bible says. Being biblical then, in the primary sense of reproducing what the Bible says, unfortunately still doesn’t mean or guarantee to be biblical relevance. And this double eschatological shortcoming is unfortunately also visible in understanding our end-time mission. This is what I call the “missiological imbalance” of our eschatology that I will briefly try to describe in three passages.

1. The assimilation between “God’s kingdom” and “Church”

The reduction of our eschatology into apocalypticism leads us to implicitly identify Adventism with God’s kingdom. This assimilation is biblically and theologically unjustified and moves us toward missiological distortion. The result is that mission then becomes the goal of trying to make everybody Adventist. If not physically, because that’s impossible, at least theologically. By this understanding only those who "think Adventist” can enter God’s Kingdom. So we end up preaching, not God’s kingdom, but Adventism, and assigning ourselves an unbearable burden that no church could really stand. Adventist mission is very important but it’s only one little part of God’s global mission for bringing his Kingdom down to us. There are other missions, religious and secular, that contribute to advance God’s kingdom and we need to acknowledge, respect and appreciate them if we want to avoid unnecessary stress and destructive obsessions. We Adventists have a precious mission but that is only a part of a bigger plan based in the enormous inclusive capacity of God’s kingdom extended to all humankind. This includes categories, experiences, situations and profiles that we Adventists are unable to reach and maintain. We will certainly baptize into our church all who chose our religious way, but those who won’t are not necessarily perverse, insensitive or excluded from God’s kingdom. Thankfully, God has other means, strategies and missions to which people who don’t become Adventists can respond to.

2. The assimilation between “Believer” and “Militant”

Our strong apocalypticism also pushes us toward a very tight understanding of what a believer is. Every believer as much as every new convert must be a “militant”. Somebody who lives an intense and radical faith experience. This religious earnestness becomes the only valid sign of a true fellowship. We don’t consider the intensity and seriousness of other human experiences as being sufficient enough to allow people to be included in God’s Kingdom. But neither by biblical perspective or common sense is this understanding and conviction tenable. End-time mission is serious but certainly should not overwhelm us with anxiety and stress. In the Bible we find differentiated profiles of people who called themselves God’s followers. Elijah was certainly more radical and militant than Elisha. And Nazirites like Samson were more ascetic and involved than common Israelites. But these common Israelites were also God’s children who were able to enter actively into God’s covenant, albeit by practicing a less radical, though full engaged religious experience.

The larger a religious group the more differentiated its internal profile becomes. And this is happening in Adventism. By size and historical duration our church has become a heterogeneous group that can’t be lead or assessed via monolithic and homogeneous standards. And here I would like to plead for a sober defense of a “Cultural Adventism”. We have precious and rich human experiences incarnated in some Adventists who don’t fit any more into the narrow mould of militant Adventism. Yet we sometimes exclude and expel them from our ranks because we are unable to have a larger understanding of what Adventist belonging and mission can really mean.

3. The assimilation between “to Witness” and “to Baptize”

Our eschatological imbalances push us often to assimilate two modalities of mission that are related but need also to be differentiated. Nobody would deny the place and value of baptism in a coherent theology of mission. Baptism gives the convert and the hosting church a sense of completeness that is indispensable to experience Christian belonging. But when mission is reduced to baptism both end up deformed and impoverished. Then “Mission” unnaturally becomes compulsive proselytism and “Baptism” an administrative cataloguing. Christian witnessing has two particular traits we need to keep in mind. First, Christian witnessing only indirectly concentrates on the witnessing church. It rather longs for God’s Kingdom as the final goal and target. Witnessing always points beyond the witnessing agent. Second, Christian witnessing is a qualitative event which only tangentially stops to consider the relevance of quantitative results, because it knows that a real conversion experience doesn't occur in short and mechanical cycles but in long and unpredictable ones. And in this longer context the witnessing church might be just the final recipient of what other actions have begun or just the initial input whose full development the church will never be able to see.

Adventist eschatology is certainly a biblical one but this fact unfortunately still doesn’t guarantee us biblical or historical relevance. In order to make our eschatology relevant and persuasive we need to humbly accept the fact that we don’t automatically possess a complete understanding of the Bible or a guaranteed accurate picture of what’s happening in our current time. Because every Christian theology as much as every Christian eschatology is in fact “Theologia viatorum”, a religious experience on the way. Always correcting itself, always reorienting its priorities after an updated reading of God’s Word and after a careful interpretations of our human context.

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.

Previous Spectrum columns by Hanz Gutierrez can be found at: https://spectrummagazine.org/author/hanz-gutierrez

Image Credit: Ellen G White Estate

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/9187

(Thomas J Zwemer) #2

Refreshing candid and challenging. End time theology is not evangelical. The Glory of the Cross and the Glory of the Empty Tomb are the heart of the evangel.


(Herold Weiss) #3

This detailed and enlightening analysis of the profile the church is projecting highlights significant distortions in our body. It would be a very welcome development if it would serve to encourage an open discussion of what we as a church are doing, and how we need to do better as the earthly body of the Risen Christ.


#4

Can you imagine TW singing from HG’s songsheet???


(Steve Mga) #5

PLEASE read Ronald Lawson’s article on Adventist Today.
“Encylcopedia of Fundamentalism: Seventh day Adventist”
He relates the history of SDAism use of KJV only with no knowledge of Hebrew,
Aramaic, Greek.
The continued insistence of the KJV when other translations were printed and
sold on the English market.
Provides the HISTORY of changes in Biblical Teaching at Andrews, other
Universities, the SDA Theological Society, the Biblical Research Institute
DUE TO “inbreeding” of Professors at these Universities and Societies.
This produced a Fundamental Approach – Creation of 6 day only, Young
earth, the embracing of “Male Headship” doctrine.
The change of GC President in 2010 increased more Fundamentalism in
church teachings.
Ron’s Encyclopedia article can be seen and read by “clicking” on the site
provided in the article.
A must for a short important History of SDAism and the Bible. And WHY we
have the type of Preaching we have from our pulpits. And views of Administrators
in Conference, Union, Division, and General Conference offices.


(William Noel) #6

Jesus told us to proclaim redemption, not eschatology. He only spoke about end-time events when he was asked about them, yet that often is the first and foremost thing we present. So we shouldn’t be surprised that so much of the world isn’t listening to us and flocking to our churches.


#7

So we move from an interpretation unilateral and limited to it becoming Present Truth because it now becomes the message for today. Pretty much means that the turth part of that does not really exist and it should be termed our present interpretation. That would be a lot more honest but of course not near as marketable as saying we have the truth! It is surprising to see someone who realizes the problems with interpretation yet wants to hold fast to the marketing concept of present truth. for more on the marketing of present truth see http://cafesda.blogspot.com/2010/09/defining-and-redefining-present-truth.html


(Steve Mga) #8

Ron –
Thanks for posting the article on Present Truth.
And HOW Present Truth for our Founders is NOT the Present Truth of the “28”.
And if they were alive NOW, they would NOT be considered 2018 Seventh day Adventists.
Also the Seventh day Baptist appendage. That in the early 1500’s there were groups who
were moving to worshiping on the 7th day, including some Puritins, persons in Germany,
and that the Original Christianity that came to the British Isles included Sabbath keeping.

A worthwhile read for ALL Spectrum persons.


#9

11/09/18 - #1

Present Truth: Abandon or Develop?

Time to abandon the term

Thus the theologian has closed the circle of Present Truth. It is always what we believe and it will always be what we believe.

Present Truth is an illusion, a piece of propaganda to make the uncertain feel certain. It is a term I will no longer use and I hope that the Adventist church will also abandon the deception of Present Truth for a more reasoned truth that is subject to changing interpretations and even dare I say it…acknowledging that some things we thought were true were not. Because that is really the only way progressive revelation will work for anyone.

http://cafesda.blogspot.com/2010/09/defining-and-redefining-present-truth.html

…

…

…

…

The is so much to discuss on this topic!

However it’s the holiday season, everyone is busy, and Spectrum has an unfathomable policy of arbitrarily throttling conversation on topics after thirty days.

I’m traveling & and won’t have much time to spend on developing this, and Hanz’ post will probably be closed before I, or anyone, can adequately discuss this, which could take months or years.

Meanwhile, our ADHD policy enforcers will have forced us to move on.

Hmmm… :face_with_raised_eyebrow:


(Website Editor) #10

Hi @Cassie, we appreciate you expressing your concerns about our commenting policy. To clarify, the 30-day policy on closing articles isn’t “arbitrary.” It applies to every article, and is designed to keep the conversation moving forward on the most recent topics, instead of stagnating on older threads. Unfortunately, Discourse doesn’t currently have a way to retroactively close the article threads that existed before we instituted this new policy several months ago, so we have been manually closing those older threads as we come across them. But all current and future threads, such as this one, have an auto-close feature through Discourse that we are utilizing to keep the conversation flowing forward.

Hope this helps explain and thanks again for sharing your opinions.

-WebEd


#11

11/09/18 - #2

Thank you for responding, Web person.

Your response is the definition of what I’m calling ADHD and arbitrary, though. :slight_smile:

Anyway, I have more important matters of styling My Little Pony’s mane to attend to, so catch up with you later.

Affectionately,

Cassandra of Perelandra


(William Noel) #12

“Present Truth?” Please define that. I’ve asked a number of theologians and church leaders to define it and they each had a different viewpoint. So, why do we waste our breath talking about it.

The problem I see with talking about “present truth” is that it invariably is used by people who are discussing aspects of prophecy and eschatology, NONE of which is of interest to more than a very limited number of people outside the ranks of our church. This means church members are talking to each other about “present truth” and whatever they think it means instead of getting involved in actually ministering God’s redeeming and transforming love to the people around them. Telling those people about “present truth” most often causes the object of the instruction to become defensive and repeated innoculations makes them so resistant to spiritual approaches of any kind that they become impossible to redeem. In other words, the proclamation of “present truth” is doing great damage to the work of God. If you need proof of how much damage the focus on “present truth” has caused, just look at how slowly the church is growing in North America and how many people are leaving the church. Instead, people need to be shown that God loves them. They need to see God’s love working in and through those who profess to be His followers and to feel it touching them. We need to stop talking about “present truth” and eschatology until we’ve been so deeply immersed in God’s love that we can view prophecy through the lens of knowing intimately how much God loves them.


(Frankmer7) #13

The gospel is eternal. It says so in Revelation 14…the supposed heart of Adventist eschatology. That means that the gospel has always been and will always be relevant to the present, and to whatever generation hears and responds. Not so, the prophecy time line, puzzle piece game that we have turned Revelation and apocalyptic into.

Thanks…

Frank


(Steve Mga) #14

Revelation is full of Songs and Praises to God
These are NEVER spoken in church or evangelistic meetings.
Isaiah is full of songs to and about God.
These are NEVER read in church.


(Frankmer7) #15

True, Steve…

Handel’s Messiah quotes heavily from Revelation. And the hymn, Worthy, Worthy is the Lamb, is one of my favorites.

The messages to the seven churches in Rev. 2-3, urging them to hold on amidst persecution, or to not allow themselves to be seduced by Roman promises of peace and prosperity at the expense of their allegiance to God and to the Lamb, is followed by the worship scene in heaven, in Chapter 4. IOW, the worship of God is what is held out to them to change their perspective on everything they were facing.

It would be good if we followed suit, and did what Revelation is saying: to sing praises to God and the Lamb and engage in authentic worship, rather than turning Revelation into a gnostic type of eschatology to which only the truly orthodox hold the key for admission.

Thanks…

Frank


(Sirje) #16

Adventist theology, as a whole, including its Eschatology, pretty much ignores the core and base of Christian faith. “God on the cross/man resurrected” is taken for granted (at best). It’s the “Messianism” that brings a “good end” to the Apocalyptic.

It’s about "pre-emptive faith. The “end time message” has already been taken care of by “Come to me, and I will give you rest”. If “Christ on the cross and the empty tomb” doesn’t do it, then it’s hoped that the fear of judgement will?


(Steve Mga) #17

LITTLE HORN of Daniel –
Adventist Today has an interesting article by Anonymous Persons with
an UNUSUAL TWIST to the Little Horn.


(Frankmer7) #18

It’s a spoof, Steve. Spoofing Adventist historicism and the excesses to which it can be taken.

Frank


(Steve Mga) #19

Frank –
It did sound weird. But they do that on occasion. Creative writing.


(Thomas J Zwemer) #20

Adventist Eschatology is built upon the back lash of a great disappointment. It is totally a self justification. “We were right after all, you just wait and see!” That is what makes compliance such a big deal. Shape up or get out… We aren’t going to wait for Christ to do the culling. He gave us a work to do. We know the goats as well as He.