How Healthy is Adventist Eschatology? An Anthropological Imbalance (Part 5)

We have been trying to argue, in this series of articles on Eschatology, that many of the recent administrative General Conference initiatives, proposals and implementations (women’s ordination, Unity Document, Board of Ministerial and theological Education’s regulation [BMTE], five Compliance Committees etc.) are not only “procedural” but also strong “theological” events. This is because they have unveiled and implicitly express some Adventist theological imbalances, and for this reason cannot eventually be corrected exclusively on an administrative level. They also require, at bottom, a theological analysis and “reformulation” of our fundamentals.

But that is not happening. Or, to be more precise, it’s happening but in the opposite direction. A theological reformulation doesn’t imply a theological structural modification, and even less a theological rejection of Adventist foundations. Essentially a theological reformulation is a “rewording”. Here we need to understand that there is not a unique way of saying what we believe. And we are not at present using the best formulations. The theological modality we are now using to express what we believe is not helping to solve our administrative dilemmas in a consistent and convincing way. The latest Adventist theological formulations, and their administrative extensions and applications, are separating us far from non-Adventists, but are also splitting our church diffusely from within. The healthiness of a theological formulation is not only given by its “orthodoxy” (exclusive union) but also by its “universality” (inclusive union).

By a defective rewording (reformulation) of what is undoubtedly truth, the biblical eschatology that should be ennobling is instead making us a crumpled and distrustful community. And this with the unwise, even though coherent, contribution of this General Conference Presidency. In fact, to the eschatological and ecclesiological imbalances described in my preceding articles, we need to add here a new Adventist theological imbalance: the anthropological one. This emerging anthropological imbalance is not completely new. But its latest version tends to present itself in a radicalized form. With the help of an unbalanced Eschatology, it ends up as a proposal for a new Adventist prototype: “The coherent End-Time Believer”. Many of our current leaders today try – euphorically, desperately, but uncritically – to fully instantiate this strong emerging anthropological profile. They are convinced of its strengths but essentially unaware of its limits and negative consequences. Let’s proceed by briefly following the genealogical sequence of it.

  1. The Apocalyptic Radicalization of Adventist Anthropology

We could say that Adventist anthropology is positively marked by two specific characteristics: Holism and Voluntarism. First, Holism is probably the flagship of Adventist anthropology. We have since the very beginning denounced and fought against misleading conclusions about anthropological dualism, which tends to disregard the body and overvalue a disembodied spirituality. Instead, we have created an anthropological approach that pays attention to the body as an important catalyst of human existence and religiosity. We have made our own Juvenal’s motto: “Mens sana in corpore sano” (sound mind in a sound body) and have given it a modern interpretation. But we need also to admit that our holism has remained trapped in its original anthropological form. It is in fact an anthropological holism, not an ecological one. And it is limited because it includes just the body in the health equation, but not other important human dimensions like the emotions. In fact, our holism is basically rational and pragmatic.

Second, Voluntarism is an essential trait of our anthropology. Events and life-situations are not a destiny but something we can orient and control with mindful and engaged strategies. This has enabled us to consider sickness, on a bodily level, not as destiny but as something that can be modified. All our preventive approach to medicine and health is based in this presupposition. And this understanding has given our anthropological model an incredible dynamism and capacity for change. But at the same time it has led us to consider health and life as the pure product of accurate and disciplined strategies, not as gifts. Even the noble category of resiliency has been interpreted in ethical and pragmatic terms, as the capacity of resisting and fighting until the end. But resiliency is not a voluntaristic category of fighting at any cost, but rather a witnessing category of acceptance and trust in the value of life, notwithstanding a partial but irreversible loss.

The “apocalyptic turn” of our Eschatology strongly tends to radicalize our Holism by making it too homogeneous and our Voluntarism too mechanistic, contributing to limit them almost exclusively into compactness and instinct.

  1. The Apocalyptic Radicalization of the “Coherence Model”

Adventism has built up, since the very beginning, a radical anthropology of the “coherent person”. With the category of “coherence” it’s affirmed the priority of one’s own substantiality above all externalities. Coherence in fact means fidelity only to one’s own internal essence and convictions, and avoids paying serious attention to any personal or social contextual elements. And this conviction, so diffuse in Adventism, is partly based on a classical quotation of E.G. White, which has become paradigmatic for all Adventists:

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)

The problem is that our “coherence model”, even though necessary, is insufficient to build up a balanced anthropology. It’s too much dependent on a Kantian, duty-based model. The coherence model should always coexist together, and in tension with, its parallel “correspondence model”, because the validity and truth of what we are and do also depends on our fidelity (correspondence) in response to outside historical circumstances, and not only to ourselves.

The “apocalyptic turn” of our Eschatology strongly tends to radicalize our typical coherence model by making it even more insensitive to external demands. The problem is that the Holy Spirit works from outside as much as from within. Not paying attention to what comes from outside can lead us to overlook these solicitations.

  1. The Apocalyptic Radicalization of the “Administrative Behavior”

But now there emerges a new anthropological Adventist prototype: “the coherent administrative bureaucrat”. No matter how appropriate and wise the external solicitations and demands may be, for the “coherent bureaucrat”, they only seem like dangers or at best useless distractions. He must just follow the predetermined script of his own conscience, of the Church manual or of his “deformed” Bible. Three idiosyncratic traits seem to characterize today’s Adventist administrative drift.

a. Administrative Centralism

Ours is a quantitative not a qualitative multilevel organizational structure. The Adventist authority and decision making structure is certainly differentiated, but paradoxically only produces homogeneous and monolithic results. It’s unable to produce internal alternatives. And when it has had the opportunity to produce alternatives, they simply have been renounced. In other words, the catholic “nominal centralism” (Papalism), so much decried in Adventism, is actually functioning through its parallel form – the Adventist “anonymous centralism” (General Conference Presidency). And one characteristic of a centralized institution is to answer external challenges and crises by more centralization.

b. Administrative Compulsivism

In order to safeguard the coherence and balance of the internal structure, we see strategic actions, programs and projects becoming immediate reactions. From founding principles to their applications there is minimal reflection. Compulsivism is action without perspective and contemplative deliberation.

c. Administrative Perfectionism

We know the ethical and theological form of perfectionism in Adventism, even if we still fight its radical manifestations. Adventism itself genetically expresses a moderate form of perfectionism. But until now we didn’t know a new kind of perfectionism: the Administrative Perfectionism. Fundamentally after this, in a coherent administration, there cannot exist exceptions, exemptions and – even less – internal alternatives. The unity must be compact and homogeneous. Not keeping that kind of unity is perceived to open the door into a gradual administrative slide toward failure.

The practical and plastic incarnation of this new Adventist anthropological caricature: “The End-Time Coherent Believer”, is its quixotic certainty but also its dramatic and unilateral unawareness. Unfortunately this can presently be seen with more frequency, and was visible in the recent 2018 General Conference annual council.

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/authors/hanz-gutierrez

Image Credit: Unsplash.com

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/9119
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It started in a corn field and has only become more complicated and self centered. I think the One Project is a vain attempt to change at least the emphasis upon self. One thing is clear salvation is offered individually not corporately

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Thank you Hans G.
Rarely have we had such a clear analysis of SA 2015 & AC 2018, in particular
your paragraph below:

	The Apocalyptic Radicalization of the “Administrative Behavior”

But now there emerges a new anthropological Adventist prototype: “the coherent administrative bureaucrat”. No matter how appropriate and wise the external solicitations and demands may be, for the “coherent bureaucrat”, they only seem like dangers or at best useless distractions. He must just follow the predetermined script of his own conscience, of the Church manual or of his “deformed” Bible.

We can only pray that the Lord will save the Church from such leadership!

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The One Project helps Adventist Christ followers who are honest in heart facilitate a recalibration or a realignment to focus on Jesus Christ, the only hope.

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I think what we have here is a case of the “pot calling the kettle black.” I’ll be open, I am for compliance. But it is also true that the organization has become larger and more top heavy than is necessary. But to compare the church’s organizational structure as like “Papalism” is going too far. To sum up, the article is basically seeming to say that we as a church have closed ourselves off to protect a perceived form of archaic constructs and in doing so has resulted in shortsightedness and exclusivity. I believe that is the perception, but not the reality. On the other hand, to embrace both “orthodoxy” and “universality” presents quite the conundrum. I believe our church has gone out of its way and even teetered on dangerous ground in seeking “universality.” At the same time some among our ranks have rallied, building the walls ever higher in the camp of “orthodoxy.” Whenever there is an issue that stirs the pot, people’s true colors will be revealed, sides will be taken, and fingers are pointed. Perhaps this question is too simple or too big, but I must ask, to what end is this determination to continue in non-compliance? Will it glorify God or will it serve a more selfish motive?

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Compliance will further the mission of spreading the Gospel to the entire world?

What to do with those Gospel-preaching women who have unselfishly established churches of thousands in China?

Better get them into compliance and replace them with men?

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Praise God people in China are discovering God and turning their lives over to Him! I don’t want to take anything from that. But this is an “oranges and apples” conversation. What is happening in the NAD is a different matter. This decision to ordain women as elders and pastors has caused us to question the interpretation and authority of scripture. This I fear is “opening pandora’s box.”

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Help me understand how this is different.

The international world church has just voted to punish those who are already ordained to the Gospel ministry who already minister to congregations around the world–not just the NAD. The official policy says they are “noncompliant” with church policy.

Thus, this applies to women ordained anywhere in the world, including China, where ordained Adventist women pastor church congregations of 6,000 to 8,000 in churches they grew from home churches of a few people.

We are going to punish them. Strip them of their calling and replace them with men, right? Because they are noncompliant.

We are going to do the same thing in NAD, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, and in the Pacific Union and the Columbia Union. We are going to spend money, time, energy, and the morale of our church on stripping women pastors of their callings to preach for God because some men (yes, a majority of the decision makers are men) decided to create a policy of noncompliance for God’s workers.

These are oranges and oranges. Women anywhere in the world. That, actually, was one of the stated issues. No one can ordain a female pastor if everyone doesn’t vote for it. Therefore, she cannot serve anywhere or at all. (this is considered the “unity” aspect)

The ultimate goal, as you probably know, of those who are promoting the Headship Heresy is to remove women from ordained ministry, commissioned ministry, and as ordained elders.

Pandora’s box has already been opened with the Noncompliance document, committees, and ruling. We will now see Godly workers in God’s vineyard punished on non-Biblical grounds.

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Hi Hans,
In “good ole boy southern USA talk” the imbalance in SDA Eschatology is this. The church “in practice” places the emphasis on law keeping for salvation in eschatological terms rather than “JBF alone.” They are in unity, in that sense, with RCC in that Jusification means “make perfect/righteous” and thus part of sanctification/holiness rather than to declare/reckon righteous…
Law and it’s instruction, while definitely important, supersedes the forgiveness found in Grace. Thus none of us has hope “in reality” for by the deeds of the law none shall be declared righteous.
I suggest that "mankind in it’s 'wisdom " is thought of as “salvation” and those trusting in “Christ Alone, through Faith Alone” will be hated of all Nations for His namesake. The “Free will” Wisdom of man apart from the Spirit for salvation is made void.
Regards,
Pat

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I am confused by your comments you made what appears to be contradictions so could you please explain. I’ll try to frame my request for clarification as well as I can.

You mention you are “for compliance” and “to what end is this determination to continue in non-compliance”.

Compliance in the context of what you wrote is
a) organizational structure (i.e. managerial, mission, vision, etc.), archaic constructs. I hope that I got this right, let me know if I did.

b) archaic constructs…not sure what you mean by this

c) you mention the dangerous ground of “universality” on one side and “orthodoxy” and that issues that touch on these “people true colors are revealed”. I am not sure what you mean by “universality”/“orthodoxy”, could you explain what this is as the meaning is not clear.

d) “to what end is non-compliance” I think you mean compliance to Policy of administrative issues which include, financial, conduct of licensed clergy, selection of representative members/committees and such. I think there have been a number of compliance issues such as financial maleficence, power harassment, [ etcetera etcetera. If I understand you correctly I and I think everyone in this forum agree completely as was evidenced in the meeting in several of these areas. It goes without saying that these kinds of actions have selfish motivations behind them for sure.

Or are you referring only to the non-compliance of recognizing the calling of the Holy Spirit publicly through ordination and licensing of ministers?

Let’s ask Martin Luther how he answered that question.

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Pivotal thought:

Exactly.

We get into this dilemma when we imagine that if we can recite the memorized propositional narrative of Adventist doctrine, we have captured The Truth, or even Spiritual Reality, by such recitation.

Any attempt to restate the deeper reality of the Adventist vision in a fresh context is suspect and warded off as dangerous.

The system has become hidebound and moribund, and it is this stifling of New Life that is splitting the old wine skins of the Adventist denomination.

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What horrified me as I read this article was the similarity between the catastrophic attempt at creating a “master race”, and the Adventist preoccupation with creating a perfect, end-time people. The whole concept of “holism” sounds good as an advertisement for " educating the physical, mental, and spiritual" through Adventist education", but theologically, making an actual religion of it, is antithetical to the gospel.

What’s happening now is the “chickens have come home to roost”; and, all this dysfunctional hysteria is working it’s way into another “great disappointment”. That mid-century Adventist exuberance is bearing fruit. The current administrator learned to “fight in the Lord’s army”, sitting on his dad’s knee, and now is “daring to be a Daniel” - willing to go into the fiery furnace, come what may. He’s not the first. Instead of a burning compound created by David Korash, we now have metaphysical compound, ready to “shelter in place” until the fire outside burns out.

The idea of a perfect people was hoped to have been buried under piles of social concerns ever since Ford, another Daniel, who actually did burn in that furnace; but left embers all over Adventism, especially in its “halls of ivy”. Ever since then, Adventist theologians have hoped this last generation “thing” would just go away, but it has been percolating, and now we have to deal with it. It all happened in a much more vulgar way than what the scholars had hoped. How do you rationalize creating Christians who don’t need Christ? The last perfected generation - what need of Christ?

The “ONE” generation is just perplexed. They are too far removed from the culture that doubled down on the perfection part of the narrative, and instinctively, are drawn by the Gospel that is stronger than the forces that have buried it.

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Key word: vulgar

The last generation “thing” won’t go away because it can’t. It is integral to the Adventist vision.

The fact that its mien is undoubtedly vulgar and repugnant is due to immaturity, fear, confusion, pride and neglect, I would say.

If the Master is “a hard man,” then fearfully burying one’s talent seems prudent.

Cassie: January 2017 - Lounge

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I am not expecting or demanding that others follow me in the paradigm change that I have navigated, which would be unrealistic and unfair.

But, in fact, I believe the basic topography of Adventism can remain intact and be developed and matured by revisioning it through a developmental, organic, systemic lens.

Link

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Cassie: May 2018

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I’ve said many times that SDA soteriology and eschatology are like two tom cats tied in a gunny sack–ain’t never gonna git along.

I’ve also said that Adventist doctrine can be developed while still maintaining the basic topography.

I’ve also said (I know this is getting boring, bear with me, please), that nothing is going to change until our view of God changes .

If the following doesn’t make sense, Sirje will understand your frustration. I’ve tried to explain it for 15 years or more, and it’s always clear as mud to people.

Link

The seed ideas are there, but the ground is stony.

Apples: Up to this point, our democratically elected US government has not had any oversight in how ministers are sanctioned or in how the carry out their ministry. Oranges: In China, if you are a recognized pastor, you have been sanctioned or “ordained” through the state and will be carefully monitored in everything you do, by the state. Apples: In this country (and for the sake of argument, every other district that is siding with non-compliance) men are not required to labor on Saturday. Oranges: In China, men must work or be considered “out of compliance” with the state and will be treated accordingly. The only way to get out of work is to be, you guessed it, “ordained” as a minister by the state and controlled by the state. Last year, the women who did receive “ordination” credentials from the state, have traded them in for “Commissioned” credentials.
While women have certainly fulfilled executive/ministerial positions of church leadership throughout Biblical history unto today, scripture and EGW, clearly reveal that this was not God’s plan. Yes, He has put women in these positions. But the question that we seem to be forgetting is why? As illustrated in China, there are few options to be had, so women , chosen of God, step up and do the work that men are unable to do.

The Adventist God is the lawgiver and judge - advertised by our name - “the sabbath” which is untouched by the grace that saves; and the book-keeper that guards the entrance to the kingdom. When we remove all the adventese - the catch phrases and the floe charts, the “good news” is missing, or taken for granted - certainly not being reminded of.

If “it” won’t go away, perhaps it can be buried in the archives, labelled “ancient history.”

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Actually, it’s just…

:nerd_face:

…and a comedian too.:rofl:

In other words, in your view, the Holy Spirit gifts women with spiritual leadership as a last resort.

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"The last generation “thing” won’t go away because it can’t. It is integral to the Adventist vision.

The fact that its mien is undoubtedly vulgar and repugnant is due to immaturity, fear, confusion, pride and neglect, I would say.

If the Master is “a hard man,” then fearfully burying one’s talent seems prudent"

Hi Cassie, appreciate your post. What do you mean by burying your talent in context of Jesus being a hard man in the way he’s interpreted with LGT? Yes the LGT is inherent to history of 19th century EGW and other pioneers understanding how we are saved. How is it performed through Jesus intercession in the MHP in concert with our cooperation in our lives to surrender to revealed truth in the bible and SOP.