How Healthy is Adventist Eschatology? An Exogenous Imbalance (2)

Christianity, historically and structurally, was born as an eschatological community. While this emphasis has not always been preserved in subsequent Christian movements, the same affirmation certainly still remains true for Adventism. But here we need to remember that both Christianity and Adventism need to pay careful attention because they continually face two different and opposite kind of challenges. The first one, by default, is that of forgetting, or even escaping, from eschatology. The second one, by excess, is unbalancing it. It’s not always easy to say which of these two divergences may be involved in influencing the general profile of not only Christian communities but also secular societies. This is because Eschatology, at present, poses a political as much as a theological problem. The category of “End”, in the past announced only through prophetic revelation, has now become a realistic possibility for humanity, through the development of contemporary science, technology and politics. Today, without calling for God’s intervention, the “End” of humanity and of the World is possible on a purely human basis (e.g. nuclear destruction).

The common and more diffuse understanding on this issue is that Christianity and secular societies have mostly adopted the first option – that of having drastically reduced, even abandoned, their interest in Eschatology. The hypothesis I am suggesting in this series of articles on Eschatology, is the opposite. Adventism and our current surrounding secular societies are, instead, more eschatological than it appears at first sight. They are very eschatological, but in a unilateral and unbalanced way. In last month’s column I tried to describe the Adventist eschatological imbalance from within (endogenous). This time we’ll consider it from the outside (exogenous), and for this reason I will briefly make reference to the socio-politico-cultural history of Western secular societies. Let’s proceed then by examining four historical stages in the development of Western Eschatology.

1. A Future Oriented Eschatology (Hebrews)

Eschatology was born with the Old Testament. In Israel – if we compare it with the surrounding cultures and religions – the time perspective drastically changed because the future is no longer a mere copy of the past. It brings something new. The promised future engraves things, persons, groups and events with a tension they can’t avoid or cancel. It represents the essence of their vocation and identity. It is tension toward the future. With Israel there is born a new “linear conception” of time. But Hebrew Eschatology, more than just representing a new chronological and quantitative understanding of the future, instead articulates a new political and a qualitative understanding of it. The future is the center because redemption must be, if eschatological, for everybody – and visible, i.e. political. And these two conditions, universality and visibility, will be guaranteed by the true Messiah. Jews, somewhat reasonably, question the veracity of the Christian Jesus, and even more of his followers, whom they see very much stuck in a mistaken understanding of salvation – one which looks too exclusive and too spiritual.

But if “cyclical time” was mistaken concerning the future, because it resulted in a too “domesticated” future, the same can happen with “linear time”. No understanding of time, cyclical or linear, has an absolute biblical endorsement. What is important for the Bible is the substance and trend. And the trend of “linear time”, as incarnated in Christianity and Western societies, poses different but serious problems. And, I suggest that the three subsequent historical stages constitute three radicalizations that linear time has suffered.

2. A First Eschatological Radicalization (Christianity)

This new understanding of the future, introduced by the Hebrews, was not substantively changed with the arrival of Christianity. Christianity confirmed it, but at the same time introduced a first radicalization. The “time-line-perspective” remained, even though, as O. Cullmann reminds us, a new tension emerged that the Hebrews didn’t know before: between the “already” and the “not yet”. This new tension binds the Christian community as much to the past as to the future because the central event, Jesus’ life and victory over sin and death, is now behind us as something completed.

Hebrew eschatology is future-oriented while Christian eschatology is, at least in part, “realized”. But what happened in fact was a conceptual contortion of the Hebrew’s understanding of the future as an open reality. If the certainty of future events depends on the certainty of the main event that has already happened – i.e. Jesus’ full victory – then the announced future is as certain as what happened in the past. Doubt and perplexity about the future are overcome. Certainty and assurance fill the heart of a victorious and even euphoric Christian. The promised future will surely arrive as announced and as planned. Paradoxically, with Christianity the future is partially deformed by an excess of certainty.

3. A Second Eschatological Radicalization (Western Culture)

Modern Western culture and society went a step further. They didn’t abandon Christian Eschatology. They just secularized it (K. Löwith/G. Marramao). After picking up from Christianity this fundamental orientation about the future, they introduced a shift. The certainty of the future that, in Christianity is based on God, Western culture based exclusively in itself. This still more radical certainty of the future, introduced with modernity, is just the chronological side of the “anthropological turn” – which is the typical cultural construction of contemporary Western societies. Eschatology, though secularized, suffers then a second radicalization. The future becomes more direct, more automatic and more predictable. This was, in fact, the spirit of emerging modernity: the unshakeable certainty of its own bright future.

The Enlightenment and Positivism were the first significant examples of this modern ideology. Movement didn’t stop there, however. It enlarged, expanded and refined itself in various experiments and sophisticated updates until it became really universal and trans-cultural. It succeeded in modeling the worldview of common individuals and organizations. “The future is sure, you only need to introduce order, discipline, coherence, hard work and accurate planning”. This could be life’s maxim for many of us today.

But here a paradox emerges. The temporal paradigm of “cyclical time”, typical of non-biblical religions and cultures, ended up domesticating and finally deforming the true future. Christian “linear time”, born as a critic and reaction to the previous cyclical paradigm, now became an “arrow”. And paradoxically it ended up, even using opposite strategies, with the same results. Domesticating and deforming the true future. A too certain future is no more a future. The only difference is that, in ancient “cyclical cultures”, the future was reduced to express the pre-existing cosmological and divine eternal stability, while in our days the neutralized future is “man-made”.

4. A Third Eschatological Radicalization (Contemporary Religious and Adventist Eschatology))

The picture still is not complete because, as much as Christianity influenced Western culture, in return Western culture greatly influences Christianity (and Adventism) – not theologically, but through its “temporal paradigm”. The optimistic and future-oriented spirit of modernity has become the spirit of current Christianity. The Christian God is thoroughly and truly a modern God, a coherent and efficient God, and today all of this “god’s” worshippers – across the whole spectrum of life and thought – look very much like him. This is the “exogeneous” imbalance of Adventist Eschatology. Without noticing it our Eschatology has become structurally more Western than biblical.

This obsession and compulsion with a predictable future, typical of Western societies and religions, creates just apparent alternatives. The “Adventist Eschatological Alternative” works with alternative “forms” but not alternative “substances”. Our alternative forms are: the remnant, investigative judgement, final events, persecution, ecumenism, Babylon, the papacy etc. But they are all articulated within a too deterministic future, borrowed a-critically from contemporary Western societies that we, ironically, heavily criticize and even despise. In our Adventist, too-linear Eschatology, other Christian churches’ apostasy, culturally godless secular processes, Adventism’s discipline and obedience, and even God himself – appear chained to a deterministic future only Adventists know. This certainty and presumption is not biblical. Our eschatology appears more futurist than adventist. But that’s not our destiny. It could be changed if we act humbly, dialogical and think of our strategies and decisions as transitory, revocable, flexible and contextual. Every true theology is “theologia viatorum” (theology for pilgrims and travelers). This is the essence of true Adventism and of a healthy biblical Eschatology.

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:

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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There’s food for thought.:flushed:


It seems unlikely that Adventists would ever seek to extricate themselves from their brand of eschatology, even if they recognized the benefits of doing so. Why? If SDAs were to acknowledge their eschatology as “unbiblical”, either in whole or in part, would it not threaten the very core of their identity, and thus their existence as a church? Except for the Sabbath doctrine, there is nothing that defines Adventism more.


Good points but there is another strong factor, cultural Adventism, which is strongly imbedded after 150 years of church existence. There are quite a few SDAs that do not believe in all of the 28 FBs or EGW but still consider themselves Adventists despite the deficient eschatology.


That is exactly what this article author is trying to do. I got it, he wants to disband Adventism as long as his pay packet is not affected of course.

At a recent sublime worship hour in Sir Christopher Wren’s “.wedding cake “ church ( Saint Brides, designed 1672) in Fleet Street, London, the Anglican congregation recited the NICENE CREED, as they do in every worship hour.

Their escahatolgy is so simply stated.

It is so in contrast to Adventism’s panoply/parade/pageantry of exotic beasts from Daniel/Revelation —a veritable almanac of alien/arcane animals to enhance our hyrogliphical hermeneutics.

Not to mention our gobbledegook of days/dates/times.

Here are the profoundly pertinent and elegant essentials of end times, as exemplified in Anglican’s unembellished/uncluttered creed:





What an elegant, eloquent enunciation of End Times, condensing all to the bare essence, but eliminating no essential element.

And the whole worshipful/wonderful/sublime service presided over by the Reverend Canon Alyson Joyce —their senior woman pastor/priest.

I exited the worship hour profoundly moved by what “apostate Protestantism “ had taught me!


The name says it all. While it focuses on the sabbath and the second advent, it implies a whole host of beliefs, each a support, but having taken on a credal role. There is a lot of compartmentalizing going on in the SDA belief system. Somebody didn’t think things through. Much of that took place as it tried to legitimize itself within the larger Protestant community.

Originally, the focus was on the world, as we know it, - ending. All else paled in comparison. When time rolled on, there had to be a way to sustain the original urgency - and so “the end” was kicked down the road. What no one seemed to understand was that they could not sustain the emotional component of what that urgency required. This is why there has been a continual search for “end time” signs - in nature; politics; culture - but they’re losing the kids along the way. Not until the fragile nature of a vibrant life becomes obvious, do Adventists (along with everyone else) turn to the “hope of a better world to come” - the graying of Adventism. This makes Robin’s description of hope from the pulpit seem more sustaining.


Great Post!
Before each item [Father, Son, Holy Spirit] it says, [in English] I BELIEVE. This word
could be interchanged with “I TRUST IN…”
I TRUST IN… He is SEATED at the right hand of the Father. [Been there since the
ascension.] I TRUST…He will come again… I TRUST [Look For] the resurrection of
the dead and life of the world to come [the New EARTH].
Not only that [whether 7 days, or longer] I BELIEVE in the Father, CREATOR of Heaven
and Earth.
And, I TRUST in the Holy Spirit.
When one completes the reciting of ALL the words on the document, one has RENEWED
one’s Baptismal Vows. One can do that each week. Dotting one’s forehead with water,
commemorates the renewal of one’s Baptism.


If I were to back up and analyze the article from a distance, I might think the author is saying that a modern Adventist eschatology fails in that it leaves no room for mystery. What do you think?


I like Dr. Gutierrez’s writings. He always presents several plates with “good food” on them. The food often includes some hot potatoes… :wink:


I dream with an Adventist Church that bases ALL its doctrines on the Bible alone. Sola Scriptura. I know that what I call a dream represents a nightmare for many people, because they are afraid the Church would be dismantled. It won’t - if a transition is made gradually, honestly, and cautiously.

Now, snap…snap, let me get off my dream. It’s not going to happen. Ever!

I am actually seeing some SDA “Guinea pigs” that are doing very well, where the Bible is the only source used from the pulpit. It eliminates that toxicity of “we are better than others, we are the only ones.” I feel more Christian attending churches like this.

American Guinea Pig

“Cuy — as it’s known to the locals — tastes a little bit like duck; almost a grey meat, it’s very rich and very oily. You can have it deep-fried like this bad boy here, made as fillets, or even a stew.” (Google)


Nice but way too simplistic for the complicated and dramatic taste the Adventists developed. Most Adventists would probably not survive without the “drama” about the end of the times.


Beware of any religious system that promises to “explain it all,” aka “having the truth, all the truth, nothing but the truth.” They may also believe that everyone else is wrong and destined to eternal destruction… :roll_eyes:


For me, that part is the big take away. In talking with fellow Adventists about very recent social and political events like the swift fall of American dominance on the world stage and the emergence of other powers, it make them very nervous and defensive. Why, because much of the SDA’s end time prophecies are tied to the continued dominance of America as the pre-dominate power. Of course, no where in the bible does it say that. It is and continues to be an SDA assumption which is now clearly wrong. But of course they will not adjust their understanding to swiftly changed world balance of power. They are way to invested in what has been put forth for so very long.


How refreshing it would be to have a “dialogical” church.


I am asked to teach 1 Thess 5 in my S.S. class in 2 weeks.
Was looking on Youtube for discussions. MOST of the discussions are on
preparing for Translation. Their most common viewS are

  1. Rapture. 2. 7 years Tribulation. 3. Christ coming. 4. 1000 years of Reign.
    I believe this is presented in the Scoffield Bible, one of the 1st places it
    showed up in mass printing.
    I present this to show that Other Groups also have THE WHOLE TRUTH on
    Eschatology. And they present it as being VERY SOUND DOCTRINE.
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Steve, what a relief! No more :sweat::sweat::sweat::sweat: now that I can see that other Christians are like us, that they also have “the truth, the whole truth, nothing but the truth.”

After all, we are not that much different from the rest, right?.. :wink:

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George –
Yes, Seventh-day Adventists have a LOT of Competition when it comes to
presentations of of What Is True in Daniel and Revelation.
HOW to make sense from Daniel’s and John’s Visions.
WHAT are the Time Lines and Events leading up to the 1000 years reign with Christ.

In the Early 60’s, when taking Bible classes at Madison, somebody was selling charts
of the time line of Last Day Events. One of the class rooms had one.
A lot of the information listed was taken from Ellen’s writings.
I haven’t seen one of those type of charts in a long time.
This one was probably close to 2 feet by 3 feet in size.

In 1974-76 I took several science classes [biology, chemistry] classes at a
non-denominational college [Bryan College] in Dayton, TN. The Schoffield
Bible was VERY popular there at that time. They taught the Rapture, etc.

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Well, I feel somewhat foolish to post thusly. The form of rhetoric alone here is so high … I can only consider that I’m not actually understanding this essay. Regardless, can we consider that at least Desmond Ford founded his challenges against SDA eschatology based on scripture? Here … no such premise is presented.

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Sure. Desmond Ford (his wife Gill, @gford1 reads here) was always truthful to the Bible, to the Sola Scriptura principle. And that was the problem that some in the Church had with him, because he would not compromise re EGW’s writings. Our Church always had, and still does, at least two groups, the Christian Adventists (Sola Scriptura) and the Whiteists Adventists (EGW above anything else, the Bible included).

I think everyone has the right to choose the group they want to belong to, and that should be the end of the fight. I bet you can guess which group I decided to belong to some 38 years ago… :wink:

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