Idealistic Miscalculation and the Human Condition

This week, the adult Sabbath school lesson directs our attention to the human condition. One of the ways great artists, poets, and philosophers have explored the essence of existence lies in considering its absence. The quarterly helpfully does so on the first page: “This week we will consider how the Old Testament defines human nature and the condition of human beings at death.” But tipping us off that we might be in for a less than wide-screen exploration of existential questions, the memory text is Genesis 2:7 and much of the rest of the week confines itself to a doctrinal redux. To be specific, the lesson repeats many of the beats of Seventh-day Adventist fundamental belief number 26, including the intriguing oscillation between different translations (NIV, KJV, NASB, ESV) to make the key connotative points about the creation of Adam. As I still remember scrawling in the margins of my God and Human Life theology class notebook: breath + body = a living soul. From there, the lesson summarizes the implications of the Adventist doctrine of mortalism, or psychopannychism. 

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

And the misunderstanding of the word ‘righteous’ adds to the confusion.

One of the great myths in our faith community is the smug presupposition that we SDAs have perfect knowledge of ourselves, the human condition, the human sciences, and hermeneutics (which, per Dilthey, is what governs our study of the human sciences). Because of this presupposed perfect knowledge, what predominates is the feeling that nothing needs to be learned except the Bible and the writings of Ellen White. There is no felt need to study law, history, anthropology, psychology, sociology, philosophy, literary criticism, linguistics, folkloristics, and the other human sciences. Consequently, what happens is that wrong theories and ideas with respect to the human sciences are superimposed upon Scripture by SDAs, resulting in a theology that is not precise and accurate but best described as a collection of heuristics.

We have theologians who present themselves as specialists in biblical law but have never attended law school and do not know what law actually is. SDAs in general do not possess what the hermeneutics literature refers to as historical consciousness. SDA writings about word/thought inspiration during the last 170 years share one commonality, which is that none of those writings are informed by linguistics. I could go on and on. In 1961 James Barr stunned the world of theology with his The Semantics of Biblical Language, which establishes that mainline biblical interpretation has been fallacious. If about 10 to 15 similar books (each devoted to one of the human sciences) were written for SDAs and read by SDAs, our faith community would undergo a revolution and our Fundamental Beliefs would be significantly revised.

I know it doesn’t seem fair. You wasted your undergrad and MDiv years learning about beliefs instead of studying the human sciences. You worked hard obtaining a terminal degree in OT or NT studies while watching lesser intellects get their terminal degrees in systematic theology, pastoral ministry, leadership, education, etc. You are really smart. But you have never been taught how to interpret a text. You might ask, “I have to know everything? I have to have a terminal degree level of understanding of not just theology but of 10 to 15 other human sciences?” The answer is Yes. Again, I know it doesn’t seem fair.


I find the preliminary arguments here irrefutable.

However, and while this may have everything to do with the fact that I am a self-taught “polymath”-i.e., a college dropout with a degree in nothing-I think the answer to this last question is a resounding “No!”

Instead, I’m convinced that one need not, and in fact cannot, know everything, so it seems best to follow Socrates lead and insist that I know nothing-or at least nothing for certain-and to believe that I will always have a universe of things to learn.

I’d this ultimately unfair?

Or infinitely fascinating?

I don’t know.


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