Among Adventism's Great Stories is the story of the Advent Hope. It has in turn thrilled, comforted terrified and inspired generations of Adventists. Is there still hope for the Advent Hope? Where does it find expression today in the life of our faith community. Four speakers at the 2014 Adventist Forum Conference provided their approaches to the parousia, the Hope of God's Appearing.
Forum Board member Brenton Reading introduced the speakers with questions:“What are the great Adventist stories? And who are the great Adventist storytellers?” “The founding story of Adventism is the Great Disappointment. This morning we are going to be talking about our Advent Hope.”
Chris Blake The first Advent Hopeful, Chris Blake, associate professor of English and communications at Union College, in Lincoln, Nebraska began with a description of a person sitting in a rowboat in Alaska. The rower moves through water always facing backwards, only occasionally looking forward to stay on course. Blake contrasted the rower with a kayaker, facing forward, moving dextrously through swift water.
“Adventism is a rowboat,” Blake said. “It focuses on where we have come from.” Current Adventist thought is obsessed with Genesis--our origins, our past. He questioned whether we must always be looking back.
Blake read from Revelation 21:
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, 'See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.' And the one who was seated on the throne said, 'See, I am making all things new.'"
“I do not want people to talk more about heaven,” Blake said. “We don’t leave here [Earth] and come home to heaven...we leave heaven and come home to the new earth.”
Blake holds that universal laws will remain in effect on the new earth and that the universal law of grace will still be a part of our daily lives. “In an eternal community we will need to give, accept, and share, just as God does with us,” said Blake.
He described standing at a basketball hoop in his youth and throwing the ball poorly at the net, doing trick shots, until someone told him: “Don’t practice missing! You might get good at it!” We need to begin practicing things now, like taking care of the environment, because it matters, Blake contended.
“Rowboat or kayak?”
New Haven youth pastor and Bible teacher at Midland Adventist Academy, Tim Floyd, spoke about Adventism in the 21st Century and its diversity. He started by splitting the audience into three groups: snappers, patters, and stompers. Under his conducting, the different groups snapped, patted, and stomped at different intensity levels, creating the sound of a thunderstorm in the meeting room.
“Unity is sometimes perceived as uniformity,” he said. “But something special happens when you combine the differences. When you compliment the different parts of the song.”
He encouraged the audience to imagine the power of the church if we took our differences and applied them to Christ. Floyd read 1 Corinthians 12:14-27, the verses that describe the church as a human body, with different parts acting synchronously.
Floyd noted the lavish diversity within Adventism: culture, gender, economic, home life, personality type, learning styles...many more differences within the Adventist community that make up who we are.
“I don’t know if you know this...men and women think differently, and that leads to conflict!” Floyd said to laughter.
Floyd invited four volunteers to the stage, each representing a generation of Adventist church members: an Elder, someone born between the 1900s and 1940s; a Boomer, someone born between the 1940s and 1960s; a Gen X-er, someone born between the 1960s and 1980s; and a Millennial, someone born from the 1990s onward.
The average age in the United States is 35, but the average age of someone in the Adventist church in North America is between 58 and 62 years old.
“I don’t believe you [Millennials] are the future of the church,” Floyd said. “You are the church.” Floyd insisted that until the church stops treating Millennials as the future and begins thinking of them as The Church, Adventism will continue to lose them.
Tim Floyd’s research illuminated some facts about North American Millennials:
70% believe the American church is irrelevant. 85% believe they have unused potential and are resentful toward the older generation for not using them. “They [Millennials] believe they can make an impact on the world,” said Floyd. “They pride themselves in being accepting. They think they can learn something from those differences.”
Floyd offered statistics about Adventist Millennials:
40-50% of baptized youth will leave the church in the their mid twenties. 40-75% will leave after their last Adventist educational experience.
Floyd displayed a graph that showed what the church might look like in 10-15 years when the Elder generation has largely passed away. According to his data, the Millennial group was the one wild card that could positively impact church growth.
“We [the church] are incredibly diverse,” said Floyd in conclusion. “We should never be uniform. But we should be united.”
Japhet de Oliveira The third speaker, co-founder of the One Project and Senior Pastor for Boulder Adventist Church, Japhet De Oliveira, spoke about hope in Christ.
Oliveira grew up in England, where as a young boy he spent much of his time passing out Ellen White literature. After reading The Great Controversy, or Confrontation, as it was titled there, nine-year-old Oliveira began to pray that he would die before Christ came again.
He compares the Adventist church to the first disciples who were very concerned about the “when” and the “what” of Christ’s returning. They wanted to know what signs they could expect.
Jesus gave them signs to look for, but then he gave them five parables: the parable of the thief in the night, the parable of the wise and wicked servant, the parable of the talents, the parable of the sheep and goats, and the parable of the ten virgins. These parables taught them to be ready, to be ethically responsible, to invest in what God entrusted them to do, to live a life a love, and to stay alert.
He quoted Matthew 24:42, “Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.”
Oliveira concluded by stating that the Advent hope is expressed in action, not in waiting and watching for signs.
Marlene Ferreras Marlene Ferreras, a Ph.D. candidate in practical theology and associate pastor at Azure Hills Church entitled her remarks “Becoming Midwives.”
Ferreras called the biblical history of midwifery a human and holy practice and called for people of all professions to become midwives. Midwifery is committed to the flourishing of life; its role is critically important, she said. When the Pharaoh of Egypt began to fear the growing Hebrew populations, he ordered the murder of baby boys.
“He believes it is the men who pose a threat to his power...but it is the women who resist his instructions,” said Ferreras.
The women are the midwives who help the baby boys continue to live after birth. “The king ought fear them!” said Ferreras.
She pinpointed three practices central to becoming a midwife: First, one becomes a midwife through the Head: faith-seeking understanding. “We are called to journey with people through the messiness of life....even when we do not have all the answers,” said Ferreras. “Becoming midwives means we are committed to inquiry. We are constantly seeking to understand our faith.”
Secondly, through the Heart: human life in relationships. “We are there. We journey with people through the valley of shadow and death...and we help them find their way back home, and back into the community,” said Ferreras. “This is our work.”
And thirdly, through the hands: a life called to action. “We do not, and cannot settle on thinking and feeling our theology,” said Ferreras. “Our work is filled with hope that liberates us.”
Ferreras concluded with Bonaro W. Overstreet's “Stubborn Ounces”:
You say the Little efforts that I make will do no good: they never will prevail where Justice hangs in balance. I don’t think I ever thought they would. But I am prejudiced beyond debate in favor of my right to choose which side shall feel the stubborn ounces of my weight. to tip the hovering scale
“In the meantime, I have chosen to do my work,” said Ferreras, “the work God has called me to do–-to become a midwife through pastoral ministry. Where is your work? Where are your ounces? I hope you are in conversation with God, because I am calling you to do the work of God fearing midwives...until God comes again.”
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/6307