Is Today’s Official Adventism Adventist?– Presidential Annual Council Sermon 3

(Spectrumbot) #1

The Sabbath and the Second Advent of Christ are God's gifts to all humanity, not only to the SDA Church. This is the reason why SDA mission shouldn't be that of defending an exclusively ecclesiocentric interpretation of both, as this presidential address does. We should never think in terms of “possessing” these truths or maniacally trying to keep them “pure”. Otherwise, as in Matthew's eschatological parable of the talents, the SDA Church would assume the role of the hoarding and obsessive-compulsive servant rather than the open-minded faithfulness of the praised servants. Such theological misreading creates a missiological, hermeneutical and psychological misunderstanding.

First, the missiological misunderstanding emerges when we idealistically fuse and confuse baptizing with witnessing. Our missiological task shouldn't be to baptize all humanity into the SDA Church but, while baptizing all those who ask and desire it, instead articulate a credible Sabbath and Second Advent message for all, irrespective of whether they ever enter our church. If everybody became an SDA member we paradoxically would fail because that successful church would undoubtedly be a big Idol.

Second, the hermeneutical misunderstanding emerges when we theologically identify our Biblically-rooted interpretation either with a presumed exclusive Biblical reading or worse, with the truth itself. All our personal and institutional deep convictions are just interpretations. Necessary and blessed in the sense that they incarnate what is enough to understand and to experience of Jesus and his salvation. But at the same time they are relative and insufficient interpretations in the sense they may miss the complexity and diversity of God's call to everyone and each one’s authentic answer to this call.

Third, the psychological misunderstanding emerges when we confuse the truth of the single elements with that of the whole reality. This presidential address is orthodox. No well intentioned reader or listener could deny this. But the question about the real value of its larger organic and holistic perspective in relationship to God's Kingdom can and legitimately needs to be addressed. In this sense something can be orthodox and wrong at the same time. The heresies are not only deficient theological affirmations. They can very also be orthodox, inflexible and rigid convictions. A “paranoid mind”, in opposition to a “psychotic mind”, generally gets the single elements right but misses the whole picture.

Can we as Adventists, in understanding and implementing of our cherished End-time Mission, get the single elements orthodoxically right but miss the whole picture? In order to avoid or at least reduce the possibility of such a paradox I would like to call attention to three urgent and necessary hermeneutics we need to develop for breaking a solipsistic and narcissistic image of Adventism that powerfully still haunts us. We might then be able to articulate a noble, world and future-oriented Adventism. These are:

1. Hermeneutics of a poli-centric and multi-layered Bible,

2. Hermeneutics of a heterogeneous and multicultural Adventist worldwide community,

3. Hermeneutics of complex and differentiated contemporary societies.

While we almost completely lack the second and third Hermeneutics, the only one we have cultivated – Biblical Hermeneutics – is unfortunately thoroughly reductive.

1. A Heuristic Bible-based Hermeneutics

The New Oxford English Dictionary defines heuristic adjectivally as “serving to find out” and, when employed as a noun related to learning, as a “system of education under which pupils are trained to find out for themselves”. Thus a Heuristic Bible-based Hermeneutics is not one that uses the Bible as “The Last Word” but rather as the “Opening and Facilitating Word”. It initiates an open process that requires the believer's faithfulness, analytical capacities, emotional involvement, creativity and intuition to face the unique challenges of today's world. A heuristic Bible-based hermeneutics will be one that experiments and tests, that thinks in an as-if fashion, that imagines new possibilities induced by the power of Biblical metaphors and narratives. It will be a hermeneutics that dares to think differently, pushed by the Bible itself. It will not passively accept rules, principles and norms supposedly based on the Bible, but which surreptitiously come either from a rightist or leftist ideological Adventism. It will search for what is convincing and persuasive in the subjective and objective, individual and communitarian conviction – as sown by the Holy Spirit. This problem-solving hermeneutics will not, however, be arbitrary or mere fantasy. It will assume that there is something to find out and that if some imagined possibilities fail others may succeed. Up until now we have had, as Adventists, a reductive Biblical hermeneutics based on a rationalistic, formal and almost algorithmic reasoning. Instead of making us more flexible and empathetic, pushing us to read the human reality as it is and not as we would like it to be, it has induced us to misread the secular reality outside of our own bubble. And the recent reiterative, “generous” official call to go back to the Bible only is actually, paradoxically, worsening our structural isolation from others and from the real world – and deepening our chronic theological narcissism.

2. A Poly-centric and diversified ecclesiological Hermeneutic

We as community are not the same as we used to be in the nineteenth or twentieth century. Statistically and demographically our profile has changed. And this change has not been solely a quantitative one. For this reason our Ecclesiology – the understanding of what a community is, of what we are now – can't be linked to an anachronistic cultural and theological model. The ecclesiological paradigm used by Adventism up until now has been Unity. This has also been a panacea, both theologically and administratively. The unity paradigm has been unconsciously picked up more from western modernity than from the Bible. In large degree we have projected this paradigm into the Bible. But the Bible is instead polycentric, not only because it has structurally integrated various narratives of the same events or included a diversified list of authors. It is theologically polycentric because it gives place to diversified theological projects that cohabit despise their apparent mutual exclusion. That’s the case with the Jewish-Christian community and Gentile-Christian community in the New Testament. The same could be said of the pneumatology[1] issue. Are the epistles’ subordinationist[2] and ethically-oriented pneumatology the only view possible? Certainly not. In Matthew, for instance, we find a life-oriented pneumatology. In fact Christ is born by the action of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit doesn't succeed or just prolong Jesus’s work but rather precedes and makes possible his very arrival into this world. Both pneumatologies are legitimate and cohabit together, complementary but also in tension. This polycentric perspective needs to be applied within our heterogeneous and multicultural Adventist communities today instead of imposing what we believe is a Biblical paradigm of Unity.

3. A Diatopical socio-cultural Hermeneutics

But the attention and understanding of diversity doesn't represent a challenge only for the internal reality of the church. It's also a tremendous challenge for describing the external reality of society and culture. Here the secular model of unity, the model of “Western Universalism” has not been better than the Adventist one. In fact Adventism has just applied to itself and the Bible a religious version of this reductive model of unity. And this in a paradoxical way because Europeans, perhaps for the first time so massively in history, have encountered diversity in extraordinary and unique ways: geographical diversity, radical ethnic differences, linguistic plurality, parallel religious mindsets, diversified and sophisticated economical organizations, etc. Europeans have thus far managed to address it by imposing, to every culture and nation in the world, their normative European abstract universalism.This type of abstract universalism can be found in arts as much as in literature, in science as in theology. This reductive type of unity would like us to naively believe that sociology, philosophy or science just started two or three centuries ago in Europe. And western abstract universalism has been diffused and disseminated through several powerful and sophisticated cultural strategies: assimilation and multiculturalism. A renewed and relevant twenty first century Adventism can't be entrapped in this cultural misunderstanding and colossal mistake. Western societies and western Adventism are not the whole world but just a province, albeit an important one. Other societies and cultures from abroad have contributed anthropological motives, categories, perspectives and metaphors that can, in a critical cultural dialogue, help to disentangle western and Adventist theological and ethical conundrums.And none better than Adventism can take advantage of this because Adventism is a radical multi-ethnic community. But it must stop considering this ethnic diversity as just an aesthetic “show” every five years in the General Conference Parade of Nations evening. Adventism needs to take seriously into account these non-western nations and establish with them, culturally and theologically, a credible and equal dialogue.

This is what I call a Diatopical Hermeneutics. A Diatopical Hermeneutics acknowledges diversity not only within one tradition but also the diversity of different hermeneutical traditions. It stands for the thematic consideration of understanding the other without assuming that the other has the same basic self-understanding. It takes as its point of departure the awareness that the locations within distinct cultures cannot be understood with the tools of understanding from only one tradition or culture. To achieve this, there must be a renewed encounter between mythos and logos, history and cosmology, between subjectivity and objectivity, the heart and the mind, rational thought and symbolic thinking. Such a perspective is more important than the dialogue between progressives and conservatives, modern and post-modern Adventists, or even between Adventism and other Western Christian traditions. It is the challenging dialogue between Western and Southern Christianity, Adventist or not.

Is today’s official Adventism Adventist? On a first and more immediate level, the answer is certainly yes. On a second, more nuanced level, the answer is not so clear. And in this, the World Church should be thankful. It should take more advantage of the patient and still ignored work of some Adventism institutions that, with all their imperfections and limits, are trying to develop this necessary threefold Hermeneutics. These include the Schools of Religion of Loma Linda and La Sierra University, the theological schools of Villa Aurora, Sazava, Marusevec, Newbold or Friedensau. And particularly take more into account the still orphaned, neglected and sometimes even despised European Adventism that certainly doesn't shine by its numbers but that qualitatively, theologically and culturally, has a lot to offer to the balance and relevance of the Adventist World church and mission.

[1] The study of spiritual beings and phenomena, especially the spiritual aspect of human beings and the interactions between humans and God. Pneuma (πνεῦμα) is Greek for "breath", which metaphorically describes a non-material being or influence. See:

[2] A doctrine in Christian theology which holds that the Son and the Holy Spirit are subordinate to God the Father in nature and being.

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.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

(Winona Winkler Wendth) #2

Excellent. Understandably frightening to many. Thank you.

(Brad(Luna)) #3

One can say that Adventism needs a spirit of humility and willingness to learn rather than a gate keeper mindset that shoves out all that is unfamiliar or against the traditional paradigm.

I fear that Wilson’s influence is being felt in every corner of Adventism and it’s only going to get worse.

(le vieux) #4

Let me rephrase that for you: “I hope that Wilson’s influence is being felt in every corner of the SDA Church and that it’s only going to get better.”

I’m sure that’s what you really meant to say. :slight_smile:

(George Davidovich) #5

Sadly this is the only statement which makes any sense in this entire diatribe - the SDA mission is NOT as Hanz would have it that of defending an exclusive interpretation of truth nor “maniacally” trying to keep it pure but rather is the only denomination who still teaches the simple and pure gospel of Jesus.

missiological misunderstanding - Are baptismal quotas emphasized over spreading the gospel?

psychological misunderstanding - Are we teaching heresies? Do we have a paranoid mind?, are we “missing the whole picture of our mission?” - the only item worth noting here (to be fair) is an individual NOT denominational potential epistemological position that “our truth” is the only one. It is not “ours”, anyone can read it and accept it directly from His Word. - I don’t believe this is the SDA message. We don’t preach that our church is necessary for salvation (as others do).

hermeneutical misunderstanding - " All our personal and institutional deep convictions are just interpretations." I am not even going to try to touch this one - Hanz seems to believe he has the key on this one.

I personally don’t need the Oxford English Dictionary to understand how to read the Bible in light of today’s challenges (I don’t mind using it for other purposes) . To let Scriptures interpret themselves is NOT “reductive” hermeneutics but rather following the Bible itself - 2 Timothy 2:15, "Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.’

(George Davidovich) #6

What exactly did you find “excellent” for our organization?

@robert_sonter @rohantocharles

(jeremy) #7

hanz seems to have a real problem with ted, and the church…i’ll have to think whether i really want to take the time to read this article…actually i’ll just go ahead and read it…after-all, how bad can it be…and as an author, hanz is quite readable…

(Kim Green) #8

George, you have inadvertently just made his point quite clearly…not seeing the forest because of the trees.

(Winona Winkler Wendth) #9

Both the analysis and the writer’s conclusion are excellent. And although that boxed out section does sound a bit opaque, its language is typical of current sociological discourse, and Prof. Gutierrez uses it appropriately—he is an academic, after all. That is excellent too. His observation that we live in pluralistic world and that we need to understand both ourselves and others better, that open-minded, learning-oriented discussions among groups who are different from each other are necessary if we are to negotiate meanings and make the Denomination work, and that, as an example, the tensions between “Western” and “southern” Christians, which are not unique to Adventists, must be recognized openly, along with their roots and causes are good ones. Simply because we use the same words does’t mean that we mean the same things; agreeing on statements doesn’t really fix much.

Many Christians who seem to live as though what they believe and who they see themselves to be are entirely a matter of conscious choice, that they have been raised in a cultural vacuum, that what they believe needs no explanation but who continue to explain themselves and are not yet accustomed to a post-colonial world, are frightened by the notion of pluralism, and are almost entirely unable to understand how it could work or how living in a culturally dynamic world benefits everyone: Americans, particularly, are not accustomed to thinking that people of other cultures might know more about issues that are very important to us (although many believe that a bizarrely different culture like ancient Israel is the same as ours and could meet our challenges on their terms). I have appreciated Prof. Gutierrez’s European perspectives about how to navigate in such a pluralistic world. Europeans do not have “The City on a Hill” perspective that we do—after all, even though Winthrop took this language from the Hebrew Testament, he was an American talking to Americans, so the “We know better than anyone and if we make a mistake, we are an embarrassment to ourselves, to God and to all Heavenly hosts,” of American (and Adventist) exceptionalism is understandably foreign to them. Prof. Gutierrez hits this hard in his critique of how Adventists (and many Americans, generally) come across to other advanced nations and cultures. One of the many reasons the church is growing so rapidly in developing nations is that few rational challenges lie in its way, few constituents are sufficiently self-aware to understand the roots of their own habits, and the lessons of a complex, recorded and studied, and painful political history have not yet been learned.

So: Excellent writing and thinking. Also: exposing un self-aware, poorly read, poorly traveled, insular church members to the realities of the world we live in is an excellent idea but brings fear and desperation. Frightened, desperate people are not pleasant to be around and often do mischief through egoistic attempts at Self-preservation. But it’s an excellent idea to take that risk and help them understand that in the end, it’s all good.

(Pagophilus) #10

Is this article an excuse to use some big words by scholar (and to have a go at President Wilson in the process)?

What benefit is gained by my reading of it? Do I have a clearer understanding of scripture and of the Church’s purpose?

(Robert Sonter) #11

Pago, a word to the wise. If you don’t understand the words being used in the blog, perhaps best not to comment…

(Thomas J Zwemer) #12

it would be foolish is comment on only one reading… But first impressions do have impact. if my first reading grasped the thrust, the challenge is to abandon the self satisfied, ego centric view of Truth. Adventism has been all about telling others what the a Bible says about honoring them and their views, rather than accepting we are all of flesh. The indictment is self satisfaction even gloating when indeed we are poor, blind and naked. Church leadership has abandoned any show of humility in the face of a cosmic struggle, as if it is the final solution…

I get a very subtle reading that, quit reading Scripture through the lens of Ellen White. Tom Z

(Thomas J Zwemer) #13

The interesting note is that is not just the a North Anerican Division that is troubled with Ted’s leadership and world view… That translates into a one term presidency… His view of headship is challenged by the Seninary. Now his world view is challenged and thus his style of evangelism is challenged internationally.
In short he is attempting to sell an 19th century world view on a Post Modern society. Project Hope defines the extent of his vision. Tom Z

(George Davidovich) #14

Perhaps I did not make my point clear enough, or you are missing what Hanz said. The issue is wether the Sabbath and the Second Advent are denominationally “interpreted” truths, which he later uses as a spingboard to propose we need to re-intepret things based on new realities, and wether we “own” these interpretations and we are obsessively hoarding them, as he puts it. On the contrary, these truths are self evident.

(Thomas J Zwemer) #15

the Sabbath was self evident to the Hebrew slave. No so to Paul. Or the gentile church. Maybe be the issue is Law vrs. A gift of Grace. The basic issue is from Whom all Blessings flow? Thus the issue becomes Whom to worship over when. Certainly rest in assurance is the irreducible. Tom Z

(Kim Green) #16

No, George…we simply disagree that “these truths are self evident” otherwise we wouldn’t be having this conversation:

The SDA church would be nothing except for it’s “exclusive interpretation of truth”…“maniacally” might be an overreach but not by much.


(Andreas Bochmann) #17

Well, Jeremy, I think your hunch about Hanz is quite well perceived. The gracious point you make in the last part of your statement needs to be underlined. For Hanz is one of the few who dare to analyze and meticulously describe the reasons for being uneasy with current developments in our church. That allows for further discussion - and that discussion is needed - except if we believe in a papal church hierarchy.

(Sirje) #19

It’s also the “eggheads” who interpreted the Bible you’re reading.

We could of course dispense with interpretation by “intellectuals” at all and bring in the snake handlers.

(Winona Winkler Wendth) #20
  1. Why is a devotion to study and research suspect? 2. What, exactly, do you mean by “egghead”? 3. And no, whoever those people are, one can’t reasonably make that kind of sweeping statement about anyone, especially when one a mixes manners and philosophy; this is like suggesting that conservative Christians are opposed to gun control, taxing the rich and feeding the poor, and have bad hair: silly. 4. If what’s wrong with this group is that they are subject to their emotions, then isn’t the best remedy study (see time #1). 5. What is a “hyper-intellectual”?

(Cassandra) #21

Is Today’s Official Adventism Adventist?

Opening two premises:

*The Sabbath and the Second Advent of Christ are God’s gifts to all humanity, not only to the SDA Church.

*This is the reason why SDA mission shouldn’t be that of defending an exclusively ecclesiocentric interpretation of both, as this presidential address does.

There are many unstated assumptions in the first two premises, which could be talked about, I think.

At present, I’m trying to understand how being burned alive for rejecting the seventh-day sabbath can be experienced as a “gift,” for those alive at the Advent. More generally, since untold millions, possibly billions, from all ages face the lake of fire, the mien of the specifically Adventist Advent is inescapably sinister, it seems to me.

In trying to make sense of this, I have to wonder if perhaps one of the writer’s unstated assumptions is universalism. But how could one construe eschatological (as opposed to cultural) universalism as “Adventist?” (Anyone but me, that is.) Certainly, Ellen White maintained her Great Controversy Theme, binary worldview stance to the end, and she cannot be dismissed with a cursory wave of the hand while defining “Adventist,” it seems to me.


Is today’s official Adventism Adventist? On a first and more immediate level, the answer is certainly yes. On a second, more nuanced level, the answer is not so clear.

I’m still turning over the premises, trying to make sense of them. Defining Adventism for all Adventists is a task for the intrepid, in any case.