Moral Autonomy, Divine Command, and the Intrinsic Value of Human Existence

In his Systematic Theology, the theologian Paul Tillich describes a tension between free moral reasoning and the revelation of divine commands, a tension which also happens to be at the heart of Adventist theology. In our existential situation, he observes, “the structural elements of reason move against each other.” The limitations of human reason make it necessary for believers to receive a divine revelation of God’s will, but an adequate understanding of revelation requires carefully reconciling the tension between autonomy and heteronomy, loosely the law of reason and the law from outside or above.[1] This, I contend, Adventist theology fails to do by disparaging the former in favor of the latter, which is especially evident in the key selections from the 28 Fundamental Beliefs that I examine in this essay.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

Thank you for this. It does raise a number of issues SDA’s have left unaddressed. Just a question: If one admits that many “rational” ethics are remarkably similar–perhaps equal–to the ethics/reason we associate with “revelation” at its best, is there really an ultimate difference between them? One might argue that God as Being is love, beauty, truth and goodness, which a pure agnostic rationalist cannot, but does that make a difference as to what we believe we “ought” to do and be as humans in community?


Fundamentalist SDA denigrate reason and claim the authority of revelation as their monopoly regarding Fundamental Beliefs. When “liberals” point out that empirical data contradict certain Beliefs, fundamentalists accuse them of elevating their reason over direct revelation. They fail to recognize that they are dependent on their own faulty (and inherently sinful) reason for their “orthodox” conclusions. My last two books have documented that fundamentalists’ reason is not merely theoretically just as faulty as liberals’ reason. (Child of the Apocalypse & Father Miller’s Daughter) But that it was Miller’s grossly and demonstrably faulty reason which led to his failed predictions, and that the SDA church’s Fundamental Beliefs remain based on Miller’s falsified eschatological constructs. (Lisbon Earthquake, Dark Day of 1780, Meteorite shower 1833, the August 11, 1840 collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the 1335-year prophecy, the 2520 year prophecy, the 2450 year prophecy, etc, etc. Orthodox fundamentalists overlook the fact that their conclusions are based on their own deeply flawed reason. They claim a monopolistic grasp of the proper interpretation of revelation without comprehending that that their interpretation of revelation (Bible) is fundamentally flawed and erroneous.

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Misinterpreting the Bible, especially prophecies, has happened throughout history. What does not happen, but rarely, is a church or movement revising or abandoning their interpretations and changing the trajectory of their commitments to the future. America’s history offers a parallel example: Its founding dogma contradicted its own reality and we are still paying for that mistake. Reason is as much a gift of God as whatever we believe “revelation” to be. As you say, until Adventism humbles itself we will be irrelevant to the world at large.

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If this statement is true, we know why religions and social activism have failed, and will continue to do so, in their efforts to recreate The Garden of Eden on this planet.

That is, both of these schools of thought must do that which they cannot and must not do, lest they alienate those who are attracted to their institutions and organizations on the grounds that they supposedly provide answers to everything.

Well one answer, actually.

To all questions, religion and the SJW’s response is “Everyone must have more religion and engage in ever increasing levels of social justice activism.” Thus ensuring that no one rests comfortably in his autonomous knowledge of his creator, or ever considers the possibility that the powers that create the cosmos have things well in hand. Instead, everyone can and must be engaged in the fanatic and frenetic efforts to make heaven a place on earth.

IOW, god forbid that anyone find any time to have fun in just being alive or thoroughly enjoying his personal experiences with his maker as according to religion and the activists, god is virtually and effectively impotent and supposedly has left humanity with an innumerable array of religious things undone, many philosophical wars yet to be won, and countless social injustices which he-, she- or it-self seems unwilling or incapable of adjudicating.

I read only the first section before the author went over the denominations doctrines., that is, his discussion of Tillich’s ideas.

Interesting and difficult discussion, and much that I would agree with on autonomy and Heteronomy. But I did not hear mention of the sinful nature. We cannot rely on even our reason for it is tainted corrupted. As the hymn says, we are prone to wander.

If your own thinking iis the basis for truth, you will surely be led astray! Yes, reason is necessary, but without revelation, there is no real foundation.

The thread will close soon, so there is no time for discussion, but to think that the SDA doctrines are a problem is to not see the depth of their answer to the various problems of life. They are not shallowly developed ideas.

The wonder of the creation speaks to our minds. I have been studying photosynthesis and I am utterly astonished. The plants actually burn water! It is one of the fuels they use to get H+ ions for the creation of ATP. They rob O2 of its H2! It could not have come about by evolution. Utterly and frankly impossible. It had to be created, designed. That is a piece of evidence, a fact. It goes against the science of the present age. Who is correct on this?

Among all the posts this is the one I smiled about. Not have fun? Why our bodies are made for pleasure. Who had that idea? I enjoyed an absolutely wonderful evening yesterday sitting on the patio in the cool of the twilight admiring the beauty of the trees and the play of light in their branches… And earlier I had a delicious cantaloupe. And i worked in the garden enjoying creating beauty. And you know I am one of those rigid fundamentalists who are always trying to make sure no one has any fun.

And besides that, God gives me purpose. A mission, not to burden me with guilt, but to allow me to take part in the salvation of the world. What a privilege! And it is a joy to do so.

I think the studies show that the daughters of strict fathers have the most sexual pleasure. Just saying…


Just too bad he didn’t give you something tangible-tablets of stone, a gospel written by Jesus, an email from EGW, e.g.-to show people that he left the job of saving the world to you and your fundamentalist ilk.

But then again, that seems like something an omnipotent god could and would want to do himself.

Dude, you’re killing me with the comedic comments again, but I wouldn’t touch this one even with your quirky sense of humor.

It’ll suffice for me to say that it seems just a tad TMI for a dad to worry or care about such things?!?!

So again, no thanks.

I’m not going to emulate your strict fundamentalism on the off chance that there’s a causal connection between my refusal to take the Bible literally and my daughter’s sex life!!!


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