On Adventist Identity: When Did the Fundamentalism Begin?

I have deeply appreciated recent conversations and reflections on the connection between fundamentalism and Adventism. Widened perspectives help more adequately inform our understanding. Not knowing the time and circumstances of one’s arrival into the world is not conducive to healthy self-identity. The same might be said about a religious community’s theological origins and heritage. The convening of a scholarly conference on Adventist identity at Andrews University this month highlights the relevance of the topic. This article attempts to set out in more detail the case for the assertion that Seventh-day Adventism was “fundamentalist” in its core convictions from its beginnings in the 1840s and ’50s. It is a quest to understand rather than to deconstruct or reconstruct.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/12029
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I wonder how many members have considered the Bible inerrant over the years. Ever since joining at age 17 and attending an academy, I was taught the Bible was not inerrant and that divided us from other Protestant churches. Most Protestant churches were always literalist to my knowledge. The big difference was the existence of hell. If the church followed other fundamentalists, they would have accepted an ongoing hell for sinners as well as immediate entrance to heaven upon death.

EGW seems to follow a path of increased knowledge or “new light” that is difficult for fundamentalists in the church to accept as she doesn’t seem to recognize what that might be in the future.

The writer says belief in a YEC was part of early Adventism. However, I once found in an issue of an old R&H from White’s time an article promoting a YEC (not life) appearing on the other side of an article written by White. I wish I could find that magazine but don’t remember the writer.

I don’t know where and when you first joined Adventism but I was born into Adventism in the middle 50’s and there was never any doubt in my mind that a belief in the inerrancy of scripture, as well of the writings of EGW, was an existential element of the denomination.

Sure, lip service was paid to the concept of Mrs. White being “Bible-lite” but in practice she was quoted as often, if not more than the Bible, particularly if you were looking for a citation with which to beat a fellow Adventist into submission on your preferred opinion or perspective. (I haven’t attended a service for over 45 years but back in those days, it wasn’t uncommon that an SDA would admit that he couldn’t remember which source he was quoting!)

I think I do understand your perspective somewhat, however, as my wife and mother-in-law converted later in life. So they hadn’t received the full SDA treatment and didn’t fully appreciate what was meant when a “true” Adventist intoned the phrase “Sister White says…!”

I tried pulling an EGW quote once on my wife’s mother but she just said, “I don’t believe that.” For my part, I stunned and actually questioned her conversion as I knew doubting Mrs. White was not an option for “real” SDA’s.

:wink:

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In general a belief in the inerrancy of the bible correlates strongly with those who have never actually read the bible in its entirety. Once one knows what’s in the bible, it’s very very difficult, if not impossible, to maintain a belief in inerrancy.

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Reading Seventh-day Adventist writings on thought/word inspiration is like watching toddlers play basketball. There is a lot of flailing and running around but the ball never goes through the hoop.

  1. Linguistics, a subsidiary discipline of hermeneutics, establishes that words (even words written and spoken by God Himself) do not have the capacity of being divinely inspired.
  2. Ellen White is correct that the thoughts, not words, of the biblical authors are divinely inspired. She exhibits a sensitive awareness of linguistics (well ahead of her time and before Ferdinand de Saussure, the Modern Father of Linguistics). But she also erroneously attributes mistakes in the Bible to the frailty of human language, not understanding that the meaning of the text is not what the words, frail or otherwise, say but what the author intends to say (Schleiermacher).
  3. Linguistics drives evangelical inerrantists crazy. See “Modern Linguistics Versus Traditional Hermeneutics” written by Robert L. Thomas.
  4. No SDA theologian to my knowledge has ever demonstrated through his or her writings an understanding of linguistics. But there is hope for the future, as I recently noticed that a class on linguistics (with the help of a guest professor) is being taught at the Seminary at Andrews University.
  5. Linguists (and hermeneutists) are generally united in holding that thoughts and words are two different things. Readers of Gadamer (including Fernando Canale) can be forgiven for thinking otherwise, because Gadamer for a long time was not sufficiently understood, as established by Jean Grondin (the greatest hermeneutist in the world today) in his account of a personal conversation with Gadamer, as set forth in Grondin’s Introduction to Philosophical Hermeneutics. Gadamer told Grondin (to Grondin’s astonishment) that the universal claim of hermeneutics lies in the verbum interius, which means that there is always a lag, a disconnect, between thought and word.
  6. To be rejected is the Apt Word Exception to inerrancy urged by various SDA theologians. An exercise might be helpful. Suppose Ellen White is having trouble finding the right word, so she prays to the Lord and the Lord gives her the word. Does that word have a fixed meaning? No. The meaning of the word is based on the word’s paradigmatic and syntagmatic relations with other words, which themselves do not have fixed meanings. Is the meaning of the word of divine origin? No. It’s conventional. Does the meaning of the word have a natural relation to what it signifies? No, it’s arbitrary. All of this as per Ferdinand de Saussure. What’s the big deal about the word provided by the Lord? The non-specialness of the word provided by the Lord is further illustrated as follows. Suppose Ellen White were to visit the local tavern and ask the bartender, “This is what I am trying to say, so what word should I use here?” and the bartender provides her with a word. Because language is a human construct, the word provided by the bartender would be just as good as the word provided by the Lord. Not everyone who is divinely inspired is a good writer. Paul was a terrible writer, as observed by Peter. But because thoughts and not words are divinely inspired, we look past the writing, skilled or otherwise, and attempt to determine what the biblical author intends to say. That is the hermeneutical endeavor.
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After a year in academy and three years in SDA college I took business-related courses because women were supposed to be secretaries, nurses or teachers. My best Bible teacher was Bill Loveless; but I saw flaws in traditional religion as generally taught. This didn’t bother me. Then I took 4 years of graduate theology at LLU while my nonSDA husband was in dental school. Theology became a big interest. My questions could be answered in part. Dr. Heppenstall had retired there, and I learned the gospel in all its beauty. I learned it’s possible to accept the gospel of Jesus and His righteousness and still keep an open mind. It was there I found the R&H article. I am convinced “conservative” Adventists don’t understand inspiration. And I have known people who quote EGW for answers. In SS or discussions it can be permissible if not taken as infallible but researching her era and why she said it. If this isn’t done she can look foolish to the contemporary mind but not as foolish as the people who don’t consider place, time and words.

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If you go fishing in a boat with no anchor, be prepared for a wild ride.

Not just Adventists, but the rest of the world these days is running to and fro searching for a way to enjoy individual freedoms while disregarding the barriers of ‘fundamental’ social norms, or ‘morals’. Iran’s recurrent problem is Adventism’s recurrent problem. But Adventism has no excuse. Adventism was – yes ‘was’ – once a ‘movement’ led by the future Christ out of Egyptian evils, to Mt. Sinai ‘fundamentals’ where He expressed Himself as both ‘law’ and ‘gospel’, justice and mercy, at-one, at-once. But tragically, as He was telling the Moses-Advent leaders, ‘Let them build me a [portable] sanctuary that I may dwell within them’ (The Christ in Exodus 25:8, and again, ‘The theocracy of God is within you’, in Luke 17:20-21.) the congregation was tempted to worship a type of golden ‘Sabbath’ observance made by human hands, and Christ told Moses to set up a ‘moed’ tent for Him ‘without the camp’, while they remained too long at the foundation of Mt. Sinai as loyal Levi was given the birthrights of the other 11 tribes, before moving on due northward toward the land of Jerusalem-based theocracy, ‘without you’. And of course even Levi finally claimed to have ‘no king [nor god] but Caesar’, as they had Rome crucify their Christ ‘without the gate’ of their Jerusalem-house. . . .

This parallel of the failed Advent movement from fundamentals-to-freedoms, with that of the failed Israelite Exodus ‘out of Egypt’, in heart, has always been unnecessary. To begin with, the Creation Sabbath was made by God for mankind, as Christ repeated to Levites, not as a ‘work’ for human effort to accomplish and take pride in, but as a gift and reminder of human dependence on Creators that always desire to ‘dwell’ and to ‘walk’ in the ‘way’ of the ‘sanctuary’ – the Jerusalem seat of governing human behavior – ‘within you’. ‘Within the camp’, not without. ‘Within the gate’, not without ‘you’.

Now, if Adventists interested in moving from fundamentals to freedoms would actually read the words of ‘historic’ SDAs like A.T. Jones, instead of reading about those words through the words of other anti-historic, anti-fundamental Adventist history scholars, they would be pleasantly surprised to find in those words that over a century ago Christ also gave to Adventists the same invitation that He gave to ancient Israelis [Iran’s enemy] to ‘move’ onward to individual freedom through Himself dwelling, and governing our social behaviors from deep within us . . . which millions of frustrated prisoners of ‘fundamental’-stagnation in Iran are craving even as I type this ! What an irony ! With a stagnated ‘Advent Movement’ still stumbling around, quarreling over words, and stubbing their toes on a rejected corner-foundation stone.

You see, those who study God’s Word of Creation (scientists, not religionists) now know that the e-motivational, behavior governing, social ‘morality’-handling ‘Jerusalem’-Theocracy “center of all human behavior” is the first part of the inner right brain to mature (‘first-fruits’) and so it also handles the visceral organs of Psalm 51’s ‘inner man’ that form before the outer human parts do while in the womb. This right ‘insula’ is also the one place in the human brain where all mind-emotion-body (‘mens, spiritus,corpus’ in bronze on gates of Andrews U.) nerve signals are routed to be processed into actions, or not. It also contains ‘mirror neurons’ (A.T. Jones spent at least one sermon to the GC session of 1895 describing the working of these neurons, a century before they were ‘discovered’) which explain the mysterious birth without physical labor by ‘Jerusalem’ and the ‘born again’ process by beholding the cross-scene that Christ, Himself, tried to explain to a ‘teacher in Israel’-Adventism 2,000 years ago. . . .

This same (right) insula has a written history from 1809 just predating the ‘Deist’, William Miller, finding an empathetic, or ‘personal Savior’, in his Bible after his miraculous escape at the Battle of Plattsburg, during the ‘foundation’ years of the ‘Advent Movement’ . . . now stalled for the past 134 years. But, why stalled ? Has God’s Word of Creation studied by science stalled ? NO ! Why then religion ?

In 2016, a peer-reviewed scientific paper was published identifying the dorsal right Anterior Insular Cortex as being at least ‘a’ ‘cortical gateway’ to ‘loss of volitional behavioral response’ (consciousness itself) in patients undergoing anesthesia. 17 years earlier an Adventist member in good standing and very professional nurse-anesthetist, Ron Wyatt, died of painful gut cancer while also enduring a humiliating published attack from the ‘fundamentalist’ Adventist Standish Twins against his ‘amateur’ archaeological discoveries made at ‘Gordon’s Golgotha’ right where Gordon had left off digging just before ‘1888’ to go and die in a war against a false ‘messiah’, after writing to his friend Sir John Cowell that ‘the Gospel writers go out of their way to mention place of skull’. It has also been discovered by neuroanatomist, Dr. Arthur ‘Bud’ Craig that the right anterior insula is also where physical ‘pain’ registers in the brain, as well as the ‘psychic’ pain of being humiliated and shunned (‘My God ! My God ! Why have you forsaken me ?!’) . . . just as Ron Wyatt was while dying, and still is by ‘his own’, even and as the humiliated Christ-of-the-Cross is by ‘His own’ of Israel, and of Adventism.

There is more.
According to the New York Times science-writer, Sandra Blakeslee, and her son Matthew in their 2007 book, The Body Has A Mind Of Its Own, that same right insula also handles air hunger and empathy. But why should that mater to the Advent Movement, stalled since 1888 ?

During Covid in May 2020, just blocks from the northwest corner of East Lake Street and 4th Avenue South, where a Jesuit ‘Christ the King’ high school now replaces the SDA church that hosted the ‘1888 SDA GC session’, on the edge of the Powderhorn District of Minneapolis (where the Red Sea Miracle, Patterns of Evidence, film-maker Tim Mahoney also grew up and from near where he was just about to release his RSM part II introducing video footage of the Adventist Ron Wyatt to the world, when Covid shut theaters down) . . . George Floyd was murdered by painful ‘air-hunger’ suffocation (same as ‘normal’ crucifixion resulted in) while begging for his ‘Mama!’ and for empathy from his government’s representative ‘police’.

Ellen said of the message of both Christ’s own (as Author and King), and therefore of ‘Our’ ‘Righteousness’ which Waggoner and Jones had barely begun to introduce to self-proud Sabbath-Commandment-Keeping-Fundamentalist Adventist leaders in Minneapolis in 1888 . . . would go to the rest of the world like ‘fire through the stubble’. Instead, 134 years too late, the cry for ‘EMPATHY’ and ‘I CAN’T BREATHE !’, and ‘BLACK LIVES MATTER !’ did so, while the Advent Movement stood by debating with mere words.

This is gold! The Bible as story and narrative that needs to be understood from within its world, cultures, and literarily, is something missing from the general Adventist and fundamentalist Christian landscape. Such a lack is what even helps fuel distortions presented on the threads here. I would say, however, that the scriptures can be viewed in this way as helping to explore Christian, rather than anchor narrowly sectarian SDA faith.

One more addition, the NT calls the word of God either the preached gospel or Jesus himself. This is God’s ultimate transforming word/message to humanity. From this perspective, it is a misnomer to apply this to the scriptures as a whole. Still…

All in all, a welcome invitation!

Frank

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Hugh? …Really? I don’t even know where to begin…because there isn’t really a place here to start.

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Did someone get ratioed?

Folks, I am dismayed at the criticisms, bitterness and down right anger I see here on the Spectrum forum.
Is there no room for laying aside your gripes against the SDA church and EGW.? So what if you feel wronged…I’ve been in the church my whole long life and although I see things I disagree with, I still believe in the MANY voices speaking about the profound love God has for us. Just look around…this planet is in peril. The writers of the Bible and “many others” are telling us about God from each of their perspectives.

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I suppose that’s how you define inerrancy. To expect a document produced by numerous authors, in multiple languages, spanning diverse cultures and contexts to be systematically perfect and cohesive in every nook and cranny is flawed. Yet I know people who’ve lost their faith because they held to such a narrow expectation and discovered conflicts. There are scads of theologians, SDA and other, who have read the Bible in its entirety and hold to a foundation of Biblical inerrancy. How do you suppose they reach this position?

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My preference is to support the view that via multiple experiences, study, prayer, conversation, research time, and so on, the Spirit was “guiding” a process that could not produce perfection in each thought or word. Even. under “direct inspiration” experiences (whatever that means) or experiences of believers seeking God in song and prayer (Psalms), the history of the Yaweh’s people and the Messianic fervor they embraced for the “coming one” resulted in the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. Over hundreds of years of reflection and debate, the relatively nascent Christian community (not without rancor and disagreement) adopted the “Canon” to guide it into the future. Not perfect, but adequate, especially if indeed the Spirit continues to prompt us in prayer, study and fellowship, to do our best to “rightly divide the word of truth.” Why is that not “good news”?

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Cognitive dissonance. And self-interest. When a man’s paycheque, career and social standing depends on him asserting inerrancy, remarkably most will hold that view - at least until the pension vests and they are retired. Then they will often admit to holding a more nuanced view.

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Yes, the planet is in peril. Frustration can be another expression of love.

When the important gospel truths that the SDA church has to impart such as the gift of the Sabbath, that death is an unconscious state and the blessings of healthy living are hindered because some people in the church want to exalt views they cherish such as Last Generation Theology, male headship and a fabricated image of EGW and the church founders, it is frustrating.

There are nice people who do good deeds in many churches in the world, so if there is a church that claims the gift of prophecy then that church needs to humbly supply honest answers for the people who want to learn about that church. Jesus Christ wants His purchase- every person in the world-to be in His kingdom.

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If @phil is correct about words, and we can only ever accept language as literature rather than literal “truth”, isn’t the notion of a “finished” canon, or the belief that the NT is “adequate”, anathema to Christianity?

If nothing else, doesn’t the fluidity of definitions, the difficulty of translation from one language to another or from one person and the knowledge that any nuance or humor would necessarily have been lost in the process, cause doubt and skepticism about the creation of such a document, in the first place?

By all accounts, Jesus had no personal hand in any part of it.

And most people who’ve study the authorship of all of the gospels-17 not 4, BTW-acknowledge that none of the twelve wrote any of them, so is it unreasonable to think that this is as Jesus would have wanted it? That his gospel was always meant to be an endlessly ongoing, nonliterary endeavor?

Yes, Peter supposedly had some things to say which were accepted by the self-proclaimed final editors of the NT, but the Christian interpretation that he supported Paul’s missionary endeavors is merely that, and his letters have led others to come to exactly the opposite conclusion:

https://www.judaismvschristianity.com/chapter-11-did-peter-endorse-paul/

How is this discrepancy even possible if not for the utter inadequacy of words?

And on a somewhat broader scale, is possible to refute the assertion that two millennia of so-called Christians bickering over whose reading of that canon is the correct one could have been avoided if everyone had acknowledged that all of the words about truth are relative and therefore cannot effectively, reliably and adequately convey absolute truth?

But on the widest perspective, isn’t it a fact that much of humanity’s inhumanity toward itself, and it’s demonstrable self hatred, have their roots in these things we call words?

And is it ironic or merely axiomatic that language, which we insist conclusively establishes our superiority over the rest of nature, constantly brings us to the brink of destroying the home that nature has so graciously and gracefully provided for us?

IOW, and rather than proving our truthfulness and wisdom, with our dedication to mere talk haven’t we proved beyond even a hint of doubt that we are the least trustworthy element in god’s creation?

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Whatever may have been EGW’s personal views, many of the so-called “fundamentalist” SDAs have made inerrancy of the EGW writings an article of faith. In some circles they believe that EGW’s writings are synonymous with the “spirit of prophecy”.

In the letters attributed to Paul that make up the “new testament”, the writer doesn’t make claim to inerrancy either. Yet this hasn’t stopped the “sola scriptura” people from claiming Paul’s writings are inerrant.

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Not sure I should be adding fuel to your fire, BUT, you might be interested in reading John Shelby Spong’s Jesus for the Non Religious motivated by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. At least it might convince you of the reality of the man, Jesus. That’s a good start - back to your future.

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If @phil is correct about words, and we can only ever accept language as literature rather than literal “truth”, isn’t the notion of a “finished” canon, or the belief that the NT is “adequate”, anathema to Christianity?
*

If nothing else, doesn’t the fluidity of definitions, the difficulty of translation from one language to another or from one person and the knowledge that any nuance or humor would necessarily have been lost in the process, cause doubt and skepticism about the creation of such a document, in the first place?

By all accounts, Jesus had no personal hand in any part of it.

And most people who’ve study the authorship of all of the gospels-17 not 4, BTW-acknowledge that none of the twelve wrote any of them, so is it unreasonable to think that this is as Jesus would have wanted it? That his gospel was always meant to be an endlessly ongoing, nonliterary endeavor?

Yes, Peter supposedly had some things to say which were accepted by the self-proclaimed final editors of the NT, but the Christian interpretation that he supported Paul’s missionary endeavors is merely that, and his letters have led others to come to exactly the opposite conclusion:

https://www.judaismvschristianity.com/chapter-11-did-peter-endorse-paul/

How is this discrepancy even possible if not for the utter inadequacy of words?

And on a somewhat broader scale, is possible to refute that assertion that two millennia of so-called Christians bickering over whose reading of that canon is the correct one could have been avoided if everyone had acknowledged that all of the words about truth are relative and therefore cannot effectively, reliably and adequately convey absolute truth?

But on the widest perspective, isn’t it a fact that much of humanity’s inhumanity toward itself, and it’s demonstrable self hatred, have their roots in these things we call words?

And is it ironic or merely axiomatic that language, which we insist conclusively establishes our superiority over the rest of nature, constantly brings us to the brink of destroying the home that nature has so graciously and gracefully provided for us?

IOW, and rather than proving our truthfulness and wisdom, with our dedication to mere talk haven’t we proved beyond even a hint of doubt that we are the least trustworthy element in god’s creation?

In addition to Sirge’s recommendation of John Shelby Spong as one who supported the contention that Jesus was an historic figure, I’ll add another scholar, Bart Erhman, who was also recommended by the now deceased Spectrum blogger Elaine Nelson.

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