Pluralism: Educating That We’re Better

In my previous article, Pluralism: The Reality Adventism Can No Longer Ignore, I address the need for the Adventist Church to recognize and engage the diversity of faiths within a pluralistic mindset. Now, I want to highlight one key area in which we are failing to adequately teach our high school students about other faiths.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/11547
5 Likes

For a while now it’s been obvious to me that this is exactly what Adventist education is trying to do, at least at the highest levels. It is not a secret. It is the stated goal. Realizing how SDA education is constructed and what values it intends to teach was the final straw that made me realize that not only was Adventism mistaken in many beliefs and harmful to me personally, it is much more broadly harmful to society–especially the naïve children it attempts to indoctrinate. As I said, this is not a secret. Here are a couple of presentations from Larry Blackmer and Ed Zinke that, I think, lay the strategy out in shockingly plain terms.

Larry Blackmer on the purpose of SDA education and how effective it is at indoctrination: https://2017faithandscience.com/assets/larry_blackmer-stats_of_retention.pptx

Ed Zinke on the overall worldview and epistemology SDA education attempts to teach: https://2017faithandscience.com/assets/ed_zinke1-_the_biblical_worldview.pdf

I hope that these views are outliers among Adventists, and maybe they are. But no matter what most SDAs believe, these regressive, manipulative, and anti-intellectual views are having an outsized influence because these guys have power. So much so that Blackmer recently finished a new biology textbook which will no doubt be the standard curriculum in SDA high schools. This stuff matters, and it’s dangerous. Not to mention the side effect of repelling thinking people from the SDA Church in droves…

While my complaints are largely ethical, there’s also a glaringly obvious theological problem in these views. It should jump out at anyone who bothers to look at them. Both the Bible and God are presupposed to be equivalent to the SDA Church. Zinke says as much about the Bible right up front, and then uses “Biblical” to describe the many SDA-specific views he outlines, as if other Christians do not also base their beliefs on the Bible. You may also recall Mr. Zinke from his recent public statement against critical thinking. These are the folks with influence on SDA education… Blackmer ends his presentation with the slogan “Taught by God, Adventist Education.” A more humble and intellectually honest person might say that religious education aims to teach people about God, but evidently SDA teachers are manifesting God directly in some way… These kinds of over-the-top, arrogant, and exclusive claims are typical of flim-flam men the world over. If someone claims this kind of authority and infallibility… do not trust them. Ever.

10 Likes

I’ve observed that even at the undergraduate level, it matters which teacher teaches a world religions course.

2 Likes

The very heart of Adventism prevents any changes in this regard. Not only does the church tell itself “it’s special”, the theology and the “gospel” it teaches includes the SDA church and teachings as being part of that theology. It has woven itself into the pages of Daniel and Revelation, at least, to the point where specific texts are meaningless to its understanding without that reference. The whole thing needs to be unraveled, and that’s not going to happen.

5 Likes

Agreed, Sirje.
The “Educating That We’re Better” is the whole point of the SDA church. All other Christians are deceived, don’t have all “the truth”, attend church on the wrong day, which will lead to them receiving the MOB and killing Adventists. They don’t eat and drink properly, watch or read the right things, etc. And let’s not forget the all important “we have a prophet”. The list is endless why the SDA church is superior. All of this leads to a smugness and arrogance that is palpable.
Unless they disavow all of the things that are at the foundation, all the things that EGW said, all the things that separate them from Christians, it won’t ever be different. The problematic issues, are what makes them what and who they are. The reason for their existence.

This kind of thinking and hoping for a big change in the way the SDA church views itself and others, is written and spoken about quite often, but what doesn’t seem to be included, is how.

6 Likes

The only way this arrogance gets dealt with is if Ellen White’s function in the church is modified. The title she bears doesn’t come from a voice echoing on the mountain tops. It’s a title men/women have given her. The “gift” of prophesy is not the same as the prophets who spoke for God in the OT. Anyone can prophesy, according to Paul, but the prophets of old had a different function. As I have repeated endlessly, Hebrews tells us Jesus speaks to us now.

We can certainly use Ellen’s writings in a personal way (as church, even) but she shouldn’t be canonized. It bothers me when I can’t remember if some quote is from her or the Bible. That happens less often these days.

7 Likes

I agree that EGW needs to be deconstructed, but so do SDA views of the Bible itself, and the certainty with which they are held. I wish more modern believers could consider the possibility that Biblical authors were humans like us.

Modern seekers do their best to understand God through scripture, experience and tradition. They might be wrong. Ellen White did her best to understand God through scripture, experience and tradition. She might have been wrong. We can say the same of Martin Luther, the author of Matthew, Paul, the prophets, or the many authors of the Pentateuch–these were all people with their own cultural contexts, priorities and perspectives. They do not all agree with each other, and neither do we. We’re all fallible people trying to do our best. We all do interpretation and none of us are immune to biases and mistakes. The Biblical authors are no different. When we realize this we can finally see the Bible for what it is. It unfolds before us into a beautiful mosaic of perspectives, pains and hopes–all of them part of our shared human experience.

6 Likes

Here is what Jesus said:

“Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews (John 4:22)

And elsewhere, it is written:

“Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6)

Nowhere in the Bible do we see Jesus saying: “Let’s go and study/experience the religions of the Samaritans, the Greeks, and the Romans because the Jews don’t have the exclusivity of the truth”.

In fact, Jesus didn’t have any problem saying that people in other religions didn’t know what they were worshiping.

And He didn’t have any problem saying that salvation came from the Jews and through Him only.

If these are not claims of exclusivity and superiority, I don’t know what they are!!!

So, yes, Jesus was saying that there was something better.

The salvation that was of the Jews was better.

Jesus was better.

And if we consider ourselves as followers of Christ we’d better believe it. If not, what do we have to give to the world!!!

Now, is there a danger to see our egos becoming over developed? Sure! It was what happened to the Jews who considered any non Jew as a dog.

But Christians have to understand that it is Jesus who is better… not them. And this is the beauty of the Gospel because “God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

This is THE message that we have to tell the world to give hope to people (along with the message of His resurrection and of His return).

This being said, it is always good to try to know the other cultures and religions of the people around us, above all if we want to serve and minister to them. But let’s not make the mistake to think that Christianity is just a religion with some truths in it among other religions which have some truths in them also.

Nothing is more erroneous.

The followers of Christ have THE truth: Jesus (which, again, doesn’t mean that we are better than anybody else).

Religious diversity is not new. It has always been there. We like to think that diversity is good and generally it is. But in the domain of religion, diversity has another name: Babylon, confusion. And sure, studying other beliefs can be fascinating but it is also dangerous. In a previous article, the author asked: “What would be the difference between reading about a dog or cat compared to getting to play with one?”. Well, playing with a dog can be a very enjoyable experience but we can never forget that there is also the risk of being bitten. The history of Israel as told in Scripture shows us how the people of God were seduced when confronted to a very diverse religious world.

God doesn’t ask us to “experience” other religions (after all, would we want to experience the Church of Satan which is a real church?).

He asked us to come out of Babylon.

Because while we are not better we surely have something better.

2 Likes

@bartwillruth :wink:

I think it’s safe to say that most people like the security of certainty. Some more adventurous enjoy the excitement of discovery, but tradition sits at the base of all our lives. It’s going to be impossible to have the majority up-end their religious foundations through proofs, facts, or logic.

Maybe facts and certainty don’t actually matter as much as what we think. I think the problem is we’re trying to explain everything through the lens we understand, but the Bible writers might as well have lived on another planet when it comes for us to understand all that went into how they thought and expressed themselves.

Maybe we should stick to the over-riding generalities that give us there major points that we can all agree on. As Christians, we have the life and teachings of Christ. How we interpret and include Him in our lives is a very personal matter, and can’t be dictated by scholars or committees.

2 Likes

If you lost your integrity as a Christian, then as you pointed out, this would be a problem. However, if you gave up your fear, you can hold true to Christian faith and see others as worthy enough to be known.

1 Like

If we were to speak with Jesus directly during his ministry in Galilee and asked “what religion are you?” What do you think he would say? As you seem to acknowledge directly above, Jesus was Jewish. Are you Jewish? I suspect you would call yourself a Christian. Maybe you should be Jewish if Jewish salvation is “better.”

The historical Jesus surely participated in Jewish religious practices–practices you, presumably, don’t hold to. In a similar way, someone living during the time of Abraham wouldn’t have called themselves Jewish. They practiced an ancient Canaanite religion that was not anything like 2nd Temple Judaism. Jesus was a monotheist, Abraham was not, and modern Christians worship a triune God–something Jews both then and now call idolatry. These are very significant differences…

My point is that these categories and labels are not static whatsoever. Beliefs evolve and change constantly. We can see this throughout history and in the pages of the Bible itself. In such a context, imagine claiming that you, right now, in this moment, have The Truth. Do you really believe that Christians have some kind of hermeneutical privilege that gives them the ability to correctly interpret the Hebrew scriptures while telling the very people whose ancestors wrote them that they are mistaken and lost? What if Yahweh is correctly revealing himself to them? At the very least, I do not see modern Jews twisting the Hebrew Bible with strained and ad-hoc interpretations. (i.e. “out of Egypt I have called my son,” etc.)

Indeed, I think “hermeneutical privilege” sums up the mindset that I’m trying to undo with this article, (I’m going to borrow the phrase) that we need to see others as worthy even in disagreement. For all faiths have a claim to fame, and yelling ours the loudest does not make us more “right.”

2 Likes

I am a Jew… by adoption.

Don’t forget that Christianity is Jewish even if culturally speaking there has been a divergence.

But my God is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Of course we have a hermeneutical privilege or advantage. We have the teachings of Jesus and He sent the Holy Spirit to teach us all thing.

Your choice of the word “privilege” is right: we are not better than the Jews at understanding things. The only difference is that Christians have accepted the gift of God (at least, in theory), that is, Christ while the Jews have not.

AS for interpretations, Scripture says that spiritual things are spiritually discerned. So even if the Old Testament was written by their ancestors, if the Jews don’t receive the Holy Spirit they will not discern the truth (by the way, the same is true for Christians as well. Without the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth, what can we really understand?).

Are you kidding?

You should hear what some Jewish groups are saying about their leaders.

Also, some twisting of the Bible is needed to say that Messiah is still to come in spite of what the Old Testament says.

Finally, I would like to remind you that the first Christians and the apostles were all Jews. I think they knew also Scripture. And they were with Jesus. So their interpretations were maybe not that strained after all.

1 Like

It is not just a question of fear. It is also a matter of seduction. It is not for nothing that we can find some practices in some Christian churches which have nothing to do with Christ.

It depends on what you mean by worthy.

We are to see other people are worthy. This is why we are supposed to go throughout the world to tell the story of the gospel. And we are supposed to have a spirit of service. Just because we have Jesus doesn’t mean that we are superior and that the other people should be grateful just because we consent to make the “sacrifice” of “preaching” the gospel to them. This bad attitude doesn’t reflect the character of Christ.

But, at the same time, serving and respecting other people doesn’t mean accepting or experiencing their beliefs. We are carnal and susceptible to make the same mistakes as the children of Israel. So we have to be cautious.

We have to respect people and respect people in their beliefs. You are right: it is not about yelling the loudest. It is about loving the people, and knowing them.

But it is also about holding true to the Christian faith and about witnessing of the only truth: Jesus.

May the people see Him in us!

1 Like

And what happens when our claim to truth meets with a Muslim’s claim to truth? Or a Sikh’s? That’s the issue, if you cannot accept another’s beliefs as being valid to their viewpoint, then you are not accepting them as a whole person, which is to love/respect them less.

Seduction comes with a lack of integrity and maturity. More-so, if we turned the conversation around would we be at fault for this evil in our attempts at “seducing” others to Christianity? How can we say it’s morally evil to leave Christianity for another faith but okay for someone to leave their faith for Christianity?

1 Like

This is why the Christian’s truth is not based on claims but on the person of Jesus. HE is Truth.

And being a Christian is not about having a set of doctrines. It is about being like Jesus. Then people will see the difference.

Unfortunately, we, Christians, have oftentimes not lived according our profession of faith along the centuries. We have been followers of Christ in words, not really in deeds. So evangelism has become a game of seduction or a display of force because we have often lacked the true and powerful witness of a real transformation.

So, yes, if our religion is just words then it has no more weight than any other religion in the world.

But if we are really Christlike then we become like a light on a hill that no one can denied.

It depends on what you mean by “accept”.

Any belief, right or wrong, is valid to the person holding that belief. So, if by accepting you mean realizing that fact then there is no problem. We all have our beliefs and our goal in life should not be to go around and meanly trash other people’s beliefs. We have to remember that before meeting Jesus, our conceptions of God or our ideas of religion were oftentimes wrong too.

But our goal as Christians should be to exemplify Jesus and be faithful witnesses of His characters so that other people may see an alternative.

You are right.

Seduction should never be part of our witnessing because seduction is always of the devil.

If we consider Christianity just as a religion among others then, yes, there is a conundrum here.

But if we believe what God said, that there is only one God, and that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, then there is no problem at all. Going from darkness to the light is the right thing to do but going from the light to darkness is definitively a problem.

But again, we have to remember that Jesus is the truth, not us as we are all sinners.

1 Like

Adventist, like every other Christian sect, is focused on Conversion, and as such would see every other sect as a competitor - “if they are converted to xyzism, we lose them.” Instead every sect should be focused on helping others have a closer understandin/relationship with God, however or wherever that might occur. With that mindset all sects become allies, not competitors. Focus on helping the other, not on capturing them (figuratively or literally).

2 Likes

There is nothing wrong with conversion… as long as we remember that it means to give up a life of sins to go back to God.

People don’t belong to denominations but to God. It is very easy to lose sight of that fact and Adventists are not immune to that danger unfortunately.

I don’t even agree with your “as long as…”. It implies that if I sin I am not converted (which is rubbish). This is why I don’t like the word “conversion”. I have an aversion to conversion! The closer our relationship to God, the more we will love like They do. Commandments and laws are for those who don’t understand God’s love. God doesn’t want us to obey laws, They want us to love like they do. If we do that, the rest takes care of itself. The more you love like God, the greater the “presence of good”. Keeping laws is about the absence of malice/evil, not the presence of good.

3 Likes

Are we forgetting that Ellen White lifted more than half of what she wrote from other sources, none of which were Adventists? Forget the plagiarism for a minute and simply focus on the fact that either God spoke to others who were none Adventists, or that we are utilizing material from EGW that was stolen from other religious denominations while positioning ourselves as exclusive and theologically superior to all other denominations, all the while, “our prophet” was using what they wrote. Don’t you see the hypocrisy in this?

And yet, Jesus said “I have other sheep who are not of this flock”… So I say, oh contraire.