By Richard RiceFriday, October 26, 2007Today was the final full day of the QOD Conference, emphasis on “full.” It began with a stirring appeal from John McVay, president of Walla Walla University, based on Paul’s exhortation in Ephesians to Christians to put away all animosity and treat each other with consideration and love. The various presentations and discussions that followed were variously characterized by scholarly impassivity and spiritual fervor, giving the overall atmosphere a rather strange mix of campmeeting, testimony meeting, and academic seminar.
Roy Adams and I had the first two papers on the theology of QOD, and we both addressed the question of Christ’s humanity. Roy wrote his dissertation on M L Andreasen, so he had a lot to offer about the historical and theological backstory of QOD. But we agreed, I think, that in his human nature Christ was not subject to sin either experientially or inherently. Adams detailed the various faux pas of those who prepared QOD—the same problems noted by a number of presenters--and concluded with a critique of “final generation” theology, the view of Andreasen, Douglass and others that the last generation of God’s people on earth will attain an unprecedented level of spiritual excellence, and will thereby demonstrate conclusively that Satan’s charges against God’s character are false. “To bend theology to fit our eschatological goals and objectives,” Adams asserted, “is neither sound nor prudent.”
The other morning papers offered impassioned pleas for opposing views of perfectionism. Colin Standish, Russell’s twin and close collaborator, took emphatic exception to the two problematic elements in QOD, the affirmation of Christ’s sinless humanity, and the notion that the atonement was complete on the cross, rather than continuing with Christ’s ministry as high priest. He too railed against the authors of QOD, describing their work as “a planned attempt to reshape the beliefs of our church.” For Standish, the concept of original sin is particularly objectionable, since it describes sin as a condition rather than an act of transgression.
Woodrow Whidden matched Standish’s rhetorical flair as he talked through his paper on the “enduring theological legacy” of QOD. A historian of SDAm, Whidden finds a great deal of Wesleyan theology in the background of EGW's doctrine of salvation, and he faults “last generation” theology for a failure to appreciate the difference between sanctification and glorification. Sinlessness comes only with the latter, he argues, and not before. For Whidden, “effective forensic justification” and “penal substitutionary atonement” are the key concepts in a valid doctrine of salvation, and last generation theology is a huge mistake.
LeRoy Moore argued that it is possible to pull together competing strands from both groups by affirming the paradoxical nature of truth. In his view, Christ had “a post-fall inheritance” but a “sinless spiritual nature," resisting sin throughout his life by relying on the Holy Spirit. I’m not sure just how these pieces fit together, but I like Moore’s irenic motives and his confidence that we can all get along.
Dave Larson began his remarks with a touching remembrance of his father, the late Ralph Larson, who is well known for his extensive discussion of the issues of the conference, especially his treatment of Christ’s humanity. For his part, David believes the denominational preoccupation with the person of Christ and the question of whether the atonement was or was not completed on the cross are not worth the theological energy SDAs have spent on them. On the one hand, the whole idea of human nature is problematic, as Buddhist views of the ephemeral self indicate. On the other, there are suggestive elements in SDA thought that deserve much more attention, such as Sabbath time, God’s ongoing work of salvation throughout human history, and the affirmation of human freedom, and our concern for “the state of the living.” To those mired in a concern for the precise nature of Christ’s humanity and the precise locus of the atonement, Larson had a strong piece of advice: “Get a life!”
At the close of the day, the deans of the three sponsoring institutions, Andrews, Loma Linda and Oakwood, offered some concluding observations on the conference and its themes, along the lines of where we have been and where we might go from here.
In retrospect, the conference gave me an overload of things to think about. I learned a great deal more about the production of QOD than I ever knew; I heard from people who have been energized by its controversial themes for years, and I still have a hard time understanding why it has attracted so much attention. It is a persistent challenge to me as a theologian to relate issues of such specific denominational dimensions to some of the larger issues in Christian thought. There are other elements in Adventism, and there are certainly other elements in Christianity, that deserve more consideration.
At the same time, I recognize that doctrinal diversity includes not just conceptual differences, but emotional differences, too—for want of a better word. What is a minor matter to one SDA may be an issue of crucial importance to another. Learning to live together requires us to accept different ideas and different personalities, too, and sometimes the latter pose the greater challenge. However, in this supposedly postmodern age, in which beliefs allegedly no longer matter, it was encouraging to me as a theologian to find so many people intensely interested in doctrinal issues. It gives pause to consider the fact that virtually every theological question has been, for someone sometime, a matter of life and death.
One final note. The organizers of the conference deserve enormous credit for pulling it off. They did all they could to plan an interesting program (in the face of widespread suspicion) and to make things run smoothly, from setting an appropriate tone in the first meeting, to providing various ways for us to interact with each other, from group prayer to common meals, and for so efficiently covering all the details that no one thinks about until something goes wrong, like getting us meal tickets and parking permits. Kudos to all of them, Michael Campbell, Jerry Moon, Julius Nam, and their associates. Note enough QOD for you. . .check out the QOD wikipedia page.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/4067