Reflections on My Time at Avondale under Des Ford


(Spectrumbot) #1

In my view, Des Ford was the star performer at Avondale, the one man who attempted to rescue us from the terror of shut doors, secret Investigative Judgments, and the world’s end. Des was an ice-cool bloke in his forties with a genius for phrasing. Positive thinking cascaded out of him in waves. Des influenced our collective imaginations. His vision was as fresh as Adam’s on the first day. His short, exegetical studies were like mind-altering crystals, each one a miniature masterpiece of the sub-conscious, a hedge maze that toyed with our apocalyptic fantasies. He could summarise a thousand years of theological thought in fifteen minutes. His words could undo words. Nobody could arrange the twenty-six letters of the alphabet like Des.

Des had a reputation for being productive — one of those scholars who didn't misuse a second of his God-given time. You could see dedication and purpose in his every step. His life was suffused with higher-order excellence. Where the rest of us heard a full-bodied, triumphant affirmation of Adventist prophecy, he sensed a void behind the boisterous positivity. His focus was on Christ’s death and resurrection. In his view, Adventists had overlooked the focal point of scripture as articulated by Luther, Wesley, Calvin, and Zwingli and the big-ticket preachers of the nineteenth century such as Charles Spurgeon. To my way of thinking, he was the most morally dignified and inspiring lecturer of the time.

Des worked the students with overpowering energy and unimpeachable knowledge. He was a kind of divine intervention. Students lionised him. He stood at the centre of an experiment in “Righteousness by Faith.” He broke through the harsh and unyielding constraints of a culture of earning salvation through merit. His emphasis led to the flowering of a spiritual renaissance at the College. The success of his message cannot be grasped without a full sense of the ingrained, fear-driven, stifling forces intended to prevent such an emergence from happening. His presentations made the labours of the overweening Church administrators seem dawdling, nerveless. His every word was a challenge to their excesses. What Des revealed to me was more significant than any signs that the end of the world was imminent or that I faced the terrifying prospect of a final judgment.

We work from the Judgment, not to it, he would say. There is an eschatological judgment, but its purpose is to ratify the decision I made when I heard the Gospel. Great news for a self-loathing acrobat imprisoned in a coffin with the gnawing rat of guilt. Until this moment, I’d been living with a self that couldn’t be forgiven. I couldn’t imagine forgiveness. Even with my life-changing appearances I was, at my core, legalistic and sterile.

Des Ford’s words enveloped me like a meteor shower of amazing grace — split my reality wide open. What more perfect a redemption could I have designed? My world flamed into life. I walked home from his classes in a trance. I’d been hit by a cosmic ejaculation, beheld another universe, become another man — no longer under the Commandments as a “method” of salvation. From that moment on, Des occupied a sort of future tense. He became the reason I hurried to classes. His every word an electrifying Morse code vibrating in my psyche.

Students related to him in a mode of anticipation. When he preached in the College chapel, he’d have them on side before he’d uttered a word. No Old Testament scare quotes, no Stanley verbiage, no encrusted deposits of cliché, no tuts and clucks. He was a kind of magician who knew his way around a paradox. Provided he was there, no problem was insurmountable. He was an interdisciplinary cosmonaut, a charismatic culture-god and a lodestar for anti-legalists. This kind of hero worship went beyond irony. That Seventh-day Adventism would continue without him was unheard of, but that’s what happened. His detractors tagged him as a Christian anarchist, a proponent of Antinomianism — the belief that there are no moral laws God expects Christians to obey. Not content with that, they ridiculed his public persona, casting him as a false messiah. It seems to have incensed them that his message was becoming part of Adventist culture. For hundreds of us, his departure would seem like a cruel trick of fate. Suffice to say, I’m sure if he was an Adventist today, thousands who left would still be in there. His personality and intelligence shone brighter than that of his contemporaries. In my case, he offered me a vision of the world in which my actions were determined by a greater design.

Des Ford became, over time, the critical conscience at the centre of Adventist scholarship, uniting smaller worlds, I was told, like no one else had ever done. His lectures and sermons resonated like a pistol shot in the middle of evening prayers. He was a rival sovereign, an alternative to the Church’s global hierarchy. One man against the College of Cardinals and yet the balance was in his favour. As a person, he was a mix of epic dignity, brilliance, drive, and decency. He brought a lucid clarity to complicated debates. Whatever subjects he discussed, his comments reflected the benefit of researched evidence. I believe that approach supplies the helium that will keep his work in the air for years.

No man ever quite believes in any other man, but I believed in Des.

Dr. W. John Hackwell is a former student from Avondale, a minister in New Zealand and Australia, and a missionary in Papua New Guinea.

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/9473

(Jim Bussau) #2

Hi John,
I was just a teen living in the village Des passes to his real yasrerday.We will miss him. Thoughts and prayers for his close family,but all who were touched by his life will remember him with gratitude and look forward to a reunion in a better land. Thanks Brother. Blessings Jim and Eliz.


(Patrick Travis) #3

Des had the extremely rare gift of good sound theology and an unbelievable ability to communicate it in terms that could reach all levels of hearer ability…didnt he! Loved the bloke!


#4

Thanks, John. We were at Avondale together. While you were here to study theology, I was here to play basketball. I must have been one of Des’s worst students, enjoying Life and Teachings so much that I became a repeat candidate. He impacted us non-theos too.
Sadly, the church ended up treating him the way all great prophets are treated in their day. He asked questions we weren’t supposed to ask, and came up with answers that didn’t sound right in conservative ears.
But his legacy lives on in the lives of former students, in the psyche of the multitudes blessed by his preaching, and in the books and papers he bequeathed to us. For me, the world is an emptier place without him. But he wouldn’t want to be deified. He’d point us to Jesus, whose faithfulness is the source of our hope.
Deepest sympathy to Gill and the family.


#5

David
In July 1980 I was at Andrews University when Des was invited to take a Sabbath afternoon service in the Student Chapel. Speculation was rife. The Glacier View Conference was two or three months away. Expectations among the Australians were high and hot. We would finally know ourselves. Des was greeted at the rostrum by a posse of thirty microphones. The waiting congregation was transfixed. I had forgotten myself. Here stood the figure who would set things right. Des was a culture of one—a singular voice and the medium of many.

His sermon was vintage Des. Each word, a shoulder-fired missile. Each sentence a verbal cannonade. He was a syncretist with bridge-building and time-binding imagination. He stripped away conventional pulpit behaviour with a dignity that was without self-parade. There were no overlapping incantatory phrases. No placebo sentences for the purpose of a breather, no self-advertising—nothing but an endless unspooling of reflection on the Gospel.

His enemies would never get it. He was actually trying to protect Ellen White and give her back her pen. I’m sure no-one in the chapel that day had any idea that his soon-to-be-discussed thesis would become a Bat Signal to his old haters. Or that those of us who supported him were about to get such a shock that we would be left hugging the ropes.

WJH


(Patrick Travis) #6

Good thoughts… but Des was not a theological bridge building syncretist…ever. He was for the gospel of Christ to all peoples of the earth.


#7

Thanks Patrick…I viewed his ‘apotelesmatic principle of prophetic interpretation’ as an attempt at theological bridge building within the denomination. WJH


(Patrick Travis) #8

Great. Sometimes we use nomenclature differently. What’s ultimately important is we have a common understanding of meaning. He was trying to introduce the idea of multiple fulfilments to administrators preoccupied with never leaving the impression Ellen could possibly be mistaken about something or not have an exhaustive understanding of it.


(Ken) #9

Thanks John. I never imagined how well you have expressed yourself. My old running partner from Avondale. He was a giant of a man, a great bloke, an old salt from Caloundra, who was unrecognised by many a passer by. And yet I sense far more than most saw. I was privileged to sit many a time with Des at Shelley Beach and just have a lovely time of reflection with he and Gill. This was Des the man who enjoyed the very ordinary things of life, the simple pleasures not bound by time restraints. And yet the man found time to write all the books, take all the sermons(with 40 hours of preparation for each hour of preaching.) My! he set the bar high for any budding preacher?
I would have to say that we who were at Avondale in those years were the most blessed students on the planet. The speakers who preached and taught us were such dedicated people, used by Christ, in such a manner, that when we finally went out into the world field it was a though we had wings like eagles, proclaiming the Good news about our Saviour Jesus Christ. My own experience took me to polititians, business people, people of influence, ordinary lovely people everywhere.
The legacy of Des’s passing lives on across the globe, and may the harvest reach completion in the coming of Christ.


#10

Yes Ken

Good to hear from you.

Over the past thirty-five years I’ve at times reflected on Glacier View—why it happened, why it mattered, why people were carrying on like shovels and brooms quarrelling.

For a start, it was a paradox in that it took place in the twilight of a golden age of progressive thinking among Adventist scholars and yet the administrators arrived with padlocked minds and the scholars rolled over. Was it vanity on their part? Intransigence? Fear? Did they stone to death one of their own for a simple bonding experience?

As Des engaged informally with the delegates, he would have sensed the force of fellow scholarly feeling. Feeling that brought to light a shared commitment to abandon the 1844 heresy. But the Church’s chalk-mouthed administrators trade upon our capacities to feel solidarity, my friend. So in my view, it was this shared scholarly feeling that the powerful had to erase. And the way to erase it was to kill off the hero.

To put it another way: For Adventism’s perfectionist GV-Men, Ellen White’s 1844 celestial errata had already created gross uncertainty. Allowing Des Ford to set fire to that errata would have multiplied that uncertainty. By immolating him they had unassailable proof that they were true Seventh-day Adventists—the one bit of certainty they craved. It was the sort of behaviour that only tortured fundamentalists are capable of. They eliminated Des thinking they were shoring up the status of their own souls.

I’m no psychic archaeologist but in this sense Glacier View was a bonding experience. It was a piece of cultic demagoguery devised out of malevolence and enacted in hysteria. A stubborn attempt to prevent the Church from foreclosing on the more dubious aspects of its historical memory. But above all, it was a failure of character. It’s as if those golden years didn’t happen.

Ken, all churches try to cut their gods up into portions and discard the bits they don’t like, but it is power not theology that drives the choices they make. The Christian church spent 1500 years arguing over word choices when the issue was power. As you know, the Arian heresy in the Third century was less about whether Jesus was the essence of God than it was about which community would control the words and thus run the show. In the same way, Glacier View was a political power struggle. It was a question of whether an Australian Adam or an American Eve had the rights to the storyline. No imaginative princeling from Down-under could be allowed that right. To acquiesce would have been a sign of weakness.

The Glacier View show trial provided the mullahs with a face to shout against—best way to paste over their own exegetical laziness. Their rebuttal in support of the GC president and his fellow prophets of spite was more than weaponised graffiti though. But to what end? The 1844 Investigative Judgment is as meaningful as an inkblot. It bears no truth—uncanny or otherwise. But there was another wrinkle.

A 1989 issue of Spectrum magazine published papers that revealed that the Church’s grand mufti had for years prior to Glacier View been overseeing a secret, high-voltage committee whose task was to scrutinise Ellen White’s life, and her Investigative Judgment doctrine. This committee concluded that she was a magical historicist, a bulk plagiarist who created and faked visions in order to retain power and that her Investigative Judgement doctrine could not be located in scripture. In other words: the belling owls who suicided Des, attended the Glacier View conference having years earlier concluded that Ellen White was a fraud and that the Investigative Judgment was a heap of cow dung staining the corporate brand. So the question remains: Why did they hump this filthy tonnage to Glacier View only to hide it? If they were in agreement with Des, then why suicide him? In my opinion, this cannot be explained by something as simple as hypocrisy or something as sentimental as a desire to rally around their whitewashed totem. They suicided Des to slow their own pain. Killing him off enabled them to pave-over their scandal. In other words: circumstance thrashed these men. Des Ford’s decency became an unforgivable insult—theological agreement gave way to indignation and fear of facing the people.

Every power rests upon a central secret, and no power can smile to see that secret spilled. But even this does not explain why Des’s obese thesis backfired with those delegates who had no knowledge of the secret meetings. One could argue that it backfired because the Investigative Judgment is a ‘story-telling’ truth, a story-scene in a grand movie-myth, fully entered and experienced in an intensified form. And that no one wished to see their story-telling truth reduced to theological Pointillism.

The Investigative Judgment is a scene inserted in the Adventist storyline to resolve a plot dilemma—like a cornerstone built last. It is the transcendental key to a botched prophetic interpretation, on a par with golden plates—so absurd that the only way to believe it is to keep visualising it. It is shaped by the needs of storytelling, not by traces of truth. And it survives the cutting floor in the same way the empty tomb has survived incalculable attempts to remove it. It cannot be amputated or dissolved in a mystical marriage with other ‘apotelesmatic’ occurrences.

As Karl Jung and his followers have shown, myths are powerful because they use images, not logic. The way to fight myth is with myth. Perhaps Des failed to paint his vision in mythic oils. He chose instead 991 pages of myth-puncturing detail.

Then again, Glacier View was more like a one-question referendum—a Majoritarian device—than it was a church council called to consider theological intricacies. Delegates would have gone there to vote on one question: Who was the goodie and who the scoundrel—Dr Desmond Ford with his double-decker PhDs or Ellen G White whose Estate held the copyright to the original scene. As with all referendums, the majority would have known in advance how they would be voting. That’s why centurions like Tolhurst could pocket the reading assignment cash and go bird-watching rather than read Des’s manuscript.

Glacier View was confusing and corrupt. It was offensive long before the delegates arrived. It will be remembered as the place where Adventism chose Ellen White over the Bible. The crotch-sprung cowboys in charge, took a sweeping, all-in gamble, and in so doing they ensured that Seventh-day Adventism remains a cult, forever dyed in Catholic and Freemasonry colours. (In my opinion, the darkest implication of the Glacier View shame storm is that the Bible and the Christ of the Bible belongs to Ellen White, and by proxy, the Adventist ministry does too.)

The American party diktats, supported by a cohort of Australian bum-sniffers and third-world touts, may have sealed off the argument at Glacier View, but they couldn’t end it. Decades later and it continues to simmer. The smell of that corruption has not been purged.

This lynching of a good man was not funny, Ken. But this controversy will rise again. If it does, and they manage to cull their Investigative Judgment from the story-line, it will be because the challenge will have come from a quarter that is acceptable to the owners of the copyright.

You take care my friend.
John Hackwell
Your old running mate!


Des Ford: The Perils of Being Right
(Harry Allen) #11

Thanks, @WJH.

You said:

In response:

WOW!!!

HA


(Ken) #12

Harry, Dr.W.John Hackwell was a talented man who I ran with early mornings before Des Fords classes.
He was a lovely unassuming guy, was very bright, and went into Ministry like the rest of us. He was tipped out of Ministry by one foolish administrator, and his union president. Years later I was removed from Ministry by another president, because of my friendship with Dr. Desmond Ford. It was an honour to be a friend of such a champion of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. I will never regret being a friend of such a decent fellow.


#13

It’s likely because of the archytypal recurrence of the…

Many, if not most, viable and valid adjustments to the present paradigms of knowledge will face resistance in favor of maintaining the existing and familiar structure.

But, that paradigm shifts after the dominance of the “elder generation” ends with death and the next generations have freedom to re-examine the broader view on the subject.

Even in context of the “reformed Adventism” it’s exceptionally difficult to maintain some coherent model of Biblical literalism without slamming the door on both culture, science, and technology that went on speaking a vastly different language and view reality from reductionist standpoint in which archetypal equivalents are losing meaning if new interpretive layers are not developed and applied.


(Harry Allen) #14

Thanks, @Ken.

You said:

What do you mean? That is, what happened, and how did it proceed?

HA


(Cfowler) #15

First of all, KUDOS to a phenomenal piece of writitng! Holy Cow!!! I agree 100% with everything you stated regarding the IJ/the shenanigans at GV/EGW/the treatment of those who bring truth to light, etc.

I was wondering if you could expound a bit more on this? What committee are you referring to? If you could flesh that out a bit more that would be great. Thanks.


(André Reis) #16

There’s a gem at every turn WJH. Have read this twice and will keep coming for more.

The painful realization for all those interested in this dark chapter of our history is that the GC under TW would do far worse, as the WO debacle has proven.

Thanks for such unparalleled use of the written word.


(Ken) #17

Harry, I know you because of Des and Gill. I was called into the admin office one morning by phone, and within minutes of arriving in the presidents office I was given notice of redundancy with no cause. The excuse from the president was that he could find no place for me after 37 years of faithful ministry. He then offered me the opportunity to appear before the executive committee. When I did at the last meeting of the year, no one spoke of any reason I was dropped from Ministry. I was so liveried that I gave the president a good dressing down for 20 minutes, then excused myself and left. Eventually I found out through rumour all the reasons why-the main one being my overt friendship with Doctor Des.