On November 28, 2010, Dr. A Graham Maxwell passed away. Maxwell was a minister, teacher, mentor and friend whose emphasis on God's love had a profound impact throughout the Adventist community and beyond.
Physicians Dorothee and Brad Cole, who maintain the website GodsCharacter.com share some of the ways they have seen and experienced the influence of Dr. Maxwell's ministry. Their reflections are reposted below by permission.
More than any other individual, Dr. A Graham Maxwell was responsible for introducing us to God for the first time. Of course, both of us grew up in a loving Christian home. We sang the usual songs in church. We read the Bible. We took some theology classes in high school and college. But Graham Maxwell was the person that introduced us to God as Jesus revealed him to be, and it seemed to both of us as if we were meeting God for the first time.
Prior to Dr. Maxwell, we saw God mainly in terms of his power, holiness, and glory. Jesus was the one who paid the price, our "friend in court" and the one who plead with the Father for our salvation. But after Graham Maxwell, we recognized that Jesus and the Father are united in their love for us, the Father himself taking on the unthinkable qualities of humility, kindness, and self-sacrificial love. The Father has become our friend as well.
It would be difficult to even scratch the surface of the things we learned from Dr. Maxwell but here are just a few of the most significant nuggets:
- We're immersed in a cosmic conflict over the trustworthiness of God. Not merely a "great controversy" between good and evil in a general sense but a conflict in which God's enemy has subtly accused him of being a severe, untrustworthy and arbitrary tyrant. Jesus came primarily to answer all of the questions and accusations about God's character. When we internalize this truth about God and begin to experience a love and trust relationship with him, we have eternal life which is to know God.
- God is the not the executioner in the final end of sin and sinners. Sin is intrinsically self-destructive and punishing. Jesus revealed this at the Cross when he, though sinless, experienced a sense of God-forsakeness---the consequence of rebellion. Physicians do not torture to death their patients who smoke and then suffer with lung cancer. Cancer kills, not doctors. Likewise, God does not need to impose a painful penalty on his dying children. Sin itself pays the wage. Like a physician, God is a healer, not a punisher. The real question is whether or not we will put our trust in our heavenly Physician and allow him to heal us.
- The separation between us and God is not primarily a legal problem but a relational problem that is rooted in our own distrust of God. Jesus came to restore our trust in God's goodness, trustworthiness and faithfulness and to expose and defeat Satan, "the ruler of this world."
- Our understanding of "truth" is progressive and must continually transform and grow. The anchor for all of our understanding of truth is Jesus' revelation of God.
- The cornerstone of God's kingdom is freedom. Love cannot be forced; it can only be freely given. In the end, God will not use coercion but he will leave us free to join him in his kingdom or to go our own rebellious way.
Much, much more should be said about Dr. Maxwell's theological contributions, but on a personal level, it is difficult to imagine a more gracious and kind individual. Even though Dr. Graham Maxwell received the highest degree of training in the biblical languages, he never flaunted his knowledge. Laypeople frequently asked him questions and his response was a gentle, "How have you put it together yourself?" Then he would engage in a friendly discussion rather than to simply blurt out his own answer. He showed genuine interest in the individual rather than making sure he was the winner in the exchange. Occasionally, Dr. Maxwell was personally attacked for his views, yet we never heard him respond with anger or resentment. Typically he tried to diffuse the situation with great tact, humor, a story, and then slowly unfold a very gracious response that was careful not to humiliate the aggressive individual. In other words, Dr. Maxwell was the very embodiment of the God he believed in.
Dr. Maxwell was a Seventh-day Adventist but his message was for all Christians, all people. It has been exciting to discover a growing number of individuals outside of the Adventist church who are proclaiming a message about God's character as revealed by Jesus and a "cosmic conflict theology" that is remarkably similar to Dr. Maxwell's.
Last year, noted biblical scholar Richard B. Hays, author of one of the 100 most influential Christian books of the last century, gave a talk on the book of Romans and stated: "Many people have misread the book of Romans as a book that explains how we can legally get to heaven. This interpretation, however, misses the central question that Paul is answering in this book, and that central question is this: 'Can God be Trusted?'" If there was a single book in the Bible that Dr. Maxwell dedicated his attention to, it was the book of Romans and he had come to the same conclusion as Dr. Hays at least 30-40 years earlier.
Over the last 10-15 years, bestselling author Greg Boyd has written extensively about God's character and kingdom as revealed by Jesus and about the cosmic conflict between God and Satan that involved our planet when Adam and Eve were deceived about God's character. Like Richard B. Hays, Greg Boyd has never read a Graham Maxwell book or listened to one of his Bible studies. Yet so much of his message is in harmony with Dr. Maxwell's that it almost seems as if there was some collaboration--as if the work of the Holy Spirit.
The point is to say that Graham Maxwell preached this message about God for decades primarily to Seventh-day Adventists. It seems to us that this truth about God which has unquestionably touched the lives of many in our church, has sparked much enthusiasm recently outside of our church family. Perhaps Graham's death could mark a rebirth of interest in the cosmic conflict over God's character within Adventism and give us a relevant message for today's hurting world.
Our prayer is that the truth about God's character--a God who entered the womb of one of his own creatures, lived the life of a servant, washed the feet of his betrayer and died the death of a criminal--will become brighter and brighter and that more and more individuals throughout the world will say it and especially live it with greater clarity than ever before. Rest in peace, Dr. Maxwell. We look forward to seeing you again very soon.
To watch Dr. Maxwell "in action," his 20 Conversations about God which were recorded in 1984 are fantastic:
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/2799