Sigve Tonstad: Making Sense of God in the 21st Century

Sigve Tonstad is a medical doctor and a professor of theology. He is a prolific author whose books have gradually made him well known within the Anglophone Adventist world. When I was an Adventist, he was the one I wished I were, and even now, thirty-five years after our ideological paths diverged, I still strive to emulate the same values and ideals that he represents. What is so refreshing about Sigve (who, like his early mentor Carsten Johnson, is no fan of titles), is that he doesn’t allow concerns about career, prestige and orthodoxy get in the way of his quest for meaning, for trying to make sense of God, mankind and the world. To Sigve, scholarship is a means and not an end. I probably drive him to distraction with my brazen disagreements over ontology and theology and no doubt a number of other ‘ologies,’ but to me, Sigve is a model of what it means to be homo sapiens or, as he might put it, to shoulder the burden of being created in the image of God.

I recently read his book, God of Sense and Traditions of Non-Sense, and asked him to speak to some of the issues that he addresses in it. But first a few introductory questions.

When I came into the church in at the beginning of the 1970s, Adventism was buzzing with enthusiasm. To me, it seemed as if an entire generation of young people, especially in Scandinavia, but also here in the US, was genuinely excited about being Adventists. I don’t see any evidence of that today. Instead, it seems as if the Adventist church, like so much of mainstream Christianity, is in decline both here in the US and in Europe.

What happened?

I agree with your impression. I think there are pockets of enthusiasm today, too, but overall there seems to be a loss of momentum. At the beginning of the 1970s, we had some highly educated, charismatic leaders in Scandinavia, Carsten Johnsen and Jens K. Jensen among them, who took young people seriously and made them feel good and even confident about being Seventh-day Adventists. The ideological and intellectual distinctive may have been different in the US, but Loma Linda University had characters like Jack Provonsha and A. Graham Maxwell who commanded respect and admiration. I remember Insight Magazine and extremely gifted writers like Tom Dybdahl, Jon Dybdahl, Chuck Scriven, Mike Jones, and others. There also seemed to be more bounce in magazines like the Adventist Review and Ministry. If I were to suggest a narrow and incomplete reason for the decline, I would point to the rise of official and independent television ministries and the decline of print media. For the latter, I include books as well as the magazines. I also think that the surviving magazines have less editorial independence—they are more than ever official organs of the administrative arm of the church. Spectrum is an exception. Television may have a place, but it is a superficial medium, far less suited to complex issues that require in-depth studying and careful documentation. In my view, this shift has made Adventism more superficial, more populist, and less interesting.

I have noticed over the years that you have always distinguished clearly between the Adventist Church and the organization appointed to lead it. How do you rate the General Conference on its leadership of the church through the years?

I am a pessimist when it comes to leadership. Lord Acton’s dictum is one reason why. “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” In my view, it is easier (or too easy) for leaders in our type of organization to do harm than to do good. That is to say, the potential for top-level leadership to do good is limited, but the potential for harm is considerable. The good leader is in my view a person who recognizes the limitations of the office, allowing the church to flourish at the levels where the reality of church meets the road: in the local congregation, in the church operated-hospital, and in our schools. The pastor of the local church has by this criterion a greater potential for doing good than the administrator at the top level of the organization. I’ll try to be specific on three counts.

First, the leadership is primarily accountable to the members, not the other way around. This creates a logic that favors local autonomy. The cement or connective tissue of this type of organization is trust. If the top-level leadership signals that it distrusts scholars, for instance, we shall have insecurity, and the scholar’s voice will be subjected to the whims of the administrator.

The previous Roman Catholic pope, Benedict XVI, was the most highly educated pope in the entire history of the Roman Catholic Church and the author of many thoughtful books. The current pope is also highly educated, a man who reads books, if I may put it that way. Whatever opinion you and I may have of the RCC, these men have advanced the interests of that church. In the Seventh-day Adventist organization, I hear rumors that we are about to add “education” to our list of Fundamental Beliefs—and this at a time when scholars and scholarship do not feel secure and may even feel threatened.

Second, given what the Seventh-day Adventist Church has become, I have the impression that top-level leaders feel more at home in the context of 3ABN or ASI than at the Theological Seminary at Andrews University or with the organ transplant program at Loma Linda University Medical Center. I think there is a communal correlation for this impression. The people at 3ABN are close to the denominational leadership and vice versa in ways that the Seminary isn’t. Similarly, the good people of ASI feel seen and heard by church leadership in ways that the highly specialized doctors at LLUMC don’t.

Third, the current issue of women’s ordination is just one example of leadership failure and loss of trust. It was unnecessary to second-guess the convictions of local congregations, pastors, and unions who concluded that the ordination of women was long overdue. Trust could have resolved what theology can’t. Top-level leadership will be rewarded for its lack of trust from the top down with lack of trust from the bottom up.

You started out studying theology, then switched to medicine and then, in your late forties, you returned to theology again, getting a PhD in New Testament from St. Andrews University in Scotland. What led you to do that? And what was it like, as a biblical conservative, to work with professors who approached theology from a much more scientific and critical angle that what you would find in an Adventist university?

At the risk of being misunderstood, I am an interest- and conviction-driven person, not career-driven. My choices do not make sense if they are measured by a professional standard. I went to Middle East College to study theology because of my interest, not because I thought I could work as a pastor. One of my teachers paid me the courtesy of telling me that I did not have the right disposition for a pastor anyway! Then I studied medicine because Carsten Johnsen urged me to do it and because I believed the teacher who told me that I was not pastor material. In Oslo, I nevertheless spent ten good years in pastoral ministry.

My love for the Bible has been a constant ever since high school. I don’t think I ever “switched.” It has only been a matter of proportions. I completed an M.A. in Biblical Studies at Loma Linda University while doing my residency in Internal Medicine. Given that my medical identity is important to me—and perhaps not seen by those who think that I am mostly into theology—I was twice voted Resident of the Year by the teaching faculty at LLU. I am now teaching religion full-time at LLU, but I am about to return to my hospital job in Oslo because of my wife’s job situation. I am grateful for the opportunities I have been given, and medical work is wonderful. I went to Duke University and then to the University of St. Andrews in my late 40s because of a question that would not leave me alone. I had read in a Greek grammar that the faith language in Paul quite likely has been misunderstood—that Paul speaks of “the faithfulness of Jesus Christ” and not just of “faith in Jesus.” It puzzled me that scholars in the Adventist community did not find this distinction interesting.

The second point had to do with the Book of Revelation. I could not bear that this book—inside or outside the Adventist Church—has been the go-to text for a theology of retribution. These two factors motivated me to return to school to find out for myself. St. Andrews treated me very well despite differences in presuppositions. I am probably not mistaken if I claim that the academic standard at Duke or St. Andrews is more rigorous than in Adventist institutions.

I wrote my dissertation on Revelation. My supervisor, Bruce Longenecker, who is now at Baylor University, told me that he will never read Revelation the same way again. He is the reason why I have been entrusted with the task of writing the Revelation volume in the Paideia New Testament Commentary series that is published by Baker Academic.

I have for decades been saying that the riskiest thing a Bible believing Christian could do is to study theology from a scientific point of view. Your faith seems to be just as strong as it has always been, and in your books, you pay scant attention to the issues raised by so-called higher criticism while at the same time being very cognizant of them. Bart Ehrman lost his faith in the world of academics. You did not. How did you—and how do you--approach the faith-challenging aspects of biblical studies?

This is a big and complex question. I am a very flawed person, but the academic study of a subject, whether theology or medicine, has for me only brought benefits. I loved basic science in medicine, and my wife keeps me posted on advances in mechanisms that become more and more fascinating the more there is to know. With regard to the Bible, I prefer to talk about my interest rather than my faith. Even so, meticulous study of Bible texts will in my view not harm anyone’s faith. Quite the contrary, the details will entice and sparkle more than the superficial view from afar. Bart Ehrman’s story is not my story.

Adventists may hold to something quite close to verbal inspiration in practice, but this has never been our theory, and it would be a bad theory if we were to adopt it. I have never believed in verbal inspiration, like Ehrman did. The term ‘higher criticism’ is a term that now mostly shows how badly out of touch the person using the term is. It has little or no explanatory power in practice. New Testament interpretation is a multi-disciplinary task that requires interest in history, original audience, social conditions, rhetoric, allusions to the Old Testament, narrative, and linguistic proficiency. No one ‘model’ is adequate, and no one ‘model’ controls the discipline. Moreover, the text trumps the models. The so-called ‘higher criticism’ has been in decline for decades—its use by church administrators today is a straw man used by people who clearly have not paid attention to what is going on. Let me be specific on two points. First, one of the ‘dedicated’ practitioners of ‘higher criticism’ might be the German New Testament scholar, Rudolf Bultmann, who died almost fifty years ago. There is much to criticize in Bultmann’s work today, but his view of New Testament anthropology is in many ways much closer to an ‘Adventist’ understanding that the view held by evangelicals, whose company many conservative Adventists love to keep. For all its ‘higher criticism,’ Bultmann’s commentary on the Gospel of John is a masterpiece—a standard-setter for the level of immersion to which a top-level scholar might aspire. I don’t agree with a number of his interpretations, but nothing good will be accomplished if some enterprising church administrator were to blacklist Bultmann. Second, academic study of the New Testament has on many points walked back many of the assumptions of the ‘higher critics’ without making method subservient to presuppositions. For me, the Gospel of John is perhaps the greatest example of the shift, this Gospel now the main contender for what Richard Bauckham calls “eyewitness testimony.” Detailed study of this Gospel is one of the things I love to do.

Can you speak a bit about your approach to theology? Would it be wrong to call you a biblical rationalist?

It might be enough to mention three things. First, I am a reader of texts. My discipline—and my skill, if I have one—is to work a text from all angles. I tell the medical students in my classes that just as there can be different explanations for a given set of findings with respect to a patient (it is called ‘differential diagnosis’), there can be different explanations for a text. Nothing is completely self-explanatory. Erich Auerbach’s Mimesis is the best account of what I have in mind on this point. Second, I read, study, and write for personal reasons. The first reader of what I write is myself. I am not satisfied unless the writer (me) somehow manages to make sense to the reader (me). Third, I live in the Age of Genocide, after the Holocaust. This is the setting of my endeavors and my preoccupations. I don’t know about “biblical rationalist,” but I don’t do dialectics, like Karl Barth and others in that generation. I am hopeful on behalf of finding ‘sense.’

You point out that the backdrop to the synoptic Gospels is the anticipated apocalypse, the Day of the Lord when God’s messiah will re-establish the kingship of God on earth. To prepare people for the coming kingdom, Jesus urged his contemporaries to embrace the deeper ethics of their faith, warning them that theology is a poor substitute for values. In your book, God of Sense and Traditions of Non-Sense, you write more from the perspective of the Gospel of John (and the SDA pioneers), focusing primarily on the importance of theology, of thinking right about God. Can you expound on that?

I’ll try a short answer. If, as I concede, there is a ‘problem of suffering’ or a ‘problem of evil,’ I am looking for parameters for understanding the problem and for hope. The parameters are for me the biblical story of cosmic conflict. Evil cannot be understood only in terms of what human beings do. Hope, in turn, means that suffering must end. This leads to the biggest problem in the theological tradition because it does not promise an end to suffering. Indeed, at its most radical the tradition holds that most people who lived short and trying lives in this world will be subjected to torture throughout eternity. To understand this is impossible, of course, which is why I refer to it as Traditions of Non-Sense. “Right thinking about God,” as you put it, is everything but very hard to do. Many of the chapters in God of Sense aspire to show what “right thinking” might look like. The message of the Gospel of John is in that context a huge and shocking corrective to “wrong thinking.”

The way I read your book, God of Sense, it is essentially an attempt to demonstrate that Origen of Alexandria was correct when he argued that the Bible offers “a coherent account of evil, both how it first came to exist and how it is being destroyed.” Origen is often dismissed as a purveyor of allegories and universalism, but you see in him a profoundly insightful theologian. What is it about Origin that fascinates you?

I had not thought much about Origen until I read Elaine Pagels’ book The Origin of Satan while studying in Scotland. Her view of Satan aside, she refers extensively to Origen’s view of the cosmic conflict in such books as First Principles and Contra Celsum. Origen (185-254 AD) was an extremely learned man who might be seen as the C. S. Lewis of his time. His output was prolific. Origen’s scriptural armamentarium for the story of cosmic conflict is virtually identical to what Seventh-day Adventists find in the writings of Ellen G. White. Many Adventists don’t know this, and I would be surprised to find a single administrator who knows it (I say this given that administrators seem eager to hold scholars in check). Here are three points for which Origen should be a person of interest. (1) His apology for the story of cosmic conflict—showing an approach to theology that is narratival, not doctrinal. (2) His understanding of freedom and repudiation of coercion. ‘Repudiation of coercion’ is an oxymoron because coercion was anathema to him and to the early Christians. All this changed with Augustine. (3) His tendency to see salvation in medical terms. Human beings need healing, and most of all healing of their misperception of God.

In the Jewish community, the Holocaust is the incarnation of evil. Among Christians it seems to be more of a footnote in the long history of human suffering. You are the only Christian theologian I know of who is preoccupied with the Holocaust. What is it about this bit of history that speaks louder to you than to most, if not all, of your colleagues? And as follow-up question, what is it about the current political situation both in Europe and the US that makes you worried that evil on that scale could once again manifest itself?

The Holocaust happened—that is why. I know that as a Seventh-day Adventist I am supposed to be interested in what happened in heaven in 1844, and I have taken an interest in that in the course of my life. More and more, however, my interest has gravitated to what happened on earth in 1944. I am not interested in the Holocaust for reasons of agenda, obligation, or anything else. More than forty years ago, I read Elie Wiesel’s Night, on the plane from Rome to Amsterdam. Like Francois Mauriac, who wrote the foreword in my version of the book, I broke down and wept. Since then, I have read many Holocaust books, two more during this quarter of teaching God and Human Suffering at LLU. And yes, I have many times broken down and wept. This preoccupation is inevitable. I don’t want these voices to speak in vain. In God of Sense I make it show by saying that the Holocaust is both an obligation and an opportunity. Hitler’s political brand dealt in resentment and in the creation of an unwanted ‘other.’ Nothing in Nazism is more significant than this. As for the current situation in Europe and the US, any politician that stirs up anger and resentment should be seen as a dangerous person. Such unattractive and potentially dangerous people are now voted into office, and Seventh-day Adventists are voting for them.

You argue that the God of the Bible is not a transcendent Greek deity who must forever remain an enigma to humans. God, you say, wants people to rise up and state their case, like Job did, and demand that God provide them with an understanding of the framing narrative of human existence, especially the nature of evil and why we suffer. And with Origen, you argue that God already has done so in the Bible. If so, why is that the majority of Christians can’t find these answers in the scriptures and conclude that “sense” is beyond reach.

If the goal is a causal account of evil, ‘sense’ is certainly out of reach. This applies to me, too. In fact, it is important to realize that we can’t have, don’t seek, and don’t want a causal account. But the majority of Christians are hostage to a flawed and even terrible theological tradition. In the Augustinian version, this tradition has two main elements, predestination and eternal punishment. The former means that the decision for heaven or hell is arbitrary and not in our hands. The latter means that I may end up suffering eternal punishment for a decision that I am powerless to change. Augustine argues that God is just to everyone, the punishment included, but God is merciful only to a few. It is not for us to understand this. This is why understanding is not on offer in the Christian tradition. I take issue with this tradition, as you can tell. Today, the problem of understanding is less likely to be in relation to predestination or eternal punishment. Perhaps it is the Holocaust. Perhaps it is the suffering of children, as it is for Ivan in The Brothers Karamazov. The theological tradition casts a shadow over these questions, too, because it has compromised the resources with which to talk about evil, and it has mostly been interested in personal salvation. This is also true for the Adventist community.

Aage Rendalen is a retired foreign language teacher who has served the Richmond Public School system in Virginia and is a frequent participant in conversations on

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

Aage Rendalen always delivers.

I enjoy nothing like a thought-provoking, lucid piece that, as I read it, makes me grapple with how uneducated I am.

(Had never heard of Auerbach or Mimesis. Had heard of Origen, but Tonstad’s argument, that his “scriptural armamentarium for the story of cosmic conflict is virtually identical to what Seventh-day Adventists find in the writings of Ellen G. White,” as well as his other qualities, makes me want to know more.)

My favorite quote, especially the first six words:



Sigve I really appreciated this discussion. I have felt for a long time that the best years of the Church are behind us on so many levels. I joined the Adventist church in the 1970s because I found that the Church had many interesting thought leaders, and had much to say about the character of God and the separation of Church and State (These are areas that I am very interested in). We have lost a lot when it comes to having something significant to say to those outside of the Church. Furthermore, I have been asking myself this question: “How has our Church allowed itself become like so many evangelical churches in how we talk about God or even allowing ourselves to fall into the trap of seeing the Bible as inerrant and verbally inspired.” I see what you have described in our churches when it comes to how we read the Scriptures. Frankly, I am bothered by the current state of the Church. It feels like it has become a place that no longer reflects the best of our faith tradition. Furthermore, I believe that serious inquiry of thought and reflection is discouraged . If we could open our minds to such things as the Holocaust (1944) and what it means in our current state of affairs, I think we would be more thoughtful in how we vote, and the causes we support (You have now challenged me to read Elle Wiesel’s book that you referenced). We have become a Church more bent on preserving a mythological picture of what Adventism is perceived to be rather than what it can become and aspire to be. And for that, it makes me very sad. People like you give me hope. I am looking forward to reading your new book (By the way, I met you when you came to Durham during your time at Duke University. I was a member of the Five Oaks church at the time. I agree with you that Duke University and St. Andrews are far more academic and rigorous theological institutions by far than Andrews University Seminary). Once again thank you for this interview. It is spot on.


Thank you for this rich and insightful interview.


AThank you Doctor Tonstad,
Being South African born, the Holocaust resonates with me!
It is an enormous impediment for me in trying to make sense of God.
Because South Africa was one of only three countries on the planet, which admitted desperate Jews, fleeing pre-Nazi Europe.

My high school class and my medical school class were sixty per cent Jewish, and most of my dearest friends remain Jewish to this day

EGW would have us believe, in her Great Controversy discourse, that “the universe” needs to be convinced of Satan’s evil before God can be “vindicated” and Christ can come.

Are God’s entourage of Angels and denizens of “unfallen worlds” so obtuse, so out of touch, that an atrocity of the magnitude of the Holocaust would leave them unmoved, aloof, dry eyed, in the face of such enormous depravity?

Subsequent genocides, the Bosnian, Pol Pot, Rwandan, and now the ongoing one in South Sudan, and the Syrian civil war, raise serious questions as to why God, if truly merciful, would not EXPEDITE the Second Coming, so as to stop the CARNAGE!

Or is his “vindication” his paramount objective, even if it ensures extreme human suffering?

The genocides in the Old Testament, ordained by God, were so brutal, with even innocent babes in arms, and the innocent animals (flocks and herds) being butchered.

Could it be that those distant God ordained killings were designed to inure, harden the hearts of “the universe” to all subsequent atrocities?

Turning on the evening PBS NEWSHOUR with its catalogue of continuous calamities, creates a credibility concern:
Is God more consumed with his own “vindication” than the well being of humanity?


Thanks Aage for a most enlightening interview! Sigve has contributed much to my ongoing theological thought. He certainly deserves his place in the pantheon of Adventist scholars. His thoughtfulness concerning cosmic conflict as the “orienting concern” of the Scriptures (a term I have borrowed from Randy Maddox) has set my mind buzzing for many years now.

His latest book is certainly no less helpful in this regard!

Something that has not been mentioned in the above interview is the way that Tonstad starts his Scriptural search to identify the two opposing theological streams in the Book of Job! It certainly helped to put that ancient work on my mental radar.

In summary, Tonstad agues that Job’s friends, and in particular Elihu like a horde of theological greats forever after such as Augustine, Luther and Barth, maintain that God is wholly inscrutible, incomprehensible and unaccountable to humanity. Equally, humans were incapable of questioning divine logic. Job, representing the opposing theological stream maintained that God was not inscrutible, incomprehensible or unaccountable to humanity. And God’s modus operandi doesn’t wholly overwhelm human reason. In fact, God is even more willing to make his ways known to humanity than we are to ask for him to do so. And the very fact that the Book of Job finishes with God doing just that is proof of who is correct!

Several weeks ago, in honor of Job our Sabbath School sang the Sheperd’s Psalm. God, as opposed to the Deceiver, certainly did spread a table before Job in the presence of his enemies. After his frightening ordeal Job was “restored again” with twice as much as he had before it all happened. Yes, God did tell Job to cool it, and Job repented of his folly.

Praise God for such godly scholars as Sigve Tonstad.

Last year, my wife and I visited St Andrews and stood before the locked gate of the Faculty of Divinity, pausing to remember several of the Adventist luminaries that had passed through those very gates, and live to tell of wonderful things!

Thanks Aaage @aage_rendalen for another great contribution to our intellectual/spiritual growth. Your questions and the answers provided by Dr. Tonstad are uplifting and encouraging.

True Adventism is represented by sane, knowledgeable, and balanced theologians like him. A much needed kind of intellectual leaders in a time when so many heresies are invading the Church and the top leadership is completely confused and disoriented - while inebriated with spiritual arrogance!


I’m not exactly sure why we’re so perplexed about the state of affairs in the world today. It seems that we have been swept into the political arena, along with the evangelicals, though on the opposite ends of the spectrum. A generation ago, it wasn’t recommended to become politically involved. Today, we seem to think we have the power to change something by our vote; and have become apoplectic at the results of the election.

Christian persecution is certainly part of the last-day scenario.; and it’s been my understanding that Christ’s followers can expect the same treatment Christ got - though, not necessarily being chased into the hills by papal guards, as the Adventist prediction goes. Separation of church and state has always been the hallmark of the Adventist politic stance, and rightly so, I think.

Human nature hasn’t changed since the holocaust. World history is filled with holocausts; and it’s likely there is more of them to come. Political platforms are not going to prevent them.

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“I had read in a Greek grammar that the faith language in Paul quite likely has been misunderstood—that Paul speaks of “the faithfulness of Jesus Christ” and not just of “faith in Jesus.” It puzzled me that scholars in the Adventist community did not find this distinction interesting.” ~ Sigve Tonstad
(my italics)

Actually, there once was a scholar in the SDA community that found ‘this distinction’ (or enlarged relationship) between ‘fidelity of’, and ‘faith in’, regarding Jesus, to be very essential . . . and I just read his words on that topic to my wife yesterday morning.

Here’s a sample:

"So then as the first Adam was We, the second Adam is We.
In all points He is as weak as are we.
Read two texts:
He says of us, "Without me ye can do nothing."
Of Himself He says: “Of mine own self I can do nothing.”
{February 21, 1895 ATJ, GCB 269.7}

These two texts are all we want now. They tell the whole story. To be without Christ is to be without God, and there the man can do nothing. He is utterly helpless of himself and in himself. That is where the man is who is without God. Jesus Christ says: “Of mine own self I can do nothing.” Then that shows that the Lord Jesus put Himself in this world, in the flesh, in His human nature, precisely where the man is in this world who is without God. He put Himself precisely where lost man is. He left out His divine self and became we. And there, helpless as we are without God, He ran the risk of getting back to where God is and bringing us with him. It was a fearful risk, but, glory to God, He won. The thing was accomplished, and in Him we are saved. {February 21, 1895 ATJ, GCB 269.8}

When He stood where we are, He said, “I will put my trust in Him” and that trust was never disappointed. In response to that trust the Father dwelt in Him and with Him and kept Him from sinning. Who was He? We. And thus the Lord Jesus has brought to every man in this world divine faith. That is the faith of the Lord Jesus. That is saving faith. Faith is not something that comes from ourselves with which we believe upon Him, but it is that something with which He believed–the faith which He exercised, which He brings to us, and which becomes ours and works in us–the gift of God. That is what the word means, “Here are they that keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus.” They keep the faith of Jesus because it is that divine faith which Jesus exercised Himself.
{February 21, 1895 ATJ, GCB 270.1}

He being we brought to us that divine faith which saves the soul–that divine faith by which we can say with Him, “I will put my trust in Him.” And in so putting our trust in Him, that trust today will never be disappointed anymore than it was then. God responded then to the trust and dwelt with Him. God will respond today to that trust in us and will dwell with us.
{February 21, 1895 ATJ, GCB 270.2}

God dwelt with Him and He was ourselves. Therefore His name is Emmanuel, God with us. Not God with Him. God was with Him before the world was; He could have remained there and not come here at all and still God could have remained with Him and His name could have been God with Him. He could have come into this world as He was in heaven and His name could still have been God with Him. But that never could have been God with us. But what we needed was God with us. God with Him does not help us, unless He is we. But that is the blessedness of it. He who was one of God became one of us; He who was God became we, in order that God with Him should be God with us. O, that is His name! That is His name! Rejoice in that name forevermore–God with us!
{February 21, 1895 ATJ, GCB 270.3}

. . . So, actually, the Biblical ‘faith’ that the Jewish ex-Pharisee Paul understood was probably more like the Hebrew 'emuwn, than the Greek pistis. Strongs lists the O.T. Hebrew noun 'emuwn and its root verb aman as being translated ‘faithful’ 23 times, while the N.T. Greek noun pistis is only translated ‘fidelity’ once. Surely Paul was more familiar with the expanded, Hebrew meaning of ‘faith’.

In any event, as the Adventist scholar Alonzo Trevier Jones points out, above, ultimately even the Biblical ‘fidelity of Jesus’ originated from the ‘fidelity of the Father’. Just as faith in Jesus is faith in the Father who dwelt ‘in’ Him, as They wish to dwell ‘in’ each human once again. And, you can’t get more ‘in’ than ‘character’, or ‘motive’ of the ‘heart’ as represented by the mobile ‘ark’ and its pure gold cover, once housed in the ‘most holy place’ of God’s ‘dwelling’ in old Jerusalem, and ‘within’ which was ‘thy law’. . . a ‘transcript’, in stone, of the Father’s own motives, own character.
As Ellen confirms:

“It is the motive that gives character to our acts, stamping them with ignominy or with high moral worth.” DA 615

That ‘high moral worth’ is derived from the ‘gold tried in the fire’ – or 100% pure gold – that Ellen describes as being offered by the Heavenly Merchant, Jesus, in the Laodicean Message, for free:

"The Lord says, “Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked: I counsel thee to buy of Me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see.” Revelation 3:17, 18. The gold tried in the fire is faith that works by love. Only this can bring us into harmony with God. We may be active, we may do much work; but without love, such love as dwelt in the heart of Christ, we can never be numbered with the family of heaven.
{COL 158.2}

No man can of himself understand his errors. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” Jeremiah 17:9. The lips may express a poverty of soul that the heart does not acknowledge. While speaking to God of poverty of spirit, the heart may be swelling with the conceit of its own superior humility and exalted righteousness. In one way only can a true knowledge of self be obtained. We must behold Christ. It is ignorance of Him that makes men so uplifted in their own righteousness. When we contemplate His purity and excellence, we shall see our own weakness and poverty and defects as they really are. We shall see ourselves lost and hopeless, clad in garments of self-righteousness, like every other sinner. We shall see that if we are ever saved, it will not be through our own goodness, but through God’s infinite grace.
{COL 159.1}

The prayer of the publican was heard because it showed dependence reaching forth to lay hold upon Omnipotence. Self to the publican appeared nothing but shame. Thus it must be seen by all who seek God. By faith–faith that renounces all self-trust–the needy suppliant is to lay hold upon infinite power. {COL 159.2}

“For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love.” ~ Paul, Galatians 5:6

The first ‘Adam’ broke faith with the Father in the ‘heart’ of his mind – even while in perfect ‘DNA’ flesh – and hid from His Friendly Face.

The Second ‘Adam’ – Jesus – kept faith with the Father – ‘circumcising’ away His imperfect ‘DNA’ flesh from any consideration in His ‘heart’ – and sought the Father’s Faithful ‘Aman’ Face, even when that Friendly Face hid from Him, and His own people tortured Him, as He begged His Father to ‘Forgive them’ . . . .

Now, that’s the ‘fidelity of Jesus’. . . Like Father, like Son.


For the last 15 or so years I have been fascinated by the new discoveries being made by brain anatomists and scientists like Arthur ‘Bud’ Craig, who meticulously traced the pathways of ‘pain’ – physical, AND emotional it turned out – to pain’s point of expression in the (right) insular cortex, NOT the somato-sensory cortex of the accessible, probe-able outer brain as Dr. Craig had been taught by the textbooks. The insular cortices are the first ‘brain’ to appear in the embryo/fetus, even in the womb, and according to an ‘abstract’ of a published scientific paper I have seen, the ‘right insular cortex’ is the first location, of the first brain evident, to mature, with the formation of sulci (grooves) and blood vessels. Internet chatter (non-SDA, of course) at the height of excitement regarding the insula were referring to it as the ‘soul’, and for good reason, as it perfectly matches the Hebrew Biblical ‘leb’, ‘lebab’, or ‘heart’.

The New York Times science-writer, Sandra Blakeslee and her son Matthew published, The Body Has A Mind of Its Own, around 2007 – a book that should be printed as an ‘Appendix’ to The Desire of Ages, at least chapters 9 on Mirror Neurons and 10 on ‘The Heart of the Mandala’, that is, the anterior insular cortex (AIC). And here is a sample of the Blakeslees’ own words:

page 186:
“And even that is just the beginning of what your brain does with this
( ‘interoceptive’ ~ DH ) information. After reading off the internal state of the body from both the left and right insulas, the human brain – and only the human brain – performs yet another level of integration. The information from both your insulas is routed to the right frontal insula ( ‘AIC’ ~ DH ), the same region Critchley found corresponding closely in size and metabolic vigor to a person’s empathic talent.”

page 188:
“This dual physical-emotional sensitivity is not just a coincidence. The right frontal insula is where conscious physical sensation and conscious emotional awareness coemerge. Consider this amazing fact: The right frontal insula is active both when you experience literal physical pain and when you experience the psychic ‘pain’ of rejection or the social exclusion of being shunned. ( As in, “My God ! My God ! Why have you forsaken ME ? !” ? ~ DH ) It lights up when you feel someone is treating you unfairly. Scanning experiments have proven all this, and the results are profound. Welcome to one of the most important regions in the human brain.”
(And in my own studies comparing the form and functions of ancient Jerusalem landmarks involving Christ’s ‘passion’, with the form and functions of the right insula where His personal ‘passion’ raged in His final public week, I have found alarming but fascinating links . . . as if Jesus was hitting external, theatrical ‘marks’ on that once, ‘holy’ landscape that would later help to target the realities of the ‘mindscape’ that hosted the internal struggles that killed Him, first, before mere physical wounds did so. ~ DH )

In other published articles Sandra Blakeslee mentions, too, the close ties shared between mother and fetus involving the left and right insulae and hormone sharing through shared experience. . . .

So, YES, ‘Intrinsa’, we ‘adult’ humans are far too inconsiderate of the ‘emotional intelligence’ that FIRST develops – even within the womb – and which intimately links a Mother and the unique, developing, living ‘Soul’ she contains, very soon after ‘conception’.
It is widely agreed that human ability to merely ‘reason’, ‘intelligently’, does not fully develop OUTSIDE OF THE WOMB until puberty at the earliest, and even after, depending upon ‘sex’. (Males taking longer, I believe.) But that ‘emotional intelligence’ center develops just as rapidly and fully as that Holy Spirit moves and fills, Who seeks to inhabit that ‘Soul’ from before birth, as evidenced by the first ‘meeting’ of John the Baptist and Jesus BEFORE they were born. . . and Dr. Arthur ‘Bud’ Craig has suggested that that center of emotional intelligence, is the center of all human behavior, and possibly of consciousness, itself. What better site for the ‘Living Temple’ of the Holy Spirit, than the ‘driver’s seat’ of each ‘self-aware’, but ‘self-surrendered’ sinner ?

. . . and, Ellen strongly supports the exercise of such ‘higher’ powers of conviction:

“God would draw minds from the conviction of logic to a conviction deeper, higher, purer, and more glorious. Often human logic has nearly quenched the light
that God would have shine forth in clear rays to convince men that the Lord of nature is worthy of all praise and glory, because He is the Creator of all things. {GW 157.4}
Some ministers err in making their sermons wholly argumentative. There are those who listen to the theory of the truth, and are impressed with the evidences brought out; then, if Christ is presented as the Saviour of the world, the seed sown may spring up and bear fruit to the glory of God. But often the cross of Calvary is not presented before the people. Some may be listening to the last sermon they will ever hear, and the golden opportunity, lost, is lost forever. If in connection with the theory of the truth, Christ and His redeeming love had been proclaimed, these might have been won to His side.” {GW 158.1}


The mind set of today is the same as in the days of Christ/Paul-- only the technology has changed. tz

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In Ellen White’s commentary on Job 42:7 she states that the misunderstanding of the causes of suffering (which she says are inflicted by Satan) was a way to prepare the Jews to reject Jesus. Our SdA church leadership maybe repeating the same tragic history as the Jewish national leaders in our theological misunderstanding of the dynamics of sin/ suffering/ punishment/ God’s mercy. Are we teaching/ preaching a meritocracy religion where God’s Kingdom is reduced to a cosmic reward and punishment system?

“It was generally believed by the Jews that sin is punished in this life. Every affliction was regarded as the penalty of some wrongdoing, either of the sufferer himself or of his parents. . . .Thus the way was prepared for the Jews to reject Jesus. . .The history of Job had shown that suffering is inflicted by Satan, and is overruled by God for purposes of mercy. . . . The same error for which God had reproved the friends of Job was repeated by the Jews in their rejection of Christ.” (DA 471)


I very much enjoyed this interview. I’d love to see more like this published! (The downside is that my reading list is growing beyond my capacity to keep up!)


Excellent article!
History does repeat itself and the source of evil has not changed his playbook! Hopefully the"understanding of God" (intimate knowledge that God desires) will be better understood and presented to the world by the SDA church than what appears to be the current church direction.
AGMaxwell was a thought leader during my days at LLU and Sigve has continued that tradition!
Keep up that good work!
Thanks to Aage as well!!


It dumbfounds me no end, that it appears the president of Loma Linda University has done nothing to make sure that Sigve Tonstad stays here in Loma Linda; more specifically as a professor in its School of Religion with continued privileges in its medical center and medical school. Tonstad stands head and shoulders above the common herd. It’s past time, the university president gets off the proverbial dime and proceeds to work out an equitable scenario; whatever it takes. The university needs Tonstad. The church needs Tonstad. Tonstad can best share with us, as well as with his non-Adventist academic friends, from a Loma Linda University venue. Many are praying to this end.


Frankly, Peter, I don’t see how God made his ways so plain to Job by the end of the narrative. Job demands to have his day in court with God, wanting understanding of why he, an innocent person, should suffer such calamity. Where does God ever give him answers? Instead, he asks Job 88 questions. Job goes 0 for 88 in answering them. He’s never told of the involvement of a Satan, and he’s never given any reason for his suffering. He’s simply confronted with God’s works of creation, which he admits he cannot understand, and realizes that he simply cannot understand why he went through his ordeal. Yet, he somehow maintains faith.

Is this not the height of what faith is? Believing in God when the evidence points against belief?Trusting when one doesn’t understand, nor has good answers? I think that we are so uncomfortable with that type of experience, that we place answers in the text that are never given.




I was told several years ago that the president of LLU would love to have Tonstad remain, and I rather doubt anything has changed. The situation for Tonstad’s wife remains a continuing problem, unfortunately, and we have to respect whatever those details are and the desire to maintain the marriage. Godspeed to them.


Some of us cannot be bought at any price.

Glory to God.


Sigve’s observation about television and the change in our official print media reminds me of a comment made by the famous Miriam Wood. She once asked me: “Who has the greatest influence on Adventist theology?” No rapid response so she told me: “Evangelists!” They preach the first sermons most SDA’s hear and they only change their content when they find something that works better for an audience and does not stray too far from accepted interpretation, especially prophecies.

Academic don’t get to address the general SDA audience very often or very effectively. They need time to help our members grow. I once recall being in a small SS class taught by Dr. Sakae Kubo at a campmeeting. When he brought up the obvious point that Matthew and Luke word their beatitudes differently, members could not get their heads around two gospels, “inspired” by God, having two different renderings. An evangelist neither needs nor has the time for answering such an honest question in a way that does not unnecessarily call our beliefs into question.

However, the BRI Q&A section is a helpful contribution in this direction in the Adventist Review.


As a graduate of the Department of Religion of the Graduate School at Duke University, I am happy to hear Sigve’s good word about its program. I am a great admirer of Sigve’s work even if I do not agree with him on some points. He has been making a most essential contribution to the theological discourse withing the Adventist Church. It is a shame that there are those among its theologians who are incapable of engaging in conversations with him and flatly reject his arguments. I was astonished some years ago when he was invited to give a lecture on Revelation at the Andrews Seminary and the professors there were rather rude with him, rather than engaging in a conversation about his views. I imagine it is just part of the general environment that wishes to impose the only “correct” interpretation. As Sigve points out, any texts worth re-reading is endowed with more than one possible interpretation.


Thanks for this interview Dr Rendalen. I expect that new insights on thorny theological questions can indeed flow therefrom. My own view is that much of what passes for “evil” may well be due to fetal trauma restaged in adulthood by far more deadly means. The womb is not the idyllic place frequently romantically pictured with a content gestate so peacefully at rest. In studying the HORRIFYING HISTORY OF CHILDHOOD, for e.g. we can maybe comprehend how an amoral monster such as Adolf could have been created. Alois, Hitler’s father, was said to have been the child of a German domestic employed by the rich Jewish family Rothschilds. She was sent home with a pension and never actually revealed the father’s name directly. However rumours spread and Alois was called half-Jew derisefully in his youth. As a result he beat his wife, Hitler’s mother mercilessly during her pregnancy with Adolf. we now know that sufficiently serious threat to the wellbeing/life of the mother will result in a shutdown of food and oxygen via the placenta. The gestate will immediately feel its life at risk and either kick or stay quiet to conserve oxygen etc. In English common law a pregnant mother on a bus witnessed an accident where the bus ran over a cyclist, riding carelessly. This caused trauma to the extent that she had a spontaneous abortion. The gestate trying to escape severe in utero hostile conditions. She sued the cyclists estate and won,it being deemed that the cause of her abortion was not too remote from the action of the reckless cyclist. Hitler also had a habit of demanding that his chauffeur choke him by his tie till he almost passed out. This was a partial restaging of fetal trauma where lack of oxygen threatens to suffocate the helpless gestate.In addition Alois beat Hitler mercilessly for reasons such as falling behind in schoolwork; once, the boy received 230 strokes with a hippopotamus-hide whip’. Well is it any wonder the personality produced by this sketch? The _Psychogenic theory of human behavior thinks not. Nazi children were taken to executions and beaten if they forgot the most gruesome details Spartanism reigned supreme. Child brutality was common in Europe at the time , but nowhere else did such “heights” of occur. Many such children were very afraid of GOD since they were told that he sent his own son to be crucified on earth. Mothers were encouraged to hit back on their bellies when gestates kicked out when Mom was say listening to loud music. ALL this seemed to be an attempt to train merciless German youth to avenge the Treaty of Versailles. The “problem of evil” may well be better understood very soon. SO , was Hitler more" sick" than “sinful” or was the situation VICE VERSA?

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