Speaking Out Against Last Generation Theology


(Spectrumbot) #1

Few statements by Ellen G. White have had such a broad and lasting impact as the following few lines in her book Christ’s Object Lessons, page 69: ‘‘Christ is waiting with longing desire for the manifestation of Himself in His church. When the character of Christ shall be perfectly reproduced in His people, then He will come to claim them as His own.”

This statement became one of the cornerstones of a theological stream that has a history of well over a century; it became more pronounced in the 1950s and 60s and continues to have a large following among today’s Seventh-day Adventists. This theological current is known as Last Generation Theology, commonly abbreviated as LGT. Its supporters believe that Christ will not return until there is a group of believers who have reached perfection. Jesus, they say, had the same human nature as Adam had, after his “fall” into sin, and as we have today. Since He was exactly like us and did not sin, this is a state we can also reach. The cross of Christ did not complete the atonement, but the victory over sin by the “last generation” is the final phase of the atonement, when God will be vindicated and Satan is totally defeated.

This Last Generation Theology has not gone unchallenged by theologians and church leaders in past decades, but it seems that presently the dangers of this alternative theology are evoking stronger reactions from different quarters than we have seen so far. Two books on the topic have recently been published, and one more is on the way.

The Pacific Press has published a book by George Knight, a prolific author and one of Adventism’s foremost historians, entitled: End-Time Events and the Last Generation. The same publishing house has also just released a book by fourteen theologians who teach at Andrews University. This work carries the title God’s Character and the Last Generation. Thirdly, Oak and Acorn Publishing will before too long add a third publication on the very same topic, written by the author of this article, which will be called In All Humility: Saying NO to Last Generation Theology.

End-Time Events and the Last Generation

Professor George Knight’s book is relatively short with just 129 pages, but it provides an excellent overview of the various aspects of Last Generation Theology. Knight, as always, writes with passion. And, as do several of his other books, this one also reflects his own personal history. After becoming an Adventist, he desperately tried to be perfect and became a firm believer in LGT. But after some years he vigorously rejected this approach to his Adventist faith.

Knight gives a succinct but clear description of the historical background of LGT, with a focus on the person and ideas of M.L. Andreasen, one of Adventism’s most influential theologians in the mid-20th century. However, Knight also described the earlier phase of LGT thinking and the post-Andreasen developments—in particular the controversy around the book Seventh-day Adventists Answer Questions on Doctrine.

The subtitle of Knight’s book, The Explosive 1950s, underlines his conviction that several of the current theological challenges of the Adventist Church have their roots in the “explosive” 1950s. He deals with the most significant aspects of LGT, but tells the reader his treatment is far from exhaustive. Nonetheless, it gives a good overview. I found his conclusion quite convincing that most of the theological turmoil in Adventist history—in which LGT plays an important role—is the underlying unceasing tension between those who want to stress the similarities between Adventism and traditional Christianity on the one hand, and those who believe the unique features of Adventism must receive primary attention on the other hand.

God’s Character and the Last Generation

As expected, there is a fair amount of overlap between Knight’s book and the much more expansive treatment of Last Generation Theology by the Andrews University scholars. The former is well documented, but the Andrews’ scholars’ book is even more heavily footnoted. This feature, and the in-depth treatment of most of the relevant issues gives the book a more academic flavor than Knight’s volume has. The books also differ in tone: Knight is much more combative than the Andrews group, which, we are told, does not want to be polemic, “but aims to provide a positive, constructive approach to the issues concerned with LGT” (13).

The earlier chapters cover subtopics such as the scope of the “great controversy,” the nature of sin, justification and sanctification. Later chapters focus on Christ as our Savior and our Example, the significance of the cross and the role and meaning of the atonement. The authors point to the weaknesses and errors of LGT in all these areas. They lay stress on the inadequate LGT view of human sinfulness and on the faulty concept that Christ’s death on the cross did not mean the final victory of Christ over Satan and the final vindication of God’s character before the universe. They leave no doubt that the LGT concept of a last-day perfect elite, that must play a decisive role in the ultimate vindication of God, is a serious heresy that places a dangerous emphasis on the human contribution to the plan of salvation and “downgrades and reduces the meaning and efficacy of Christ’s death on the cross” (207). The chapters by Jo Ann Davidson about the so-called “delay” in Christ’s Second Coming and that of Ranko Stefanovic on the identity of the last generation are quite insightful.

I found, however, two other chapters especially worthwhile, and each of them would, I believe, merit to be expanded into a book-length publication. Ante Jeronicic, in his chapter on Apocalyptic Identity and Last Generation Lifestyle, suggests that the Adventist movement is in danger of “becoming progressively unapocalyptic” in its thinking and in its lifestyle, and as a result the church is threatened with being “drained of its vitality” (133). He argues that the Christian message must retain an apocalyptic framework, which is more than a preoccupation with final events. This serves as a lens through which we see things. The problem is that some get a distorted picture by using a different lens, as is the case with the LGT supporters who accentuate particular aspects while totally muting other elements.

Peter Swanson’s chapter is also a most important contribution which even by itself would make this book worth purchasing. It is entitled: Inside the Mind of a Struggling Saint: the Psychology of Perception. Swanson zooms in on the question of how a person can know whether he/she has reached perfection; on the obsessive behavior that may be associated with the quest for perfection, and on the dangers of a “pathological perfectionism” that results from “unrealistic, self-imposed or externally prescribed expectations” (148). In the final chapter an important point is once more clearly enunciated: “The role of humans in the cosmic drama is not to add anything to God’s victory, but is a missional role of proclamation and witnessing to the truth of God’s unimpeachable character and law of love” (278).

In All Humility: Saying No to Last Generation Theology

When I wrote my contribution to the LGT debate I was not aware of the preparations of the two books I briefly reviewed above. When I began to read the manuscript files I was somewhat worried that my book would be rather superfluous. However, after carefully comparing the content of the three books, I think I can truthfully claim that what I wrote adds a few important dimensions to the discussion. If Knight’s book is rather polemic, and the book of the Andrews scholars is more of an academic nature, my book may be characterized as more pastoral. The title indicates that, like the other writers, I respond with an unequivocal “no” to the claims of Last Generations Theology. But the title also includes a term that forms the basis of my approach: humility. It seems to me that a major problem with the supporters of LGT is that they claim to know far too much. They are not modest enough to realize that, this side of the Second Coming, there are lots of things that will remain unknown. There are mysteries that human minds cannot fully fathom. One of these mysteries is that of the human nature of Christ. It is one of the central tenets of LGT that Christ was exactly like we are. Indeed, in Christ God became man, but He did so in a manner that is totally unique and beyond our human comprehension.

My book devotes a chapter to the so-called “shaking” that according to many LGT supporters will eliminate large numbers of church members, who do not belong to the end-time elite of “true” Christ-like believers. Like the other two books In All Humility outlines the history of Last Generation Theology and the various key issues involved, but I focus more than these on the dangers of legalism that are never far away when people believe they can become perfect. And my book places special emphasis on how we may experience God’s work of grace in us.

The fact that almost simultaneously three books are published that warn against Last Generation Theology is a telling sign that a major segment of the church is beginning to see, perhaps more clearly than in the recent past, that LGT undermines some of the very foundational gospel truths and leads Adventist Christians in a sectarian and legalistic direction in which the role of the “true” believers is accentuated at the expense of the unique work of our Lord Jesus Christ!

Books Referenced:

George R. Knight, End-Time Events and the Last Generation: the Explosive 1950s (Nampa, ID: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 2018).

Jiri Moskala and John C. Peckham, eds., God’s Character and the Last Generation (Nampa, ID: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 2018).

Reinder Bruinsma, In All Humility: Saying No to Last Generation Theology. (Westlake Village, CA: Oak and Acorn Publishing, 2018).

Reinder Bruinsma is a native of the Netherlands who retired in 2007 after a long career in pastoral, editorial, teaching, and church leadership assignments in Europe, the United States, and West Africa. After receiving a bachelor’s degree from Newbold College and a master’s degree from Andrews University, he earned a bachelor of divinity with honors and a doctorate in church history from the University of London. He recently interrupted his retirement to serve as the president of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Belgium and Luxemburg. He has authored more than twenty books, in Dutch and English, and a large number of articles. He has also translated various theological books from Dutch into English.

Images courtesy of Pacific Press.

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/8749

(Peter) #2

If I can achieve a perfect, sinless life on my own - I don’t need John 3:16.

The delay in Christ’s coming is a disappointing, challenging mystery to me. Nevertheless, I believe Christ will come again.


(Kevin Seidel) #3

The two great commands were to love God and to love your neighbor as yourself.

John 13:34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”

It is strange that these are not the commands that are emphasised. They are the core teaching. They are the very expression of the character of Christ. If we can’t follow these commands the rest do not matter. Only by God’s grace can we love like He loves.


(Dr Miguel Crespo Fernández Calienes) #4

God is quite clear for those who want to yield themselves to one “it is written”. Read Mat. 5:48, 1st. John 5: 6-9, Jude 24, Rom. 8:1-4, Rev. 7:1-3, Rev. 14: 1-6 and the inspired commentaries of EGW on these and more texts. Read in Steps to Chist, Christ Object Lessons and the Great Controversy, just as little examples are just more than enough.
God himself is the best interpreter of the inspired writings. Rom. 3:4. The opposite is to undermine what God states through His agents and that position is unacceptable for a faithful SDA.


#5

Indeed. And there would be no reason for Christ to come.


(Billman) #6

A few observations:

  1. It is unclear from your post what your position is based on a casual reading. The scriptures quoted will be interpreted differently depending on knowledge, experience and understanding of context.
  2. Do we need to ask God to explain what his inspired agents are saying? Why? How? Why not just ask God to explain it directly. I’m lost over how we use God to interpret his agents. It’s normally the other way round.
  3. Are you placing the inspired writings on the same level as the bible. I thought that the bible is the inspired writings, but maybe I got this wrong.
  4. Didn’t EGW somewhere reprimand somebody for placing more emphasis on her writings than on the Bible. Did EGW see her writings as having equivalence with the Bible.
  5. Has God inspired people today to also read, learn, research, understand and grapple with theological concepts? Or is this only reserved for historic figures.

(Jeffrey Kent) #7

Nice article. Really appreciate the kickback against LGT. Where does Ted Wilson–and the current GC leadership–stand on this? I remember some people claiming he supports it.

I get the feeling we’re going to see a lot of fiery comments from a guy named Kevin…


(Pagophilus) #8

If the author of In All Humility: Saying No to Last Generation Theology has his own doubts about core Adventist doctrines, as was made clear when his previous book “Facing Doubt” was released, how can we accept what he writes at face value (when presumably he doesn’t take all that the official Adventist church believes at face value)?


(Elmer Cupino) #9

From a secular non-theological standpoint, this is an example of concrete “childhood thinking” frequently taken advantage by mothers to instill good behavior among their children by fear as follows: “Wait until your father comes home, Johnny.” It is a developmental milestone that needs resolution as one enters into abstract thinking phase.

As a behavior intervention it can be effective in curtailing negative behaviors but a price is paid as it instills guilt and fear that when not resolved influences the development of obsessive compulsive personality traits in adulthood.

Could LGT be a derivative of unresolved childhood thinking fixated on the perceived need for guilt and punishment for self validation? If this were the psychodynamics of being saved, is there anyone who could enlighten me?


#10

Very good article, both in scope and balance.

One of the statements made in the article I find very informative …

“The cross of Christ did not complete the atonement, but the victory over sin by the “last generation” is the final phase of the atonement, when God will be vindicated and Satan is totally defeated.”

This statement, by definition provides the dualism (which places the common denominator – humans, NT christian’s), as “actively” involved in God’s vindication , and the other part is that it lowers the sanctity of God by lowering our “understanding of God” to intellectual and behavior modification and acceptance.

Where is the imperative regarding the social responsibility for US (regardless of church affiliation), to support each other in diligently seeking God, to seek grace, I have no interest in “reflecting” the correctness (assumed) of the 28 fundamentals (or any creed), most importantly, how does “sinlessness” bring honor to God if not one thread of Christ’s righteousness is “woven into the fabric of my life” both in motivation, and self aware, social responsibility… all ground is level at the foot of the cross…

with kind regards,


(DENNIS HOFER) #11

Deleted by DENNIS HOFER


(Kevin Paulson) #12

The statement in Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 69 is a beautiful and most inspiring passage. But the notion that Last Generation Theology is primarily based upon it is a serious exaggeration.

First and foremost, a number of Bible verses establish the fact that God is waiting in a special way for a victorious, commandment-keeping remnant at the close of human history (Zeph. 3:13; I Thess. 5:23; II Peter 3:10-14; I John 3:2-3; Rev. 3:21; 12:17; 14:5,12). Second Peter 3:14 is especially clear that those who meet Christ at His coming must be “found of Him in peace, without spot, and blameless.”

Notice the saints are to be “found” in this condition. They won’t get that way when Jesus appears. And the condition in which they must be found is described in the same language as Christ Himself (I Peter 1:19).

First John 3:2-3 affirms the same truth. Some have mistakenly quoted verse 2 by itself, which says that “when He shall appear, we shall be like Him,” thus wrongly concluding that the saints will become like Him when He comes. But verse 3 shatters that illusion when it states, “And every man that hath this hope in Him purifieth himself, even as He is pure.”

In other words, we are to become pure “even as He is pure” while we still have the HOPE of His coming, not when He appears in the clouds.

A host of other Ellen White statements, besides Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 69, affirm the Biblical truth that God is waiting for a people perfected by sanctifying grace before Jesus can return. What follows is but a small sample:

"Those who are living upon the earth when the intercession of Christ shall cease in the sanctuary above, are to stand in the sight of a holy God without a mediator. Their robes must be spotless, their characters must be purified from sin by the blood of sprinkling. Through the grace of God and their own diligent effort they must be conquerors in the battle with evil. While the investigative judgment is going forward in heaven, while the sins of penitent believers are being removed from the sanctuary, there is to be a special work of purification, of putting away of sin, among God’s people upon the earth. . . .
“When this work shall have been accomplished, the followers of Christ will be ready for His appearing” (GC 425).

“Now, while our great High Priest is making the atonement for us, we should seek to become perfect in Christ. Not even by a thought could our Saviour be brought to yield to the power of temptation. . . . He had kept His Father’s commandments, and there was no sin in Him that Satan could use to His advantage. This is the condition in which those must be found who shall stand in the time of trouble” (GC 623).

“I also saw that many do not realize what they must be in order to live in the sight of the Lord without a high priest in the sanctuary through the time of trouble. Those who receive the seal of the living God and are protected in the time of trouble must reflect the image of Jesus fully. . . . I saw that none could share the ‘refreshing’ (latter rain) unless they obtain the victory over every besetment, over pride, selfishness, love of the world, and over every wrong word and action” (EW 71).

“Those who come up to every point and stand every test, and overcome, be the price what it may, have heeded the counsel of the True Witness, and they will receive the latter rain, and thus be fitted for translation” (1T 187).

“[From a chapter titled, “Pray for the Latter Rain”] By the power of the Holy Spirit the moral image of God is to be perfected in the character. We are to be wholly transformed into the likeness of Christ . . . Every individual must realize his own necessity. The heart must be emptied of every defilement, and cleansed for the indwelling of the Holy Spirit” (TM 506-507).

“Only those who have withstood temptation in the strength of the Mighty One will be permitted to act a part in proclaiming it (the third angel’s message) when it shall have swelled into the loud cry” (RH Nov. 19, 1908).

“Not one of us will ever receive the seal of God while our characters have one spot or stain upon them. It is left with us to remedy the defects in our characters, to cleanse the soul temple of every defilement. Then the latter rain will fall upon us, as the early rain fell upon the disciples upon the day of Pentecost” (5T 214).

“Now is the time to prepare. The seal of God will never be placed upon the forehead of an impure man or woman. It will never be placed upon the forehead of the ambitious, world-loving man or woman. It will never be placed upon the forehead of men or women of false tongues or deceitful hearts. All who receive the seal must be without spot before God—candidates for heaven” (5T 216).

“The latter rain will come, and the blessing of God will fill every soul that is purified from every defilement. It is our work today to yield our souls to Christ, that we may be fitted for the time of refreshing from the presence of the Lord—fitted for the baptism of the Holy Spirit” (Ev 702).

“May the Lord help His people to cleanse the soul temple from every defilement, and to maintain such a close connection with Him that they may be partakers of the latter rain when it shall be poured out” (6BC 1055).

“The refreshing or power of God comes only on those who have prepared themselves for it by doing the work which God bids them, namely, cleansing themselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (1T 619).

“Are we seeking for His fullness, ever pressing toward the mark set before us—the perfection of His character? When the Lord’s people reach this mark, they will be sealed in their foreheads. Filled with His Spirit, they will be complete in Christ, and the recording angel will declare, “It is finished”” (6BC 1118).

“‘As it was in the days of Noah, so shall it be also in the days of the Son of man.’ God will have a people zealous of good works, standing firm amid the pollutions of this degenerate age. There will be a people who will hold so fast to the divine strength that they will be proof against every temptation" (3T 472).

“No impurity can enter the pearly gates of the golden city of God. And the question for us to settle is whether we will turn from all sin and comply with the conditions God has given us, that we may become His sons and daughters. . . .
When you are all ready, having overcome your sins, having put away all your iniquity from you, you are in a condition to receive the finishing touch of immortality” (FH 44).

“Every living Christian will advance daily in the divine life. As he advances toward perfection, he experiences a conversion to God every day; and this conversion is not complete until he attains to perfection of Christian character, a full preparation for the finishing touch of immortality” (2T 505).

“Jesus sits as a refiner and purifier of His people; and when His image is perfectly reflected in them, they are perfect and holy, and prepared for translation. A great work is required of the Christian. We are exhorted to cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (1T 340).

“When He comes, He is not to cleanse us of our sins, to remove from us the defects in our characters, or to cure us of the infirmities of our tempers and dispositions. If wrought for us at all, this work will be accomplished before that time. When the Lord comes, those who are holy will be holy still. . . . The Refiner does not then sit to pursue His refining process and remove their sins and their corruption. This is all to be done in these hours of probation” (2T 355).

Reading these statements, I am reminded of the statement made by the late U.S. Senator Sam Ervin when he chaired the Senate Watergate Committee in 1973. At one point, Nixon aide John Ehrlichmann asked why Ervin was so dogmatic in his interpretation of a certain federal statute. Ervin replied, “Because I understand the English language; it’s my mother tongue” (Karl Campbell, Senator Sam Ervin: Last of the Founding Fathers (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2007), p. 292).

For perhaps a majority of those involved in this controversy, English is our mother tongue also. And that’s the language Ellen White wrote in. Which helps explain why the vast majority of those opposed to Last Generation Theology hold a very limited perspective on Ellen White’s prophetic role.

The fact is that Last Generation Theology is deeply embedded in the DNA of classic Adventism, and can in no way be attributed merely to one or several authors, such as A.T. Jones, E.J. Waggoner, or M. L. Andreasen. Magnificent though the contributions of these men truly were, they represent but the tip of the iceberg so far as Adventist advocacy of Last Generation Theology is concerned.

Let me again direct our readers to an article I wrote a year ago on this subject:

Finally, I would beware of any book titled, “In All Humility.” Humility is a lot like Christian perfection—the moment you think you’ve got it, you’ve lost it. One thinks of the monks in the monastery who boasted, “We lack many things around here, but one thing we don’t lack is humility.” Being proud of one’s humility seems a common trait among the doubting and the skeptical. I am reminded of another Ellen White statement in which she writes, “Skepticism and unbelief are not humility. Implicit belief in Christ’s word is true humility, true self-surrender” (DA 535).


(Frank Peacham) #13

If our church historians are casting doubt on a major theme of EGW:

“Every one who is to receive the overcomer’s reward must first overcome every sin; and not until he overcomes through divine grace, can he entertain hope of entering the haven of eternal bliss.” EGW

I wonder what will come next? With this trend being firmly set, it seems inevitable that in 50 years, the SDA church will morph into something entirely different.

Maybe EGW will be downgraded into merely a inspiring author and founding church mother. Perhaps other changes will occur: 1844 with its cleansing of the sanctuary will become purely historical, human elements become accepted as intertwined within inspiration removing it from its unerring position, a woman will become GC president and Sabbath will be a day of celebration rather than a holy day designed to be free from employment and a test of fellowship.

Or maybe liberals and conservatives will split, with two different SDA conferences. Seeds of division have been sown and the harvest will come. Sooner or later.


#14

It is most unfortunate that the premise of your entire response or disagreement stems from the notion that sinless-ness is something “we attain”. The goal of every christian should be to “present themselves faultless”, but heart worship doesn’t not necessarily “equate” to outward “conformity”. I very much have an issue that the SDA conservative view point will ONLY discuss the “position of the law vs obedience” instead of the weightier matter… where is the persons “heart worship at”… and while on this point. Obedience cannot be forced or coerced. Fear of reprisal, from a functional “obedience” does not “engender” trust…

I must choose (for myself) to worship God based on 1) His holiness, 2) His character, and 3) His lovingkindness towards me.

Why would i come to the throne of grace (to be thankful in all 3 aspects)… out of fear or reprisal or better yet … “regulatory obedience”. Grace is something you receive, (not ACHIEVE).

If you want to disagree with present tense NT Hebrews… continue to “establish the law”.

I do not think it’s in my best interest to take the “pen out of God’s hand”… since HE is writing his law into my mind and heart… I have no verity in weaving my own cloak.

with kind regards,


(Kevin Paulson) #15

We need to both attend to the law’s “weightier matters” (Matt. 23:23) as well as to “not leave the other undone.” Too many among us, I fear, are very zealous about the one while being decidedly neglectful of the other.

Biblical sinlessness involves equal attentiveness to both through the power of divine grace.

I agree that grace is received and not achieved, but grace is intended to enable us to achieve the victory God has promised (see Titus 2:11-13). That’s why the apostle Paul writes, “Let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear” (Heb. 12:28).

The solution to one kind of inconsistency is not another kind. Rather, the solution is consistent obedience to the whole counsel of God, through the grace God freely offers.


(Kevin Paulson) #16

There’s not a chance that Ellen White will be “downgraded” in the manner you describe, as those who are active in the church just now—especially the striving faithful among the young—are immersing themselves in those writings and recognizing their unabashedly Christ-centered reflection of the written Word.

But your point is an excellent one, as Last Generation Theology is very much a principal theme in Ellen White’s writings. Those who seek to hang onto Ellen White’s prophetic role while discounting this theology will find their case falling woefully short of the available evidence. But then, the case against Last Generation Theology runs afoul of the Bible itself, which is where this theology originates.


(Kevin Paulson) #17

No one is teaching that a sinless life can be achieved “on one’s own.” It is only through the empowering grace of the Lord Jesus Christ that such obedience can be rendered here on earth. Jesus said very clearly that “without Me ye can do nothing” (John 15:5). But the reverse side of this reality is found in Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.”


(DENNIS HOFER) #18

Deleted by DENNIS HOFER


(Frank Peacham) #19

As I see it–the seeds of doubt has been widely sown. Why is it there are 3 books, one by George Knight, another by Andrews University and the third by the website author? All casting doubt on perfect victory over sin? No matter what their intent, they undermine EGW’s inspirational authority. Lets not forget the rank and file SDA members are not very concerned about perfect victory over sin. The reading of EGW books in NA is at an all time low, it appears to me. Not many read the Testimonies for inspiration, encouragement or for the joy of it? EGW is most frequently used for hand picked qouts rather then comprehensive discussion with emphasis placed on total conformity. The results: the slow dimming of EGW’s importance.


(reliquum) #20

The cost, in spiritual terms, is horrendous, when the church teachings are co-opted for mere parental convenience. This is clearly NOT the way to teach a child which way he should go, for it harbors rebellion. Sometimes overt, sometimes less so, but always damages relationship. Both the parental/child, but also the relational template the child imposes subconsciously upon all relationships to come. It also damages the ability of the child to resolve the dissonance between true character of God vs the mis-caricaturization wrought upon them by often unwitting parents -who, perhaps, are not so unwitting, if they desire to have visibly perfect children as a feather in their own crown.

I wonder-if we learned to “leave” better, perhaps we would cleave better.