Stunted by Fear of a Slippery Slope

“An alert community will always subject its metaphors, especially its favorite metaphors, to critical analysis.”–Charles Scriven1

“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.”–1 John 4:18

Social dynamics experts identify the ability to use a catchy metaphor as a key component of charismatic leadership. In the faith community everyone has heard of the slippery slope metaphor that often is employed as a final argument to stop further thinking. Fear of falling, inadvertently, out of God’s favor or His truth gives the metaphor an aura of supremacy. But, let us consider a familiar Biblical phrase that seems to undercut that assumption.

“Fear not.”

Can a believer fear not and still give space to the slippery slope metaphor? Have slippery slope avoidance strategies crept into preeminence so as to suppress the wisdom that would come from a fearless exploration of choices? Has the slippery slope metaphor become a sort of handy blunt tool, when a precise surgical examination would be the better approach? Can deference to a slippery slope metanarrative undermine the power of the gospel?

In support of a slippery slope visual, one has to acknowledge the power of habit – both good and bad. An undisciplined person can slide into a bog of addictive behaviors that can be difficult to beat. Also, actions do yield natural consequences, and many of these cannot be undone. However, a committed Jesus follower can journey with a mindful consideration, avoiding the harmful and seeking counsel from trusted sources. Surely a believer who loves God with all her mind can develop wisdom that will surpass a fear-based slope avoidance mentality. Paul’s words might imply that while a fear of falling down a slope might have a place, wouldn’t it be better to put away childish things and move on to maturity with love as the ultimate guidepost? (1 Corinthians 13)

Was David afraid of sliding to perdition when he ate the temple showbread?

Did fear of skidding off a path cause Esther to avoid taking part in the king’s beauty pageant?

Did anxiety about worldly contamination cause Joseph to avoid being a part of a ruling government in Egypt?

Did trepidation about sliding down a slope of gentile-induced hedonism cause the apostles to demand circumcision from all new believers?

Does a fear of slipping into legalism cause many people never to consider joining the Seventh-day Adventist church?

Does slippery slope phobia serve to keep a lot of Seventh-day Adventists from learning anything new?

When Jesus bids one to take up a cross and follow Him, it will not be a fearful journey. Indeed, He offers to share the heavy yoke. Both metaphors are instructive, but in tension: carrying a cross and wearing a yoke. The slippery slope is also a metaphor. It has some value, but cannot be the ruling metaphor.

Jesus, with a clear view of mission and His Father’s character, pushed the borders of Sabbath keeping and social inclusion. His actions demonstrated no fear of an irreversible fall down a slippery slope. In fact, Jesus specifically taught that disciples should not be guided by fear in the story of the three servants who were given varied quantities of talents. Two servants did not fear the master and yielded a good return. But fearfully, the third servant chose a safe option (far from a slippery slope), and he buried his talent. Jesus gave strong condemnation for the third servant’s actions.

What is the task to which we are called?

“The goal is to lose ourselves so thoroughly in the freely given love of an extravagantly generous God that we become vessels by which this love can be shared with others. The glory of God’s holy, infinite truth is like light we cannot seize in our hands and wind we cannot put into a box. We must be emptied of our demonic need to conquer, control, and colonize, if we want to delight in this light and wind. We cannot get God’s song right if we’re trying to be right; it can only happen if we’re surrendered enough that the song starts playing us. That is the freedom that being justified by God’s grace is supposed to open up for us. Likewise, we cannot hear the voice of our Shepherd if we’re completely preoccupied with our own platform building. To hear Jesus speak, we must sit at the feet of the youngest and most marginalized voices in our community.”2

Choices do have consequences. Habits are self-perpetuating. But, one cannot let fear of a misstep turn discipleship into an abysmal neurotic routine. Let us choose not to be ruled by fear of a metaphorical slippery slope.

“Christianity has always been about getting saved. But today what we need saving from most is the toxic understanding of salvation we’ve received through bad theology…. God is not a cold-hearted banker who cares only about getting paid back. He’s not a ruthless, stereotypical gym coach. He’s not an ultra fastidious American Idol judge…He’s not an inflexible bureaucrat, whose hands are tied by the demands of our logic.”

God’s biddings are enablings; we can participate joyfully without fear. Live confidently. Our God is faithful and omni-competent. He promises to be with us always even to the end of the age.

Notes:

1. Spectrum Magazine, vol 44 issue 3, p 36, 2016. 2. Guyton, “How Jesus Saves the World From Us: 12 Antidotes to Toxic Christianity, Westminster Press, Louisville, p. 159 3. Guyton, “How Jesus Saves the World From Us: 12 Antidotes to Toxic Christianity, Westminster Press, Louisville, p. 158

Carmen Lau is a board member of Adventist Forum, the organization that publishes Spectrum. She lives and writes in Birmingham, Alabama.

Photo Credit: FreeImages.com / asmorod

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/7718
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Nice essay. When I read “Slippery Slopes” by Frederick Schauer in the Harvard Law Journal in 1985, I did not realize that this mode of reasoning would predominate in the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the years to come. The best discussion on slippery slopes is the essay written by Eugene Volokh, which you can find here: http://www2.law.ucla.edu/volokh/slippery.pdf. There is a difference between a legitimate slippery slope argument and the slippery slope fallacy. I find that I invariably encounter the latter when conversing with Seventh-day Adventists about some important issue of the day, as they really don’t know what they are talking about.

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When do you ever hear that from sermons geared for 6th-7th grade intellectual level? Is this kernel, which is the basis of the Gospel, antithetical to the SDA platform - “We have to be “safe to save;” and Jesus can’t return until all Seventh-Day Adventist are perfectly keeping ALL of God’s commandments” - which is taught from “cradle roll” through to the senior level?

Maybe that’s the problem - what may be a slippery slope for a pre-teen, should not be one for the intellectually mature. Is it about “dumbing down” the gospel?

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Another favorite catch-phrase: “Creeping Compromise”. I heard this so many times in my life as an Adventist, particularly during my teen and young adult years regarding church ‘standards’, and then throughout adulthood regarding doctrinal and deviation from official doctrines. And yet, the scriptures are replete with compromise examples similar to those Carmen wrote about. God seems to love dialog with people - look at the conversation between Abraham and God about the cities of the plains. Look at Hezekiah on his deathbed pleading for a little more time. Look at all of us as sinners who cannot possibly see the entire Big Picture - without compromise how could we ever come to harmonious agreements on this planet? I have to give a little, you have to give a little so we can live in peace, together. Some compromise is very good, sometimes it is very bad. Some slippery slopes will lead to ruin, others will slide you off the dung-hill of your own ‘good’ works into the waiting arms of our Saviour.

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Thanks Carmen. I always read and admire your comments. These are wonderful insights into the character of God , the considered judgments of man, but at the same time they do not laud nor advocate " reckless independence of thought" in the latter. However, as a commenter on these fora whose views seem to have little or no influence here (though they may be well- regarded elsewhere) I can say what my opinions are without wondering about starting a slide into a slippery slope scenario. The Bible is inspirational and filled with elegant phrases which have elicited respect world wide.Some researchers have posited that this is due to the fact that Shakespeare (The brilliant 17th Earl of Oxford) and Francis Bacon were given drafts of the English Bible(KJV) to amend, since English was a poorly organised language centuries ago. My point is that I have rarely seen a Biblical interpretation which is not rooted in 16th /17th century mysticism, according to the pre-scientific understandings of those, and earlier times. Briefly , what we now think we know is this: Yahweh did not create the universe , and did not even create the earth. The Hubble and Spitzer ST’s show in real time how these endless cycles of demise and renewal are a constant. The earth was occupied by scientists from the skies(Elohim) according to Mesopotamian scriptures, to be used as a life-creating laboratory after they were expelled from “heaven” for creating dangerous life forms which killed several residents there.Man was created with a natural ability for independence of thinking and so although books like the Bible has guided the species as we seek to establish secure equalitarian social structures and habits which can be supported by the vast majority we must think for ourselves even as Joseph, Ester and others did. With the multitude of hostile life forms in our environment earth is a survivors’ hell’s cauldron. God has proven that his lifeform is most worthy of the time and effort put in to create and guide them. They are now wi;ling go give humans access to a raft of their most advanced science which will be placed in orbit above the earth in a satellite. This was indeed how the Elohim received THEIR high science from their own
creators. THe UNITED NATIONS has been approached by the space age prophet about this, since ISRAEL has been lagging is response (first choice) due to reservations by ultra radical rabbis.

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There seems to be so much in Adventism that is predicated on the “slippery slope” or “creeping compromise” that it leaves too many believers trapped in a fear theology worrying that they are going to step over the edge and encounter God’s displeasure. This phobia is driven by a preoccupation with negative passages of EGW writings to the exclusion of her many uplifting, inspirational, and encouraging writings. There is no balance to slippery slope thinking. It produces a fear based religion that is driven by negative thinking, void of love, assurance and hope. It is a terrible witness, and I believe it is worse than no religion at all.

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Stunted by the FEAR of a slippery slope.
Fear is very Chilling. Fear brings Anxiety. Fear brings frozen Inaction.
Fear does Not allow Thinking. Fear does Not allow any Questions to be Asked.
Fear does NOT allow one to progress into the UNKNOWN. To Test the Unknown.
Fear ONLY Allows for Thinking Other Men’s Thoughts. To react to Other Men’s thoughts.
Fear does NOT allow one to attempt, to try something New in our Spiritual Life. On our own.
Fear will ONLY allow Spiritual Life activities that are “Church Approved”, approved by the “experts”.
Fear makes us Afraid that The Trinity will no longer like us. Will turn their beaming faces away from us.
Fear makes us keep LOOKING at Dante’s Inferno. Which pitch-fork holder will be toasting and roasting me?

“Slippery Slope”, “Creeping Compromise”, “Safe to Save”. ALL of these are mechanisms by those in our – yours, my – community of peers and Leaders to shut us down. To make us Sheeple. To prevent Inquiry, prevent Thinking, prevent Asking Questions, prevent Investigation of the Bible, of WHY we are doing what we are doing, Why it is NOT OK to do something different.
ALL of these statements are to instill FEAR into Every Member [20 Million of us] of the World Wide Seventh day Adventist Church.

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~ “God’s biddings are enablings; we can participate joyfully without fear, live confidently. Our God is faithful and omni-competent. He promises to be with us always even to the end of the age.” ~ Carmen Lau

Say on ! You’re in danger of making me HAPPY, if I’m not more care-ful. :slight_smile:

Yes, it is possible to be fearfully fanatical even about avoiding fanaticism.
I believe it was in Healdsburg, CA, where the ‘Latter Rain’ of the Holy Spirit began ‘falling’ in SDA history, in the late 1800s . . . wasn’t it ? A group of SDAs met and actually began admitting their faults to each other, and ‘chilling out’ together, sort of like it was at Pentecost with the ‘Early Rain’. But, the ‘umbrellas’ immediately came out. When Ellen heard how some older SDA leaders got the news and broke up the meeting for fear of ‘fanaticism’ breaking out, again, she scolded them. . . .

Mark Twain fans might also like to remember his advice:

“We should be careful to get out of an experience
only the wisdom that is in it and stop there
lest we be like the cat that sits down on a hot stove lid.
She will never sit down on a hot stove lid again and that is well
but also she will never sit down on a cold one anymore.”

By the way, it’s great to spend a Sabbath away from my wife and home reading into the thoughts and feelings of this great bunch of ‘Spectrum’ writers and reader/repliers !
Thanks for taking the risks of ‘putting it all out there’, and may God bless that trust !

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This isn’t Christianity…it’s spiritual abuse.[quote=“bigtomwoodcutter, post:7, topic:12275”]
AMEN! Spiritual navel gazing is what I call it. The “safe to save” crowd is so preoccupied by performance and perfectionism that they are miserable. And of course misery loves company, so they will make sure that you are miserable too.
[/quote]

This idea of “being safe to save” is so unbiblical, it’s hard to imagine that someone (a Christian, no less) came up with such a heretical concept.

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Carmen,

The thesis advanced by this article is really another expression of what I am coming to believe is the root problem of Adventism. Allow me to explain. A commenter on the article entitled ‘GC Leadership Considers Takeover of Unions that Ordain Women’ said that the bigger battle which must be won is the conversion of Adventism to the Reformation gospel - the belief that justification is by faith alone apart from works. Most of Protestant Christianity holds to the idea that salvation is a gift, a free gift of God born of His love for us and bestowed upon those who gratefully accept through faith what Christ has done for us. Yet much of Adventism adds a condition to this. Perhaps because of the sabbath commandment, Adventism rightly has a higher regard for the law than most other denominations. As a result, Adventism is correct in understanding that the law was not done away with at the cross and also in acknowledging the many New Testament passages that speak of a coming judgment of believers based on the lawfulness of our works. So, an apparent conflict is set up - how can one be saved solely by grace through faith and yet be judged on works? Is it all by Jesus (which I believe the One project espouses) or is some level of obedience (i.e. sanctification) on our part essential for salvation? I believe this difference in defining the gospel is one source of the tension between church leadership and the One project (as well as much friction between Spectrum commenters for many years).

Several years ago I engaged an Adventist pastor steeped in the denomination’s orthodoxy in a dialogue on this topic. He told me that both the Old and New Covenants are based on our obedience to the law. He said the conditions of salvation outlined in both are the same. The only difference is that in the New Covenant the Holy Spirit has been sent to help us obey. He called the difference attempted obedience in our own strength vs. Spirit-empowered obedience. He said that yes, salvation is dependent on our faith, but that faith results in works and God’s judgment of our works (in other words our degree of obedience) will determine our ultimate fate. Thus, he believes and preaches that some (unknown?) level of lawkeeping is necessary for salvation.

If leadership also feels obedience is salvific wouldn’t they be very reluctant (and as you imply, perhaps fearful) to adopt a new policy such as WO which differs from the traditional understanding handed down from the past? They could feel (perhaps not even consciously) that such a change might mean disobedience to the Word or SOP and thus put their own salvation as well as that of the flock at risk. The stakes involved in charting a new course would be perceived as extremely high.
Thus, a Biblical understanding of the gospel (what part the Godhead plays and what part humanity plays) is of primary importance, not only for outreach but also for the internal doctrines and policies and resulting health of the church.
Adventism is correct in saying there will be a judgment of believers based on works (or our obedience if you will). But I honestly feel that because we are so concerned with our own salvation, we have misunderstood the reason for this judgment and the resulting consequences of our success or failure.

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Dave, I agree with your assertions. The heart of the gospel is at stake. Five hundred years since Luther took his stand, we are in a new place. One way to frame it is a polarity of faith vs works (obedience). Some say a similar polarity occurred in our church in the 1950s when the book Questions on Doctrine was published (that book put us in the grace category like the rest of Protestantism). However, I am intrigued by a third way, which would state we are saved by God’s transforming grace. This transformation does not lead to rigid obedience of written law. Instead, it puts God’s law of love in our hearts. This love can lead us anywhere to exciting situations and unexpected encounters. To say the transformation leads to perfectly keeping the law is a one dimensional vision. The transformation to a loving Christ follower will be exciting and unexpected.

Our denomination is in danger of overlaying gospel truth with our man made platform. Although this has been done with good intentions, it becomes a toxic system. In fact, I believe it is a squelching of the Holy Spirit. Many have left our denomination because they perceive a toxicity. Blessings on your journey.

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Thanks, Carmen for your response.
Your use the words ‘transforming grace’ got me thinking because the pastor I spoke of who insisted obedience is salvific used a similar term. He said that the necessary conditions for salvation consist of having faith to claim forensic righteousness for past sins and transformative righteousness for victory over sin. I think he meant that the imputed righteousness of Christ’s perfect life credited to us is only for past sins (perhaps before conversion?). After that we are to undergo a sanctification process. At the end of this age our works will be judged (and thus we will be saved or lost) on how well this transformation to obedience has taken hold.
He also said God’s grace and power will enable us to stop sinning. Thus, I guess to him it comes down to our will and how well we surrender and cooperate with the Holy Spirit. If I’m understanding him correctly, in essence then, the New Covenant is an improved, strengthened Old Covenant (which was also based on obedience). This is certainly not the gospel as I understand it.
I realize Paul’s words in Romans 12:2 are translated ‘be transformed by the renewing of your mind’ but he also used the same term in 2Cor 3:18 describing our coming glorification. To me he really means a metamorphosis and a new life. Legally, this has already happened on the cross. Paul said he was crucified with Christ and he no longer lived. Christ now lived in him. It’s not about taming or training the flesh of the adamic man (i.e. person) we were born, it’s about a new creation. Christ told Nicodemus that he must be begotten from above before he could see the kingdom. In the same way Christ was begotten by a heavenly seed in the womb of Mary, the seed of this new creation person is implanted in us. That’s why we call God our Heavenly Father. In 1Cor 4:15, Paul verifies that the way this is done is by the living word of the gospel. I don’t know how it works, perhaps that’s one reason Paul called it a mystery and why we need faith to believe something we cannot explain.
The pastor also said salvation is a struggle and obedience is a struggle. He is wrong about salvation. It is a free gift. Even though we didn’t know it, we, like Paul, were in Christ and died on the cross for our sins. The penalty has been paid and to those who by faith believe it, salvation is a done deal. How’s that for the good news of the gospel?
The pastor is right in saying obedience is a struggle. Even though our old sinful Adamic self is legally dead, he has not given up yet (see Romans 7) and the new creation man within who cannot sin (1John 3:9) is still growing and maturing and will only be fully revealed or birthed at the time of our glorification (Rom 8:15-23). (You are right in saying Christ’s law of love is being written in our hearts. This new creation man within is doing it to replace our old, Adamic nature. It is not our improved righteousness, but Christ’s righteousness in us so that, as Paul said, we are being ‘conformed to the image’ of God’s Son. This process is part of the New Covenant and is an unconditional promise of God to us.)
Thus, as I tried to say in my previous comment, the coming judgment of believers is not about our salvation. That was guaranteed when the incarnate Christ successfully carried out His mission. I feel saddened each time I think of the Adventists who live their lives needlessly worried and wondering what level of obedience they need to achieve to ensure their salvation.
I realize I have strayed off the topic of your article somewhat but I honestly feel SDA church leadership shares the view of this pastor that obedience is salvific and thus they feel they cannot risk accepting any controversial doctrine such as WO.

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One can give advice comfortably from a safe dry port in the middle of sahara. where moss never grow , never born a slippery slope, never kindled with the sun.

Stung by infidelity, it has no sense of fair weather, wet or dry, consider the stunted fear of the rainforests slippery slope called ALIMONY. Men, no matter how Bible scholarly you are, you never realize how short a month is until you pay you fickleness to the wife who loved you until your infernal joy joy slipped. The wives cried and cried and cried and the judge wiped their tears with your checkbook.

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Thank you, Carmen, for this great nugget of wisdom. Jesus told his disciples that he would send his Spirit to guide them into all truth. But one has to be open-minded to recognize new truth instead of clinging to old patterns of thought. That is the problem many in the church have today. They are afraid of anything different from the way they have learned, so are not open to “present truth.” I’m afraid our church has far to go to be able to claim 1 John 4:18.

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Are we worrying about a slippery slope of BEHAVIOR??

We are not saved by our BEHAVIOR. We’re saved by a RELATIONSHIP with Christ. We aren’t judged by our actions. And God is the One judging us – not the conference president or anybody else!

Why is there so much worry about BEHAVIOR??? The Lord sees on the heart - remember?

Galatians 5:19-22.
God REMOVES:-- Impure thoughts, Eagerness for lustful pleasure, Greed [Idolatry], Hatred, Enmities, Fighting, Strife, Discord, Jealousy, Anger, Fits of rage, Quarrels, Dissensions, Envy, Drunkeness, Wild parties.
God GIVES:–
Love Affection for others
Joy Exuberance about life
Peace Serenity
Patience A willingness to stick with things
Kindness A sense of compassion in the heart
Goodness A conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people
Faithfulness Involved in loyal commitments
Gentleness Not needing to force my way in life
Self-Control Able to marshal and direct my energies wisely

— Peter Scazzero, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, pg 20.

PS-- Actually you will find this also in The Message Bible translation by Peterson [A Babylonian church pastor].

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