The Virtue of Moderate Thought: A Review of Miller's "The Reformation and the Remnant"

Scholars in the Seventh‐day Adventist Church, as leaders in their faith community, face the challenge of writing for those who will never gain entry into the classroom. We are not free to cloister ourselves inside the walls of a university on Mount Olympus and write only for ourselves. To make plain highly‐cerebral ideas requires hermeneutical awareness and sensitivity. Ironically, the commonalities we share with ordinary folk, many of which might make our faces flush red, facilitate our mediation of knowledge. As we consider that the liminal and marginal Hermes could function as a messenger of the gods by virtue of his birth by the mortal Maia, we recognize that we can similarly function by virtue of our ordinary folk beginnings.

Seventh‐day Adventist attorney, historian, and Seminary professor Nicholas P. Miller possesses a range of liminality and marginality requisite to his helpful opinion about “hot potatoes” in the Church today. His new book The Reformation and the Remnant (Pacific Press) consists of a foreword by George Knight and sandwiched between an introduction and conclusion eleven chapters that respectively address the following topics: sola scriptura and its corollaries, the Great Controversy theme, the atonement, creation and theistic evolution and creeds, morality in the public square, same sex marriage, (dis)order in the church with specific reference to the ordination of women, ecumenism, Sunday laws, conspiratorial thinking, and Last Generation theology.

The risk assumed by Miller, given that knowledge is historically conditioned, is that his book might be regarded in later years as little more than a reflection of an anachronistic mindset. Many of us do not read Jow Crews' famous “hot potatoes” book, Creeping Compromise because we think highly of his assertions of propositional truth; we read the book because of our curiosity about the fundamentalist mindset that predominated during his time. We can compare all of the books in the “hot potatoes” genre and study the ways in which Church thinking has evolved.

Miller attempts to alleviate this risk he has assumed in three important ways. First, he incorporates into his discussion relevant lessons we can learn from the Reformers, and in so doing, attempts to ensure that his contribution to a dialogue that has been ongoing for hundreds of years will stand the test of time. His expertise in the Protestant Reformation has been previously recognized in his exemplary The Religious Roots of the First Amendment (Oxford University Press). Given that many Seventh‐day Adventists in their situatedness remain uncertain about how to relate to non‐Adventist antecedent thought, the approach that Miller models should curb that uncertainty. For example, readers may find worthy of further study the Puritan that Miller identifies who, hundreds of years before Ellen White, foresaw an eschatological crisis regarding the Sabbath.

Second, Miller mercifully avoids addressing “hot potatoes” that have agitated Seventh‐day Adventists in the past and that are highly amenable to historical conditioning, such as behaviors pertaining to diet, entertainment, music, jewelry, attire, and the like. Readers will discern that he focuses less on specific behaviors and more on ideals that should be foundational to what we do. Notwithstanding the wisdom inherent in this focus, Miller does feel the itch to reiterate his well‐known views about same‐sex marriage and adoption of children by same‐sex couples.

Third and most important, Miller stresses the virtue of moderate thought and avoidance of extremes. He expressly urges resistance to gravitation toward the poles of liberalism and fundamentalism. This urging is articulated in every chapter of the book and constitutes the book’s overall theme. No doubt, the well‐centeredness he advocates will serve Church readers for many years to come.

Miller’s book is scholarly in the sense that it reflects carefulness of thought, cites numerous sources, and sets forth discussion questions at the end of each chapter. But the diffuseness of the subject matter he addresses in the book’s mere 142 pages necessarily requires some sacrifice of precision. A book of the “hot potatoes” genre is more difficult to write than a comprehensive discourse, which Miller can offer and has offered in the past.

The book is best suited to students in the ninth grade and higher, Sabbath School classes that would like to devote some time to discussion of issues of contemporary relevance, and shoppers at the ABC Bookstore who are looking for something scholarly to read.

Phillip Brantley obtained his law degree from the University of Texas Law School and is a graduate of Andrews University where he has recently done some teaching. He practices law in Houston, Texas.

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this challenge may extend to writing for those who have neither desire nor intention of gaining entry into the classroom…most of the theological conflicts in our church of late appear to have been brought to us courtesy of scholars…there are those who see these conflicts not as healthy challenges, but as clear departures from the faith…and their conclusion has been, “no thanks”…

but the sheer hubris of typical scholars doesn’t generally pass unnoticed…the assumption that scholars in the seventh-day adventist church are leaders in their faith community through any consensus but their own, even though they can claim the reformation model, is undercut by the fact, as tom says, that we can all read paul and john, which wasn’t necessarily the case during the reformation…it is also undercut by the fact that most of the church’s prophets, including adventism’s egw, haven’t been scholars…do scholars write for non-scholar members of the church who they consider equals, or do they write in order to toot their own horn…

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This introduction raises a number of question. First of all, what kind of “moderate” reform are we talking about? I can see several:

  1. Tinkering with the semantics of creedal statements so that church members who live in the 19th century believe that they have moved on into the 21st, and to reassure those who have abandoned the worldview of the 19th century have not abandoned the faith.

  2. Reform the organisational structure so as to allow the church in every continent to live its faith in comfort, against the dark matter of its host culture, such as wich-craft, misogyny, feudal sexual rights as well as secularism. It would make the church creak like an ocean-going galleon, but noise apart, it might hold the ship together.

  3. Review what a church is, either a a repository of sacred arcanae, especially the dogmatic passwords to eternity, who, when uttered with the right inflection, will cause the gates of Heaven to swing open.or a broad fellowship around a person who demonstrated what it meant to lead a life worthy of the Kingdom of God, which he believed must only be days or months away.

  4. Evaluate the role of Pauline theology in light of its divisive heritage. In Gal 1:8 Paul unfurled the first flap of the roadmap to the Middle Ages by declaring that he didn’t give damn if James or Peter or an angel gave the Galatians a different interpretation of the role of Jesus in the divine scheme than he did. They were to be considered under the curse of God. The result was two thousand years of church history in which Christians put orthodoxy above ethics, cognition above morality.

  5. The role of scripture. Our culture is full of monuments to our highest aspirations as\nd basest behavior. Religous monuments and scriptures are as much a part of this colonnaded museum of human culture as the Pyramids (which of course were religious monuments). It is in our best nature to take care of our past achievement. We watch over statutes of deities we long since stopped believing in. The same goes for art that at one time blinded the spirit with its brilliance. But notice that we no longer regard these works of art as “present truth.” We may take our art students through a course in which they get to try their hand at copying Giotto (or more likely, Rembrandt), but no modern art school teaches its students to paint like the masters.

The same flexibility is rarely extended to the scriptural masterworks of the various religions. They are declared eternal verities, not lamp posts lighting the advancing path of the human spirit. What religious people often forget is that community precedes scriptures. The Mosaic, Christian and Muslim communities existed before their sacred scriptures materialized. The Christian creeds did not grow out of the scriptures revered by their community, but by the community itself. It is a fundamentall religious truth that community is a much a part of a religion as its scriptures.

So what do you do when the old lampposts, so faithfully polished through the ages, no longer provide the light you need. If you no longer believe that God has an interested in the future of your church, and that you are happy simply being a sympathizer with a waning cause, then there is not much you can do, If not, hope that some visionary will rise up and get the older embers to glow, not back in the backwoods of Maine and Cannandagua but on Areopagas itself. And it’s got to be “Present Truth.”


For me, some of the marks of a person seeking the center are a willingness to listen, an ability to tolerate differences and a degree of ambiguity, and the humility to forego hardened positions in favor of a more spacious orthodoxy. Miller’s book seems to be less of an attempt to find center and more of an effort to establish a not-so-shrill conservatism–which is fine, but let’s not call that the “center.” And let’s not allow Miller to paint all liberals as extremists. One should be able to hold a moderate progressive viewpoint without being seen as colluding with the far left, just as Miller wishes to disassociate himself from the far right.


Yeah. That first paragraph in the article was a doozie.

Messenger of the gods?

(This post will probably disappear.)


EDIT: @vandieman

The Conclusion of the Matter

Not only was the Teacher wise, but he also imparted knowledge to the people. He pondered and searched out and set in order many proverbs.

The Teacher searched to find just the right words, and what he wrote was upright and true.

The words of the wise are like goads, their collected sayings like firmly embedded nails—given by one shepherd.

Be warned, my son, of anything in addition to them.

Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body.

Now all has been heard;
here is the conclusion of the matter:

Fear God and keep his commandments,
for this is the duty of all mankind.

For God will bring every deed into judgment,
including every hidden thing,
whether it is good or evil.

We ignore our own hearts at our peril.


Since Miller is a conservative, it is refreshing to hear that he has backed away from the shrill conservative rhetoric and viewpoints and expressions some of the other Adventist websites, scholars, and authors promote.

However, could our church ever be inclusive of a wider variety of viewpoints such as the Church of Scotland described thusly: “Protestant and Presbyterian,
its longstanding decision to respect ‘liberty of opinion on matters not
affecting the substance of the faith’ means it is relatively tolerant
of a variety of theological positions, including those who would term
themselves conservative and liberal in their doctrine, ethics and
interpretation of Scripture.”

Or is Miller calling us to a middle of the road stance as a church? There have always been hot potatoes and church and denominational history is littered with executions both literal and intellectual to clean up the house from heretics.


Ordinarily, this blogger’s comments are balanced and helpful, but this one disappoints me, not that that should matter. The work done in modern biblical scholarship and theology was not available to EGW, but she did have the writings of the reformers, some of whom (and some of their work) she undoubtedly read. A prophet does not need to be a scholar, but woe to the prophet who ignores the scholars to which he or she has access. There is no doubt that a segment of modern theological scholarship has no hesitation to minimize the transcendent significance of Scripture; there is also no doubt that a large segment does its work honestly and finds such scholarship supportive of faith. There were no Dead Sea Scrolls in the 19th century, for example. They alone transformed much of our understanding of what was going on in the writing, collection, editing and transmission of a great deal of Scripture. Scholars exist to help the church do its theology and thinking. If we can read Paul and John for ourselves and ignore them, why bother to have them?

If we really paid attention to them, we would not be enveloped in unbelievably naive and arrogant arguments over modern ethical and theological challenges. We ignore scholars at our peril.