Time to Start Over: How to Reconstruct Adventist Eschatology

We may be vandals who only want to crush convention, or we may, like the great prophets, want to renew a vision gone awry. Consider three stories toward the latter, all bearing, differently, on a single, urgent need: the reconceiving of hope, the reconstruction of Adventist eschatology.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/11166
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The mission of the Israel of old had been to direct the nations and people to the living creator God, not the sabbath, it was neither the object in the NT. There was no controversy or reformation during the Protestant Reformation about the law and the sabbath, 1844 movement had nothing to do with the sabbath either. Had Christ come as expected, majoroty of them would have been translated as false sabbth observers, including Ellen White along with the poineers. The theme of the three angels message is a call to worship the true God. We are judged by the whole law, not the sabbath alone!

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To reconstruct Adventism, which is actually based on eschatology, you left out one critical task - we need to define GOSPEL. I don’t believe we ever have.

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Dr. Scriven’s account of Ray Cottrell’s encounter with Paul Minear (which I vaguely recall as an event, but somehow missed the key points) is the Achilles heel of SDA eschatology. Why? Because, as Chuck explains, the sequence of “Sunday vs. Sabbath” events is not Scriptural, and, is in tension with the “imminence” of Christ’s return. Adventism has benefited from these specific prognostications. They have elevated Sabbath observance to the defining doctrine and final sign of Christ’s return which made it the most powerful doctrine in our history. Instead of “remember” the Sabbath day, we urged people to “anticipate” that day as a “sign” of what is to come. NT warnings about not knowing the day or hour were seen as “technically” permitting time-setting since it was not the “day or the hour” we were setting. No, we were setting the “year or two” which was permitted. Can the church writ large be as courageous as Chuck has been? Are we open to any emendations of our traditional beliefs?

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The biggest challenge for the SDA denomination in the next century will not be the petty power politics played by GC, union and conference administrators (disguised as theological differences), but the necessity of realizing that the prophetic narrative of an all-powerful Catholic Church, conspiring hand-in-hand with “apostate protestantism” to seize control of the US and institute a “Sunday law”, is a failed prophecy. With so much psychological capital having been invested in this failed prophecy how many will have the emotional maturity and intellectual honesty to admit the error, and can the institution survive such a shift? Secondly, once shorn of the “Sunday Law” hysteria, is there anything left in the denomination that is worthwhile saving? And if the institutional church fails to admit the prophetic error, will the membership vote with their feet, or does the SDA brand hold enough nostalgia and cultural affinity to survive another century?

These will be the issues to be faced in the next 50-100 years, not the sex of the person chairing church board meetings or delivering the Sabbath morning peroration.

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You have struck the three final nails to the coffin of Sunday law conspiracy!

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In “The End of the Scroll: Biblical Apocalyptic Trajectories” I demonstrate that reading apocalyptic texts as predictors of the future is to misread them and use them as foundations of conspiracy theories that energize intuitive fears, promote hubris, and invariably prove false. The problem with the Adventist Church is that it claims to base its doctrines on the Bible, but only uses the Bible to find what it wants, and dismisses most of it. Will it ever take the whole Bible seriously?

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here’s one of the better known statements of this prophecy:

“Heretofore those who presented the truths of the third angel’s message have often been regarded as mere alarmists. Their predictions that religious intolerance would gain control in the United States, that church and state would unite to persecute those who keep the commandments of God, have been pronounced groundless and absurd. It has been confidently declared that this land could never become other than what it has been—the defender of religious freedom. But as the question of enforcing Sunday observance is widely agitated, the event so long doubted and disbelieved is seen to be approaching, and the third message will produce an effect which it could not have had before.” GC: 605-606.

this prophecy is only 110 yrs old…noah’s prophecy took 120 yrs , Daniel’s messianic prophecy took several centuries, Daniel 8:14 took 2,300 yrs…the fact that the sunday prophecy hasn’t happened yet, and probably can’t happen in today’s conditions, is meaningless…the phrase “so long doubted and disbelieved” implies it’s going to take awhile…

what this means is that it’s quite possible that all of us will be dead and buried by the time this prophecy materializes…it’s possible that centuries will still pass…keep in mind that before this prophecy is fulfilled, we will need to see the latter rain produce a split in the church before it spills out into the non-adventist world, where it must finish its work before IJ can end, and the time of trouble is allowed to hit…we’ll need to see supernatural miracles, like people speaking in tongues, people being miraculously healed, and raised from the dead, similar to the time of pentecost, before anything related to universal sunday laws can happen…

so i wouldn’t dismiss this prophecy quite yet…what we do know is that we are aren’t seeing it happen now…but that’s actually all we know…

The great difference between the two is: God himself predicted the deluge, the other based upon Ellen’s imaginative speculation with no Scripture support.

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actually we don’t have a biblical record of god warning individual antediluvians about the flood outside of noah…presumably god told noah, who then preached that prophecy during the time it took him to build the ark…

this would be consistent with OT teaching that god doesn’t do anything without disclosing it to a prophet…

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Except that nothing actually happened at the end of those 2300 years.

Perhaps the 1844 fiasco provides a way out of the conundrum. Proclaim that there was an invisible “spiritual fulfillment” of the “Sunday Law” prophecy and we’re all good!

how can you prove nothing happened…the event scheduled to happen happened in heaven, which none of us can see…

as for the sunday law, there’s no date attached to this prophecy…it can be next year, or in 200 yrs…the only way we can call it failed is if it came with a date, it was scheduled to happen where we can see it, and that date came and went and we didn’t see anything…

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So called prophecies are a waste of time.

The Bible doesn’t mention Sunday laws. Or Sunday anythings. Or 2300 years.

How many of the 613 commandments of the Law do we even try to keep? (Besides, the angels are probably talking about commands given in the allegory, itself.)

We’re caught in games invented by people who would probably think “not one in 20” means zero in the twenty-first century.

The question is reconstruct or start over.

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Wise counsel against a wooden reading of apocalyptic literature. Apocalyptic expresses a hope; it’s aspirational or evocative (J. D. Dunn, Jesus Remembered, Vol I page 487) rather than literal predictive history.

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This is brilliant writing. Provocative but well reasoned. Thank you Chuck Scriven for sharing your thoughts with us.

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While I can relate, to some extent, with the idea of being thankful for my upbringing in the cult of SDA-ism, as it taught me many valuable lessons—not the least being that it’s not only “okay” but important to be different—the bottom line is that I also came to see all of the damage done to so many people, in my family and around the world all with the purported approbation of Jesus and EGW, that once easily deconstructed and abandoned by me personally, I would see myself as a dog returning to its vomit if I believed, for one minute, that the cult could and should be reaffirmed as part of my existence.

Further, while I’m sensitive to the argument that Adventism has done some people some good, the same can be said of even the most vile institutions imaginable. Nazism made possible some of the finest cars and roads in the world, communism produced some of the world’s finest athletes and I saw a clip on YouTube last night about a most pristine (but virtually empty) ski resort in North Korea.

But in each case, when weighing such benefits against the much larger downsides, I’m convinced that the primary reasons given for staying with any of these essentially anthropomorphic institutions (what else can be said about any group which holds that neonatals have already committed their first sin, in the act of allowing themselves to be born?) come down to egotism, inertia and rationalization rather than a basic desire to do what’s right and best for humanity.

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i think the larger question is whether adventism should reconstruct, or start over, just because some, or most, seem to feel burned out and unhappy…there is also the related question of whether the emphasis in adventism should be in making everyone, or as many people as possible, feel happy…after all, jesus did say many are called, but few are chosen…

strictly speaking, of course, these questions would be more significant and urgent if the majority of members were permanently cased in adventism, and had no where else to go…but the reality is, most people do have the freedom to leave, and many do…given that this freedom results in the winnowing out of the burned out, unhappy ones pushing for change, it seems the church, as is, has a built in mechanism for decreasing unhappiness, or inversely, for increasing happiness over time, which i think most objective onlookers would see as desirable…

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It might serve us SDAs to remember (or learn for the first time), that God’s instruction to the Israelites in Deuteronomy 28 was an economic model. It would counteract systemic poverty and retain economic stability in land ownership.

Further, It was built around instructions that would help them learn to rely on Him, through the weekly day of rest from labor, the 7th year sabbath for the land and vineyards, and ultimately, the Year of Jubilee…a precursor to Righteousness by Faith, really. He tells them how they will materially prosper if they follow His instructions. This was for the purpose of fulfilling His grand vision and purpose for them. Deut. 5:2-3 states very clearly that this covenant was not made with any of their ancestors previously, but was just for them. This was particular to their circumstances and selection as His chosen representative here on earth. The plan/instructions were not salvific.

The 10 commandments were a way to relate to God and humanity…He wanted them to love Him (Deut. 6:5) and care for others. The 10 commandments were not salvific, because God had already saved them by bringing them out of Egypt.

But we have made the 10 commandments salvific, and particularly the 4th. We have essentially done to the Sabbath, what the children of Israel did with the bronze snake. It was to symbolize God’s saving power, ultimately through Jesus ‘being lifted up’, but instead, they made it into an idol and drug it around with them until King Hezekiah destroyed it (II Kings 18:4). The Sabbath represents God’s creative and saving powers…it is a symbol, not the Seal of God, which as I have stated in previous posts, is God’s name (Rev. 14:1 and Rev. 22:4). Those who are saved ‘belong’ to Him. This comes from relationship, and is not initiated by our behavior.

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I so agree with this statement. The true Gospel is that God accepts us unconditionally. From our earthly perspective there is really no reason for a superior being to care about what happens on a spec in the expanse of the universe, except that we represent a faction of this universe which does not trust or accept the truth of that universal / unconditional love. In spite of the demonstration on the cross we still think of this being as if they are an earthly king with all the demands and urges we have seen since Samuel told Israel what it would mean. The Gospel in my mind is very simple. God is Love, the infinite love demands freedom for the individual and once given the circle is completed when we learn that unconditional acceptance is offered to each person just like it was for the prodigal. Religion has always tended toward more complexities, study does that and it makes us feel exclusive, superior and exceptional. But the Gospel is still as simple as it always was. It establishes the same foundational principles for community success as other communities have also proposed in many different cultures. Simplification of the Gospel of Christ is the only way the message can be made universal. We need to shed all vestiges of culture which have been added. Each culture should maintain the diversity that God created and allow the fullness of his Love to be manifest to all.

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I so agree. Adventists don’t talk much about the gospel. I get the impression “the gospel” is thought to mean “the truth” - that of course morphed into the various SDA points of doctrine that cover everything from soup to nuts (diet, dress, proper deportment - you know what I mean).

The guy in the pew isn’t the only one who can’t give a biblical answer. The theologians, once they look up from their specific thesis, can’t help us either. Compartmentalization keeps everything in small capsulated packages that start breaking up when they try to combine them - For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is a gift of God. Add to that - Judgment began in heaven in 1844; and you must clean up your act before your name comes up. - and you have a non sequitur. There are quite a few of those in “The 28”.

I once asked my adult SS class to define “Gospel”, and all I got was crickets. So before we start refining SDA eschatology, we should determine what the message to the world at large should be (as well as to ourselves and our children). So far the message of the gospel has been defined as being “the history of the SDA church” and all its pillars.

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