Timeout: Cosmic Conflict vs. Historicism

Rather than staring at the leaves at the bottom of Time’s Tea Cup in order to understand what life is all about, or trying to predict what the future will hold, it seems safest to assume that Revelation was best, and perhaps only understood by John’s Contemporaries who knew that 666 was a code name for Nero and deduce that all of the nightmare-ish elements were applicable, in ways which we probably can’t comprehend, to them.

This instead of supposing or insisting that John had anything to say for us.

That is, since the primary objective of the book may have been deliberate obfuscation, and its subtext and context cannot possibly be reconstructed, much less made comprehensible by staring into a dark crystal ball some 2,000 years on, it seems most likely that the words cannot possibly hold any meaning can for the modern reader other than that imposed by his eisegesis.

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In spite of my existential angst, my faith in the “faithfulness of Christ” does not waver. Believing that Scripture promises the rescue and redemption of the entire community in history (hoping it leaves out few if any) at the same time (not one by one as in “going to heaven” at death doctrine), it is worth the wait. My sense of time while conscious is confusing, in that looking back it seems so much shorter than it did looking ahead (there are ostensibly quasi-scientific reasons for this). But it becomes irrelevant when I go to the final “sleep” in death. Then, as in Peter, a “thousand years is as a moment and a moment is as a thousand years” experientially.

Looking back on earth’s history of horrendous suffering, time seems unbearably long. Looking ahead, I feel confident in God’s faithfulness that however long it takes it will be justified and beyond all expectations. Thank you for your post!!!


Dr. Tonstad, how would you respond to the contention that your proposed Cosmic Conflict approach to interpreting Revelation is, hilariously unbeknownst to you, the same thing as a Structuralist approach to interpreting this text?

Structuralism has its origins in the posthumous publication in 1913 of the lectures of Ferdinand de Saussure, the Father of Modern Linguistics. He established that language is a structure. The meaning of a word is not fixed but ever changing, not of divine origin but conventional, not bearing a natural relationship to its signified but arbitrary, and derived solely from its paradigmatic and syntagmatic relations with other words. The structure of language is ahistorical; etymological studies merely provide a history of a word’s meaning, not what the word presently means. To better illustrate this point, binary opposites such as light and dark, good and evil, and raw and cooked derive their meaning solely by such binary opposition structure, not on any other informative content.

Since de Saussure, other structures have been claimed: myth–Propp, narrative–Barthes, culture–Levi-Strauss, consciousness–Lacan, the past–various historians, but this is problematic because it is not stable but keeps getting bigger as the clock ticks, as pointed out by Gadamer. Structuralist approaches to the biblical text have arisen. It is highly plausible that Revelation, which is a literary work, is a structure. Binary opposites predominate: good and evil, Trinity and counterfeit trinity, woman clothed in white and the whore of Babylon, etc. De Saussure’s work first made its inroads in theology in 1961 in James Barr’s Semantics of Biblical Language, which is probably the most important theological writing of the twentieth century. The next logical step to take is to propose that the entirety of biblical thought is also structural. Yes, we have inspiring content in biblical stories, but those stories can be broken down to their structural components, in like manner as Propp did so with the Russian folktales.

There is a supernatural dimension, of course. The structure is destroyed not by Post-Structuralism, i.e., deconstruction, which soon responded to Structuralism, but by one binary opposite triumphing over the other, similar to the stone demolishing the cyclical succession of one kingdom after another in Daniel 2. We are left with the highly-reductive conclusion that reality is not a closed structure but subject to supernatural disruption. That’s a nice thought, but is that all that Revelation is about?

These are the thoughts that come to my mind upon being introduced to the Cosmic Conflict approach that you propose. I am not saying the approach is wrong. I am just amused to observe that it is essentially a Structuralist approach to the text.

Sigve set up a straw man of historicism, Uriah Smith, and dispatched him with little trouble.

He calls Uriah Smith’s thinking “old historicism,” and has even less esteem for “new historicism.”

Am I missing something or did Sigve neglect to tell us the person(s) responsible for “new historicism,” with its “punitive logic.”

And I’m not an educated person, but didn’t Ellen White put together several editions of a book detailing her understanding of “cosmic conflict” and call it, The Great Controversy?

And isn’t the grand metanarrative of Seventh-day Adventism centered on “cosmic conflict?”

I find it curious that Sigve (correct me) has not spoken a direct word about Ellen White here.

And he definitely tipped his hand about Graham Maxwell with his “West Coast” remark.

I followed a Graham Maxwell oriented forum for years (until it flamed out in acrimony many years ago), so I know for a fact that Ellen White quotes can be mined and put in service of “revelatory logic,” as Sigve puts it. This is far from a new idea.

But it becomes problematic if one wants to enlist Ellen White in that effort using her flagship book about “cosmic conflict,” The Great Controversy, because “punitive logic” is in evidence there:

Saith the Lord: "Because thou hast set thine heart as the heart of God; behold, therefore I will bring strangers upon thee, the terrible of the nations: and they shall draw their swords against the beauty of thy wisdom, and they shall defile thy brightness. They shall bring thee down to the pit."

“I will destroy thee, O covering cherub, from the midst of the stones of fire. . . . I will cast thee to the ground, I will lay thee before kings, that they may behold thee. . . . I will bring thee to ashes upon the earth in the sight of all them that behold thee. . . . Thou shalt be a terror, and never shalt thou be any more.” Ezekiel 28:6-8, 16-19.

“Every battle of the warrior is with confused noise, and garments rolled in blood; but this shall be with burning and fuel of fire.”

“The indignation of the Lord is upon all nations, and His fury upon all their armies: He hath utterly destroyed them, He hath delivered them to the slaughter.”

“Upon the wicked He shall rain quick burning coals, fire and brimstone and an horrible tempest: this shall be the portion of their cup.” Isaiah 9:5; 34:2; Psalm 11:6, margin.

Fire comes down from God out of heaven. The earth is broken up. The weapons concealed in its depths are drawn forth.

Devouring flames burst from every yawning chasm. The very rocks are on fire. The day has come that shall burn as an oven. The elements melt with fervent heat, the earth also, and the works that are therein are burned up. Malachi 4:1; 2 Peter 3:10.

The earth’s surface seems one molten mass–a vast, seething lake of fire.

It is the time of the judgment and perdition of ungodly men–“the day of the Lord’s vengeance, and the year of recompenses for the controversy of Zion.” Isaiah 34:8.

The wicked receive their recompense in the earth. Proverbs 11:31.

They “shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the Lord of hosts.” Malachi 4:1.

Some are destroyed as in a moment, while others suffer many days.

All are punished “according to their deeds.”

The sins of the righteous having been transferred to Satan, he is made to suffer not only for his own rebellion, but for all the sins which he has caused God’s people to commit.

His punishment is to be far greater than that of those whom he has deceived. After all have perished who fell by his deceptions, he is still to live and suffer on. In the cleansing flames the wicked are at last destroyed, root and branch–Satan the root, his followers the branches.

The full penalty of the law has been visited; the demands of justice have been met; and heaven and earth, beholding, declare the righteousness of Jehovah.


It’s absolutely confounding to not bring ELLEN WHITE into this discussion!

Intellectual Adventists can’t make an end-run around Ellen white without creating intractable double binds and sending people into years of garbled thinking trying to figure out what hit them.

Lacan, de Saussure, et. al., can’t clean up the mess Adventists have made of people’s minds by deliberate obfuscation for decades, across the board.

I am not speaking to motive—we’re all on a spiritual journey—but this mess isn’t going away, and the hole keeps getting deeper.


Interesting Cassie. This segment of SDA thinking which chooses to give us a neutered God, I suggest, picks and ignores EGW quotes thru it’s filters.
I think there is a fear in ignoring her in SDA scholastic circles because one immediately loses credibility. So here, we speak of EGW’s selective thoughts on love to do away with any punitive judgment.
I pointed some of the above “destruction” quotes to Phil1 the other day.
I believe the Maxwell model was intellectually dishonest in that way. Fine for the man to believe and preach what he believed but his view of the GC theme used EGW where convenient and turned a blind eye to the destruction of the wicked quotes.


“The Maxwell Model” destroys the Gospel and makes our very existence merely instrumental to the ends of “saving God’s reputation.”

Don’t believe me?


Graham Maxwell interviewed by Jonathan Gallagher (1991)

Now we know there is a whole vast universe of intelligent beings, all involved in what went wrong,
sinless angels included.

The book of Revelation was given to help us see that LARGER VIEW.

And what went wrong in the universe went wrong before we humans ever came into existence, and God proposed to set that right.

We know that he CREATED this world to provide the setting within which he would set things right.

So we are a spectacle to the whole universe, as here on this world God did the things that set the universe right again—WHETHER WE HUMANS ARE SAVED OR NOT.

So Christ’s death was for our benefit certainly, but also for the benefit of the angels and the unfallen worlds?


What can I possibly say to someone who doesn’t see a problem there?

This is far from benign, and morally sets us back centuries, in my opinion.


I know no such thing.

That is made up out of whole cloth.

Clearly, Adventists have no sense of that Categorical Imperative that enjoins us not to use human beings instrumentally; that human beings are ends in themselves.

And wasn’t this clearly demonstrated when LLU fed people perchlorate in service to the military industrial complex? Who signed off on that abomination?

Purportedly, God Himself uses human beings to instrumental ends to “save His reputation,” so what isn’t allowed, in this environment?

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Not familiar with? Background?

“Inherently unethical”
“It would bring a tear to Dr. Josef Mengele’s eye.”

The Ethical Discussion is far overdue, in my opinion.

Innocent Blood!

For the record: “Saving God’s Reputation” show how Jesus saves God’s shattered reputation. It is not as though the author presumes to give God a helping hand.


Thank you, Sigve.

For the record, this is not personal, in the least.

I believe in universal reconciliation, and am ending up in the general vicinity of where you and Maxwell are, I imagine.

I believe Graham Maxwell tried to be a bridge to a more benign view of God, but inadvertently ended up shooting himself in the foot, lovely man that he was considered, and I will take people’s word for that.

Last Generation Theology (LGT) is disdained on this forum, but Graham Maxwell’s model has us saving God’s reputation as God’s purpose in creating this world, whether humans are saved or not.

To my mind, that is much more toxic and damaging than the perfectionism of conservative SDAs, which I used to embrace.

And it’s just another iteration of LGT.

And it’s a made-up story besides.

BTW, I’m not against LGT, by any means.

Now you can make an erudite distinction between faith in Jesus and faith of Jesus that I don’t have the intellectual equipment to argue with.

But surely you are not saying that human beings have no part in “saving God’s reputation”. via their appropriation of the faith OF Jesus.

Or…maybe you ARE saying that…correct me.

But we’re still here, so…


Are you referring to Universalism, in which God saves everyone in the end?

This is fascinating that Maxwell’s “are we safe to save” and protecting God’s reputation is connected to Last Generation Theology of perfectionism. I have always thought that both these approaches de-emphasize the role of the cross, or as Tom Zwemer calls it, “The Christ Event” with their focus moving off a personal saviour, His love for humans and emphasizing proving we are good enough, perfect enough, righteousness to “earn” a place in the next Heavenly life.

Thank you for making that connection more direct.

You are right. The Maxwell theory is toxic. But so is focusing on being “good enough.” They are both toxic.

Jesus is enough. His death for us, that He would have died for just one, is love beyond measure.


If we were to go cherry picking we might insert, right about here:

For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. … So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men.


I wish to also say that I have no personal animus regarding Sigve, Maxwell vs. Herb Douglass (LGT, Andreason et.al ) on the varying sides of the SDA discussion. I will continue to point out, I suggest, both these “major views” of today minimize or abandon the “Classical Protestant” view of JBF “alone.” Somewhat ironic or disingenuous for a message that was suppose to be a continuation of the Protestant Reformation.
Do as one pleases but recognize what you are doing and why you are doing it.
As to “faith of Christ” or “faith in Christ” it is whether context prefers the subjective Genitive of the first or objective Genitive of the later. Both of the translations are acceptable and context can cause the different views. I would suggest “faith in Christ” is best where the genetive causes focus on the noun Christ.
If it were “faith of Jesus” that is chosen then I would suggest one consider Christ’s perfect faith/ faithfulness in fulfilling the Covenant promises that allows His vicarious atonement. Likewise the covenant contains the blessings and curses in it. I would suggest the covenant curses remain for those not receiving the blessings in Christ. The curses were a sure outcome also for disobedience.
Christ portrayed in Rev.19 coming forth is a time of both deliverance to blessings and delivering curses to unbelief.
Regards to Sigve, Cassie, Sirge & Harpa who have conversed.


Thanks, Pat. As I said to Sigve, I lack the intellectual equipment to have a clue what you guys are talking about, which means I’m possibly/probably wrong.

Again, I don’t know, Pat.

But if that’s true, and it may well be true, then Adventists have totally missed the point that Ellen White made when she said:

“Righteousness by faith is the Third Angel’s Message in verity.”

(I recently posted that, “We don’t understand that yet.” Just my opinion.)

Adventists can’t seem to get their soteriology and their eschatology on the same page, I’ve often said.

I appreciate your input, Pat.


I am wholeheartedly with you, Sirje.

Not in the usual sense, but in a specifically Adventist sense, which involves The Great Antitypical Day of Atonement.

This is not explainable, and I have no hope of being persuasive.

We don’t have to live as mice in someone else’s maze. We can use our sanctified imaginations.

Maxwell was right: God is friendly.

Thanks for asking. :hugs:


AND…this Drama of the Ages is going somewhere, somewhere unimaginably good.

I believe that, but I can’t prove it.

Best regards to all here, especially Sigve, who I hope isn’t feeling terribly besieged. :frowning:


As for me, I’m sweating bullets. Who do I think I am?

If someone called me a miserable excuse for a human being, I’d have to say that rose to the level of a high complement.

Going to give it a rest.

Love and prayers, Adventist friends. :heart:


The classical Protestant view of JBF alone means “reckon/declare” righteous.
Other views, “which are many” consider RBF to be "make righteous "
Their focus is more on our faith and inward renewal that justifies…us and in some instances God.

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She seems to appear, or not, as needed…:roll_eyes:

I listened to Graham Maxwell back in the mid 90’s because a friend was very taken with his talks. Personally, I didn’t gravitate toward him at all. In fact, I was quite unattracted to his message and style. As you said, he would quote parts of EGW, but leave off the rest of it. It just seemed like a bunch of EGW “proof-texting”, so to speak, in the same way that Scripture is treated.
Agreed. EGW has so many conflicting statements, visions, etc. (along with a lot that doesn’t agree with Scripture), that this should make the point that authoritative, extra-biblical sources, are a very, very bad idea.


First, I want to say how appreciative I am for this series, and for this installment, in particular. I do believe that foregrounding the broad picture of the Cosmic Conflict over a concern for any particular historical correspondence, whether Roman or American, is the proper way to interpret Revelation’s temporal perspective.

But I do want to add one critique. Tonstad speaks more than once about a “post-Holocaust world” and about visiting Holocaust sites. Certainly, the massacre of six million innocent Jews raised serious theological questions and became a dividing line, of sorts, in theological thinking. However, I think it is all too easy for white theologians to overlook other similar human tragedies, some perhaps closer to home. In America, how can we point to the exterminations of Jews carried out by Nazi Germany while overlooking our own genocide of Native Americans and the enslavement and lynching of African Americans? These were holocausts, as well, yet white theologians have seldom, if ever, wrestled with living in a “post-lynching” world. Perhaps, alongside Auschwitz and Treblinka we ought to place Montgomery, Alabama, and the new National Memorial for Peace and Justice. According to their website, “more than 4400 African American men, women, and children were hanged, burned alive, shot, drowned, and beaten to death by white mobs between 1877 and 1950. Millions more fled the South as refugees from racial terrorism, profoundly impacting the entire nation. Until now, there has been no national memorial acknowledging the victims of racial terror lynchings.” Can the African American be hopeful in a post-lynching, mass incarceration world because of “the cosmic narratives of Revelation?” I think so. But I also think it is time to acknowledge those realities, as well, in our theological work.


Thank-you for bringing up this point…and as sad as the slavery issue has been in the US, there has been little addressing the ethics and morality of the displacement, mistreatment and atrocities, upon the Native Americans by the “God-fearing”.

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