Timeout: Storm Clouds over Historicism

Dear @sktonstad:

My, goodness: You are blowing the lid off the pot with this one.

My favorite paragraph, thus far (I’m still reading the piece!):

In this other-worldly orientation, the world was mere decoration: the world was not taken seriously . Precisely this is the blind spot of historicism: it knows what the historicist understanding has selected as important, but it does not know history. It does not take the world seriously, and it does not take history seriously either. In important respects, historicism can be a cop-out, a way that passes for knowing without doing the hard work of really knowing something. [My emphasis.—HA] The test in this case was the racist, nationalist, demagogic, Jew-hating program of Hitler, but the prophetic radar had been set at an angle that did not pick it up. It spotted beasts on the screen in Rome and a few other places, but it had no alarm bells for the Beast in Nuremberg or Berlin.

I hereby vote this the "Essay Least Likely To Be Read Or Quoted In A Mainstream Adventist Church For The Next Five Hundred Years."



Sorry for the abruptness of my reply Stan. As Frank has said below, Jesus said "“The kingdom of God is in your midst,” [among you] as Jesus said to the religious leaders of his day. …
Additionally, the NT describes the Spirit as the down-payment of the fullness of what is to come. This implies that God’s reign on earth has a present and future dimension.

George Eldon Ladd in “The Presence Of the Future” and Herman Ridderbos in “The Coming of the Kingdom” both represent this view comprehensively. The kingdom of God in the Messianic sense, was inaugurated with the coming of Jesus the first time, and will be consummated at his coming in glory. What the disciples found difficult to understand was that the kingdom did not come in a powerful military way. This is what both Jesus and Paul both refer to as the “Mystery” of the kingdom, because it appeared in a very different way from what everybody expected.

In the Old Testament the concept of the kingdom of God is everywhere, even if the phrase only appears once. Israel established in Palestine is the kingdom of God in the OT, although they later looked for the Messiah to come and re-instate the kingdom after their failure and exile in Babylon.


George Knight said it “is a pretty radical swing of the pendulum, to dump our heritage and beliefs in eschatology/last-day events, along with the implications of our historical stance on the . . . prophecies, and focus only on being Christlike.”


“If Adventism loses its apocalyptic vision, it has lost its reason for existing as either a church or as a system of education.”

George Knight, is it time for another article from you here on Spectrum?

If Adventism is neutered, cui bono?

Alden Thompson - Beyond Common Ground: Why Liberals and Conservatives Need Each Other

Alden, time for another article from you?

If it continues to be demonstrated that the apocalyptic vision is seen through a questionable interpretive lens, then maybe cataract surgery is needed? Would Knight or others ever even entertain this? I think we already know the answer to this.



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All interpretive lenses are questionable and endlessly inadequate, in my opinion.

That is why we need to talk. And keep talking.

Blaming an interpretive lens on Adventist collaboration with Hitler will solve about as much as the Catholics canonizing Pius XII to put a lid on it.

When official Adventism courageously stands up for the Falun Gong believers in China, who are being butchered for their organs, it will be apparent that they were instructed by tragic history.


I would like to see a discussion of LLU ethicist James Walters’ book, What Is a Person? in relation to the issue of organ harvesting, as he advocates changing United States law to allow the harvesting of organs from living anencephalic infants.


What is a Person? An Ethical Exploration

In the face of the continuing atrocities against the Falun Gong, surely this ethical discussion is long overdue, particularly since Peter Singer is invoked as a mentor in the book.

The notion that human life is sacred just because it is human life is medieval.

—Peter Singer

Is the PRC slaughter of religious political prisoners for their organs a crisis?

What say you, Elder Ted Wilson?

What say you Loma Linda University?

# Paulsen commends changes in China

Adventist president says Christian community growth expresses freedom

May 22, 2009Beijing, People’s Republic of ChinaRajmund Dabrowski/ANN

Reflecting on his meetings with Adventist believers in China, Paulsen said, "Last Sabbath we had the privilege to visit Shenyang and worship with one of our church’s congregations, where twenty years ago we had less than 50 members.

Today, that Seventh-day Adventist community numbers 7,000 and we have the largest Protestant church in the city, seating 3,000 members. It was a wonderful Sabbath," he said.

“All of this testifies to freedom, while at times elusive and difficult to exercise, but finally expresses major changes happening in China, and I praise the Lord for that and I am very, very thankful.”


I agree that there are other central factors…such as institutional preservation, that lead to outcomes as was seen in what the Adventist church did in 1930’s Germany. That drive is powerful, and leads to collusion with power, the ignoring of morality, abuse, ethics, and the very values that are supposedly foundational to the institution, in the misguided attempt to save it. People are abused and their lives are sacrificed for the sake of the organization and preserving its name and place under the sun. We continue to see this in the RCC. We have seen and still see this in Adventism. Leaving religion aside, we also saw this in the Penn State scandal, a few years back.

With that said, I beg to differ about the inadequacy of all interpretive lenses, in terms of all being equally deficient, and being non factors in these issues. While all do have limitations, because we are all finite beings, some lead to far better and some to worse conclusions and belief systems. And, those conclusions and belief systems help shape institutional cultures. Those institutional cultures help shape the thinking of individuals within those cultures. The group culture that is shaped by these belief systems and those who buy in, lead to patterns of corporate policy and resultant decision making. This influences patterns of behavior and action.

IOW, ideas matter. How the bible is interpreted creates ideas that have outcomes. Adventist exceptionalism and tunnel vision regarding the world, comes from its belief system. That belief system comes from a method of interpreting the Scriptures. It is foundational to the institution’s life. I agree that it does not explain all of what happened in its collusion with Nazi power in Germany. Other mainline churches with different views did the same. But, the confessing churches did not. Someone such as Bonhoffer and his circle, who had a far different way of approaching the bible and of understanding the call of Christ, took a far different path.

Ideas that arise from interpretive methods and conclusions don’t explain everything. But they do matter. I think that Sigve is onto something.



Not even a nod toward the present U.S. Administration and Adventism.

Cassie, I agree to a large degree, and tie it to another comment made later in this thread - namely “knowledge shall be increased”

One of the things that “gives weight” to your commentary is that knowledge and in this regard – ultimately “all truth” is a moving target. The more we know they more we find that we “don’t understand the multi-layered” context of “determining evidence” on what “history” instructs us to do… as it becomes more detailed/known

The perfect example of this is the SDA church interpreting itself to discover itself to… itself (the EGW mantra – prophecy wise – being the “touchstone” to all who believe.

Each day I must “discover” God in the bible and other written text and as I live day to day… in order to remain current. The major fallacy with “historicism” is that it cannot be real and dynamic to be “current”… in order for that to happen it cant have “holy relic status”…

From an antithetical perspective – what makes us present in the church age? Is the “true gospel” the “true revelation” of God in the last days (whenever they occur).

I think you are dead perfect center in your question regarding the “relevancy” of the church addressing social and meaningful questions regarding true faith…

:slight_smile: … it’s a breath of fresh air when someone is politically incorrect

Thanks very much for your comprehensive insight.

with kind regards,


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What about “they were lost in the mist because they followed a failing map”?

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Ridderbos is a great read on the kingdom!
Above, Stan makes a good point that
There is now. no completed kingdom on earth without the literal presence of a king. This makes an important point to “more liberal views” who may be tempted to , make the “not yet” into “the now” /present.
Jesus sits in heaven now on the throne “of His father David.” When He comes and the “not yet” becomes reality, then and only then is the eschatoligical kingdom of God fulfilled on earth.
The invisible church of twice born compromise members of His present kingdom. So neither the King or members have a completly visible form in the present. It certainly is not a visible denomination!

Excellent. Perhaps you will be able to explain to me why the last part of the interpretations for Daniels prophecies are inconsistent with the early ones? Why Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome are political powers ruling over all of Israel only to be finally superseded by the pope who only ruled over a backwater minority of christians until Islam had grown large enough to dechristianise north Africa and Asia? Is there a better reason for ignoring the eastern church than that Adventist eschatology needs the pope to be the bad guy in the last generation?

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You are certainly keeping us thinking! There is much food for thought in what you say. Believers in the soon coming of Christ must be prepared to mature in their thinking about apocalyptic. And you have provided significant pointers if we wish to do so. Yet this is not to say that I follow all of your logic in this present essay.

You delight to point out “the vulnerabilities of historicism as the key to Bible prophecy and the lens through which to determine what is important in history.” Adventists have certainly used historicism to do these things you suggest. We have often been immature in our presentation of these things. Correctives are needed and welcome. But please do not tell us that we must throw the baby out with the bathwater, ie. throw historicism out wholesale, just because our interpretation needs to be broader and more all encompassing.

Sigve, you are very content to tell us what we cannot believe in, ie historicism. But you have not told us what we will put in its place.

However grand the evil of humanity is and however well it is illustrated in the Holocaust, in the Rwandan genocide, and in the atrocities committed in the former Yugoslavia, these three events are only a small fraction of the evil atrocities hidden within the C20th. With the help of Mr Google I have put together a collage of all this.

The worldwide death toll of WWII is estimated at 55 million.

"World War One was one of the deadliest conflicts in the history of the human race, in which over 16 million people died. The total number of both civilian and military casualties is estimated at around 37 million people . The war killed almost 7 million civilians and 10 million military personnel.

Mao Zedong, founder of the People’s Republic of China, qualifies as the greatest mass murderer in world history, an expert who had unprecedented access to official Communist Party archives said yesterday. In 1957 he launched a campaign known as the Great Leap Forward that aimed to rapidly transform China’s economy from agrarian to industrial. This campaign led to the deadliest famine in history and the deaths of 20– 45 million people between 1958 and 1962.

Hitler was responsible for between 11 million and 12 million noncombatant deaths, while Stalin was responsible for at least 6 million, and as many as 9 million if “foreseeable” deaths caused by deportation, starvation, and incarceration in concentration camps are included.

Estimates of the total number of deaths resulting from Khmer Rouge policies, including disease and starvation, range from 1.7 to 2.5 million out of a 1975 population of roughly 8 million.

Surely, it is debatable that the Holocaust “towers above all other atrocities in the twentieth century”, as you have stated.

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Surely, the Adventist conscience capitulated to the Zeitgeist within Nazi Germany!

Yet I do not believe that your larger point does not follow from this. You assert that believers and promoters of the soon coming of Christ surely cannot see themselves in the “remnant” description of the apocalypse. You conclude that the momumental failures of such believers and the those within the German Adventist organizational infrastructure invalidate such an ascription. You, like Hartiapp see this ascription as “[a] claim to exclusivity [that] has been invalidated by life.”

I beg to differ even while I accept that “the church” in Germany caved into the zeitgeist because the so-called fundamentals had lost their fundamental weight. Our church in Germany faced a crisis to which it responded by silence, acquiescence, and denial. The problem was church-wide, that is in Germany.

I wish to make the following point:

  1. You object to the term “remnant church.” I do too. Yet I wholheartedly value the apocalyptic remant theology. And I see real value in the term “emerging remnant” as it is used by both Charles Bradford, and before him by Fernando Canale. The term “emerging remnant” places the emphasis where it belongs, on individuals who experience and demonstrate a quality of faith amid apostasy and on an emerging collective of faithful individuals. The emphasis is not on the Adventist institutional ecclesial body, as represented by the GC of SDA’s or any of its sub-divisions. The SDA organizational machinery is a key mission driver that will involve such faithful people. Yet there are many who names are on Adventist church membership lists who have not as yet joined this ‘remnant.’ The gospel net the ‘remnant’ use collects fish both good and bad.

In my writing and in my speaking I have for some years now attempted to avoid using ‘church’ terminology that would reference God’s people as an institutional entity. We must in our speaking and writing begin seeing the remnant as an emerging collective of faithful believers characterized by action as well as by deep faith commitments to their soon coming Christ…

The above re-envisioning of the remant then may avoid the pitfalls of a “theology of a self-described prophetic end-time movement.” Hans La Rondelle in his exposition of the doctrine Remnant in the Handbook of SDA Theology also avoids falling into this pitfall by speaking of the Remnant and its mission and not the Remnant and its organization.

I do not believe that the claim that you and I may be part of the remnant in its mission to the world is a claim to exclusivity.

The General Conference sees itself altogether too much as an institution, and altogether too little as a driver of mission in the world. Such institutionalism is one of the root causes of the present ordination impasse among Adventist people.

Except Peter the " Protestant Confessing church" and Bonhoeffer et al. Who saw the evils of a worshiped statism. The great confessions spared them the deception.



You are correct! There were many Christians in Nazi Germany who did not capitulate to the zeitgueist the way many German Adventists and their pastors appear to have done.

My point of course was that the feebleness and failings of Adventist believers in Nazi German or indeed in Rwanda during the genocide or indeed during the atrocities within the post-Communist former Yugoslavia should not be used to bring into question the prophetic calling of faithful Adventist believers.

If God’s plans and timetable involve us we should be humble enough and grateful enough to accept his call and allow Him to prepare us to act our part in continuing the ministry and mission of God’s kingdom that was begun by Christ.

But Peter,
These Adventist were faithfully keeping the sabbath and health message. :slight_smile:
The “confessing church” worshiped on Sunday, ate meat, yet Uplifted Christ and recognized the idolatry of worshiping the state in His place.


Thank you, Peter Marks, for your message. I wish to correct one of your characterizations. It is not correct to say that I “delight” in pointing out the vulnerabilities of historicism. I am not on a mission in that regard; I seek interpretations that are exegetically responsible and historically meaningful. Historicism has in the past failed to instil in us the requisite vigilance. The example I pointed out in the video link suggests that very Bible believing SDAs (presumably historicists) are mixing God and country to a degree that SDAs in the United States have not done before – with historicism partly to blame. You are right to point out atrocities in China and the Soviet Union, but there is no advertised genocide in these countries. The Nazi genocide of Jews has no equivalent. There is an alternative to historicism, and it is this: Do not approach any text on the assumption that it can be solved by appealing to some -ism, whether the half hour of silence in heaven or the five months of torment in the fifth trumpet or other things that tempt us to locate it on a timeline.


His/ Hitlers social justice program and rebuild of Germany, the people’s car (Vw) labor rights, paid vacations were all part of the German excitement in the middle 30’s. In this new statism your speakers frolicked.
The Liberal German theological school views and philosophy also had done its work in Germany.

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