Timeout: Storm Clouds over Historicism

(Frankmer7) #21

I did speak of both, if you would read my reply again.



(Frankmer7) #22

Mt. 26 narrates Jesus’s Passion and trials. I don’t see how that speaks to this, at least in the setting of historicist interpretation.

If you meant Mt. 24-25, Jesus first gives signs of the eschaton that are non-signs…wars, rumors of wars, famines, etc. He gives positive signs as to the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple. He continues with persecution and the preaching of the gospel, which have gone on throughout Christian history for the past 2000 years. While these are to continue before his return, the only sign he gives that is directly connected to his coming, is the sign of the Son of Man in the heavens, a universally visible event.

While Jesus compares these to the ripening of the fig tree that indicates that summer is near, he then goes on to tell his disciples that no one knows the day nor the hour of his parousia. He gives parables in Chap. 25, that say that it could be earlier than you think, or later. Thus, he says repeatedly, “Always be ready, for the Son of man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.” Nowhere does Jesus encourage the idea of mapping out events in detailed format to determine when he is coming. We simply can’t.

Adventism grew out of a date setting movement in Millerism. Through its emphasis on looking for the implementation of a national or universal Sunday law as the sign of the end, it resorts to a loose type of date setting itself. It is an over emphasis on the so called signs of the times to determine the time of Jesus’s return. I wonder how much this focus actually blinds us to what is going on in the world, and to God’s work in it now, to redeem it. As Jesus said to those who were preoccupied with the signs of the times in his day, “The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observance, but the kingdom is already in your midst.”



(Robert Lindbeck) #23

Expectations blind us. We expect certain “signs” to happen, in a certain order and that is all we look for. As a result we miss the bigger picture. The same applies to those who say Christ is “delaying” His return. It only seems that way because we are expecting Him to be here by now.

If my friend tells me he is coming to my house tomorrow but has not arrived by lunch time can I say he is delaying? He did not tell me he would arrive by lunch time.

God has His own timetable. He will come when He is ready, even if we are not.

(Phillip Brantley) #24

Here is a short primer on historicism, which is a highly ambiguous term. Andrew Reynolds, philosophy professor at Harvard, offers five types of historicism:

  1. “Mundane historicism”–The methodological practice of looking to the text’s historical context in one’s interpretation of the text has been characterized as historicism.
  2. “Methodological historicism”–This reflects the effort to differentiate the human sciences, principally history, from the natural sciences. The natural sciences are governed by the scientific method, but history is governed by historicism. (A better way of saying the latter is that the human sciences, including history, are governed by hermeneutics).
  3. “Popperian historicism”–The view that there are general laws, patterns, and rhythms of history that help us predict the future has been characterized as historicism by Popper. Popper criticizes this historicism, which is best exemplified by Hegel and Marx.
    Moving from methodology to larger value concerns…
  4. “Epistemic historicism”–That modes of reasoning are not fixed but change over time has been characterized as historicism. Notice the nod to Foucault and his epistemes of resemblances.
  5. “Total historicism”–That there are no universal, eternal, changeless, and transcendent values or notions of truth but that such are historically conditioned has been characterized as historicism.

We can supplement this list with what has been described as New Historicism, which is a reaction to the New Criticism (which gives the text semantic autonomy irrespective of authorial intent and historical context) and Structuralism (which posits that the text’s meaning is not its content but its literary devices). New Historicism rejects the view that a text’s historical context is an objective given, rejects the privileging of the literary text over non-literary texts that comprise in part the historical context, and is interested in discerning how the text advances structures of power.

And of course, as everyone knows, “historicism” is a term used to describe a particular method of interpreting Bible prophecy.

What does all of this mean for Seventh-day Adventists? SDAs claim that they use the historical-grammatical method of biblical interpretation but in reality most only use the grammatical method of biblical interpretation. Very little effort is made to discern historical context, the Classics are rejected as unsuitable reading material because they are pagan even though they inform much of the historical context, the biblical text is often inappropriately read as one would read a statute, and consequently, SDAs, who are largely ignorant of linguistics, a subsidiary discipline of hermeneutics, exaggerate the capability of words to function as determinants of meaning. And the biblical text is misinterpreted as a result.

The creation/evolution debate is forcing SDAs to understand the important methodological differences between the natural sciences and the human sciences. Ideally, this debate should raise awareness among SDAs of the importance of learning hermeneutics.

If you are interested in philosophy of history, you might read Frank Ankersmit, Hayden White, and Eelco Runia. But who are the SDA philosophers of history that come to mind? There aren’t any. Given our doctrine of the Great Controversy, SDAs should be taking the lead in the present discussions about the philosophy of history. Can Ellen White be presented as a philosopher of history? No one in our faith community seems interested in doing so. (I like this essay, because some issues pertaining to philosophy of history are explored).

SDAs don’t talk about laws of history or how history shapes us, because SDA theology has largely failed to realize that history is a causative factor in life. That the biblical text is historically conditioned is not understood by most SDAs. SDAs believe that the biblical text sets forth transcendent, universal, eternal, changeless, and absolute truth, and as a consequence, struggle to apply the biblical text to present circumstances in a way that instills confidence that such application has been done in a methodologically sound way. In reality, what the biblical text sets forth is historically-conditioned truth, which is paradoxically more meaningful for a people who claim to worship a personal God rather than a Platonist deity who does not insert Himself in our time and space.


Just imagine every week the first thing in church service, right after worship, is your pastor praying for the persecuted Christians around the world and for a sister Christian church and it’s pastor in the county each week. Now that’s Christians being Christian, brother! (Never reported seen within an Adventist church)
And while persecution of Christians IS HAPPENING around the globe the ONLY time an Adventist hears about it is if it happens to an Adventist. Those that are “already Christian” are mainly looked upon as low hanging fruit for “conversion” as they spend 91% of their mission resources towards that goal. For me this is an outrage. Realize I am looking at it as one who is already Christian and that Adventists have the unbiblical gall to tell me Christ is not enough!

(Cfowler) #26

This was baffling to me. But, as time went on, I fully understood why this was the case. Other Christians just weren’t part of the narrative except in a very negative way. This should be extremely troubling to all SDA’s.

(Harry Allen) #27

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."


(Shane Smith) #28

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?

Ellen White Letter Discovered at Pacific Union College; Experts Confirm Authenticity

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

Alden, time for another article from you?

(Frankmer7) #31

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.




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.”


On Rejecting the Spirit of Prophecy
(Frankmer7) #34

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.



(Thomas J Zwemer) #35

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,


(Thomas Schwartz) #37

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

(Patrick Travis) #38

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!

(Thomas Schwartz) #39

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?

(Peter Marks) #40



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.