What Some Don’t Understand About Spectrum and Adventist Today

I had my first article published in an Adventist magazine when I was still in college. It wasn’t very good, but I’ll always be grateful to the editor of Insight magazine for accepting it. It didn’t unleash a flood of writing for me right away—that took many years and a few more kind editors—but it immediately struck me as way of communicating that I found peculiarly compatible with my personality. Someone has said that people become writers because they want to change the world without leaving the house, and there’s a certain truth to that. We who write like the slowness of it, saying precisely what we intended to say in precisely the right words, and then releasing it to the world from a bit of distance.

After some years of writing for most of our mainline magazines (and at one point getting something I wrote as far as The Reader’s Digest via Signs of the Times magazine—thank you, Greg Brothers) I submitted an article to Spectrum. I was both afraid and excited. That first piece I published under a pseudonym, a decision that I regret now, though I thought it necessary at the time. For many people, age means becoming increasingly set in their ways, increasingly certain. Others—I am in this category—find that age sets loose their corralled questions. I am ever so grateful to Spectrum for letting me raise the questions that I had in my heart, that I knew others were asking, too.

More important, as a pastor, I liked the idea of making a contribution to shaping the Seventh-day Adventist church of the future, including responses to difficulties that weren’t being addressed very well by anyone in the mainstream church. We have at core a good message and marvelous people, but we are a mass of repressions and contradictions and inflexibilities, such that we hardly know what to do in a rapidly-changing world.

I began writing a monthly piece on the Spectrum website, and continued that for about eight years, until 2016 when I became editor of the Adventist Today magazine. This will be my last regular column here.


The process of supporting our beliefs with better and stronger arguments is called apologetics, and it’s important. (By the way, the use of this word root is very different from its use when telling someone you’re sorry. Apology is admitting you were wrong, while apologetics is insisting you were right all along, even if on fairly thin evidence.) All of us rely upon apologetic arguments. When I preach to my churches I argue, in virtually every sermon, that Jesus’ exemplary life, atoning death, and triumphant resurrection give us continuous hope. I write articles for the Signs of the Times in which I make familiar (though I hope refreshing and creative) arguments in favor of our doctrines.

What some don’t understand about publications like these (by which I mean both Adventist Today and Spectrum—you may prefer one to the other, but we’re all friends and doing similar work) is that our business isn’t confined to apologetics. Apologetics is ably attended to by the Review, Signs of the Times and the Sabbath School Quarterly. Here, however, we’re addressing what they cannot, or will not. Opening windows and doors. Holding both leaders and doctrines to account for the deeper truths of the gospel. Defending people who the church has sometimes spurned. Guarding against cunningly-devised fables. Trying to prevent the gospel from being sucked into and diluted by the quite-different purposes of organized religion.

Because Seventh-day Adventists have had nothing but 150 years of apologetics, writing that questions old positions seems dangerous, destabilizing. It frightens many, and I understand that. One of our faults is that we haven’t always been as sensitive as we should have. Here, I make an honest and heartfelt confession. There is stuff that you will read here (I have often been guilty) that takes on a bitter tone. I can make the excuse that this is the culmination of a generation of us who felt deceived, ill-used. Who grew up on certainties that turned out to be not at all certain, on threats and fears that made the blessed hope into a carnival freak show of beasts and popes and persecution, and salvation in Christ into a discouraging perfectionism. That exalted Ellen White above Jesus, and the church bureaucracy over local congregations.

Still, even with that we might have been more sensitive. We might have tried harder to shape our faith in solid, defensible, meaningful ways, taking advantage of our past and our history while building toward a marvelous future. Too often, in our disappointment with and anger at the church, we did our therapy in print.

There are a set of young Seventh-day Adventist leaders who, if we can keep them from getting discouraged, might be able to build what we couldn’t. I’m thinking of folks like Ty Gibson and others in Lightbearers, and some of the young women in ministry I know, like Alicia Johnston, Tara VinCross and Jenniffer Ogden. Though I don’t always agree with them, I also know that they’ve not had the same experience of the church as we have. I have seen evidence that their ministries are rooted deep in the heart of the gospel of grace. God bless them, and forgive us if we discouraged them.


I’ve taken a lot of heat as a pastor for writing for these publications and their associated websites. Besides the dear old chestnut that I and my colleagues in this enterprise are Jesuit agents (a transparently false accusation: had we been real Jesuits, we’d have been subtle enough to avoid detection), lately we’ve been hearing Ezekiel 7, 8 and 9 coming up a lot, (a passage featuring judgement on idolaters and the goddess Tammuz) how they’re being fulfilled by every word we write. Apparently, a lot of people don’t think that Seventh-day Adventists should raise questions or express doubts or disagree with the General Conference president.

What they don’t realize is that the leaders of our church know all of these same questions, and often have the same doubts. But they can’t say them. A journalist in Silver Spring told me, “I write for the interests of the people in this building. That’s my job.” He thanked me for the alternative Adventist press. “A great many things would remain undiscussed if it weren’t for Spectrum and Adventist Today.”

For a fascinating look behind the scenes, read T. Joe Willey’s excellent article about Walter Rea. Note that nothing that Walter Rea raised about Ellen White’s plagiarism surprised church leaders: as far back as a hundred years ago they knew about it, and hoped no one found out. Rea was fired not because he discovered something new, but for telling the rest of the church what insiders knew, what was a matter of record.


There is so much that isn’t said, but that everyone knows. I’m not accusing anyone of hypocrisy, though religion is by its very nature a hypocritical business. Like hospital-acquired infections, hypocrisy isn’t the point of what we do, but it’s inevitable. I’m just saying that religious organizations, though they start with ideals, quickly get caught up in their own survival. They no longer self-examine. They want to reassure, not stir up. When conflicts appear, they prefer to silence them, and hope that no one points out that the emperor is, if not naked, at least rather shabbily attired. Who watches the watchmen? (A phrase, by the way, that comes not from a graphic novel, but from the poet Juvenal, nearly two millennia ago: “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?”) When self-interest in involved, none of us want to be watched too closely.

If the early Adventists hadn’t asked any questions, we wouldn’t be Seventh-day Adventists today. William Miller wondered what the prophecies of Daniel 8 and 9 meant. Ellen and James White asked why the churches around them didn’t take the second coming of Jesus seriously. Joseph Bates asked why so few were honoring the Saturday Sabbath. For awhile we were at the leading edge of questioning and challenging.

Once we got an organization and a name, we seem to have begun to do nothing but apologetics. And we’re not alone. It is the fate of truth-seeking organizations that having invested in an identity, the ability to seek truth fades. Where they were once on the offense for truth, they become strikingly defensive. Questions represent challenge and change, and though we’d all say we want to follow the truth where it leads us, in the real world we’re afraid of what we might lose.

Interestingly, even those who applaud the Reformation are now reluctant to see anyone question their authority, as though this was a one-time process that need never be repeated.

Of course, no one likes to be challenged. I have a member of my midweek Bible study group who seems to question everything I say. It’s a bit annoying. But why shouldn’t he? And why shouldn’t I have to wrestle with those questions? And why shouldn’t congregations and pastors and church leaders and all of us be held to account? This is, I hope, what the alternative Adventist press does well.


I am standing here for two ideas. First, that you can be less than certain and still be a person of faith. I like this passage from John Spong: “When you look at the history of the church, the times when we were certain were also the times when we persecuted people, that’s when we burned people at the stake, that’s when we had religious wars. I think certainty is a vice in religion, one of the things we ought to rid ourselves of, so I would constantly want to hold this wrestling, this uncomfortable ‘I don’t have it together,’ ‘we’re struggling in this together’ as the proper image of the Christian faith. We walk into the mystery of God; we never arrive, and if we think we arrive, we become idolaters.”

The second, closely related, is that you can be a questioner and still love your church. I hope that someday our leaders realize that the church is better for questioners, even if it doesn’t always like them.

Loren Seibold is a pastor in the Ohio Conference and the Executive Editor of Adventist Today.

If you respond to this article, please: Make sure your comments are germane to the topic; be concise in your reply; demonstrate respect for people and ideas whether you agree or disagree with them; and limit yourself to one comment per article, unless the author of the article directly engages you in further conversation. Comments that meet these criteria are welcome on the Spectrum Website. Comments that fail to meet these criteria will be removed.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/7845

Well said Loren, sorry … Elder Seibold! :slight_smile:
Speaking of the Reformation and related to the need for certainty, I found this thought interesting:
“Of course, we love the law because if promises us agency - it puts the keys to our wellbeing in our own hands. If I can just do x, y, or z, then I will get the result I want. … People who are addicted to control - which is all of us - are addicted to the law as a means of control. The sad irony of our lives is that our desire to be in control almost always ends up controlling us. You might say that our relationship to the law is a fatal attraction, albeit one that makes sense of an alarming amount of our behavior."
David Zahl, “500 Years After Luther, We Still Feel the Pressure to Be Justified”

  • Christianity Today, (December 30, 2016)

I suggest that this is the route by which mission is exchanged for institution, and starkly highlights the “desperately wicked heart”.
How indeed do we die to self and live for Kingdom?


A very personable editor and columnist. I think he said–The church is no place for dire consequences.TZ


We’ll miss your columns here, Loren, and pray for you as you continue with Adventist Today, and also with your pastoral responsibilities.

You preached the funeral sermon for both of my parents, and were very inspiring. You have been my brother’s pastor. And speaking of this latter, my brother is a superb lawyer-writer (he writes about American fiction in his spare time), and he has told me more than once how he marvels at the speed and efficiency with which you compose your pieces.

I guess that has to be the case—all those hats you wear makes you one busy guy.

Thanks for continuing to be a witness.



Loren wrote

What is the gospel in 1 or 2 sentences?
What is a balanced/sufficient concept of “grace”?
Do a survey of SDA to see who has assurance of salvation.
Is the meaning of 1 JN 5:13 being corrupted/warped as it is taken out of context?

Notice the emphasis, in church, of 1 JN 1:9 and the lack of 1 JN 1:7

Sam wrote

Do Christians/SDA worship a GOD who is in control because they want control, out of fear??

What & how much is GOD in control of? Can He even save a majority of Earthlings?
How much of human thought does He control?

Well said Loren! And thank you for your contributions to both Spectrum and Adventist Today. The challenge for us has been to examine issues, raise questions and propose answers. The challenge for church leadership has been to read what we have done and engage us in prayer and conversation about where we go in the future. That has never happened and to this day, we do not know if it is happening. Apparently not, I fear.

With leaders who choose not to read anything outside of approved SDA materials, they have created a self-limited universe in which they hear only themselves think and pronounce. The result is both ignorance and a lack of courage to move into the future with humility.


Well said, I often think of this quote by Voltaire; “Judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers”. Questions tend to open door while answers can easily close them, I have found it better for my faith to search through asking rather than by answering. By this process we can as individuals and as a church engage in more seeking, remember that God is a living mystery, not an object of knowledge but a source of wonder. Which is becoming harder to do in an age of quick answers and shallow thinking. I’m not a big fan of apologetics, they can become a substitute of proof over a living relationship.


Reading your columns has been an unfailing pleasure with abundant rewards. I first came across one of your pieces after Bonnie Dwyer asked me to help Spectrum introduce a section in Spanish. I suggested that she could start by translating into Spanish and publishing in the web page an article that had appeared on the printed journal. It turned out that I was left with the task of doing the translation, but since it was going to be an article every three months, I agreed. When the next printed issue arrived I read it carefully in order to choose which article I would use to open up “The Spanish Café.” The issue had articles by well known and respected academics, but the best article as far as I could tell was by one who then was a totally unknown to me: Loren Seibold. Every thing I have read since has only confirmed my choice. I am sure that this column is not the last thing I will read by Loren Seibold’s pen. But I cannot think of any one who could have written this column and say exactly what needs to be said at this time better. Thank you, again, for all you do to make us consider the issues that face our church with such candor and grace.


Thanks, Loren. Certainly, it is laudable to examine, question, research, etc. How else can we do Socrates justice – if not even the free will given us?

While your article claims the high-ground of rational endeavour, I would just say that many times, what seems to happen on Spectrum and AT (much through blogging, some through the articles) is really apologetics for historical-critical methodology, apologetics for humanist-secularist politics, and vehement criticism of SDA administration. It leaves room to ask the question: are these sites really being intellectually honest in their examinations of questions related to SDA issues? Or, conversely, are these sites promoting a counter-SDA ideology?

“There is stuff that you will read here (I have often been guilty) that takes on a bitter tone” - Loren

You speak of this bitterness as if it is something wrong to do. A quick look at the prophets messages or historical men who have stood for truth will show you that this is normal…being angry and bitter is part and parcel of rebuking the church.

Also…There is one thing I have in common with the left and that is we both have a beef with the church but both starting points for well deserved rebuke are about totally opposite perspectives. The discerning Adventist however will be able to decipher which is deserved and which is heresy.


Excellent, timely and reassuring piece. Certainty breads zealotry and we have seen what that is doing to another religion in particular.

I am sure that honest writing like this is very comforting to those with questions racing around in their heads but attending churches where they don’t feel able to put up their hand and ask.


It might also be said of the early Adventists, if there had been any educated theologians who could read the languages originally used, and they had not been limited to the KJV, perhaps there wouldn’t be an Adventist believer today. And were it viewed by today’s theologians and better education populace for the first time would there be an Adventist church in the U.S. today?


Spectrum and AT are for discussion ONLY.
They do NOT attempt to provide answers.
They do bring up question, do provide background info regarding perceived Issues.
But the discussion area is for whoever desires to make further comments, further
observation, personal experience.
It is TRUE we are led at times into more than a superficial discussion of the words
on the pages of the Bible. Literal reading does not always allow and understanding
of English translation from Greek and Hebrew.
In order to understand statements, many times we need more information, how
people lived, how they visualized the World.
Conversation here often opens up new Visions of the Word.

Harold – I am reading your book Finding My Way In Christianity. Thank you for your Self-
Confessions. And for writing it.
I knew Ferdy Wattke when I was a kid in Toledo Ohio. My sister went to school with his
brother Richard. My parents were friends with their parents.

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I can’t put into words what spectrum has meant to me over the years. As a person in her late twenties, having gone to adventist schools from elementary through college, I have to say that spectrum is the only safe place I know where I can experience informed, critical, and honest dialogue about the church I love. It is so necessary. I have found that, many times, people in the church fear the idea of doubt and questioning (especially from young people) so much that they resort to repressing and hiding things–only putting forth an air of confidence and infallibility. After a point, you begin to see right through all of that and feel like you’re being manipulated. I know I felt that way. One thing that resonates with me about spectrum and about what you’ve said in your article, is that this space and spaces like it trust the mind of the reader enough, and trust the work of the holy spirit in our lives enough, to step outside the bounds of fear and false confidence and invite us all to become seekers together. That has not been lost on me!


It’s a safe place for those critical of the church. But you can’t experience open and honest dialogue here with the current commenting rules. They shut you down if you comment more than once, or if your remark is too pointed. Having to constantly soften the tone of your post is not being honest, it’s being guarded.

Bring back the old Spectrum discussions. They were open and honest, sometimes too much so, but that’s better than restrictive.


On the nose! I once had a “King James Only” brother use that fact as a basis for using no other translation–or even the original Hebrew and Greek.

A rather technical example: The Hebrew of Genesis 1 does NOT say evening and morning were the components of each day. Instead, God is quoted as declaring that “day” and “night” were. If our pioneers had seen that, we’d have been spared the contortions that produced the 2300 “days”, instead of 2300 missed sacrifices, half at sundown, half at sunup. Des Ford wanted open collegial discussion of issues like this without forced silence for the sake of “unity”.

Where else but Spectrum and Adventist Today can we escape coerced “belief”?


Thank you, Loren, for the best articles! You and I are right on the same wavelength! Maybe I could be forgiven for building on one of these articles…"There’s a whole generation of us who recognize that we’ve been deceived, ill used…who grew up with a seriously distorted view of history, absolute certainties that turned out to be not at all certain, on threats and fears that made the blessed hope into a carnival freak show of beasts and Popes and persecution, and salvation in Christ into a discouraging perfectionism (only achievable by the last generation “Chosen Few” who could stand in the presence of a holy God without an intercessor), that exalted Ellen White above Jesus and the Church bureaucracy over local congregations…All in the name of an Old Testament, strangely loving, capricious God who laughs at all human science and civilization and cannot be held accountable…Check your mind at the door…Any dissidence or independent thinking were proof of demon possession and could not be tolerated.

Let me add this thought from the younger daughter of Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh…In Reeve Lindbergh’s 1993 book, “the Names of the Mountain,” she takes the title from her ambivalent feelings about her strong-willed parents. She is grateful for the forceful direction they gave her (“our parents could name the mountains around us, and the stars above our heads”), as both pioneering aviators and good parents ought to do. But she recognizes something fundamentally dishonest about the certitude they claimed on so many subjects…certitude that often masked a deep and unexamined confusion. So, too, she seems to understand that the isolated and largely self-absorbed life her parents led was not due only, as they claimed, to their youthful fame and its unhappy consequences…It also allowed them never to account for themselves to anyone. And that posture magnifies when you are convinced that you are the LAST GENERATION!


Loren, thank you for this and many other articles you have written for Spectrum over the years.
I was particularly struck by one particular point that you made: “We walk into the mystery of God; we never arrive, and if we think we arrive, we become idolators.” Those words clearly express what I have felt about the church for a long time, that many of our leaders have made it into an idol to be preserved and protected at any cost. We are being offered “certainty” at the expense of questioning.

Certainty does not feed our hunger; we long for a dynamic personal relationship with God that is mighty enough to hold all our questions. I have come to believe in a powerful God that is not dishonored by doubt. Thank you for being part of my experience.


Don’t you mean EGW??

@robert_sonter @pattigrant