When Should We Use the Bible? Forrest Howe’s Question to Chapter 8 in “Where Are We Headed?” by William G. Johnsson

“When should we use the Bible? It was written in a different culture. It is prescientific. It does not deal with many of our issues. We sometimes use it when we shouldn’t. How should we decide? These are complex questions and the answers are not straightforward. We are going to have to take a look at them someday.”

Forrest Howe concluded his overview of Chapter 8 in Where Are We Headed? Adventism After San Antonio by William G. Johnsson with these questions and comments. He was speaking on August 12 at the Roy Branson Legacy Sabbath School (RBLSS) in Loma Linda, California.

Howe is a retired Seventh-day Adventist minister who served with the American Bible Society and as a pastor and church administrator. Johnsson is the longstanding and now retired Editor of the Adventist Review. The title of the chapter is “Interpreting Scripture: Will Ellen Have the Last Word?”

As Howe indicated, in this chapter Johnsson elaborates two of his concerns about recent trends in Seventh-day Adventist biblical interpretation. One of these is the growing tendency in some places to read the Bible in flat, literalistic ways as though it were verbally inspired and everything it says is as important as everything else. He counters this with thinking of the Bible as being thought-inspired, nuanced, and centered on Jesus Christ.

Johnsson’s second concern is the growing tendency among some to elevate the writings of Ellen White higher than they should be and use them to settle all questions of biblical interpretations and solve all puzzles about how we should think and act today. He suggests that we need a better balance between making Scripture – and not Ellen White’s writings – supreme, and making good use of their continuing value. As Johnsson sees it, these are two of several areas in which the denomination, or at least some of its top leadership, is not progressing but regressing.

The discussion that followed touched on how we ought to relate to our different ways of interpreting Scripture, whether things other than the Bible and the writings of Ellen White are also inspired, what today we should mean by “truth” or perhaps “truthiness,” whether we want what we say to make sense to others, whether Jesus “enhanced” or “changed” the teachings of the Old Testament, and whether the distinction between “verbal” and “thought” inspiration survives scrutiny.

Although his was not the last comment, Graham Stacey had the final word. “The ultimate test of what we believe is how it causes us to behave,” this minister, psychologist, and Loma Linda University School of Dentistry administrator said.

My own answer to Howe’s questions is that we ought to “use” the Bible everywhere and always, and with respect to all questions and issues, without a single exception. Knowing him as I do, I am confident that once I explained what I meant, Howe would agree.

More on that at another time. Meanwhile, enjoy the video!

In addition to Forrest Howe, RBLSS thanks Laura Alipoon (Moderator), Alan Alipoon (Videographer), Alisa Williams (Managing Editor, Spectrum) and Bonnie Dwyer (Editor, Spectrum). Roy would be pleased!

For more information, please visit bransonlegacysabbathschool.com.

WATCH: Forrest Howe on Chapter 8 in "Where Are We Headed" by William G. Johnsson

See also: William G. Johnsson Explains Why He Wrote Where Are We Headed? Adventism after San Antonio, The Professors Valentine Expand Upon Chapter 1 in "Where Are We Headed? Adventism After San Antonio", Laura Alipoon Highlights Adventist Diversity in Chapter 2 of “Where Are We Headed? Adventism After San Antonio”, Calvin Thomsen’s Discussion of Chapter 3 in “Where Are We Headed? Adventism after San Antonio” Assails Neo-Calvinism, Carla Gober-Park Expands “the Main Thing” in Chapter 4 of “Where Are We Headed?” by William G. Johnsson, Leo Ranzolin’s Response to Chapter 5 in “Where Are We Headed?” Poses Three Questions and Cites One Poet, Genesis and Geology in Paradox: Ben Clausen’s Response to Chapter 6 in “Where Are We Headed” by William G. Johnsson, and Hermeneutical Community and Invisible Remnant? Jerald Whitehouse’s Response to Chapter 7 in “Where Are We Headed?” by William G. Johnsson

Dr. David Larson is Professor of Religion at Loma Linda University.

Image Credit: Video Still

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/8195

William G Johnsson should make all Australians and every Adventist PROUD.

He has always exhibited moral courage and excellent balance, when he was the Review editor, and subsequently.

Unlike some of his contemporaries, successors/replacements.


I identified with the guy who parked his car and cried when he realized what it means to read the Bible within context. Something similar was my own experience.

As a young couple with a two year old, we spent five years in a remote area of Canada. The conference had built a medical building as an anchor for introducing Adventism into a primarily Catholic community. At one point they sent us an evangelist for a few weeks. I must have heard something that sent me to study our “unique” beliefs. With a minor in religion (from “one of ours”) I tackled THE 2300 DAYS and 1844. Right out of the gate, I found a problem.

I had intended to study “the Bible only”. With a “minor” in Religion, and a major in English, I was confident I could tackle it. I couldn’t make Daniel 8 say what it was supposed to, so I relented and went to the SDA Bible Commentary to get clarification. The commentary referred me to Hebrews 9, and Hebrews 9 sent me back to Daniel. Neither explained the problem, since the confirmation for Daniel was Hebrews 9 and the confirmation for Hebrews 9 was Daniel. I, too, got into my car and drove to a rocky knoll. overlooking the ocean and cried. The bottom had just fallen out of my life.

In desperation I talked to the pastor that had been sent to us. What do you do when, after sincerely praying for understanding, the Bible doesn’t square with what you’ve been told (contradicting EGW)? “Pray again,” was his answer - sort of like what we’re doing with women’s ordination - study and pray until God gives up and tells you what you want to hear.

…then along came Des Ford - thank God.


I’m finding once again the same experience this quarter with Galatians. I can’t read it in context and make it harmonize with the Adventist insistence on the eternal nature of the 10 commandments, the binding nature of the Sabbath and clean and unclean food laws for Christians, and remnant identification and eschatology hinging on the Sabbath.

The quarterly makes a valiant try to make it all fit, but it just doesn’t work. Maybe I need to pray more, too…




Nope…me either. Oddly, it seems to say the opposite of what SDA’s teach.:wink:


I believe I’ve watched all the talks presented here, including others found on their YouTube site: Roy Branson Legacy Sabbath School. And like everything you’re going to have your moments of agreement and disagreement, which is good. You can learn a lot even from those you disagree with. However… I was dumbfounded after hearing a couple of Forrest Howe’s remarks. He tells of a time when someone asked him about abortion; and he responds with something along the lines of, Jesus never spoke on it… I thought to myself, Is he actually making an argument from silence? I think he is. Mr. Howe also spoke on (I don’t recall the exact words, I watched this presentation when it was first uploaded around 10 days ago) how the Bible refers to a certain sin only 7 times - I think we all know what he’s referring to. And I thought to myself, Well how many times does the Holy Spirit have to say something is sinful, or good, for that matter, before we can be sure of it? 10 times? 20? “By the evidence of two or three witnesses,” is no longer the standard it seems. Apparently, not even out of the mouth of 7 witnesses.

If I’ve missed something, then I sincerely apologise. But I cannot for life of me make sense of this.


The lesson Quarterly on Galatians causes one to wonder HOW MUCH of it is the Author’s original material and HOW MUCH is by the Editors.
However, it is interesting in 1 Cor 9:22 Paul says I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some.
In VS 21 Paul says, But I do not ignore the law of God; I obey the law of Christ.
In Galatians Paul keeps saying no one gets God’s Favor by keeping any directive. We are NOT saved by “obeying” any house rules. We obey house rules because we love God, and by Him showing us His GRACE.
We find this same message throughout the Psalms. Meditate on God’s law, so not sin against God.
WHY celebrate a day with GOD? Because he Created us. Because He Rescued us from “Egypt”, from slavery.
I like this quote by Joan Chittister [God’s Tender Mercy]. How does God remove? “Sin is a sign that something is missing from our lives. All sins are attempts to fill a void. Admonishment will only work, then, when we know what we are looking for – and pursue it instead”, pg 31.
WHAT IS the Law of Christ?? Is it the two commandments – Love God with all my being [body, mind, soul] and my neighbor as myself?
Or is it where Paul says another letter, It was Christ who was following Israel in the cloud for 40 years, and gave the 10 Commandments to Israel and Moses on Sinai?

After watching the presentation, It’s really clear where the issue is. The speaker and and those who agree with him don’t believe in the Word of God nor the inspiration of the writings of the SOP. He points us to the human logic, science… human opinions, as if science agrees on one conclusion. The Revelation (God’s Word) is of the highest authority and man in his finite understanding cannot find the truth without God’s revelation. Isaiah 8:20 (NKJV):

To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them."

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I started to watch it and then got into other stuff. I will watch the whole thing , take notes and post my super fair, unbiased, objective, non gracious, blunt, rational, logical opinion/assessment/analysis…

Maybe a clue is in the presentation, but how did the tangent on the Galatians SS lesson get here?

EG White HIT>>>At 31:20>>> ‘If you let the lesser light interpret the greater light, which is really the greater light?’

Well, you can start with all of those different bible translations and then continue with the many bible commentaries, and don’t forget the thousands of pastors & SS teachers who do the same and since we are so democratic, don’t leave out any of those in Sabbath school who comment with their spin on bible verses.