Adventist Media Response and Conversation

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Atoday Blogs and a conversation with Goldsten

Adventist Today has completed their new Website and they have included a new blog feature. As Reinventing the Adventist Wheel says:

The new Adventist Today website has been officially launched after being down for nearly a week. It was worth the wait. Six bloggers, including Alex Bryan, Cliff Goldstein, David Person, Heather Quintana, Shayna Bailey and Erv Taylor will blog regularly from the left, right and center tackling anything from emerging church, creation/evolution divide, relationships and dating, trends in pop culture, Adventist doctrines, social and racial issues, and more.

There's also a news, interviews and reviews section. The kickoff feature article is an interview I conducted with Adventist-turned-Catholic and Hawaiian judge David Pendleton.

Only subscribers to the print magazine will have full access to the new site. For $19.50/year, it's a steal. Check it out.

Why in the world of blogging would they choose to prevent wider readership I don’t understand. As some of the comments in the above mention blog state, it does not seem like a good idea. Still they have also reduced the price to the magazine and blogs to an electronic version of the magazine with its access for only 8 dollars per year so in that respect they are making it pretty affordable. But as a blogger I know that most of those who access the blog do so through the process of keyword searches. So if you don’t have your blog open and available to be indexed by the search engines you have a very limited readership. Also as a blogger it is now difficult for us to link to the material that is membership protected. For example I had a bit of a discussion on Clifford Goldstein’s blog, I could create a link to it but you won’t get in unless you have a membership. Since I don’t know what restrictions there are when dealing with members only blogs I will only quote a few sections and then give you my comments. In this case I can sum up his responses fairly easily.

Goldstein’s topic was “no other options” which is that Adventists who hold to a few particular beliefs really have no where else to go. He then goes on in a comment section to tell someone who believes in theistic evolution to get out of the church as he says: “They exist but if they had a modium of rational thought they would know that they don't belong in this church”

My first reply was as follows:

That is funny, Cliff starts out saying there is no place for Adventists to go if they hold to some key doctrines, if my math is right our choice is stay in the Adventist church or find that elusive .01% to go to. Then in the comments section he wants Adventists to leave if they accept theistic evolution. It may just be me but the message seems contradictory. Maybe an article by Cliff telling us what we can disagree with in the Adventist church would be more helpful than proclaiming that we have no place to go. Then again what good would it do for Cliff to tell us what we must agree with and where we must go if we disagree with Cliff...Cliff is not the Adventist church for which I think all the universe both in earth and in heaven may rejoice.

His response was that I was distorting what he said and that we should leave.

My response:

Cliff wrote:

"I'm not saying, Ron, that they have to agree with me. That's a typical distortion."

I never said that you were saying that we had to agree with you, in fact I expressed my joy that you are not the Adventist church so that we don't have to agree with you. So what you call a typical distortion was not even present in my comment. Now lets assume for the moment that a person believes in evolution of the non theistic kind. Do you not think that there could be some benefit to a sabbath day's rest in their lives?

It always seems funny to me to hear people like Cliff express their contempt for evolution yet they don't believe that animals were created with those ripping and tearing teeth, that predator and prey web of life. It is OK for God to make those evolutionary changes but the idea that evolution beginning from simple forms to more complex forms under the guidance of God is just too much to believe. Both would be God's creation, both would be systems established by God. The question is what makes the most sense with the evidence around us. The idea that there was once a perfect world of which we can't even imagine, of which God expelled humans from for one violation prompted by a talking snake and then cursed the entire earth, humans and animals and plants seems less likely then a world where God established life through a process of growth and development until humans developed the capability to communicate with God just seems more reasonable.

The other day I was playing tennis and watched a hawk capture a small animal and fly away. Anyway you look at it if you are a deist that is something that God had a hand in. If there was indeed once a perfect world why not keep the perfection in the world, let man have his consequences from sin, why inflict it upon the small animals, why should they have to deal with the terror of being picked up and carried away from everything they have known only to be torn apart by the hawk. How much more we would have learned seeing the way animals responded without fear from other animals. What a marvelous opportunity to see what God had really intended for us all. No that is not the world we see, in fact in our Bible stories we see God so upset at wickedness that he wipes out all living creatures not in Noah's ark.

So the question we have to ask is are these stories reasonable or our they methods ancient people used to inspire a conception of God, primitive true but introducing the idea that God could be more then a local deity who we have to pay homage to. The beginnings of a great new understanding of man and God...unless we become stuck in the primitive mindset by making the stories into literal history to which God must be tied and restricted to, what today would be viewed by most intelligent people as unreasonable and backward. Do we grow in our understanding as we grow in our other human areas of knowledge or is our faith placed not in God but in the ancient assumptions and stories as if they were God. This is not merely a struggle about Adventist doctrines but about how we understand ourselves and our God. If the answer is to force those people out of the church then it is likely on the wrong path, a path similar to the Roman Catholic church took during the reformation. The path of least resistance usually goes downhill.

Cliff’s response:

If you don’t agree then “I find the lack of moral integrity astounding, and depressing, to be honest.”

So I explained further:

Cliff wrote:

If you are so sure our basic view of the Bible is wrong, and that the "primitive mindset" of the Bible is "unreasonable and backward," then why are you a member of a church which accepts the "primitive mindset" of the Bible as gospel truth?

You have placed two things together there that are not the same. Your basic view of the Bible is wrong, that is pretty clear. That does not however mean that all the Bible is unreasonable and backwards, only sections are. The Bible as a progressive work also goes on to correct some of the earlier primitive mindsets. That is why Job deals with why bad things happen even to good people, why Jesus did the same thing correcting the view that if you were righteous then you would be healthy and wealthy. In an article you wrote about the test of adultery preformed in Numbers 5, I think you are in the minority who don't think that was a primitive and backward mindset.

The interesting thing also is that the Adventist church is not really made up of those who accept the primitive mindset, true there are many that do, the people who collect their pay from the denomination and who never talk about their beliefs or those who are paid by the denomination to defend it's beliefs (I guess if you can hire a lawyer to defend you the church can hire apologists to defend it, both probably on the same level of respect). Does that make the church right because they hire people to defend and support them, or is that simply how bureaucracy's work? Is supporting a bureaucracy the high calling of a Christian, again shades of middle ages Roman Catholicism there. Yet there are others in the Adventist church who don't tow the line but seek to raise the standards, the standards of reasoning and textual criticism in ways that make God respectable. Now I know there are people who trust God no matter how they view Him. There are those who rejoice at the God who hates sin so much that He will torture people for eternity. It is right for God to do that because that is what God does and God does only what is right. Adventism rejected that because what they said was right is unreasonable, it is a poor representation of love and of God. They have wonderful verses they can use to demonstrate that that is what God will do. They have a method of interpretation that makes it easy to hold to the literal view of the texts they use. Just as you do with what appears to be an equally symbolic story (garden of Eden), but you would say it is not symbolic, and they will say their texts are not symbolic. We end up with only having our reasoning abilities to tell us which method to use.

So the Adventist church helped teach us to think and now when lay Adventists and Adventists College Professors do apply their reasoning abilities the traditional Adventists say "stop that, this is what we believe accept it or leave". So it is understandable that for many of us integrity means applying reasoning and knowledge even above the support of a bureaucratic church organization. Because really in the search for truth just because you have a denomination does not mean you have the truth. And just because we offer other methods of interpretation does not mean we are tearing down the denomination. It could tear down, it could build up or it could do nothing. We have yet to see the result, fundamentalism and it's fear of change is probably not the best course of action however.

His closing response today was:

Well, we have a whole lot of examples of other denomination in which the so called "progressives" got control, and look where those churches are today. Many of them are debating over whether the resurrection of Jesus was literal, or just a symbol of something else. Kind of like what the wacko left does to Genesis. We're holding the the line against that kind of compromise and apostasy, and if in so doing we are called anti reasonable and the like--who cares? I certainly don't.

Actually the conversation is not nearly as frustrating when I abbreviated Cliff’s responses. I kept the last one in its entirety because it is instructive. First he claims that there are many denominations that are debating whether the resurrection of Jesus was literal or not. As last week that was the subject of the lesson I taught I actually looked to see and found that even among liberal Christians most believe in the literal resurrection, it is a very small minority such as the Jesus Seminar people and Bishop Spong who think the resurrection is symbolic (that even death should not stop our quest for life and love). That other churches hold these debates just as we in the Adventist church hold these debates does not mean that the no resurrection view has a foothold. It is too central to Christianity and the extremists who hold to no resurrection have so little to base their view upon. A good example is found in the 1999 report of an Anglican debate Jesus scholars debate at National Cathedral

In any event the debate of ideas is not the problem, it is the fear of examining ideas that is the problem. If one fails to even try to be reasonable, if they fail to even try to look at possibilities then how can they ever expect to spread their views to others, asking others to look at different reasons and possibilities? If we all just went around assuming what we believe is the only truth then we would be the most foolish and unproductive people in the world.

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