Spectrum offered a few interviews related to the Good News Tour event this past weekend. I would like to comment on the above statement made by Alden Thompson as he was interviewed by Jared Wright.
First I would have to say that among Adventist theologians Alden Thompson is one that I would tend to agree with more often then not; excluding views on Ellen White. So I don’t write this as an opponent of Alden Thompson but as someone in general, in favor of his presentations.
At 5 min and 08 seconds into the interview in a response the question Jared Wright asks:
“What would you say that this particular message that the Good News Tour offers has to say to Adventism and how can this help Adventism as a body?”
At 5 min 33 Thompson says:
“If you ever get to the place where the entire church buys into this, and I am talking about an entire local church without providing for the opportunity for the other part to be part. Then I think that would be a very unbalanced church. You really need both perspectives in creative tension with one another not only in terms of the life of the church now but when the children come along they’ll almost guaranteed, they will have a different view then their parents. So there needs to be a big enough home to include the entire Adventist family.”
Jared Wright then asks:
“So a tent that encompasses various different positions without excluding anyone.”
The two positions that are being referred to here are the Penal/Substitutionary Atonement, the legal view of atonement and the Moral Influence view often renamed as the demonstration view of the atonement, in Adventism named the trust healing model or the Larger view model. The Penal view sees Jesus paying the penalty for sin so that He is our substitute, who pays the penalty and who imputes His righteousness to us. The Demonstration view being that Christ demonstrated the character of love and forgiveness of God thus giving us reason to be able to verify that God is who and what He says He is and enabling us to trust God so that He can heal us.
The problem here is that the Penal/Substitutionary atonement theory has long accepted the view that Christ demonstrated the love and character of God and that it leads us to accept the gift of Grace. But that is in addition to the necessity that for God to forgive He must punish someone because His justice demands that since laws were broken punishment has to be meted out.
However the demonstrative view of atonement says that God can freely forgive and that is what love can do, it requires no punishment for forgiveness, in fact if someone is punished then it can not really even be called forgiveness. This is not a tension that can live together. Either one is Penal and accepts demonstration as an addition to Penal theory or one holds to demonstration alone, without the need for forgiveness to be predicated upon someone paying the debt of someone else.
I understand where Thompson is coming from, just after the quote given above he references some Ellen White statement about having different teachers, as if the moral influence theory is merely another teacher of atonement, a different teacher, and Penal Substitution is another teacher. Of course then carried to the logical conclusion you have to add the other theories as equally good teachers. The Ransom theory, where Jesus is a ransom paid to Satan, or the Mystical theory were we were mystically present in Adam and mystically present in Christ etc. For a more complete summary of the various atonement theories see the article on the Church history of the Atonement
Ellen White is very clearly a supporter of Penal Substitutionary Atonement even going so far as picturing Christ pleading to the Father, “my blood my blood”. Though she does have excellent statements showing the demonstrative side of Christ, those are no different from numerous other Christian authors’ statements even though they also held to the Penal/Substitutionary view. Thompson, here I think, is more consistent then the other Good News Tour presenters. But Thompson is also actually opposing their position. It is the Good News Tour presenters inconsistent use of Ellen White that bothers me the most. In one moment they will extol something from Ellen White as a presupposition that they build on and at the same time ignore multitudes of Ellen White statements which are clearly Penal Atonement views. It is a kind of inconsistency that cannot be maintained. To hold her as a prophet in some areas and not other areas creates the unsupportable position of saying when she is speaking as a prophet and when she is not, how do you tell which is which? Without any of the flexibility we can have with the Bible since it is written over thousands of years by multiple people, many unknown and many different purposes for writing.
One other note: It is my dream to actually have an entire church with the moral influence, demonstration view of the atonement. I honestly think it is the only hope Christianity has for survival. Contrary to Thompson’s view that the children will reject what they are taught I think they will cling to the things that make sense. The Penal view has held sway for 3-400 years now it is simply not true that the younger people in the church will reject the views of their parents. If that were true we would have switched atonement views far more frequently then we have.
What we need now is a church that is able to appreciate what love is and not operate under models more in line with God as tyrant than God as love. No doubt tradition will be hard to fight, and no doubt we will be accused of heresy because we don’t accept the tradition. And ultimately it means leaving behind Ellen White as prophet. For she was a product of her time and we cannot allow her time to dictate our future and we simply cannot allow the tension of contradictory beliefs to define Christian religion. For Adventism that means either progressing or retreating, moving forward with reasonable ideas or moving back to nineteenth century traditionalism repeating the same mistakes that earlier reform movements made.