Adventist Media Response and Conversation

Friday, November 07, 2008

Fritz Guy's Sermon What will the church do

Continuing on the theme of what kind of church do we want I thought I would cite some relevant material from Fritz Guy. Just to be clear the reason for this most recent series of articles is because I have been rethinking the future of Adventism more particularly my place in Adventism.

This issue is rather important to me because it reflects my experience in my local church. For several months the church did not have an Early teen leader. My daughter was very bored because they grouped primary through early teen together. I volunteered to lead the Early teen division as it turned out a couple of other people agreed to help I would do 2 weeks and the others would do two weeks. There also had to be two adults in the room for safety reasons.

After about 2 weeks some concerned people came to the children's Sabbath school ministry team leader and complained about things I had written on my blog. Those three topics mentioned were the inerrancy of scriptures, the infallibility of scriptures and belief in EGW as prophet.

I was asked nicely to quit. This is not to blame the Sabbath School leader or the head Elder (since we are in between Pastors) for they are as much victims of the current church culture as I am. I have been fighting it for years, this is possibly their first experience and since the squeaky wheel gets the grease it is always easier to give in to the demands of the sanctimonious. If only those people read the following, if only our church Pastors would give sermons to encourage thought.

So now a few quotes from Being Adventist in 21st Century Austrailia, Mapping the Past:Exploring the Development of Adventist Theology by Fritz Guy Ph.D 2002

Please note the above is the cached version the other version seems to be down.

A still different development that has seldom been recognized was moving toward fundamentalism in the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s.21 This was an Adventist response to the fundamentalist-modernist polarization that affected and afflicted much of American Protestantism in the early decades of the twentieth century. Modernism was an essentially naturalistic view of all reality, including human existence, and religion, and it took a decidedly dim view of miracles, in the Bible as elsewhere, and cast doubt on the traditional authorship of many books of the Bible, on the incarnation and resurrection of Jesus, and on a literal, six-day Creation. This view was largely the result of two cultural factors: Darwinian evolutionary understandings of the origins of life and humanity, and German higher critical views of the origins of Scripture. In reaction, the fundamentalist movement developed in North America during and after World War I. It identified and affirmed several "fundamentals" of Christian faith, such as the inerrancy of scripture, the deity and virgin birth of Christ, the creation and fall of humanity, the substitutionary atonement, the bodily resurrection and ascension of Christ, the personal and imminent return of Christ, and the final resurrection and assignment of all people to eternal blessedness in heaven or eternal punishment in hell. These beliefs had been set forth in a series of twelve volumes published between 1910 and 1915 and called The Fundamentals: A Testimony to the Truth.22

Obviously, most of these "fundamentals" fit nicely with Adventist beliefs—the major differences being the disregard of the seventh-day Sabbath and the insistence on an everburning hell. So Adventists often claimed to be "the most fundamental of the fundamentalists"23 and, indeed, "the only true fundamentalists."24 But the first of the so-called "fundamentals" was problematic, the one that proclaimed the "inerrancy" of Scripture— which meant that there were no inaccuracies of any kind. This view was not based on a careful reading of Scripture itself, but on a line of theological syllogism: Scripture is the Word of God; God is perfect and therefore cannot be in error; therefore Scripture is inerrant.

This view of Scripture was perfectly acceptable to some Adventists, although not to all. Since the beginning of the Advent movement some, including some prominent figures, had held to verbal inspiration and inerrancy.25 And by the 1920s, many Adventists "also applied their beliefs in inerrancy and verbalism to the writings of Ellen White."26 But this was never means unanimous, the most significant dissent coming from Ellen White herself. In 1886 she wrote abut the process of inspiration that resulted in Scripture:…

And in 1888 she reiterated a realistic understanding of both the divine initiation and the human limitations of the Scripture: "Some look to us gravely and say, 'Don't you think there might have been some mistake in the copyist or in the translators?' This is all probable, . . . [but] all the mistakes will not cause trouble to one soul, or cause any feet to stumble, that would not manufacture difficulties from the plainest revealed truth."28

An additional element in the fundamentalist reaction within Adventist theology in the 1920s "was the continuing temptation to do theology from Ellen White and to make her equally authoritative with or even superior to the Bible. This approach, of course, ran against her [own] lifelong counsel. But she was now dead and various Adventists did with her writings what they felt best."31 A common idea was that the Ellen White materials were "inspired commentaries" on the Bible.32 Indeed, this idea became so dominant that "all too often Adventist laity and clergy alike used the writings of Ellen White in such a way that the 'lesser light' [as she called her writings] became the 'greater light' in practice rather than the Bible."33 Ellen White, on the other hand, never said, "Let me tell you what the Bible means." Instead, she insisted that people read the Bible for themselves. She was an agent of Scripture, urging people to read it, not its guardian, protecting it from misinterpretation.

Unfortunately the fundamentalism that became prominent in the 1920s is still very much with us.

Another development that has not received the attention it deserves was increasing Biblical literacy signaled by the publication of the seven-volume Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary in the 1950s.34 As Knight observes,

It is difficult for Adventists living 50 years later to grasp the revolutionary approach to Bible study in Adventism represented by the Commentary. For the first time in its history the denomination produced a document that dealt with the entire Bible in a systematic and expository manner. . . . The Commentary made extensive use of the text of the Bible in the original languages, archaeological insights that helped recreate the times in which the various Bible books originated, and a weighing of variant readings in the ancient tests. . . . More important, however, is the fact that the Commentary moved away from the central tradition of Bible study in Adventism with its apologetic purpose and proof-text method. In the place of a defensive approach to the Bible, [it] sought to let the Bible speak for itself. . . . [It] sought to set the Bible before the church not as an "answer book" for the concerns of the Adventist church but as God's word to His people across the centuries.35

Besides demonstrating the maturity and confidence of Adventist Biblical scholarship, this extraordinary undertaking accomplished several other things as well.

(1) It drove Adventist theology to examine its foundation in the Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic texts. No longer would it be sufficient base a scholarly argument on an English translation, and least of all on the often-archaic language of the King James Version of 1611, although that was the text printed in the Commentary. No longer could we do theology simply by using an English concordance, as William Miller and many later preachers had done.

(2) It disclosed that in many cases there was more than one "Adventist" interpretation of the text. Adventist Biblical scholars had long been engaged in arguments about such things, but now the different views were out in the open for everyone to see.

(3) Adventist theology had to recognize various kinds of diversity in Scripture itself. In some cases there were textual variants, so that readers could not be sure exactly what the Bible writer had actually written. In other cases, there were varying accounts of the same incidents—most notably in the Gospels, but also in Kings and Chronicles. Evidently it was not important to get all the details correct all the time. In still other cases, the theology of one writer seems to be different from that of another. The cumulative impact of this diversity at various levels makes the ideas of verbal inspiration and Biblical inerrancy highly implausible. It is difficult to be a fundamentalist if you read the Bible attentively and thoughtfully.

A somewhat parallel development has been the humanizing of Ellen White. If one starts with a picture of her as a divinely inspired prophet—especially a verbally inspired and infallible one—then the more one learns about her and her work, the more problems arise and need to be solved. The surprises are almost always bad news, challenging what one has believed. What is one supposed to do with a prophet who preached vegetarianism but wrote to her daughter-in-law asking her to get her "a few cans of good oysters"?36 But if one starts with a 19th-century woman who was part of the Adventist anticipation, disappointment, and new beginning in 1844 and who married a brilliant but volatile preacher-entrepreneur then the more one learns the more impressive is her contribution to Adventist faith and life. She was involved in establishing the major institutional enterprises of the church—publishing, health care, education, and overseas missions. She was also the predominant influence in the development of both Adventist piety and Adventist theology. Literally millions of Adventists, for example, have benefited from her teaching about the nature of prayer.37

In many ways she influenced the theological agenda of the church, but she never claimed to have the last theological word. Adventist theological conversation often begins with an insight she expressed, but it never properly ends there. The role of a prophet is to encourage Bible study and theology by the church but not to do them for the church. She said, for example, "We have many lessons to learn and many, many to unlearn,"38 but she never explained which lessons were which. Here as elsewhere, she provided the challenge; it is the church's task to do the work.

Regarding an understanding of atonement, for example—how the death of Christ accomplishes human salvation—her views point Adventist thinking beyond a simple penal-substitutionary theory:39 "Satan led men to conceive of God as a being whose chief attribute is stern justice,—one who is a severe judge, a harsh, exacting creditor. He pictured the Creator as a being who is watching with jealous eye to discern the errors and mistakes of men, that He may visit judgments upon them. It was to remove this dark shadow, by revealing to the world the infinite love of God, that Jesus came to live among men. The Son of God came from heaven to make manifest the Father." In other words, "The Father loves us, not because of the great propitiation, but He provided the propitiation because He loves us."40 But she never spelled out the particulars of a more adequate theory.

If we stand back now and look at the history of Adventist thinking, is there anything we can say about general patterns and principles? I think so, and here is a threefold characterization: change, diversity, and enlargement.

First, the most prominent pattern and in Adventist thinking is change. Knight begins his account of "the development of Seventh-day Adventist beliefs" with this observation: "Most of the founders of Seventh-day Adventism would not be able to join the church today if they had to agree to the denomination's '27 Fundamental Beliefs'."51 This is hardly a surprise, given the developments we have noticed this evening. The idea of "present truth" points to the fact that "each generation must in some ways be a first generation all over again."52

Each generation is called to live in the spirit of discovery. It can—and should—build on the foundation of the past, but it is called to build, not just preserve. It is called to build with realism and integrity, with insight and creativity. Here as elsewhere Ellen White saw the situation clearly: "Whenever the people of God are growing in grace, they will be constantly obtaining a clearer understanding of His Word. They will discern new light and beauty in its sacred truths. This has been true in the history of the church in all ages, and thus it will continue to the end."53 Our Adventist theological tradition is not a stockade to imprison our thinking, but a platform on which to build. Authentic, thoroughgoing, truly historic Adventism is progressive Adventism. It was that way in 1844, and it has been that way ever since, as Adventists have been responsive to new facts, new circumstances, new needs. This was the motivation for the very important preamble to the 1980 statement of "Fundamental Beliefs."54

A second, and closely related, pattern that is visible in the history of Adventist thinking is diversity. The history of Adventist thinking is a history of family arguments—arguments about the relation of obedience to salvation and the relation of Christ to God, about the nature of inspiration and the role of Ellen White, about the battle of Armageddon, about the cleansing of the heavenly sanctuary, about the influence of scientific knowledge on our reading of the Bible.

As change is inevitable, so is theological diversity. There always has been, and always will be, dissent. Because people are different, they hink differently and hear God's word differently. What to some members of the community is obvious, inescapable, and logically necessary, to others is mistaken, unwarranted, and absurd. And there has been, and always will be, dissent about the significance of dissent. in regard to a particular issue. When a dissenting voice is heard, almost always someone responds by saying that the dissenting view is—or will result in—the complete abandonment of Adventist belief. This happened in the nineteenth century; it happened in the twentieth century; and it is happening already in the twenty-first century.

But we needn't be frightened by the specter of "pluralism." There has always been a plurality of views. To the end of his life, Uriah Smith held an unorthodox view of the nature of Christ—in spite of Ellen White's statements to the contrary—but he was neither ostracized nor vilified, much less expelled from the community or its ordained ministry.

Theological diversity is not only inevitable and tolerable; it is also potentially valuable. So far from being a liability, it can be an asset. It is often through dissent, discussion, and dialogue that the church comes to a more adequate understanding of truth. As Ellen White advised us long ago, "When no new questions are started by investigation of the Scriptures, when no difference of opinion arises which will set men to searching the Bible for themselves, to make sure that they have the truth, there will be many now, as in ancient times, who will hold to tradition, and worship they know not what."55 Of course, dissent is not always a move in the right direction. An idea or insight that is new is not necessarily true. A dissenting opinion must make a case for itself.

A third pattern in the history of Adventist thinking is a general movement toward enlargement, toward broader, more comprehensive views. This kind of movement appears in various aspects of our thinking. In reading Scripture, for example, the focus has moved away from individual verses and toward larger units—paragraphs, chapters, books, and even the Bible as a whole. There has been a tendency to take context more seriously in understanding what a particular sentence of Scripture is saying to us.56 Even a whole book of the Bible may not be the last word on a subject. To understand the relationship between trusting God's love and doing God's will, we need the New Testament letters of both James and Paul, and the Gospels as well. It is the larger whole of Scripture, not a sentence here or there, that is theologically authoritative as "the rule of faith and practice."

In the outcome of our thinking, there has been movement from details and particularities to larger theological understanding. There are "larger views" of the sanctuary, of the atonement, the Sabbath, the "mark of the beast," the mission of the church, and other traditional ideas and activities. And in regard to our theological conversation partners, we have moved from talking and listening exclusively to ourselves—that is, to like-minded Adventists—to interacting with the larger Christian community. So the reality of change in our theological heritage has resulted in diversity and enlargement of our Adventist thinking.

No comments: