Adventist Media Response and Conversation

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Review It's Ok Not to be a Seventh-day Adventist part 2

It's Ok Not to be a Seventh-Day Adventist by Teresa and Arthur Beem review Part 2. Part 1 follows this article, again it is a blog thing, If you want to begin with part 1 click here or page down to the next article which is part 1.

Most all books that write about Adventism begin with William Miller and the Millerites. They are an important link in the beginning of Adventism. The book delve into the history of Miller and the Millerites in chapters 2-4. The history while short is written in an interesting manner which is important because it appears to me many people pay little attention to history. History tells us a lot about ourselves as well as our forefathers. In this case the 1800’s spirit of revival and fanaticism which was present in much of America as well as England. The book relates some of the fanaticism of Millerites, the behavior that got many of them kicked out of their respective churches and it covers the heartbreaking results of the great disappointment, the insanity and suicides and the animosity that people felt toward the deceived Millerites before and after 1844.

Unfortunately the authors again lose objectivity when relating the historical information, choosing to ignore the actual feelings of the Millerites and ignoring why they did what they did. That is just as important when dealing with history as the dates and names of people. Here the book falls short. The books states in chapter 2 page 36:

Each church service they disrupted to spread their message of “repent for the hour of Judgement [sic] is at hand” brought expulsion and new cries of victimhood. Millerites saw themselves as “saints” and the masses who rejected them “manifested the spirit of Satan in their opposition to the message” They claimed the reason the mockers and scoffers rejected their message was because “Evil angels urged them on to harden their hearts and to reject every ray of light from heaven, that they might be fastened in the snare of Satan” 60 [ Footnote to Ellen White Early Writings page 238]

The Millerites exhibited little of the love or spiritual fruits for which an authentic movement of God is to be recognized. The midnight cry was to them, God “separating a people from the world , to purify, make white and try, and thus make them ready for the coming of the Lord” 61 Yet in their proclamation of Judgment to the world, they gave Jesus Christ and his gospel peripheral treatment.

That would have been a good place to use all of Ellen White’s quote to show how it was their pious concern to live holy lives for God that lead them to make the harsher statements. How things connect to the gospel is always a very subjective thing. You can make most anything fit into what you think the gospel is. To say that the idea of judgment has nothing to do with the gospel is not very accurate to the Biblical literature. The writer cannot simply ignore the Methodist, the Puritan traditions the proceeded the Millerites and expect that those ideas were not somehow incorporated into the actions of the Millerites when they review their history. Even with the call to repentance in the first paragraph it is clear that they were trying to convey their understanding of the gospel as well as the necessity for repentance to meet their Lord. When looking at the history it is also important to realize that this was predominately a Christian country most people where raised in Christian homes with some knowledge of Christian concepts, it may have only been cultural but it was not the great melting pot of religion that we see in America today. There were certainly pockets of non Christian religions, such as Native Americans and immigrant Chinese but the Millerites did not seem to calculate past their local situations. They did not seem to think about the vast world and how Christianity had not penetrated large areas yet.

Chapter 3 “1844: Look Up For Your Redemption Draweth Nigh” recounts the devastation of the Great Disappointment. The chapter is pretty good again however like the previous chapter on William Miller the authors seem to hold Miller as a prophet or at least that his calculation of the return of Christ was a prophecy. Page 49 begins:

“Was Miller Another Jonah?

Adventists argue that Miller’s prophecy about 1844 was like Jonah’s.101 It was a conditional prophecy; its fulfillment resting on the obedience or disobedience of its audience. But are the two scenarios alike? A comparison shows that Miller denied God had commanded him to preach; Jonah was commanded. Nineveh was spared because of the genuine repentance; the relieved people glorified God. When the people of God repented and listened to Miller, there was only tragedy and disappointment—loss of faith, even suicides. Why would God punish those who had sincerely turned to Him and given all for Him? Miller’s prophecy did not bring glory to God.”

If your like me (someone who grew up as an Adventist) this is the first time you have heard that Miller’s 1844 return of Christ was a conditional prophecy. That is simply not what Adventism teaches. They teach that Miller was right on the date wrong on what was to happen on that date. (interrelates to the Investigative Judgment doctrine). The footnote above is to James White’s book Life Incidents page 188-9. And it does not equate Miller’s 1844 as a prophecy to Jonah. It says:

"And we as much believe that we have done the will of God in thus sounding the alarm, as we believe that Jonah did when he entered into Nineveh a day's journey, and cried, saying, `Yet forty days and Nineveh shall be overthrown.' Nineveh was not then overthrown; nor has the Lord yet wrought deliverance in the earth, nor the inhabitants of the world fallen.

… "So we believe that this last cry has been a test; and that with our views of duty, we should as much have sinned against God, had we refrained from giving that message, as Jonah did when `he rose up to flee unto Tarshish from the presence of the Lord;' that we should as much have sinned, had we refused to give heed to it, as the Ninevites would in refusing to repent at his preaching; and that all who are angry that we have preached a time which has not been realized, are as guilty as Jonah was when he was angry and prayed the Lord to take his life from him, because God had spared that great city."

To James White it is the test of doing what he believes God wanted them to do that is the same, not that Miller is to be compared to a prophet. In some fairness against the many times the book refers to Miller’s interpretation of Daniel and Revelation passages to calculate the Second Coming as a prophecy the book notes that is not how Miller thought. In Chapter 4 “The Remnant Spark Reawakened” page 54 they write:

“Miller publicly admitted that they had been wrong about the prophecy….”I readily confess I was misled in my calculation…” But Miller’s confession was tainted with blame on others:

I confess I have been thus mistaken as to the definite time; but what of that?...I was deceived in the number and character of those who, without study, argument or reason, rejected the (to me at least) glorious news of the coming Savior…I am thankful to God, although much and sorely disappointed, that I never pretended to be divinely inspired. 120

Miller seemed rather cavalier even though his message had cause [sic] widespread despair, death and destruction. He attempted to preach afterward on the soon coming judgement, [sic] but his health failed rapidly. He rejected what became of his movement as it morphed into the different Advent sects, one being the Seventh-day Adventists. He rejoined the Baptist church and died in 1848, just four years after his failed prophecy.”

Here even though the authors are quoting from Miller where he states he was not divinely inspired they twice call Miller’s message a prophecy. Miller was trying to interpret the Bible prophecies he was not making a prophecy. His prediction was based upon the interpretation he made of the Bible passages it was not however a prophecy as in a God given message. The book is amazingly negligent in not recognizing the lasting change that Miller’s message did for Christianity. It moved the majority of Christian denominations away from the post millennial view to the pre millennial view of the Second Coming. A massive shift from the idea that the world would get better and better till it had a 1000 year reign of Christianities dominance and prosperity at the end of which Christ would return. To the view that Christ could return at any time to rescue His people. The immanent return which now is held by most fundamentalist and Evangelical churches. Certainly not solely due to Miller, but a convergence of thought between Edward Irving in England and Miller’s Preaching in the U.S certainly popularized the concept once again. It is to that immanent second coming that Miller’s quote above is addressing. What the authors see as blame for others is his concern against the post millennial view which he thinks violates scripture. What Miller actually says without the ellipses follows, the material in red is what is quoted in Beem’s book:

During the warm months he attempted no public labors; and his pen, even, seems to have lain idle. The next communication received from him was published in the Advent Herald of September 9, 1846, as follows:

"DEAR READER:- Permit me to address you once more, by calling your attention to the great events which the word of God declares are soon to come to pass, that I may faithfully perform my duty; and that you may be able to answer, in that way which will be satisfactory to your own soul, in the day when God shall judge the secret thoughts of men by Jesus Christ.

"In my former communications to you on this subject, - which is near my heart, fills my soul at times with indescribable joy and consolation, and is big with the hope of soon, very soon, coming into possession of immortality and eternal life, - I readily confess I was misled in my calculations; not by the word of God, nor by the established principles of interpretation I adopted, but by the authorities which I followed in history and chronology, and which have been generally considered worthy of the fullest confidence. And I fear many of you have been blinded to your own interest, which may be of eternal consequences to you, by hasty expressions of full confidence in these authors, before I had carefully and more extensively examined the subject to which I had, in the simplicity of my heart, called your candid and serious attention.

"The testimony of historians, as to the dates of events, cannot affect the testimony of the word of God, that, at certain periods from these events, his promises shall be fulfilled. They may fail, but his word cannot fail. I confess I have been thus mistaken as to the definite time; but what of that? Will you or any man dare to take the ground that, because Mr. Miller or any other man made a mistake, the word of God is not true? No, no. There would be nothing in that worthy of being called an argument.

"But, above all things else, I was deceived in the number and character of those who, without study, argument, or reason, rejected the (to me at least) glorious news of the coming Saviour. Neither did I suppose that a man or woman could have been found on the habitable earth, who loved the Lord Jesus Christ and believed the Bible, that would reject the Second Advent or the redemption of the body; the final salvation of the soul, or the inheritance of eternal life, at the appearing of Jesus Christ. Yet facts warrant me to say, I find more than one-half who profess Christianity denying one or more of these fundamental pillars of the Christian hope.

"I am thankful to God, although much and sorely disappointed, that I never pretended to be divinely inspired, but always directed you to the same source from which I obtained all the information I then had and now possess on this glorious and heart-cheering subject. [You will notice in Beem’s quote they end the sentence after inspired.] Let me, then, exhort you, kind reader, by the value of truth, by the worth of your own soul, and the love of life everlasting, to examine your Bible on the coming of Christ, the redemption of the body, the salvation of your soul, and the everlasting inheritance. Lay by all prejudice, all opinions not founded on the plain and clear declarations of God's word; keep close to that rule which will thoroughly furnish you, and make you perfect in every good work; examine for yourselves; let no man deceive you in these days of deception, when the devil has come, deceiving, if possible, the very elect. Now is the time for you to exercise the `sober second thought;' a good time for you to come over on the side of truth, to choose the good, and refuse the evil. I beseech you do not say, `Nay, I will not examine!' Do not say, `I am well enough off, and I have got the truth!' Perhaps you have; if so, it will not hurt you to reexamine, for every reexamination only makes the truth the brighter, our evidence more clear, and our love for the truth more fervent; it helps to establish our faith and hope, and keeps us from wavering. (Sylvester Bliss, Memoirs of William Miller page 350-51)

One sentence and two partial sentences from three separate paragraphs; placed together, used to pretend that Miller was cavalier and blaming others. These are critical errors in judgment by the authors, quotes need to be used in context, and the use of ellipses should not be to avoid important parts of the original author’s intent but used to avoid having to include extraneous material. Certainly you don’t put a period where the original was just a comma and not indicate that the sentence in fact continues. The authors follow the above quote by mentioning that according to a letter to the editor of a Newspaper that Miller was charged with financial misconduct. Really a letter to the editor? Might be an interesting bit of trivia but letters to editors are notoriously irresponsible, as much today as they were in the 1800’s. If space is so important to the authors of this book, they should give better context of quoted material and less space to rumors.

As someone who has done some research on just when did the Adventist coin and start accepting the idea of the Investigative Judgment I was disappointed that this book does not deal with the concept very well. Many Adventist know that James White did not accept the doctrine for years yet the book makes it appear as though it was instantly accepted. The book writes on page 56:

“Hiram began spreading the “Sanctuary Doctrine” and an expansion of it called the “Investigative Judgment” in his Adventist magazine Day Dawn. In it, he more fully explained that Christ’s atonement on the cross had not been complete. Christ’s second step to our salvation was that He was to review the records in heaven, located in the holy of holies, and begin the process of judging mankind. In 1844, Christ started the judgment of the godly dead and was working up to those living in the present. “

No footnote is provided to this statement or any quote from Edson’s Day Dawn magazine. Which leaves us with very little written material on the origin and incorporation of this peculiar Adventist doctrine. The best I have seen was an article from the Adventist Review that was printed in the appendix of Dr. Desmond Ford’s dissertation Daniel 8:14, the Day of Atonement, and the Investigative Judgment You can read the document posted on a discussion forum here. Some good research would have been very welcome in Beem’s book, unfortunately little is supplied and what there is, I think is is questionable on this issue.

The next section will deal with the chapter on Ellen White. As the reader can tell I have already noted enough problems with this book to cause most Adventists to reject it out of hand. I hate to see that happen but I am certain it will if the book continues to be published and distributed without revision. I am sure this is not the kind of review the authors expected from me but I hope that they will consider my comments carefully. I understand the need to write persuasively but more important than being persuasive is being truthful and accurate. When a writer has some important things to say it is important that they don’t allow poor research and/or documentation to poison their work.

1 comment:

Teresa Beem said...

Ron, Arthur and I most certainly did not expect a good review from you. You are an adventist and because you love and are loyal to your church, you are of course going to come to the discussion with certain prejudices against our opinions. We respect your views and welcome them.

What I am reading of your complaints against the book are legitimate if the book was written to convince a loyal Adventist reader. Our predominate readership is former SDAs who already have all the information you wanted us to include in the book in order to fulfill your expectation of objective. They, also have easy online access to Ellen White quotes.

As an author, you are well aware than lengthy quotes are ignored by readers. People want sound bites and so cutting was necessary to make the points Arthur and I wanted to make. To make YOUR points, of course more would have needed to be added to the quote, but we used the part of the quote necessary for our particular point. This method of quotation is used in all media, it is not avoiding truth.

Also, we did not include the more amusing histories of the American Charismatic movement and the strange stories of American Fundamentalism because it would have made the book too tedious. We had to stay focused on the story we were telling. But those histories really need to be told.

Remember our audience and I think it will help you understand why we wrote as we did. Many, many former SDAs and general Christians believe the SDA church to be a dangerous cult. We were severely reprimanded by many readers for "concealing" the devilish doctrines of Adventism and not telling the FULL truth of its horrors. We do not share that opinion, but tried very hard to remain objective to both our SDA readership, our former SDA readership and those very few who have never studied Adventism (especially those who consider it a looney cult). I think in the end, you will have to admit that anyone reading the book who believes SDAs to be looney fringe cult will be very disappointed that the book did not support that view.

Unfortunately, being objective in today's PC culture means you can't offend anyone. But perhaps we actually have been objective because we have seemed to offend everyone equally!!

I wish to thank you publicly for your review. Your intent for the book was quite different than ours, so I would encourage you to write one! Using our information to create a book for the SDA church is really needed.

God bless,
Teresa Beem