Adventist Media Response and Conversation

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Review George Knight's Apocalyptic Vision and the Neutering of Adventism

George Knight’s new book The Apocalyptic Vision and the Neutering of Adventism;

derives from presentations that Knight gave before the “quinquennial ministerial council of the Pacific Union Conference in August 2007.” (page 106) The book begins with the proposition that Liberal Protestantism is neutering Christianity and Adventism. He notes that the mainline Protestant churches are in decline, those churches still growing are the churches with a strong and distinctive message. It is somewhat true as the following Review News article informs us:

“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, at 5.7 million U.S. members (1.56 percent increase) and the Church of God in Christ, with steady 5.5 million, round out the top five. Only the Jehovah's Witnesses, the Catholic Church, Southern Baptists, Mormons, the Assemblies of God (2.8 million) and the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church (1.4 million) reported increases; all others either posted declines or flat membership from 2005.”

See the 2004 report from the National Council of Churches

On page 17 Knight writes:

“The best example of religious neutering in the modern world is Protestant liberalism, which by the 1920s had divested itself of such "primitive" ideas as the virgin birth, Christ's resurrection, the substitutionary atonement, miracles, the Second Advent, creationism, and, of course, a divinely inspired Bible in the sense that it had information from beyond the human realm that could be obtained from no other source but divine revelation.”

The first thing I noticed here is that Knight is taking the position of Fundamentalism. Fundamentalism was a reaction to modernity and Biblical criticism AKA Higher Criticism. Although Knight does not go so far as the fundamentalists with inerrant and or infallible Bible concepts; he has listed the major beliefs of fundamentalism. Though as we look at the church growth rates it does appear that the more authoritarian denominations, the more certain a church is that they have it right the more likely they are to continue to grow in this time of overall Christian decreases across the Western World (AMEZC may be an exception). As we will see this is the Traditional Adventist viewpoint that Knight intends to present, traditional Adventist understanding of Daniel and Revelation is the cure to the neutering of Adventism and the main reason for the existence of the Adventist denomination.

At the beginning of Chapter 3 on page 53 Knight sums up his apocalyptic Adventism:

“This chapter will take a look at the big picture of the apocalyptic prophecies of Daniel and Revelation that have made Adventism a vibrant movement. The first chapter focused on the fact that the book of Revelation centers on Christ as the slain Lamb and the victorious Lion of the tribe of Judah. Put the two symbols together and you have the core of the gospel— that Christ died for our sins, resurrected and has the keys to the grave, and will eventually return to put an end to sin and suffering. Take away any aspect of that picture and you have neutered the Christian/Adventist message. As we noted, the Lamb without the Lion is a partial gospel.

The second chapter examined the rise of Adventism as it related to the apocalyptic vision. We discovered that the Seventh-day Adventist pioneers had seen the big picture and put together a theological package whose logical force has driven Adventism to every corner of the earth.

In this third chapter we want in part to stand back with both eyes open to see if early Adventism's apocalyptic understanding has validity and relevance for the twenty-first century. I must admit that I was daunted by the challenge of this chapter and how to say what needs to be said in such a short space. After all, during the past 30 years we have seen a dismantling of the apocalyptic vision by Adventist thinkers on one side and defensive reactions on the other. And then we witness a never-ending parade of apocalyptic cranks whose special burden is to prove something unique or at least strange from the words of Revelation. I felt challenged to say the least.”

While Knight has spent the last 50 pages trying to bolster his case we see that by his own analysis he has produced very little. The first chapter is based upon Revelation Christ died for our sins and was resurrected and eventually will put an end to sin and suffering. Other then the emphasis of deriving this from the book of Revelation he has essentially described every Christian denomination and most all independent Christian churches.

The Second chapter which mostly goes over how Adventists interpreted Revelation to see their peculiar doctrines in verses such as Revelation 14 (e.g. Adventists doctrines revealed in the three angels messages); he sums up Adventist have become a worldwide church because of their doctrines. Well so have the Mormons, the Jehovah’s Witnesses and all the mainline Protestant Denominations. The idea that just because you grow world wide that your beliefs are true is hardly reasonable. If it was than the Roman Catholic church which has the most adherents and is still growing as it is in the top five denominations in growth should be a major contender in the we have the truth category.

Based upon the unreasonable conclusion from chapter 2 Knight continues:

“And I still hold that conviction. To put it as frankly as possible, if Adventism's apocalyptic big picture isn't valid, the most sensible thing is to shut up shop, go home, and do something meaningful with our lives. If Adventism's big picture lacks meaning, I would like to suggest that the title for the next generation of Ph.D.s in Adventist studies be "Curators of Adventist Antiquities for Those Who Still Have Some Reason to Care."

Here then is the purpose of Knight’s latest book. We see that chapter one is true of universal Christianity. Chapter two is the peculiar Adventist interpretations which like other churches grew into a world wide movement. But instead of critically looking at those issues that the pioneers produced he has largely assumed that they are true because the SDA church grew world wide and since based upon that extremely faulty position if you question those Adventist traditions there is no point in continuing to be an Adventist. It is rather like someone saying to Martin Luther quit your belly aching about the Roman Catholic churches abuses and leave. He had no place to go. I am much like him in I can’t see any place to go either so why not try and reform the church I am in? Apparently reformation is heresy to some; it was to the Roman Catholic hierarchy in Luther’s day and apparently it is heresy to the Adventist hierarchy today, George Knight and Clifford Goldstein being the most recent Adventist Apocalyptic bulldogs.

On page 55 we see that Knight has so completely discounted the idea that anything could be wrong with our apocalyptic tradition that such an idea is how the devil would attack us:

“But if I were the devil I would tempt Adventists and their preachers to be just nice evangelicals and forget about such nasty stuff as apocalyptic. And if that didn't work I would tempt them to beastly preaching that focused on the details and the esoteric and extremes. I would get them arguing over 666 and the identity of the 144,000. And if that didn't succeed, I would get them to focus on excitement and apocalyptic fear-mongering. And of course I would sow doubts in their minds about the validity of Adventism's basic apocalyptic understandings.”

Do you hear the old Roman Catholic leadership of Martin Luther’s day in that paragraph? How dare you young whippersnappers doubt our tradition! It is this questioning of our apocalyptic that is the neutering of Adventism for George Knight. Though he does include others; “We have a pretty smart devil. He has driven Adventists and their preachers off a balanced view of apocalyptic in almost every direction.” (page 55); those off balanced must be any view other then the traditional view.

Knight then goes one to explain how he dealt with the troubling parts of the Adventist Apocalyptic and came out the other side firmly holding to traditional Adventism. The first is the Historicist position which he finds as the only possibility because Daniel 2 goes from the time of Daniel and tells of the 4 kingdoms which takes us to the second coming. He seems to think that Rome is mentioned in there also, I have no idea why. The second on his list is the year day principle which he believes is true because years are used for the seventy week (sevens) prophecy of Daniel 9. Though Knight seems to forget that people were interpreting the verses as weeks (sevens) of years, far before anyone came up with the day for a year idea. (Joachim of Fiore {d. 1202} first introduced the year day principle, several early church fathers used years on the seventy sevens of Dan. 9, but it is a stretch to say that was year day principle as they did not have a day component, it is not something they endorsed)

His third point is that the little book unsealed in Rev 10 is Daniel. Which apparently was the great disappointment as God anticipated that before the book was unsealed people would make erroneous interpretations and when their errors did not come to pass they would be disappointed. As if the prediction of 1843, 1844 etc were the only time people erroneously predicted the second coming. Knight goes through a bunch of stuff on the 1260 day/years as if it proves some point. It does not other then he has accepted something that general Christianity accepted for a couple hundred years and when the theory always failed they gave it up. Now of course it is an important part of the Adventist apocalyptic. That morphs to point 4 which is Daniel 8:14 and the Investigative Judgment. Again asserting that day for a year is used in the 70 weeks of Daniel 9 even though it is not; there is no mention of day at all in that context. On page 69 he does differ from traditionalism by saying:

“Thus the Adventist understanding of a pre-Advent judgment is not the problem. Rather, it is the wrong use of Daniel 8:14 to prove a point that comes out of chapter 7.”

So he still believes in a pre-advent judgment which by the way so does all Christianity otherwise they would never talk about being saved as a current position. But that part of the big picture is largely forgotten in Adventist circles. We forget that God already knows who are His; that He has known since before the foundation of the world. But apparently Knight does not deviate significantly from the traditional apocalyptic. After all he just wants to say the better evidence is found elsewhere. On page 70 he does note that Adventist traditional emphasis on the pre advent judgment has been wrong, saying:

“The tragedy of Adventism is that we made the pre-Advent judgment a fearful thing built upon a less-than-biblical understanding of sin, law, perfection, and even judgment itself. Spiritual insecurity and lack of biblical assurance was the result. "God is out to get you" was the message in the era of bony fingers.”

He then moves on to the old excuse that the Judgment is not for God but for the universe:

“The judgment and the books of judgment are not for God but for the rest of the universe. It has to do with the justification of God, which is foundational to His justification of those humans who have accepted Christ into their hearts and lives (Rom. 3:25, 26; 1 John 1:9).”

Of course he does not explain why God would start such a show a hundred years ago and why not save the evidence for humans, the only beings we really know of beside fallen angels that question God. He then moves into the subject of the heavenly Sanctuary. On page 75 Knight writes:

“Let me repeat my main points as I sum up. First, we create problems in sanctuary theology by placing undue emphasis on sanctuary geography. Second, we are heading in the wrong direction when we read Hebrews as if it were either propounding Adventist theology or arguing against it. Hebrews has its own agenda. Third, it is wrong-headed to project chronology into Hebrews 9. Most of Adventism's difficulty with its sanctuary theology center on those three areas.”

So apparently it is okay for Knight to suggest and try and repair some of the Adventist apocalyptic problems. But the rest of us who see even bigger problems…well we can’t reform the apocalyptic because it is too important to Adventism. In other words this entire book is an endeavor to shore up a shaky part of Adventism and yet those who try to do that are neutering Adventism (excluding Knight). It is acceptable to do it in dribs and drabs dealing with some problems as long as we don’t touch other problems. Adventism can slowly change but let’s not take any big steps in the change process because a big change means we have been wrong, clearly Knight thinks we have been wrong and I think most of us know that. So why do we keep pretending that we are not wrong? Why assume that acknowledging errors is neutering Adventism? (The last two on his list are the Great Controversy and the Remnant neither of which is worth noting and he spends little space on them.)

His next chapter (ch.4) is about how bad things can happen and they can happen fast. Apparently the Adventist apocalyptic spends much of its time thinking about what bad things can happen and if you don’t think about them happening then you are neutering Adventism. Though Adventism can do nothing at all if the bad thing happens apparently we should feed on that fear and remember our hope in the Second coming.

Knight then presents one of Ellen White Shut door visions as her most remarkable:

“Ellen White's Most Remarkable Vision

That brings me to what I consider to be Ellen White's most remarkable prophecy. She made few actual prophecies regarding the future in her long ministry, but we find one of them in her first vision of December 1844.”

"While I was praying at the family altar," she recalled, "the Holy Ghost fell upon me. ... I raised my eyes, and saw a straight and narrow path, cast up high above the world. On this path the Advent people were traveling to the city, which was at the farther end of the path. They had a bright light set up behind them at the beginning of the path, which an angel told me was the midnight cry [i.e., the prophetic understanding that led to a fulfillment of prophecy in October 1844]. This light shone all along the path and gave light for their feet so that they might not stumble. If they kept their eyes fixed on Jesus, who was just before them, leading them to the city, they were safe. But soon some grew weary, and said the city was a great way off. . . . Others rashly denied the light behind them and said that it was not God that had led them out so far. The light behind them went out, leaving their feet in perfect darkness, and they stumbled and lost sight of the mark and of Jesus and fell off the path down into the dark and wicked world below." (Page 86)

The remarkable thing about this is that this was during Ellen White’s shut door period. If people did not accept Miller’s Midnight cry message of the return of Christ in 1844 the door was now shut on them. They are outside the possibility of salvation. In a couple years Ellen White outgrew that idea and that was the major emphasis for the spread of worldwide Adventism. The gospel message still had to be spread to the entire world and then the end could come.

What a lot of us see as important George Knight does not seem to understand. That is the need to see God as someone who is for us, someone who can be trusted and someone who loves us unfailingly. That is the gospel message of Jesus and the New Testament. That as the Protestant call says the plain things are the main things. That is very different from George Knight’s Adventist apocalyptic. Where peculiar understanding of Daniel and Revelation are are the main things; those two apocalyptic books which have found the least amount of agreement within Christianity through it entire history. I frankly don’t want to be part of a denomination which has taken the obscure things as their main things. If we want a distinctive then let us go with the love of God as revealed through Jesus Christ, not the kind of God who says obey me or I will kill you, not the kind of God who says someone has to die to pay your penalty but the kind of God who says come back to me and I will heal you. Let that be our Adventist Apocalyptic.


Bulworth said...

Hmmm. Adventism as a "vibrant movement"?

The church is into its second century of existence and they are almost completely unheard of in the wider scheme of things. When American or world religions are listed, you can be sure to find the Mormons listed, and most probably even the Jehovah's Witnesses. But Adventists rarely make the cut. Maybe that's not an entirely foolproof method. But if your church "movement" is supposedly "vibrant", one would think someone outside of the church's own bubble would know about them.


Bulworth said...

Not sure why Knight would want to highlight EGW's 1844 vision of the "Midnight Cry". The idea of the Midnight Cry, taken from the parable of the wise and foolish virgins in Matthew 25, alludes to the actual appearance of Christ at the end of the age ("Here's the bridegroom. Come out to meet him"). In what meaningful sense could the events of 1844 have constituted the Midnight Cry?


Ron Corson said...

Apparently what Knight sees in the Ellen White shut door quote is that other Adventist groups disappeared, he writes:

"By way of contrast, the Sabbatarian Adventist orientation had no members in 1845. That is, it did not exist and would not even begin to become visible until 1847/1848. But the Sabbatarians would build upon their prophetic heritage; be driven by the logic of Revelation 10:11, 14:6, and
the apocalyptic vision to the far corners of the earth; and be approaching the 16 million membership mark in 2008."

Now I don't know that that makes any better sense seeing as the special SDA's did not even exist then but apparently it does in some way to Knight. He seems to also not acknowledge that the Jehovah's Witnesses came out of the Millerite movement also. And they are still growing!

But then in my opinion worldwide growth does not make a group true or correct. I doubt Knight thinks that it does either but that is the implication of the way he wrote this book.

Anonymous said...

I sgree with the last lines regading God, and the revelation of His character in what He has done and will do for us. It is so easy to make a dogma of the SDA teachings and forget that if these don't lead us to a true understanding of God they are worthless. I guess I should spend more time thinking about this so I could be better in these discussions but I barely have time to sit and think and when I do I want to think about how I was lost and now have returned and my God has welcomed me home. I want to find ways of sharing that with my kids and not just teaching them the facts (whatever that might be) I wnat their hearts to reach out to the Turth and in Love take on a seekers attitude. I want to see the face of God and live.

Anonymous said...

Ron said: "The remarkable thing about this is that this was during Ellen White’s shut door period."

Yes but, this vision had nothing to say about the shut door.

Ron said:"What a lot of us see as important George Knight does not seem to understand. That is the need to see God as someone who is for us, someone who can be trusted and someone who loves us unfailingly."

EGW had this vision. Maybe more that the SDA Church wants to admit!

Ron said:"I frankly don’t want to be part of a denomination which has taken the obscure things as their main things."

Are they obscure? Maybe they are not obscure to everyone. What is interesting to me is how you constantly berate Adventists who do hold to the core doctrines of the church. Should not everyone be persuaded in their own mind?

Ron said:"If we want a distinctive then let us go with the love of God as revealed through Jesus Christ, not the kind of God who says obey me or I will kill you, not the kind of God who says someone has to die to pay your penalty but the kind of God who says come back to me and I will heal you."

This is what I read EGW saying!

Ron said:"Let that be our Adventist Apocalyptic."

This is an amazing statement to me coming from you Ron. You who denies the devil?

Ron Corson said...

anonymous wrote:

"This is an amazing statement to me coming from you Ron. You who denies the devil? "

Really can you tell me where I deny the devil? Of course you can't because for so many people there is a complete lack of ability to understand. If you point out the history of Lucifer and how that became understood as Satan you must therefore deny Satan.

As for what Anonymous reads in EGW I imagine it is just as biased as his reading of what I say. In other words seeing what he wants to see. But when doing that a person can't be objective and everything they see becomes suspect.

Anonymous said...

I sense the love Ron. I sense the love.

Todd G said...

I don't know much about this George Knight...but I'd like traditional Adventist bloggers to visit or join