Adventist Media Response and Conversation

Friday, August 14, 2009

From Enemies to Friends Gallagher sermons

Jonathan Gallagher has posted a series of sermons he gave at Quesnel, British Columbia, August 8, 2009. There are a couple of noteworthy things about these sermons. First it shows how nice is it to have a copy of a sermon which was the subject of last months post entitle Why not publish sermons and second it covers much of the ground on the problem of substitutionary atonement theory and the better view of the moral influence view of the atonement also a recent blog posted here. Gallagher does not use the term moral influence but it is substantially what he is talking about. You can read the sermons, and I recommend you do, in the following 3 parts:
From Enemies to Friends 1
From Enemies to Friends 2
From Enemies to Friends 3

The largest difference I have with Gallagher and Graham Maxwell is developed by their use of Ellen White. We can sum it up by a couple of quotes from Gallagher's sermon 2.

Universe-wide reconciliation

Here we see the bigger picture. For up to now we have been primarily concerned about ourselves, and our salvation—God changing us from enemies to friends. But there is much more than just our salvation at stake. The conflict between God and Satan has a cosmic aspect to it—for the war began in heaven (Rev. 12:7). Even those angels that remained loyal to God surely had many questions, and in God’s wisdom he chooses to work not from claims but through demonstration. So the Cross answers far more than just issues about our situation—it impacts the whole universe-wide controversy over God and his actions raised by Satan the Accuser. So God chooses to make his nature clear, and explain himself and his character through the gift of himself. In this way he reconciles the whole universe:

Through the Son, then, God decided to bring the whole universe back to himself. God made peace through his Son’s blood on the cross and so brought back to himself all things, both on earth and in heaven. Colossians 1:20 TEV.

In fact this might read better “both those on earth and those in heaven.” At which point some may object that those in heaven do not need the atonement—understood as paying some penalty or making amends. But that is not the original meaning—for the word was first used to describe true at-one-ment, and you cannot be truly at one until the controversy is settled and the questions answered. (The NIV uses the term “reconcile”—and in fact the word is actually “completely reconcile,” showing the total extent of the reconciliation needed).

This is why they often call their view the "Larger View" or the "Great Controversy view". It is based upon the assumption that loyal angels have questions about God. He phrases it as surely they had questions but of course we have no indication that they had or have questions, they may well have answers. The Bible of course is not written from the perspective of angels of which we know hardly anything. It is written about man and God, angels are the messengers of God. So when the verse talks about reconciling the things of earth with the things of heaven that is what it means the things of man's domain with the things of God's domain. That is the common interpretation, assuming that it is meant to answer angels questions about God is to use eisegesis placing that idea into the text rather than reading what the text is really trying to say. Clearly the holy angels...the messengers of God are not in need of reconciliation with God. From what the Bible says they live with God, they serve God and they are not in rebellion against God, those who did rebel got kicked out. You don't need to be reconciled if you are never separated.

I do have a theory as to why they feel the need to include these extra biblical ideas into their atonement theory. My theory is that they feel they have to include Ellen White into the mix to make it appear that they are good little Adventists. Good Adventists quote Ellen White so they seek areas that they can quote her because they know that they are also going against what Ellen White says in favor of the Penal Atonement and substitutionary atonement. So they reference the angels questions or as Graham Maxwell does he references the blood thirsty characteristics of the angels in his article addressed here; Response to Graham Maxwell's Great Controversy View The quote from Maxwell's interview article is:

Soon you come to the Flood, where God drowned all but eight. That would seem to be a pretty clear demonstration, and to loyal angels that was the thing to do. Amens (though surely, solemn ones) rang through heaven when he drowned that bunch. "That's the way to do it!" Except afterwards they found it hadn't won a soul. Instead, necessary as it was, it turned the human race against God more than ever, and they built a tower to escape him. "Not by might, nor by power" the angels learned as one thing from the Flood. Though they were at the moment rather satisfied, it appears, and waited for God to do it again.

At least I assume he arrives at this from Ellen White, I will not take the time to find her quote on the subject. But it demonstrates the difference between the moral influence view and the extra biblical view that is attached to the moral influence view to create the "larger view". It may be that many or most Adventists are not capable of advancing past their dependence upon Ellen White. Graham Maxwell and Gallagher are attempting to wean Adventists away from the more harmful elements of their traditional religious views. So I don't want to be too strenuous in my complaints. Because really what does it matter what they think that angels are saying in heaven through history or if they think that the atonement is directed at angels also. It does not really change anything in regard to the atonement for human beings. Maybe it will have the benefit of helping people to see that you can't take everything Ellen White says as true also. My personal preference is to simply leave her out of the whole atonement theory argument. Because frankly it makes no sense that God wanted us to wait 1800 years for someone to really explain the atonement to us.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

A response to Evolution in Education article by Jay Gallimore

The President of the Michigan conference has posted an article entitled Evolution in Education. Jay Gallimore begins his President’s Perspective found at by saying:

“Adventists have always shown a keen interest in science. After all, the God of the Bible is the God of creation. Unlike some other denominations, we have not promoted a separation between faith and science. In our view God uses true science and true faith to work together to reveal Himself to His children. From the revelation of Scripture we know that the world and nature have been heavily damaged by sin. Therefore, empirical evidence alone is not able to give us a clear picture of truth. So when there is a seeming contradiction between Scripture and science we have chosen to trust Scripture.”

When I read this article I was struck by the rather contradictory statements made throughout the article. As in the first paragraph the author says that we Adventists have not promoted a separation between faith and science and then saying since the world and nature are heavily damaged by sin empirical evidence can’t give a clear picture of truth. Instead of accepting the evidence we have chosen to trust Scripture. That is pretty much the definition of separation between faith and science, at least the way he is using it. It is certainly possible to trust Scripture as a revelation about God and man without the insistence that every story is literally true. But that is certainly not the author’s intention.

One has to wonder what the author thinks sin is that it so heavily damaged the world and nature. It almost sounds like it is some sort of physical presence that goes around stocking the plants, animals and minerals of the world. As if when I see a dike intrusion into Granite I can say, “sin did that!” If I see a dinosaur bone I can say “sin did that” it originally was an animal as cute as a bunny rabbit but sin made it huge and vicious.

The scary thing about this is that many in the Adventist church are allowing scientifically semi-illiterate church administrators to define what education should be. Because he uses undefined terms like “true science” and “true faith” some people believe that he knows what he is talking about. Of course if he can show that his science is true than the battle is over, but since he cannot. His truth is not literally truth it is his interpretation of truth. We see this a bit later in the article when he writes:

“No one is against academic freedom. Yet all academic freedom has a context. In secular universities it is “human reasoning.” In confessional universities it is “divine reasoning.” For the secular, “human reasoning” is the final court of appeal because that is what they trust. For confessional universities, “divine reasoning” is the last word because that is what we trust. This means academic freedom in a confessional university is viewed in the context of our faith in God and His divine revelation in Scripture. If we do not understand and support this criterion, then it is only a matter of time before our confessional schools of higher education will become secular like other universities that started out as institutions of other denominations.”

Gallimore here sets up a false dichotomy “human reasoning” versus “divine reasoning”. We all have a pretty good idea of what human reasoning is because we all do it, some of us more than others, but what is “divine reasoning”? It appears from his usage it means his interpretation of what the Bible says. But would not that be human reasoning? If divine reasoning is simply what the Genesis account says than it is hopelessly in conflict with itself as Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 do not agree with each other. In that case the divine reasoning seems to actually be traditional human interpretations used to combine the two accounts into one that seems reasonable. The fact is he can’t get away from “human reasoning” it is all we humans have after all. Faith in God is a far different subject than faith in some traditional Genesis interpretation but if one falsely calls their tradition “divine reasoning” they are intentionally fooling themselves and then placing themselves as the authority in all faith matters.

Gallimore continues his fictions by writing the following:

“It is my belief that, by and large, most of our science teachers are creationists, not evolutionists. Many are doing a great job of helping young adults understand arguments on both sides. Where there are appearances of contradictions between science and inspiration they are teaching students to trust divine revelation. This is wise because history is full of examples of how science ends up confirming facts of faith that it once denied. It is also reasonable in a world where science keeps changing its theories. Waiting on God has always brought large rewards. Unlike human reasoning in connection with science, God and Scripture never change.”

One has to wonder what all these examples of faith confirming facts that science once denied. What would those histories full of examples show us? The flood, no, science sees no evidence for a world wide flood. The pillars of the earth or maybe stars created after the earth…no. The necessity of a woman to be unclean for twice as long after having a girl instead of a boy baby? (Lev. 12:1-5)? About the only think I can think of would be that at one time there may have been people who because they did not have any evidence of Hittites did not believe there were Hittites, back in the infancy of the archeological science in the 1800’s. Do God and scripture never change? Well, when was the last time you attended the stoning of someone who broke the Sabbath? Does God still ask you to bring a sheep or dove or flour to be sacrificed, that once was the God proscribed way of worship. The whole progressive of the Old to New Testament is filled with changes in what Scripture is teaching about God and man. The written words certainly don’t change but the concepts continue to grow and expand at least if one allows their human reasoning to investigate things.

One final quote:

“Let me say again that I believe most of our colleges and universities are supportive of our fundamental beliefs. There are many blessings for our youth at these institutions. Nevertheless, parents and students should remain vigilant. I have been assured by Dr. Keith Mattingly, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, that Andrews University, while making students aware of the evolutionary arguments, is committed to teaching that creation, as revealed in Genesis, is the true understanding of origins.”

Why does Andrews University even bother with making students aware of evolutionary arguments? If Genesis is the true understanding of origins what use is it to know anything else? We don’t teach the old theory of germ development from spontaneous generation we don’t teach them how witches cause thunderstorms or moles or insanity. What is the point of teaching in a science class things that you know can’t possibly be true because your faith says they are not true? If they aren’t true then they could have not practical application whether science used them or not after all faith has won so many victories over science, history is filled with examples…I and Mr. Gallimore just can’t think of any right now.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

What is the Moral Influence Theory of Atonement

Recently I got an email asking about my stance on Substitutionary Atonement Theory. While I have an extensive article on the subject entitled: What is wrong with the Substitutionary theory of the Atonement? There still seems to be a lot of confusion when people think about the alternative I have often used called the Moral Influence Theory. Some of this was brought to my attention by some comments I read on and even from the website which in its article on the Moral Influence quotes from one of my previous articles. First here is Anita’s question:

I read your stance on "substitution theory." I have accepted this as biblical for many, many years both in my Catholic upbringing and as a Protestant. I am not rejecting your thoughts, I am just curious what you are saying. I am a bit confused, so a summary of what your meaning is would be so helpful.

Atonement Theory
The Moral Influence Theory is a theological term, it is like many theological terms not proposed and given the name Moral Influence theory that is simply something that got attached to the view by later theologians. It is a very simple theory, but first let me say that atonement theories are not meant to deal with all aspects of Christianity. In theological terms an atonement theory is meant to explain the reason why Christ died. As says: “In Christian theology, atonement is the reconciliation (‘at-one-ment’) of men and women to God through the death of Christ. The word was introduced by W. Tyndale (in 1526) to translate reconciliatio.”

Through history there have been a number of theories to attempt to explain how this reconciliation to God is brought about by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. In simple terms…because in fact the moral influence theory is pretty simple the atonement is God’s showing His love and desire for reconciliation with humanity. In fact you could find that idea in most every other atonement theory. It is very clearly established in the Bible probably most memorably by Paul when he asks the rhetorical question:
(Rom 2:4 NIV) Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God's kindness leads you toward repentance? Repentance being the first step in human response to the actions of God leading to reconciliation.

What is the Moral Influence Theory
A couple of quotes from some easily accessible books online are helpful here as most reference works will attribute the teaching of the moral influence theory or at least the popularity of it to Peter Abelard:

“It is only in his commentary on the Epistle to the Romans (c. 1135?) that Abelard develops the thesis that the redeeming action of Christ does not consist in freeing man from servitude to the devil, but in inspiring in him the true love of God through the example of his life and his death…” Encylopedia of Christian Theology By Jean-Yves Lacoste
“Concerning the doctrine of Christ’s atonement, Abelard set forth in his commentary on the Epistle to the Romans a distinctive teaching, often called a “subjective” theory. Abelard argued that the effect of Christ’s death was not an “objective” change in the relation of God and humanity (in light of human sin) as presented in Anselm of Bec’s Cur Deus homo. Rather, Christ’s death reveals self-sacrifice and absolute self-giving love, which evokes in the believer a response of total sacrifice and love and effects not a cosmic transaction involving divine justice but a personal and individual transformation of love and intention.” Medieval France by William W. Kibler, Grover A. Zinn
Subjective versus objective atonement
The idea of subjective versus objective is actually very interesting because most of the other theories have Jesus doing the sacrifice to change God. In the Satisfaction theory God has been infinitely offended by man’s sin and demands satisfaction. Man who is finite cannot provide any infinite satisfaction so Christ the God Man provides it. This theory for all practical purposes morphed into the Substitutionary theory where God demands that someone pay the penalty for man’s sin and Jesus becomes man’s substitute. The Ransom theory from early Christianity is similar as on objective theory as it seeks to have Jesus pay a ransom to Satan to free people from Satan’s grip.

The difference, the effect of the atonement upon man versus the effect of the atonement on God (or the devil) makes a huge difference from my perspective. God is God and He does not need to change, He is the one who offers the love and reconciliation and the ultimate salvation we look for. Of course the Substitutionary atonement proponent will readily agree to the idea that the Substitutionary atonement reveals the love of God because God is sending His own Son as the Substitutionary sacrifice. However to them the love of God is not enough God has to punish someone for the sin so God pours out His wrath upon Jesus Christ. The problem is; does love demand that someone has to be punished in order to forgive someone else? It produces as confused view of God, someone who loves supremely yet can’t manage to simply forgive. That frankly is not the picture of God given in much of the Bible and it is not a very reasonable view of God either.

Quotes from the confused about Moral Influence Theory
Let’s look at some of the quotes from a thread at Heavenly
Let me give my own $0.02 on the Moral Influence Theory. There is nothing wrong with it.... as far as it goes. No one anywhere would deny that Jesus' life and death influenced us morally. That was certainly part of his mission

But if Jesus' only mission was to show us how to live more moral lives, or even to show us how far love would go, there would have been no necessity for his death. It was just a stronger statement that way.
What the MIT leaves out is the whole Great Controversy, the charges against God, the reason that God had to let sin play out and his solution to the dilemma that the results of sin presented. In my opinion it was this larger context that required that Jesus suffer the consequences of sin to demonstrate the truth of God's diagnosis and the full nature of sin. I see no other way in which that could have been addressed that would not have left some crack of doubt about God and his government. Jesus' death was absolutely necessary for the whole problem of evil to be resolved. The MIT does not include that broad a scope.


This person has made the classic mistake of not understanding what an Atonement theory is meant to address. That is how does the death of Christ bring reconciliation? He is partially right in that all Christian doctrine relates to some other part of Christian doctrine. But there is no Atonement theory that includes all the broad scope of everything in Christianity. There is not even agreement on what the broad scope would be and just saying the code words “Great Controversy” does little to establish any understanding. Though the term is used and misused in Adventism a lot. Practically no one really knows what it means because the term seems to try and cover everything that a particular person thinks is important. The same person continues in another post:

That God would choose to do this rather than "start over" is proof of his love. But to me (and I do NOT NOT NOT claim to speak for all Larger View folk in this) the primary reason for the necessity of Jesus' death was that there was no other way to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that sin pays its wages, death rather than sin results in God killing you.

To me this explanation takes our understanding of the atonement out of the realm of the "Moral Influence Theory" because the MIT has no "necessity" for his death. He could have done it without the death but it was simply a stronger statement that way. In this understanding the death of Jesus was necessary. There is no other way in which this "double bind" could have been answered. Jesus had to die to deal with the claims of evil.

This continues the previous misunderstanding of what an Atonement theory is but it also adds a new component which you find in many of those who claim to be students of Dr. Graham Maxwell (people who often say they follow the “Larger View” or the “Great Controversy” view of atonement). That is that for some reason no one would know what death was unless Jesus died. It is an attempt to get back to the objective idea that God had to change something (here it would be humanities view of death). In stead of God having to punish someone for sin they move it to God had to prove that separation from God really is death. That the death we see all around us is not really death at all, only seeing the sin caused the death of Christ as someone who never sinned do we realize the separation from God really kills. I know it sounds silly and it is and it contradicts the New Testament which indicates at least 5 times that people killed Christ, not once saying that God caused the death of Christ. It is a view predicated on Ellen White, for those trying to incorporate her into their theology it takes on major importance, with the idea that Christ suffered the Second death, the death that the wicked will suffer after the second coming.

Another regular member at Heavenlysanctuary, Scott wrote:

If penal substitution (forensic model) is true then Christ could have been killed at two years old at the hand of Herod (acting for God) and accomplished being our substitute for God's wrath.

If the Moral Influence theory is true then God needed not become human at all. He could have come down as God or even sent an angel to accomplish telling men how to live. This would not require his death or resurrection.

Here we see another of the misrepresentation of the moral influence theory; the idea that the reason for the moral influence theory of the atonement was simply to show us humans how to live. First as with Mark, Scott doesn’t understand what an Atonement theory is trying to explain and second the idea that moral influence is meant as telling us how to be moral. So no, his assertion that the moral influence theory would be just as acceptable had an angel come and died is incorrect. At best we would conclude that an angel had self sacrificing love but that does not tell us about God and thus does nothing to create reconciliation.

Kevin writes the following:

A second criticism I have of the Moral Influence Theory is that it is focused too much on works. Jesus died as a demonstration so that you change your life and that life chance is what saves you. It turns the cross into a coach and becomes a very beautiful way of phrasing traditional legalism.

Using the words of detractors to define a belief
This is one of the most popular distortions of the Moral Influence theory. It is like so many distortions is drawn not from what the believers in the Moral Influence theory say but from what the detractors say about the Moral Influence theory. We see an example of this on Religious Tolerance website which says under the description “Some brief descriptions of the Moral Theory are:

Phil Johnson of the conservative Protestant Grace to You ministry disagrees with the Moral Theory. He describes it as follows: "Christ’s death was an example for believers to follow, a radical expression of love that influences sinners morally and gives them a pattern to follow..." 6

People have to really be careful who they get their information from. If you want to know what a certain people believe you go to sources of people who believe that. You don’t go to the Adventists to find out what Roman Catholics believe or to Roman Catholics to find out what Adventists believe. There may be Adventists and Roman Catholics who know what the other believes but they will be able to document the belief from people who actually hold the belief. This is why quotations are so important and it protects us from making wrong assumptions and or judgments based upon faulty information.

Christ as Christian Example
That Christ is an example to follow is nearly universal in Christianity but that is not what the moral influence theory is. You may have noticed nobody said that the book In His Steps was based upon the Moral Influence Theory but that is the premise to the first half of the book and the concept “what would Jesus do”. The moral influence theory is no more works oriented than the works oriented legalism of those who hold to Satisfaction or Penal theory. Atonement theory is not about works or grace of people. Atonement theory is about the grace or work of Christ and how His death leads to reconciliation.

Definitions of Moral often ignored
There are other definitions of “Moral” which convey much better the idea of moral used in the term Moral Influence theory. Three of them found in the definition of moral at are:
-- Founded on the fundamental principles of right conduct rather than on legalities, enactment, or custom: moral obligations.
-- of, pertaining to, or acting on the mind, feelings, will, or character: moral support.
-- resting upon convincing grounds of probability; virtual: a moral certainty.

Atonement the center of Christianity
A person’s view of the Atonement will serve as the foundation, the center of their interpretation of all other aspects of Christianity. It defines the character of God and that understanding of God defines the rest of our beliefs. This makes it very hard for someone who believes in the ultimately self sacrificing love of God designed to bring us back to a relationship with God to live a legalistic life. In other words to think that because God loved us so much that He came in the person of Jesus Christ to show us His love and even when rejected and tortured by people He still loved and forgave the ones killing Him. Yet He requires the same self sacrificing love and forgiveness from you or He will not be reconciled with you makes no sense it would not even be atonement. That God asks us to love and forgive is very true and a part of most all Christian thought. But that our love and forgiveness is what saves us is the difference between legalism and grace oriented salvation. It explains why those who believe God is defined by His love and forgiveness cannot hope to live lives of sufficient love and forgiveness to merit salvation. We know that there is no works we can do to make up for our lack of love and forgiveness.

That God acts rightly, that love is the conduct of God is the type of “moral” nature revealed in the atonement. That the character of God reaches to our mind, our feeling and character is equally moral. The fact that this love is convincingly given by the record of the life and death of Christ confirms still another definition of moral. We could even add more morals in that Christ conformed to then current laws or that Christ was obedient. But those moral elements don’t bring reconciliation they are evidence of who Christ was. But we can’t ignore the elements of moral which influence us to follow God. Which is what many of the detractors of Moral Influence theory do because they really do like the moral influence theory it just does not go far enough for them. It does not fulfill their view of a God that demands someone has to die because a law was broken…that satisfaction has to be made. If I speculated about their reason other than tradition for their insistence I would have to say it is founded upon a misunderstanding of God and love. And that is why the theory of Atonement is so very important today.