A Response To Graham Maxwell's Great Controversy View
One of the bright lights of the Seventh-day Adventist church is A. Graham Maxwell. Anyone who has heard him speak realizes that he is a gracious individual and a very intelligent Christian man. This response is not meant in any way to attack Graham Maxwell but to explain areas of his Great Controversy views which are difficult for people like me who are Progressive SDA's to accept. One of the things true of most Progressive SDA's is a desire to develop all doctrines based upon the scriptures. By scriptures I mean the Holy Bible, therefore extra Biblical information however authoritative some in the SDA church may feel it to be is not acceptable for doctrines. The short excerpts quoted here are found at the following Internet address http://www.pineknoll.org/graham/wdjhtd.html "WHY DID JESUS HAVE TO DIE?" Graham Maxwell interviewed by Jonathan Gallagher.
My arguments against Maxwell's views are not really directed against his reasoning as to why Jesus had to die. Largely I am in agreement with him. So those who may believe in a vicarious substitutionary death will not find this article to their liking. As will also be the case for those who like to look to Ellen White for their theology. I will note for those who do view Ellen White as authoritative that she is indeed substitutionary in her view of the atonement. There is little doubt about that fact even though you will likely not hear much of it from Maxwell, even though he frequently praises the writing of Ellen White and as can be seen from the this article he is greatly indebted to her for many of his theological suppositions.
What would be ideal is if there was a short statement of what is meant by "the Great Controversy". A phrase so often used in the SDA church and rarely adequately defined. It appears that the Great Controversy theme is begun with the idea that there was a literal war in heaven where Satan and his angels were cast down to earth. This is a common view in the Christian religion although the timing of this war is very uncertain. In Maxwell's Great Controversy it is believed that the war spoken of in Revelation 12 occurred before the Creation of Adam and Eve. Drawing from Ellen White Maxwell presents the idea that God told Adam and Eve all about this war in heaven and of Satan. Also drawing from tradition and Ellen White Maxwell presents that Satan caused one third of the heavenly angels to fall with him. Intrinsic to this Great Controversy view is the idea that angels are heavily involved, with a great need for answers to their questions and confusion.
If one were to go to Maxwell's class it is likely they would hear that the Great Controversy is over the character and government of God. I would not argue with that thought, nor would most Christians, we all must come to our conclusions whether we believe God is really God, and if we can trust Him or believe what He says. This is part and parcel of our acknowledgment of the Bible as being a communication from God or not. Certainly the Bible does not offer up the idea that God is anything but righteous. Even if we may look at something as questionably righteous or not, the writers of the Bible seem to have little difficulty with His righteousness. So as the Bible shapes our view of God it is also what presents us with information about Satan. If Satan were to critique the Bible he would likely not think he was presented well. With hardly a mention in the Old Testament save the book of Job, he is detailed mainly as an enemy who lies and kills in the New Testament. A force that will arise to attack the people of God.
Back to Maxwell's Great Controversy view, Maxwell often speaks of Lucifer and his fall. As with most people who believe the Lucifer myth they read the verses in Ezekiel and Isaiah which refer to the leaders of the nations of Tyre and Babylon respectively and transfer them to Satan. While it is an interesting study to see how this type of tradition began in the early church with Origin and Tertullian, as most any decent commentary will tell you these verses are not about Satan. They were never viewed as being about Satan by the Jews or by the New Testament. Again Maxwell must turn to Ellen White as his authority to color in the information he needs to explain Satan's fall. When this is added to the war in heaven concept it causes him to say: "I believe that just as the war began in the sanctuary, so the war ends in the sanctuary..." Does the Bible tell us that war began in the sanctuary? Maybe if you believe that all of heaven is the sanctuary, but since he had earlier said that war began in the heavenly sanctuary it seems that he is once again bringing in information that he has not obtained in the Bible. Likewise the Bible does not give us an indication that Holy angels at any time are questioning God as to His character and government or that as he often expresses a "crisis in heaven" for the angels. If you read the above article (WHY DID JESUS HAVE TO DIE?) you see that Maxwell does tend to paint angels as a bit bloodthirsty. Pleased when God destroys the earth with a flood and wanting Him to do it again.
Certain verses in Ephesians and Colossians are favorites of Dr. Maxwell to back up his assertions that angels also need to be taught. These being:
and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. (Col 1:20-21 NIV)
And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment-- to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ. (Eph 1:9-10 NIV)
For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like men condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to men. (1 Cor 4:9 NIV)
The first two are simply about reconciliation between the things of God and the things of earth, namely rebellious people. The verses work wonderfully well without the intrusion of proving to angels that God is good. The third verse shows that we are spectacles to others, which it would seem to include God's angels who are about His business and would therefore in certain cases be present as we testify about God, or fail to testify. To the ancient mind the universe was not thought to be populated by other unfallen beings, nor does the Bible supply such an idea. That is another Ellen White concept that has crept into Maxwell's theology. What angels see or don't see is thoroughly speculation, it may be fun to do, but in the end it is of little consequence unless doctrines become based upon speculations, in which case truth is the first victim.
The fundamental principle to Maxwell's larger view lies in his often-repeated question of what did this or that teach the angels. Or what did the angels think of such and such. The speculation is often encountered that angels could not believe or understand something. The simple fact is we do not know what the loyal angels think, question, or understand. We do know that the Bible is very humanity centric however. The larger view is not what do creatures we know little about think, but what do people like you and me think of God and what He has done or will do. As the Bible tells us it was not for Holy angels that Christ came to earth but for mankind:
For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham's descendants. For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. (Heb 2:16-18 NIV)
The article mentioned above asks Dr. Maxwell the following:
"In the trust-healing model, there was no other way. It exalts the cross.
As a lesson, as a demonstration in providing answers?
Yes. Now those who call it Moral Influence Theory have no Great Controversy, or at best a limited one. So all they see in what we've been saying is "How very loving of God to do this, and it wins us to love him. That's really trivializing this way of understanding things, but that is usually said by someone who stresses Reformation theology, has been especially influenced by Luther, and who de-emphasizes the issues in the Great Controversy--so all he sees is the demonstration of God's love: Abelard. But we're talking about three other things that were never mentioned by Abelard: the questions that divided the Universe. These are of enormous consequence, these are of vast significance. If these questions are not answered, there is no peace and security in the Universe, and Paul says so. Why is Colossians 1--and Ephesians 1 and 3--why are they not included at the heart of the argument? "He shed his blood to bring peace in heavenly places."'
It is very true that "they" have no Great Controversy as Maxwell explains it. But actually that is to their credit as they work within the Biblical context. They do not use Colossians 1 and Ephesians 1 in the same way since it has historically never been used the way Maxwell has asserted. The Holy angels were not alienated from God, Maxwell's use ignores the context. Neither does Luther de-emphasize the Great Controversy. As we have seen above the Great Controversy Maxwell speaks of is not found in the Bible, even the idea of the war in heaven has various interpretations, not to mention that no time indication is given in Revelation 12. Luther was not neglecting something that the Christian church knew for it never knew the Great Controversy, as Maxwell believes it. The Christians did however see the war between good and evil as well as necessity to understand and trust God.
If Maxwell were to say that the Great Controversy were about who do we trust, do we follow the instruction given by God or accept doubts about God as the serpent represents in the beginning of Genesis. He would present a "Great Controversy" that all Christians could eagerly accept. One that is not dependent upon extra Biblical authority. What has the larger view really added but speculation and a call to accept as a prophet one who few Christians outside the SDA church would accept as a prophet. Overall Maxwell's teaching against vicarious substitution are good and something the Christian world needs desperately. However it is also important to draw our doctrines from the Bible, and if we cannot, they do not deserve to be Christian doctrines.