Adventist Media Response and Conversation

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Defining and Redefining Present Truth

Present Truth is a frequent term used in the Adventist community. It’s most popular definition is that Present Truth is progressive truth. That is that truth in particular for a particular time or situation. What many Adventists probably don’t know is that the term is used outside of Adventism as well. In fact Charles Spurgeon published a selection of his sermons under the title Present Truth. The Website Heaven Dwellers gives a reasonable definition of Present Truth by saying:
“In each of God's ages and dispensations there has been truth generated from God that was peculiar and particular to that age or dispensation to which it pertained. By that we mean that in each age God made known a truth which related directly to the calling that then stood before God. It has ever been the responsibility of God's people in each age and dispensation to distinguish Present Truth…”
 Adventist Church historian George R. Knight says in A search for identity: the development of Seventh-Day Adventist beliefs:
“…To adequately understand Adventism’s doctrinal development we need to examine three concepts espoused by the earliest Seventh-day Adventists thought leaders: (1) Their dynamic conception of “present truth,” (2) their attitude toward creedal statements of Christian belief, and (3) their view of the pathway to progressive understanding.” (page 18)
Is it Present Truth because we say so?
I would submit that Present Truth is in reality a euphemism for Adventist beliefs. If we (or the Adventists pioneers) believe it, it was or is called present truth. The idea that it is a progressive revelation of truth is not really that compatible with how the founders of the Seventh-day Adventist church used the term. It would be nice if it meant progressive revelation of truth but the usage in history only tangentially touches that idea.

George Knight notes that the term was not unique to the Seventh-day Adventists, that the Millerites earlier employed it in reference to the soon return of Jesus, then to the idea that the second advent would occur on Oct. 22 of 1844. To this Knight finds that the Millerites “find a progressive dynamic in understanding” Knight references the quote from James White’s book Life Incidents page 298-291 where James White says:
"The storm is coming.  War, famine and pestilence are already in the field of slaughter.  Now is the time, the only time to seek a shelter in the truth of the living God.  In Peter's time there was present truth, or truth applicable to that present time.  The church have ever had a present truth.  The present truth now, is that which shows present duty, and the right position for us who are about to witness the time of trouble such as never was.  Present truth must be oft repeated, even to those who are established in it.  This was needful in the apostles' day, and it certainly is no less important for us, who are living just before the close of time.

            "For months I have felt burdened with the duty of writing and publishing the present truth for the scattered flock; but the way has not been opened for me to commence the work until now.  I tremble at the word of the Lord, and the importance of this time.  What is done to spread the truth must be done quickly.  The four angels are holding the angry nations in check but a few days, until the saints are sealed; then the nations will rush, like the rushing of many waters.  Then it will be too late to spread before precious souls the present, saving, living truths of the Holy Bible.  My spirit is drawn out after the scattered remnant.  May God help them to receive the truth, and be established in it."
Knight also references this quote from Ellen White:
“Special truths have been adapted to the conditions of the generations as they have existed. The present truth, which is a test to the people of this generation, was not a test to the people of generations far back. If the light which now shines upon us in regard to the Sabbath of the fourth commandment had been given to the generations in the past, God would have held them accountable for that light.
When the temple of God was opened in heaven, John saw in holy vision a class of people whose attention was arrested and who were looking with reverential awe at the ark, which contained the law of God. The special test upon the fourth commandment did not come until after the temple of God was opened in heaven.”  (Testimonies to the Church Vol. 2 Page 693)
An overused term
Once you read Ellen White, who uses the term over a thousand times you begin to realize that it is not so much a term of dynamic progressive understanding but a shorthand code-word for Adventist doctrine. What the Adventists were teaching was Present Truth. The special understanding that the Adventist had given to the Sabbath was Present Truth. When the Seventh day Baptists taught it a hundred years prior it was not Present Truth.  Note in the above quote Ellen White says that in regard to the Sabbath if generations in the past had known they would be held accountable. But Ellen White elsewhere says that there was almost a continual line of Sabbath Keepers throughout history. (Which is something that the Seventh Day Baptists also said. *See the end of this article an for article excerpt on the Seventh Day Baptists.) But to Ellen White the Sabbath took on special significance because Seventh-day Adventists had determined that they lived in the time after 1844 when the temple of God was opened in heaven.

In Volume 1 of the Testimonies we find good confirmation that the Present Truth is shorthand for Adventist doctrines when it is used with another Adventist shorthand code word, “Thrid angel’s message”:
“Those ministers who have come out from the different denominations to embrace the third angel's message often wish to teach when they should be learners. Some have a great share of their former teaching to unlearn before they can fully learn the principles of present truth. Ministers will injure the cause of God by going forth to labor for others when there is as great a work to be done for them to fit them for their labors as they may wish to do for unbelievers. If they are unqualified for the work, it will require the labor of two or three faithful ministers to follow after and correct their wrong influence. In the end it would be cheaper for the cause of God to give such ministers a good support to remain at home and do no injury in the field.” (Testimonies Vol 1 page 444)
It appears that those ministers from other denominations did not possess the knowledge of the complete doctrines of the Adventists and they had to learn those doctrines otherwise they were going to cause injury. The funny thing about the term Present Truth is that in effect it is quite meaningless. It has no practical definition aside from the claims made by whomever feels they have Present Truth. In the historical context we see that it is the Adventist understanding of the Seventh-day Sabbath, 1844 and the opening of the temple in heaven and the Third angel’s message. We might be able to find a few other distinctive Adventists ideas connected such as health reform, but there is really nothing concrete that is presented as being Present Truth by Ellen White. If the Adventist church actually had something concrete to call Present Truth it would certainly have made the writing of the fundamental doctrines much easier.
As George Knight says:
“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”. (page 17)
He goes on to say they would disagree with the Trinity as an unscriptural doctrine, that they would have trouble with the idea that Jesus is both eternal and truly God. They would not only deny the Trinity and eternity of the Son but also deny that the Holy Spirit was a person like the Father and Son. Present Truth for them was simply what they believed as Adventists. It was not Present Truth because it was really true it was Present Truth because they were the remnant, they were the true followers of God and their distinctive beliefs were believed to be true. Here is where they tangentially touch upon progressive revelation of truth. Because they thought they were gifted with the prophetic guidance of Ellen White as the miss appropriated term “Spirit of Prophecy” they had a new revelation of truth that others did not have. In that sense their ideas endorsed by Ellen White could possibly be seen as progressive revelations, but only by those who accepted the prophet role of Ellen White.

Redefining Present Truth
Progressive Adventism has taken the term Present Truth and attempted to separate it from it’s historical use as Traditional distinctive Adventist doctrines into a concept that we should seek to learn how and when it is necessary to reinterpret our doctrines and ideas. It then sounds to the traditional Adventists who hear Present Truth as Adventists distinctives that the Progressive Adventists are talking the same language. The problem of course besides meaning different things is that we get the idea that our incorrect doctrines were at one time referred to as Present Truth. It is difficult to progress past something that we have declared to be the truth especially if it was called Present Truth, a truth of necessity because we were living so near the end of the world. Consider what Joseph Bates said in his pamplet An Explanation of the Typical and Anti-Typical Sanctuary, By the Scriptures. With A Chart Revelation III:
“Why this third angel's loud cry about the commandments of God, because the fourth one, which had been trodden down for many generations, is to be restored and kept as the commandment requires.  The second angel's message and voice from heaven required God's people to leave the churches.  The seventh-day Sabbath could not, nor can not now be restored there.  It is to be done in the Philadelphia state of the church, and no where else.  This is the present truth in the commandments in the Ark of his Testimony.  The present truth in this is: That the master of the house has risen up and shut the door, and now stands beside the Ark containing the commandments.  The "Present Truth," then, of this third angel's message is, T H E  S A B B A T H  A N D  S H U T  D O O R. See the picture on the Chart.”
Not too many Adventists still believe in the Shut Door theory even if at one time it was thought to be Present Truth. But then again most think that Present Truth is their accepted Adventist distinctive beliefs and not someone else’s distinctive belief even if it is that of an Adventist church founder. The danger here is found in the idea that we have to align Present Truth with past Present Truth. Here is what the article dealing with Progressive revelation says:
“New light will not manifest itself in a form that is altogether different from the light the church already possesses. It will take the form of a further advancement of present truth. It is a fuller, clearer, and brighter unfolding of the old truth. There will be harmony with the theological landmarks, the Spirit of Prophecy, and historicist principles of Bible interpretation. Thus it will not replace, substitute, radically change, or tear down the foundations of Adventist faith and practice.” (Seventh-day Adventist Doctrines and Progressive Revelation © P. Gerard Damsteegt Journal of the Adventist Theological Society, 2/1 (1991): 77-92)
Time to abandon the term
Thus the theologian has closed the circle of Present Truth. It is always what we believe and it will always be what we believe. Present Truth is an illusion, a piece of propaganda to make the uncertain feel certain. It is a term I will no longer use and I hope that the Adventist church will also abandon the deception of Present Truth for a more reasoned truth that is subject to changing interpretations and even dare I say it…acknowledging that some things we thought were true were not.  Because that is really the only way progressive revelation will work for anyone.

* I found this interesting so I thought I would append it here as referenced above.:
 “Thus far we have endeavored to show, and think we have done so, that Christianity was planted in the islands of Great Britain in the apostolic age; that it was Sabbath-keeping in character; that for some six centuries, at least, the Sabbath prevailed in these islands, and that, on down to the Reformation, Sabbath advocates and adherents abounded in unbroken and persistent succession.
We now come to the subject of organized Seventh-Day Baptist Churches.
A.D. 1558.
Chambers' Cyclopedia states that "many conscientious and independent thinkers in the reign of Elizabeth (1558-1603)advocated the seventh-day."
A.D. 1552.
The Sabbath Recorder of June 11, 1868, says:- "In 1552 many in England were known as Sabbatarians.
A.D. 1545.
Dr. Samuel Kohn, chief Rabbi of Budapest, Hungary, in a recent work ( Sabbatarians in Transylvania, 1894, pp. 8,9) says:- In Bohemia Sabbatarians sprung up as early as 1530. Such Sabbatarians, or similar sects, we meet about 1545 among the Quakers in England. Several leaders and preachers of the Puritans have re-transferred the rest day from Sunday to Saturday; and the Christian Jews who arose in England and in 1661 partly emigrated to Germany, and settled near Heidelberg, believed, indeed, in Jesus, but they also celebrated the Sabbath and regarded the Jewish laws in reference to meats and drinks."

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Psychology of Adam and Eve, a tough question

Not long ago I was thinking about one of the problems that exist when we hold to a literal interpretation of the Genesis creation account. We normally think of these as the physical problem with the creation account, such as what was light on the first day, or how could it be that the sun, moon and stars were not created until the fourth day. Those are of course large problems for a literal view of the Genesis creation account but there is another science which comes into play in the story. A somewhat softer science but still a very important consideration; that is the psychology of the first humans.

We have for quite some time now as a culture realized that human beings need time to develop reasoning skills. It is of course not just time that is needed it is experience and knowledge of life that take up that time till a human being is thought of as a responsible person. We have in America set that time frame as 18 years and then the person is classed as an adult. Some countries my have less, some more. The Jews have a tradition of a boy moving into manhood at age 12. The different ages for the acceptance of the age of reason my vary and they may be somewhat arbitrary but they have a good number of years of life experience and learning in common before the person is classed among those called of the age of reason or adults or independently  responsible individuals.

Now back to the creation story. Man, Adam and Eve in the story were created. What was their psychological level of maturity? Those years of experiences that humans go through to reach the age of reason were not there for Adam and Eve. Yet the greatest test of their loyalty was placed upon their inexperienced shoulders. But of course we don’t know what level of experience they had perhaps experiences were implanted in their minds. Surely they were not created as adult sized infants. After all the in the story they seem to be able to walk and talk and carry on conversations, something that normally requires years of training and experience before the average child becomes proficient.

But that is a problem when we are about to test someone…because if God is going to test them and God is the one that gave them the knowledge or artificial experience He is not really testing them but testing the information He implanted into them. Now of course if God did not give them any knowledge or experiences then they were in no ways capable of understanding their world at all and their lives for at least a few years would be filled with learning the very basics of life. Perhaps God would have been their instructor during these first years of life but we really have no idea because the story does not say anything about the origins of their knowledge and experiences. But most anyway you look at it if you delve into their psychology they were either on their own and very immature and inexperienced or they were implanted with knowledge and experience or they were trained by God.

If they were trained by God or God implanted the knowledge into them then the fault lies as much or more with God as with Adam or Eve if they fail the test God lays out for them. If they were simply unknowledgeable and inexperienced then the fault lies entirely with God for placing them in a situation that they could not hope to function as individually responsible people. The idea of God plunging the entire world into sin because of the choices of two totally inadequately knowledgeable people would make God out to be entirely insensitive and cruel. 

It seems to me that just on the psychology of the situation it is entirely impossible to accept the story as literal. Because it would destroy the whole idea of God before it even builds up the idea of God. At least to the modern mind, though to the ancients it seems that they had no real need for their gods to behave properly or intelligently or fairly even, just read the stories of the gods of the nations around Israel to see that for yourself. The question we have to ask is; do we have to ignore what we know to accept and ancient story or does the story have uses or interpretations that work beyond the realm of ancient understandings. If we believe in progressive revelation of God then we don’t have to accept the literal story and we don’t have to pretend that what does not make sense makes perfect sense. Instead we can apply what our knowledge and experience adds to the understanding and the methods we use to interpret the Biblical texts.

But if you choose not to go there, and choose to believe in the literal story, do you have an answer for the psychological development of Adam and Eve? I would love to hear some conjectures on that idea.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Doing honest science at an Adventist School

 Yesterday I attended the PACIFIC NORTHWEST ADVENTIST FORUM meeting which featured the guest speaker Benjamin Clausen, Ph.D. Senior Research Scientist Geoscience Research Institute at Loma Linda California.

Here is a portion from the Announcement:

Title: Doing Honest Science at an Adventist School?

 "As I teach and do research in geology, I am continually confronted with
questions of how to be honest with the science, yet faithful to the
Seventh-day Adventist church. What do I say to my students and science
colleagues that fairly represents the geology data, while being supportive
of the Bible and an encouragement to faith? This lecture will present some
anecdotal experiences and ideas that have been developing, rather than a
final answer. It will suggest: (1) teaching the standard scientific paradigm
along with the merits and problems of various alternatives, all within the
bigger perspective of the philosophical issues; (2) developing an attitude
that values modern science while recognizing its limits, rather than an
attitude that attacks modern science and sets up some parallel scientific
paradigm; (3) some areas of Scriptural certainty, along with many areas that
may be beyond finite human understanding.”
This was probably the best attended Forum meeting I have attended, about 120 people. It was also practically worthless. That announcement excerpt probably said more than the lecture. Fortunately the question and answer period was a little better. Most of his lecture was citing the process of meetings that the Adventist church has held in the last couple of  decades. Process is his big issue, it seems to be what he has placed his hopes in though if one looks at the process and what the church leadership has determined to be the results such as the organizing committee's statement for the Faith and Science conferences which appear to only restate the Adventist churches leadership desires rather than represent what the conference actually did, one is hard pressed to see much hope for the process.

The lecture presented no anecdotes about how to teach science in the Adventist classroom, how to be true to scientific principles while holding to the Adventist leadership's endorsement of young earth beliefs. He did note that in his area of Plate Tectonics it does not work within the young earth perspective. Basically I found his presentation to be so worthless because not only did it not fulfill its stated objectives but it was almost entirely politically shrouded as to not upset the Adventist Leadership in their campaign to say that the Adventist church must believe in a literal six contiguous days of 24 hour of creation in the recent past. How that works with the science or how we can explain in our Adventist schools was entirely ignored. Because it appears it cannot be done so let's just ignore that and hope it goes away.

Obviously it will not go away. Actually what I hoped was that the Adventist scientific community would stand up to the Adventist leadership and tell them that Adventist leadership's insistence upon six literal days of creation does not work with the science and that we cannot pretend it does and produce scientifically successful students and professionals. But ignoring the issues to let the folks over at have their way they insure that the Adventist church will simply lose their Science professionals and youth because the reality does not match well with the churches beliefs.

As with most issues in the Adventist church we are limited because we have to act as though the 19th century views of Adventism must rule us forever. It is these "Whiteites" that will not allow science to be taught because it disagrees with their prophet Ellen G. White. The same prophet who said that volcanoes* were caused by burning coal and limestone is given the credibility as the messenger of God even on scientific issues. Most of them will resort when questioned on this that she was so right on health reform that she is correct on science. Ignoring that her teachings on health reform were the common knowledge of the health reformers that proceeded her.

Hopefully the educated portion of Adventism will stand up before it is too late. But the fear of losing the denominational employment  is most likely muting their voices. Which if that continues will lead to the complete regression of Adventism into a fringe group which will severely limit our Adventist health care system and professionals.

*Ellen White on Volcanoes in Patriarch and Prophets page 108-9:
"At this time immense forests were buried. These have since been changed to coal, forming the extensive coal beds that now exist, and also yielding large quantities of oil. The coal and oil frequently ignite and burn beneath the surface of the earth. Thus rocks are heated, limestone is burned, and iron ore melted. The action of the water upon the lime adds fury to the intense heat, and causes earthquakes, volcanoes, and fiery issues. As the fire and water come in contact with ledges of rock and ore, there are heavy explosions underground, which sound like muffled thunder. The air is hot and suffocating. Volcanic eruptions follow; and these often failing to give sufficient vent to the heated elements, the earth itself is convulsed, the ground heaves and swells like the waves of the sea, great fissures appear, and sometimes cities, villages, and burning mountains are swallowed up. These wonderful manifestations will be more and more frequent and terrible just before the second coming of Christ and the end of the world, as signs of its speedy destruction.

Ascend the Hill

There is a new band I heard about a year ago and I really liked them. They are Ascend the Hill When you go to the Myspace link you can hear some of their songs but if you look down below the player you see a link to "Download our new Record FREE!!!!!  (view more)" Hopefully you will enjoy it as much as I do.