Adventist Media Response and Conversation

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Luke and the Census

As it is Christmas season we often think about the story of the birth of Christ. It having more importance then either the birth of Frosty or Rudolph the red nosed reindeer even during the Christmas least for now. Most of us have realized by now that the two birth accounts of Jesus, those of the book of Matthew and the book of Luke are not really reconcilable (see the article Matthew Chapter 2 Immanuel Context and Substance). Most of us also simply ignore this and conflate the two stories together but that really does not work if one thinks critically.

John Ankerberg presents some of his answers to the problem of the census in the book of Luke in his article “Was Luke Wrong About the Census under Quirinius?” He does well in laying out the problems when he writes:
So, Luke tells us Augustus took a census before Jesus was born and this was the reason Joseph took Mary to Bethlehem. However, critics say there are five reasons why Luke’s account is historically incorrect.          
    1. There is no known evidence of an Empire-wide census in the reign of Augustus. If it occurred, wouldn’t it be mentioned by one or another of the ancient historians who recorded this period?    2. Josephus records a lot about Herod but does not mention a Roman census in Palestine . 3. Quirinius was not appointed governor of Syria and Judea until A.D. 6, many years after Jesus was born. 4. In a Roman census, Joseph would not have been required to travel to Bethlehem and he would not have been required to take Mary with him.    5. A Roman census could not have been carried out in Herod’s kingdom while Herod was still alive.
The answers he gives to the above problems could briefly be summed up as:
  1. No evidence but it could have happened.
  2. Quirinius might have ordered a census before that of A.D. 6
  3. There is a reference to “A.D. 104, Vivius Maximus issued an edict that states, "It is essential for all people to return to their homes for the census."
I am going to deal mainly with this last statement about Vivius Maximus. Because I can agree that something in the ancient world was not recorded or the record lost so there could have been a census, after all ancient history is not all that complete. Thus it is also possible that Quirinius also may have ordered a prior rather then first census a couple of years after Jesus' birth. I think that strains the meaning of the word within it's context which is apparently the consensus view of most Bible translators, but I can see the possibility. What I don't see is any logic to the idea of a having a census where someone returns to the home of their ancestors. It would be a logistical nightmare and why would the Romans even care about the ancestral homes of anyone in the Roman territory?

You can read the proclamation of Vivius Maximus and see that it says nothing about returning to ancestral homes. The English translation is: The census by household having begun, it is essential that all those who are away from their nomes be summoned to return to their own hearths so that they may perform the customary business of registration and apply themselves to the cultivation which concerns them. (the footnote is that "nome" was an Egyptian administrative district Vivius Maximus being the Governor of Egypt.) In the case of Joseph that would have been Nazareth (Luke 1:26). There are not too many ways to stretch that Vivius Maximus quote to encompass a return to ancestral homes. Certainly even harder once you read the exceptions for the people living in the countryside who were needed in the city.

When all the evidence is put together however it is difficult to accept the historical truth of various aspects of the book of Matthew and the book of Luke's accounts. The book of Matthew clearly had an agenda the writer was trying to get across, he took Old Testament texts out of context and applied them to Jesus to attempt to have Jesus recapitulate the history of Israel. As you read Micah chapter 5-6 you see two of those examples in one section. Matthew uses them in Matthew 2:6 using Micah 5:2 and Matthew 2:15 using Micah 6:4.

I don't want you to think that just because a Bible writer misuses facts or takes things out of context that such things are intentional lies. Usually they are methods of the writer to try and get across something of more spiritual importance. Just as I frequently hear in pastor's sermons. They frequently misuse facts and take things out of context to try and build a case. I don't think they are being purposefully deceptive but they are intent upon creating a particular spiritual point. Many Bible writers introduced that technique and it was once probably more useful in an age when knowledge was rather difficult to come by and facts often depended upon who you listened to. But I think we must be a little wiser than that today. A story may be a story and may contribute to a worthy application to ones life without the story being true, literally or historically. But we do ourselves a disservice if we try and pretend that things that very likely did not happen must have happened and happened in a specific way.

It is scary to think that we have to rethink things, but it really is the nature of life. Manipulation of information is no longer acceptable. There are a lot of things in the Bible that are cultural and no longer anything we would want to associate with. But we are not stuck in their times we can progress and we must; even if it is scary to some.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

If literal Creation ain't true?

The Adventist Review continues upon its course of fundamentalism with the article from Mark A. Kellner the news editor of the Adventist Review. In his article entitled If the Creation Account Isn't True... he presents his best evidence why the Genesis 1 account is true:

If the Bible account of Creation isn’t true, as Giberson and Stephens imply in offering to “incorporate” Darwinism in Christian faith, what must logically follow?

If there’s no Creation . . .
. . . where, and how, did sin enter the world?
. . . why do we need a Savior?
. . . from what did God, if He even exists, rest?
. . . why should we rest if, absent Creation, there’s nothing from which God rested?
. . . how can we believe anything else in the Bible?

Let us first define Darwinism since it seems for many Adventists it is a scary word with meaning that they really must not know.

A theory of biological evolution developed by Charles Darwin and others, stating that all species of organisms arise and develop through the natural selection of small, inherited variations that increase the individual's ability to compete, survive, and reproduce. Darwin's ideas have been refined and modified by subsequent researchers, but his theories still form the foundation of the scientific understanding of the evolution of life. Darwinism is often contrasted with another theory of biological evolution called Lamarckism, based on the now-discredited ideas of Jean-Baptiste Lamarck. The American Heritage® Science Dictionary Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Company.

Is natural selection incompatible with Christianity? It has considerable evidence to indicate the genetic action of natural selection, why should it not be able to be incorporated into Christianity. Do we have trouble incorporating Electronics or Physic into Christianity? But apparently biological science is not acceptable to many Adventists and of course to Christian Fundamentalists.

Let us take a closer look at the reasons Mark Kellner gives us:

If there is no Genesis 1-3 literal Creation story “. . . where, and how, did sin enter the world?”

You will notice that I did not say as Kellner deceptively said, “If there’s no Creation” because even if one is a theistic evolutionist or an Intelligent Design believer there is still a creation, the how is simply not known, it does not mean there was not a first cause or creation event. But as you read the fundamentalists you will see that they are very manipulative and love to distort the beliefs of others. That is understandable...when you have a weak theory you need to support it and promote it as best you can and for them the best way is to distort information.

Where did sin enter the world? According to the Genesis 1-3 creation story there is no sin...sin is not mentioned until the Cain and Abel story in Gen 4:7. So we have to read the sin into the story based upon subsequent information. But let us assume that the actions in the story are taken as disobedience which is sin, where did sin enter the world?

The answer is in Eden which is located:
Gen 2:10-15 A river watering the garden flowed from Eden; from there it was separated into four headwaters. The name of the first is the Pishon; it winds through the entire land of Havilah, where there is gold. (The gold of that land is good; aromatic resin and onyx are also there.) The name of the second river is the Gihon; it winds through the entire land of Cush. The name of the third river is the Tigris; it runs along the east side of Asshur. And the fourth river is the Euphrates. The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. (NIV)

Where is or was that you may ask? No one knows. So the first answer the where is unknown, we don't know where. “How” is his next question. The answer assuming the sin was found in the act of eating the forbidden fruit is to be found in the temptation of the couple in Eden by the most crafty of creatures the talking serpent! You may wonder where do talking serpents come from? A good question we don't find many talking animals in the world or even in the pages of the Bible. This serpent then seems to be the instigator of sin because he contradicts God (later in the book of Revelation we read of the serpent of old as a reference to Satan, but Satan was unknown in the Jewish religion until much later, so to understand the story let us look at it from the perspective of those who heard it). So the how for Mark Kellner is sin came because a man and woman of relatively little experience decided to believe a talking snake and follow its arguments (remember Satan is not a part of the story until several thousands of years later). How comfortable are you with that as the story for how sin entered the world? A talking snake that not only spoke the human language but who happened to be in that particular tree at that time with those particular insinuations about God. I suppose if you are comfortable with that you will be just as comfortable with God expelling them from Eden for this one mistake instead of teaching them about what truth is and what lies are and why God may have more reason to be believed then a talking snake.

His next point, why do we need a Savior? Again there is no savior or mention of a savior in the first several chapters of Genesis. There is an announcement of the human superiority to the snake, at least after the snake is cursed for being such a crafty creature. The snake is cursed to crawl on its belly, nothing is said of it losing it ability to talk however which really seemed to be the root of the problem. But with the curse the descendent's will be able to stomp on the heads of the snakes:
Gen 3:14-15 So the LORD God said to the serpent, "Because you have done this, "Cursed are you above all the livestock and all the wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life. And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel." (NIV) Actually many people take this verse as a Messianic prophecy. However it is never in the Bible, the old or new Testament used in any way as a reference to the Messiah. That is a later view developed later during the time of the Early Church Fathers, which is where a lot of our traditions come from, even though many of them are purely fanciful ideas. Ultimately the Genesis story says nothing about a Savior or our need for a Savior.

His third point, “from what did God, if He even exists, rest?” According to the story He rested from speaking, because that was the method of creation, “And God said”. The Genesis account says nothing about anyone else needed to rest. So his fourth point is once again not something from the Creation account.

Why should we rest if, absent Creation, there’s nothing from which God rested?” According to Jesus the Sabbath rest was made for man not because God rested. Mark 2:27 And he said unto them, The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath: (KJV) Even if you use one of the versions of the ten commandments it is rest from human work that is given as the reason. Then there is the common sense argument that one should take some time away from working everyday. Could we not answer the question from experience? Or must we like him make it appear that it comes from a creation account that says nothing about people resting? When people ask questions which have nothing to do with the real subject you can be pretty sure that are desperately searching for something to support their preconceived idea.

Kellner's final point in his list is “how can we believe anything else in the Bible?” Now if he really has no ability to tell an analogy from a metaphor or a parable or a symbol, then in fact he must have serious problems interpreting the Bible and everything else that is written or spoken. Should we ask him how can we believe anything of Jesus Christ because he told the story of the rich man and Lazarus.

Luke 16:20-31
At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man's table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores. "The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham's side. The rich man also died and was buried. In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, 'Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.' "But Abraham replied, 'Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.' "He answered, 'Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father's house, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.' "Abraham replied, 'They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.' "'No, father Abraham,' he said, 'but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.' "He said to him, 'If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'" (NIV)
If you are going to take something in the Bible literally that sounds way more literal then the talking snake story. But of course the point of the story is that people don't just change because they see a miracle. And that is really the point of the Genesis creation story, the miracle of creation does not make us believe, whether as literal 24 our days or some other method. God was there and He was the cause, God is the power of the creation, it is not about how it was done. When we see the evidence from nature we simply can't ignore it to cling to the simplistic explanations used to help a privative man understand that there was more to this life then what they could see. Which is such an important lesson because the more we learn the more we find that there are vasts areas of information that we could never see before. We keep exploring and learning more, it makes no sense to me that God did not expect us to continue to grow in understanding of our world and universe. He would not expect us to cling to a simplistic story made for people who did not even know that they lived on a planet, let alone one that was not the end of the universe itself.

So please don't let the Fundamentalism take over the Adventist church even though that is our current leaderships desire.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Shawn Boonstra, lies about the Tea Party

The Adventist Review has a recent article entitled Would Jesus Be in Zuccotti Park? By Shawn Boonstra. In his second paragraph he writes:
Would He?  Conservative evangelicals would likely disagree, preferring instead to see Jesus on the other side of American dissatisfaction, attending Tea Party rallies and helping push America back to its religious roots.  Of course, no self-respecting liberal would agree: Jesus, they would emphasize, is clearly about social justice and toppling corporate greed.”
Now I am not going to accuse Boonstra of being a deep thinker, he is not after all his answer to his question is:
Where would we find Jesus in the heart of the world’s current mess?  At rallies and protests?  His current occupation provides the answer: He’s chosen to stand in heaven’s sanctuary, devoting His full attention to the same underlying problem He focused on during His earthly ministry: sinners in desperate need of reconciliation to God.”

So he has limited thinking ability that he must apply to Jesus Christ who is God a physical location, the heavenly sanctuary. As if God has a building in heaven that was the model for earthly buildings rather then a God who deals with reality and trying to express reality in earthly terms. Even Adventists realize much of the furnishings of the temple can have symbolic meaning and can connect them as symbols of Christ, so why have a whole building of symbolism where Christ can minister to symbols. It is foolish but it is traditional Adventism.

But what bothers me more than his traditionalism is his lack of discernment. Take for instance the statement that the Tea Party rallies are helping push America back to its religious roots. Is that what the Tea Party is about? If so you sure don't find it in their online material. For instance:
The Tea Party movement is a grassroots movement of millions of like-minded Americans from all backgrounds and political parties. Tea Party members share similar core principles supporting the United States Constitution as the Founders intended, such as:
•  Limited federal government
•  Individual freedoms
•  Personal responsibility
•  Free markets
•  Returning political power to the states and the people
As a movement, The Tea Party is not a political party nor is looking to form a third political party any time soon. The Tea Party movement, is instead, about reforming all political parties and government so that the core principles of our Founding Fathers become, once again, the foundation upon which America stands.”
Newt Gingrich one of the candidates running for the Republican nomination for President has a Contract from America which lists several points, but not one about pushing America back to its religious roots. His points are:
1. Protect the Constitution
2. Reject Cap & Trade
3. Demand a Balanced Budget
4. Enact Fundamental Tax Reform
5. Restore Fiscal Responsibility & Constitutionally Limited Government in Washington
6. End Runaway Government Spending
7. Defund, Repeal, & Replace Government-run Health Care
8. Pass an ‘All-of-the-Above” Energy Policy
9. Stop the Pork
10. Stop the Tax Hikes
How does someone who begin with such fallacious understanding of current events think they can give us any beneficial information. If your argument begins by misrepresenting people or groups it has a faulty foundation and all arguments built upon it will fall. As Boonstra next line shows:
But students of the Bible ought to ask themselves if Jesus can safely be co-opted by either movement.”
You see his false premise is growing, building more errors upon his original error (is the Tea Party co-opting Jesus). We could argue his errors of no self-respecting liberal would agree it is about social justice and toppling corporate greed. That might be true of Jim Wallis and his ilk, but there are many at the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) protests that are protesting such things as Jewish Bankers, that Jews must leave this country. Others that are saying destroy capitalism and start a revolution that creates a new country under communist philosophy. Antisemitism and communism are just two of the ideas we hear from various OWS protesters. So it is any wonder they would disagree with the fictitious Tea Party return to religious roots. I would guess they also disagree with the propagation of flying elephants. It says nothing to say someone disagrees with something that is not even being talked about.

Lying about people and organizations is used when the facts don't fit well with someone's own opinions and speculations. Adventism has a high degree of speculation about what the future holds. That speculation is often considered inspired. The speculation has never proved correct in their areas of prophetic prognostication but that seems to not stop them from pretending that their speculations are true. So when the facts don't line up with the reality, tell another lie.

Better yet tell it in the official church publication. If our church leaders cannot be trusted to be accurate in the small things, why trust them with the more important things such as our spiritual lives and our doctrines.

Perhaps it is time we occupy our churches and remove these thoughtless leaders. That might be something the OWS supporters and the Tea Party supporters could agree on.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The origins of Progressive Adventism

Recently the Adventist Today Magazine (fall of 2011) printed an article on Diversity As an Asset
By Rob Erwin, the article is mainly in favor of diversity within the Adventist church but it presents some false information about who Progressive Adventists are. The second page of the article presents a chart of certain categories as viewed by Progressive Adventism , Evangelical Adventism, Conservative Adventism and Historic Adventism. For example in the first line of the chart along the category “Secular Politics” Progressive Adventism is Democrat or Independent, Evangelical Adventism is Republican, Democrat or Independent, Conservative Adventism is Republican and Historic Adventism ignores politics. A more reasonable analysis would find Republicans, Democrats and Independents in each of the categories. It perhaps show a distortion of the reality that some political progressive Adventists would like to propagate; that to be a Progressive Adventist is to be a political progressive as ,but it is simply not true.

The article in Adventist Today however makes no attempt to define the terms it is using for the different categories of Adventism. Apparently thinking the faulty chart will define things, but it does nothing really to accurately define this categories. What is particularly noticeably is that there is really nothing to define Evangelical Adventists. Which to my mind is probably even harder to define then the term moderate Adventism.

Recently I came across a well written article by Jerry Gladson entitled The Crime of Dissent that I am going to use to explain the basis for the arrival of Progressive Adventism because we have to move away from this idea that Progressive Adventism is anything like Progressive politics in the United States. The idea that in the chart is defined as Progressive Adventists are Democrat or Independent. Since Gladson writes so succinctly I am going to simply quote several of his paragraphs. In a separate article I will deal with some of the other problems with the Diversity As an Asset article.

In the late 1970's three major individuals came upon the Adventists scene with their published scholarly works.

As a thesis for his degree at the University of Queensland in Australia, Anglican scholar
Geoffrey Paxton wrote and later published The Shaking of Adventism.8 Paxton reexamined
the Adventist claim that the denomination was, in essence, continuing the work
of the Protestant Reformation by its proclamation of the gospel and its rediscovery of
long-neglected truths such as the seventh-day Sabbath and the judgement in 1944. Instead
of the usual exegetical arguments centring on the biblical passages in question, as most
critics of Adventism have done, he held this claim up against one of the central themes of
the Reformation itself: the question of justification, what Luther called the 'chief article'
of Christian belief. Paxton's conclusion profoundly disturbed thousands of faithful
Adventists, including me. While Adventism taught it was proclaiming the gospel of the
Protestant Reformers, Paxton maintained, it was actually-perhaps unwittinglyexpounding
a Roman Catholic view of the gospel rather than a Protestant one.

Australian Adventist theologian Desmond Ford opened the next chapter in the church's
debate in an area not related to the concerns of Paxton. Long an advocate of the
Protestant view of the gospel, as Ford began to relate the concept of justification of his
interest in the book of Daniel, he encountered difficulty. Since 1844 Adventists have
understood the 2300 evenings and mornings of Dan. 8:14 to be a symbolic time period of
2300 solar years stretching from the seventh year of the Persian king, Artaxerxes I (457
BC), to 1844 AD9. On October 22, 1844, the precise date being chosen on the basis of the
Karaite Jewish Determination of the date of Yom Kippur in that year, Adventists believe
Christ's intercessory ministry in heaven shifted from primarily a work of intercession to
that of investigative judgement, on the analogy of Yom Kippur in the Old Testament
(Lev.23:26-30). Yom Kippur is held to be the type of this great event. 'Investigative' is a
metaphor taken from the legal arena to denote the idea that Heaven starts to examine the
records of the human race to determine their eligibility for final salvation. The heavenly
tribunal, in other words, began reviewing in 1844 the cases of all who have ever lived to
see if they are worthy of eternal life. To symbolise this new phase, Christ moved from the
Holy Place to the Most Holy Place in the heavenly sanctuary. Although this judgement
commences with the dead, at some unknown time it will pass to the living, making the
present time one of ominous significance...

That meeting took place in the late summer, 1980, at a church youth camp at Glacier
View, high in the picturesque Colorado Rockies not far from Boulder, Colorado. Church
leaders there publicly admitted some of the theological and exegetical problems, but
rejected Ford's resolution of them. They promised to set up a committee to inquire more
deeply into the issues Ford had raised and recommend appropriate solutions. Then, in a
dramatic, unanticipated private meeting chaired by Neal Wilson, President of the General
Conference, church leaders stripped Ford of his ministerial standing.

Adventist theologians everywhere were outraged at what appeared to them to be a
betrayal of honest scholarship. Although I had been at Glacier View for a theological
conference following the debate over Ford's research and therefore had not heard any of
the preceding discussions, I recognised the essential validity of Ford's diagnosis. I had
encountered many of the same problems in my own research. My search for personal
integrity now took on a new intensity.

With the revelation of Ford's conclusions, two related theological problems now swirled
menacingly through denominational life: the problem of the denomination's
understanding of justification and; the issue of the investigative judgement. They would
soon be joined by a third.

In California, Adventist pastor Walter Rea discovered that Ellen White had apparently
'borrowed' more freely from other theological sources without giving credit than the
church had previously admitted. In some remarkable instances she had attached the
phrase, 'I was shown (by the Lord)' to the material she had borrowed or otherwise
claimed to be the result of a vision.12 Rea noted that this borrowing ran suspiciously
through all Ellen White's published materials. Failing to get the necessary denominational
cooperation he expected in revealing these findings to the Adventist public, Rea decided
to publish independently a work he titled ‘The White Lie’.13

Church leaders again took swift action. They removed Rea from the ministry and
commissioned Fred Veltman, a New Testament scholar at Pacific Union College, to
investigate his claims. In what has to be a strange irony, Veltman spent the better part of
the 1980's, using source criticism, a technique developed by historical-criticism, to
examine closely a fifteen-chapter portion of the Desire of Ages, Ellen White's bestselling
life of Christ, for traces of undocumented borrowing. In 1990, Veltman reported
to the church at large his findings in two articles appearing in Ministry magazine.14
Careful to point out he had examined only a small section of the book, thus making it
difficult to generalise, Veltman concluded that Ellen White did use sources without
giving credit, and that she, at times, even denied doing so. The book Desire of Ages, he
noted, was basically dependent on secondary materials. On the whole, an average of
about 31% of the fifteen chapters was in some way indebted to other material. Worse, her
history, chronology, and theological interpretation - often cited confidently by Adventists
- were not always reliable. For many in the church, Rea's findings, together with
Veltman's later and much more careful analysis, raised serious ethical concern about
Ellen White.

In the space of five years (1978-1983), the Adventist community had seen three of its key
tenets, or as Peter Berger calls them, its 'legitimating structures',15 fiercely assaulted. The
cumulative effect was nothing short of traumatic. The North American Adventist
community buzzed with debate. Frenzied discussion of righteousness by faith, Daniel 8,
and Ellen White quickly escalated into open theological warfare, with the churches and
colleges serving as the battlefields. People chose sides. They branded each other. 'Fordite'
got attached to anyone who acknowledged the legitimacy of any of the criticisms of the
investigative judgement or Ellen White, or who affirmed the Protestant gospel. Those
who stood by the traditional teachings were known as 'Traditionalists'. Neutral ground
became increasingly hard to find. Adventism suddenly became a religious community
intent on self-destruction.

It should not be self destructive to reassess ones beliefs, but if there are those who refuse to acknowledged the problems then they are working against the progression of understanding. Thus Progressive Adventism sees these areas of questionable beliefs as things that need to be addressed and corrected. Particularly the last two areas, the investigative judgment and concerns over Ellen Whites authority or position as a prophet. The reason I don't care two much about Paxton's position is that I think the Reformation was wrong on so many things it is hardly something we should want to carry forward. After all it was a reformation against the Roman Catholic Church it was not the reformation of Christianity in general, which is something that was and is due to Christianity on a regular bases to protect from traditions becoming essentials. The Reformation traditionalized the idea of substititionary atonement and intertwined it with justification by faith. It popularized the one of the most bizarre atonement theories there is. God punished Christ for humanities sins so that Christ could pay the penalty and God's wrath would be turned aside. A teaching that really has no Biblical merit and was simply the latest in a growing list of the Christian churches attempt to understand the meaning of Christ death as atonement. See the article Why did Jesus have to die, Time to talk atonement theory.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

A Response to Alden Thompson on Conditional Prophecy

In the most recent issue of Adventist Today (Fall 2011) Alden Thompson has an article entitled Conditional Prophecy and Last-Day Events. I had mentioned to a friend that he seemed to waste a lot of the article on talking about the Sabbath. My friend who knows Alden and thus I suspect has a bit more insight into his thinking, but is also a bit less critical of what he actually said, suggested that the underlying reason for the Sabbath inclusion in the article was to develop subtly the idea that the Sabbath is not an end time Seal of God and the conditional prophecy was a method of planting those ideas into the reader.

Thus I had to re-read the article to see if I could see those subtle connections as my friend explained it. If there I thought I would be in substantial agreement though likely not with his conditional prophecy position.

Alden Thompson introduces us to his subject after explaining through the process of some rather gratuitous assertions the solid foundation of the Sabbath and that “the New Testament is equally clear pressing the question of how to keep the Sabbath but never quarreling over the fact of the Sabbath.” True enough but what does the “fact” of the sabbath really mean. That the New Testament acknowledges the Sabbath is true but does not in any way seek to endorse it as a continuing obligation, leaving it up to the conscience of people (Rom. 14:5). But when someone says the fact of the sabbath to an Adventist I think they often have a different understanding, the fact to them being the continuing obligation of Seventh day Sabbath keeping as their proof of true commandment keeping. I will come back to that after I cover the next area of Thompson's article where he recounts the conflict of 1888 through Ellen Whites perspective.
The article covers an area of all or nothing thinking which he seems to want to use to develop his concept of conditional prophecy. He recounts this incident from the 1888 Ellen White Materials page 220 I will give the full two paragraphs:
I told them I had been shown that some of our brethren had educated themselves as debaters. The process of this education and the mold received by such an education were not after God's order, neither did they meet the approval of God. In many respects men trained in this kind of school unfitted themselves to become pastors of the sheep and lambs; and in combating an opponent, as in the way of discussions, usually harm is done with but little good results. The combative spirit is raised in both parties, and a defiant, hard spirit becomes habitual when their track is crossed. They become criticizers and do not always handle the Scriptures fairly, but wrest the Scriptures to make their point.

The remark was made, "If our views of Galatians are not correct, then we have not the third angel's message, and our position goes by the board; there is nothing to our faith." I said, "Brethren, here is the very thing I have been telling you. This statement is not true. It is an extravagant, exaggerated statement. If it is made in the discussion of this question I shall feel it my duty to set this matter before all that are assembled, and whether they hear or forbear, tell them the statement is incorrect. The question at issue is not a vital question and should not be treated as such. The wonderful importance and magnitude of this subject has been exaggerated. For this reason--through misconception and perverted ideas-- we see the spirit that prevails at this meeting, which is unchristlike, and which we should never see exhibited among brethren. There has been a spirit of Pharisaism coming in among us which I shall lift my voice against wherever it may be revealed." Full 1888 materials in PDF

The brother who says we don't have the third angel's message is on the side that says the law in Galatians is the Ceremonial law (which by the way is an entirely artificial designation the Jews did not separate the law as moral or ceremonial). The brother was working against the position of Jones and Waggoner that the law in Galatians was the moral law (by which Adventists mean the 10 commandments, again a fictional law division).

Thompson then begins on the Conditional prophecy portion by saying that the Adventists had two pillars which can be found in the simple covenant that Adventists first signed when they formed as a church in 1861. “covenanting to keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus Christ [Rev. 14:12] Central to the commandments is the Sabbath;

So even though Ellen White thought the brother was exaggerating his thinking, that if the law in Galatians was our school master to lead us to Christ and then fade we can't be correct in our statement of the third angel's message which is that last part of the verse in Rev 14:12. Thus the brother's offering is not really all or nothing but the recognition that if our faith is in our understanding of the Seventh day Sabbath observance as our special mission (to preach the third or three angel's message) the position would be in error and faith based on error is not terribly useful. Ellen White is not even able to refute the brother but threatens to, as we continue to read that letter we see she never deals with the issue only criticizes the spirit of those involved. Which by the way is usually a truism when any two or more people get together and argue strongly held views religious or otherwise.

Alden Thompson's conclusion to the illustration of history is:

Let's be clear: whatever we do with conditional prophecy or end-time events does not move a pin from those landmarks, the ones reflected in our name Seventh-day Adventists.

That would not be the conclusion I would draw from the illustration from Adventist history of this event. But then I don't see the brother as giving an all or nothing position either. He seems quite rational and deserved a bit more rational response then he received. I might accept the conclusion that from our history we accept certain pillars as unmovable because we ignore any reasons to move them. Which strangely enough seems to be Thompson's case, as he continues:

I hope the long preamble makes it clear that there is no point in going further unless the Adventist landmarks are in place. When they are secure, however, we can begin to nibble on “conditional prophecy” in bite-size chunks.”

He then covers some of the ideas of the “last days” as being a nebulous term that does not fit all that well with the New Testament and contemporary interpretations of Christians. That some see conditional prophecy as things that must be fulfilled in the last days such as the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem etc.

Next he points to the article The Role of Israel in Old Testament Prophecy (I did an Internet search to give you a link to this article but being an important article it appears to not be anywhere on the Internet). Alden writes:

All Adventists know about the Sunday law. But very few know how the Bible, the Great Disappointment, and Ellen White come together in this remarkable article that takes “conditional prophecy” seriously in exploring God's original plan for Israel.”

His next point is to direct our attention to Ellen White's own all or nothing statement:
The angels of God in their messages to men represent time as very short. Thus it has always been presented to me. It is true that time has continued longer than we expected in the early days of this message. Our Saviour did not appear as soon as we hoped. But has the word of the Lord failed? Never! It should be remembered that the promises and threatenings of God are alike conditional. Selected Messages Page 67 from MN 4 1883
Notice her position is either the Saviour did not appear as soon as we hoped or God failed. No possibility for the messenger being presumptuous or making something up quite apart from anything God ever said or simply wrong interpretations. After all it had been nearly 2000 years since those New Testament last day prophecies. It does seem a little presumptuous in the 19th century to assume they are all talking about her century. This would be a good example of all or nothing thinking. But if one did believe that the promises and threatenings of God are conditional and you have to admit there is an implied “all” in that statement. In fact the implied “all” would make the statement fall in the category of a logical fallacy known as the false generalization (sweeping or hasty generalization). 
The whole possibility of the second coming becomes conditional and may never happen. What are the conditions, who knows? A conditional prophecy without the conditions stated somewhere is worthless. Now ancient Israel had loads of prophecies and from the start of the nation state there were conditions set for all the prophecies. (Read Deut. 28) Is it really logical to assume the same conditions for a ancient nation to modern people in so many different nations? If one accepts that all promises and threatenings of God are conditional and the conditions are not stated then whenever anyone makes a prediction that fails to come to pass they can say the conditions of God were not met and most likely after the fact they will name some conditions. In this way people like Harold Camping could continue setting dates for Christ's return and continue to create excuses for the prophetic failures. The so called prophet could never be shown to be wrong, if something comes true it will show them as a prophet if it does not it shows nothing except conditions were not met.

Alden Thompson continues by saying:
It was the 1844 Disappointment that forced Adventists to come to grips with conditional prophecy—reluctantly.” Going on to say that Ellen White never published her statement about conditional prophecy while she lived, it was in the form of a letter defending herself from certain charges.  I would ask should the letter be taken as inspired or the statement as inspired? Did Adventists come to grips with 1844 as a conditional prophecy? Well no it was assumed that the date was correct but the event was wrong and 1844 became integral to the novel SDA only doctrine known as the Investigative Judgment. He then moves on to Jonah, a favorite of Adventists who want to assert all prophecies are conditional. You can read a response to that position in my article Ellen White's Food for worms, Is it Conditional.

He finishes back with the Sabbath:

Anywhere and everywhere Adventists can preach that the beast of Revelation 13 is coercive and deceptive. Anyone who coerces and deceives is in league with the beast. Today, however the great threat to our Sabbath is not coercive Sunday legislation, but secularization. Almost no one takes sacred time seriously anymore.”

So here at the end I grant my friends observation is probably correct. But all along the way I see numerous problems with the article's positions. But if this is the only way we can get Adventists to leave behind the 19th century theology of Ellen White and realize that so far she has been wrong on most every prediction she made, I guess I will have to say Amen. Though I wish we could be more honest with ourselves. But I am not an all or nothing person so it is not either lie to ourselves about conditional prophecy and Ellen White or continue to accept Ellen White and teach the outdated prophecy scenarios, I think honesty demands more. There is a place for subtleness but even being subtle with incorrect facts is not really a winning formula.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Gauging the Intelligence of our leaders

Here is a quote from a recent article on Spectrum magazine online Reflections on Annual Council and the Association of Adventist Women Conference President Ted Wilson invited a testimony of a Dentist by the name of Carla Lidner Baum. She said the following according to the article:
“Why is there not more of an outcry about the erosion of our beliefs,” she asked?
She said she was worried that our leaders, who in their efforts to be tolerant, instead end up being like Eli or Aaron.
"Because of my gratitude to God, I can never bow down to golden calves."

Next she talked of the “enlightened ones” who seem to suggest that they understand the Gospel better than other people. But the poor people will never be able to understand their gospel. Yet, she suggested, the enlightened ones say they are being attacked.

“I’ve fallen in love with the Adventist interpretation of Scripture,” she said calling it “beautiful, powerful, and close enough to get us through to the end.” Were the ideas about evolution true, “when Jesus came to earth He could have set the record straight,” she maintained. He could have told us that God only gave names and gave order.
So Jesus would have set us right on evolution though no one knew anything about the concept. By that rational should not Jesus set us right on diseases and germ theory and the nature of stars and planets and the destructive nature of slavery and recreational drugs?

Now this might not have deserved mention except that the article also pointed out this:
The next day, Dr. Baum also flew back to Southern California. While it was never mentioned before or after her presentation to Annual Council, she was a member of the Board of La Sierra University. She arrived in Riverside just in time to find out that she had been voted off the Board.
Baum was on the Board of La Sierra University! With a mind like that, an intelligence so uncritical and lets just say it foolish; she was on the Board of a major Adventist University. Somehow I feel only relief that she was removed from the board. But I am equally concerned that she was there in the first place.

We can do better and we must and we must by expecting those in important leadership positions have the intellectual ability to think critically. Being a successful professional does not mean that these people are in any way worthy of positions of leadership. That she spoke as she did at the behest of our Adventist President Ted Wilson says a lot about his intelligence also, sadly.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Raising the dead and other Christian problems.

I am constantly amazed at the things I read in the Adventist media. It is astounding the things some people say, some of them thankfully don't get wide distribution, sort of like me only read by a few, though I wish I got a little more readers and some of them even less. But none the less I am going to point you to their material because if nothing else I want my readers to learn something. It may be silly but silly ideas taken as true can cause a lot of trouble. So with no further ado here is my latest excursion into Adventist media foolishness.

This is taken from the Pacific Union Conference publication the Gleaner Online, it has a blog by Mike Jones which begins with the following:
Is it crazy to suggest we start casting out demons and raising the dead?

If you think I’m not in my right mind asking such a question, I would remind you that in Matthew 10:8, Jesus instructed His disciples (and presumably you and me) to “heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, and cast out demons” as an integral part of sharing the gospel message.
What do you see there, a serious question that we don't ask too often and then an interpretation that goes against the context of the text he quotes. The instruction is to Jesus' disciples it is not presumably to you and me. Just read the text if you are uncertain of this fact:

Matt 10:5-11
5 These twelve Jesus sent forth, and commanded them, saying, Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not: 6 But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 7 And as ye go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand. 8 Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils: freely ye have received, freely give. 9 Provide neither gold, nor silver, nor brass in your purses, 10 Nor scrip for your journey, neither two coats, neither shoes, nor yet staves: for the workman is worthy of his meat. 11 And into whatsoever city or town ye shall enter, inquire who in it is worthy; and there abide till ye go thence. (KJV)
Not going to the Gentiles or any Samaritian cities only go to Israel heal the sick raise the dead cast out devils take no money or extra clothes. It sounds kind of specific to the disciples right? But somehow Mike Jones can find this to presumably be directed at you and me.

Well maybe if he was not making such presumptions he would have a better reason to understand why there is not a lot of raising the dead going on around by us Christians. He would not have to resort to one of the often less then factual missionary books found at the Adventist Book Center, Jones writes:
And since Matthew 10:8 references raising the dead, does that only mean those who are dead in their sins?  If you think so, please read Greg Rudd’s One Miracle After Another, the story of Pastor Pavel Goia and some of the incredible events of his early life.  You’ll be amazed at the story of the boy who died beneath the wheels of Pastor Goia’s car who came back to life after being pronounced dead and his body sent to the hospital morgue over night.  What happened the next morning when the keeper of the morgue arrived for work will amaze you.  Contact your nearby ABC for this wonderful book.
But that is not all, much of the article is about casting out demons who he sees as the cause of homosexuality and various other mental disorders. Mike Jones states the following:

In one horrifying sentence, the Bible says the natural man (unconverted, in other words) can be “taken captive by (the devil) at his will.”—2 Timothy 2:26 (KJV).

Now that is scary, the devil can take any unconverted person at his (the devils) will. If you think about it that is everyone...because there had to be a point where one became converted and any time before that point they would be unconverted.

Fortunately for humanity Mike Jones has once again presumed too much. Unless of course he is one of the King James Only advocates who holds the strict and wooden literalness of the KJV. Though if he was reading a modern language Bible or even the Authorized Standard Version he would not need such an interpretation.
2 Tim 2:24-26
24 And the Lord's servant must not strive, but be gentle towards all, apt to teach, forbearing,
25 in meekness correcting them that oppose themselves; if peradventure God may give them repentance unto the knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him unto his will. (ASV)
As the Expositor's Bible Commentary says:

25,26 And so Paul goes on to say that the good minister must "gently instruct" ("in meekness") "those who oppose him"-- tous antidiatithemenous (only here in the NT). He does this in the hope that God will give them "a change of heart" (metanoia, "repentance"), leading to "a knowledge" (epignosis, "full knowledge") of the truth. He hopes that "they will come to their senses and escape" (v. 26). This is all one word in the Greek: ananepsosin. The verb (ananepho) literally means "return to soberness." Thayer says that this passage indicates "to be set free from the snare of the devil and to return to a sound mind [`one's sober senses']" (Lexicon, p. 40).

Still if you think that diseases or genetics or chemical imbalances etc. are really demonic manifestations I suppose it can make some sense to believe that such things are done at the will of Satan. After all there is the mythology of the ancient Israelites that diseases were caused by demons in the wilderness so he does have that on his side. So if he can ignore the context of verses and the meaning of the words and hold to ancient superstitions I suppose I can see where he is coming from.

And hopefully so can you, and avoid such things.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Deceptions in the name of Christ

I have for years been skeptical of the professed claims of the amateur archaeologist Ron Wyatt. To me he seems to have claimed to have found the most significant things the Christian church has always wanted to find. He found Noah's Ark, he found the place where Moses parted the sea and some of the remains of Pharaoh's army. He found the Ark of the Covenant. All of those things would be very impressive and if found should have some kind of evidence to establish their discovery. But he seemed to provide no evidence.

Then I was doing some web wandering since my local church has an amazing discovery/prophecy seminar going on. I wanted to see what people were saying about the presenter of the programs, since the Advertising Leaflet that the church sent out to local residents says nothing about the Seventh-day Adventist church and the presentation was offered at a local high school theater rather then the church. After all this is the Internet age, if you are interested in something it takes very little effort to find out about it by searching the Internet, I see no reason to keep trying to hide the identity of the Adventist church in these things, if they are going to present their version of the truth then be up front about it. I searched the name of the evangelist, of course I found out he was an Adventist hired by the Washington conference and I even found out about his previous presentation last year from some discussion on the website rational skepticism. You can read it for yourself overall the guy sounds pretty accurate in his evaluation of the program. But it brought me to some links to Ron Wyatt.

What I did not know about Ron Wyatt is that he had claimed to have found the dried blood of Jesus Christ on the covering of the Ark of the covenant. That would be commonly called the mercy seat. How do we know it is the actual blood of Jesus Christ? Well according to Wyatt it has 23 chromosomes instead of 46, the normal number for living human beings. You can even look at a you tube video of some sort of laboratorian scrape out some of his dried blood and place it in some sterile water. strangely you will see that she does not wear gloves either. He then shows some poor resolution video microscopy of moving objects, which to my eyes which are quite used to looking at things under the microscope appears to be Brownian motion and the natural movement of a freshly mounted water based slide. (see also the You Tube of brownian motion). Wyatt when seeing this motion says that the blood is still alive.

But why is the blood of Jesus Christ on the mercy seat? Well according to Wyatt at the crucification there was an earthquake as the Bible records (Matt. 27:51), apparently the one that opened the graves and opened a fissure from the post hole of the cross down to the hidden Ark of the Covenant, the ark still hidden from the days of the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem.

What is most interesting to me aside from the sheer hubris of the man to make such claims with no evidence to back him up, oh also he talked to angels who told him that the Ark and the Ten commandments on tablets of stone will be revealed when the mark of the beast is applied as they were there when he discovered it prematurely it seems. A bit too late according to Adventist mythology about probation closing with the mark of the beast. What is it in his and apparently Adventist thinking that makes them think that God needs to perform a miracle so that Christ blood falls on a disused mercy seat hidden away. At one time the Ark of the Covenant was the symbol of the presence of God, but was it the focus of the presence of God hidden away for hundreds of years that needed the blood of the incarnated God to be sprinkled on it?

It becomes another of the symbol over the substance excuses popular today. When the substance was here Wyatt feels that the symbol must be involved. The blood of Christ brought to symbolically to God so that God can forgive. But Christ is God, God does not need blood to forgive. The whole point was that God does forgive even to the point of His enemies rejecting and killing Christ. He still forgave and even after death rose to show the power of God even over our greatest enemy death. As the book of Hebrews says.

Heb 10:19-22 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. (NIV)

Symbols to express the reality, in many ways people like Ron Wyatt have their theology completely backward. Thus they invent things to make their version sound good. But as in this case it shows how little they really know and how little their followers know. Ultimately as with any false information they bring disrupt upon themselves and Adventism and Christianity.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

One of the myths about forgiveness

A friend brought to my attention the following article from the religion section of the Huff Post. First I would say that if you get your religion ideas from the Huff Post you are probably in trouble. But since it gets wide readership I thought I would reply to one of the sections of the article. The article is entitled 5 Myths About Forgiveness in the Bible by Maria Mayo M. Div., M.A.

In my response to my friend I think I disagreed with all but one of her 5 points. The one I agreed with was point 5 Forgiveness sets you free. Which I don't even think is a widely held view by anyone, but I would like to focus on her third point for this article: 
          3. Jesus forgives his attackers from the cross.
Luke's depiction of Jesus on the cross is often cited as the quintessential example of unconditional forgiveness. As he is being crucified, Jesus cries out, "Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing" (Luke 23:34). Readers often take this to mean that Jesus forgives those who are attacking him. However, a closer look at the syntax reveals that Jesus is not, in fact, forgiving his attackers; rather, he is praying that God might do so.
It is possible that the lack of repentance from his attackers prevents Jesus from forgiving the men directly, since he has taught his followers that repentance is a requirement for forgiveness. Also, earlier in the Gospel of Luke Jesus instructs his disciples to "pray for those who abuse you" (Luke 6:38). While his prayer from the cross is a perfect model of this teaching, it is not an explicit act of forgiveness.
This is troubling because of its confusion about who Jesus Christ is. Most readers of the New Testament have recognized that Jesus not only claimed to be the son of God, but that He was One with God, such as:
John 8:58-59 Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am. Then took they up stones to cast at him: but Jesus hid himself, and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by. (KJV)
This equality with God was it seems a heavy emphasis in the Gospel of John. He began the gospel with:
John 1:1-4 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. n him was life, and that life was the light of men. (NIV)
John 1:14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (NIV)
It was of course not just the writer of John that felt this way the author of the book of Matthew seems to be of the same opinion with his use of Emmanuel, God with us. There are very clearly strong biblical reasons why Jesus is considered to be God, it is why the early church derived the doctrine of the Trinity as a way to explain God who was in fact at multiple places at one time. It seems people have no problem with the idea of God as omnipresent but they get a little bogged down when physicality is involved. As if such a thing as a human body should stop God from being God. You can imagine the confusion if Jesus had said I am God right here and now pray to me. The physicality of God would become the issue and they would be even more confused when the physical God was no longer around, where did He go and where was He before He was born on earth. There are ideas that take time to develop and that explains why Jesus prayed to God the Father, as an example of how man should pray to God, but not in a way that was for Himself or separate from God. Even when troubled by impending horrors the concern for His physical comfort took second place to the will of God which was also His will. Not only did Jesus say to pray for those who abuse you but to forgive them.
Matt 6:14 For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. (NIV)
The book of Matthew also points out that Jesus demonstrated His ability to forgive sins:
Matt 9:6 But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins...." Then he said to the paralytic, "Get up, take your mat and go home." (NIV)
What Jesus did on the cross was far more then to ask God to forgive sins but to demonstrate that through love sins were forgiven even to the extent as Peter preached:
Acts 3:13-20
The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus. You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go. You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this. By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus' name and the faith that comes through him that has given this complete healing to him, as you can all see."Now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders. But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Christ would suffer. Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord,and that he may send the Christ, who has been appointed for you-- even Jesus. (NIV)
The forgiveness was there offered for all, but forgiveness is of little value if you still are an enemy of God, if you don't accept the forgiveness you remain in a state of animosity of your part. There is no renewal, no refreshing just our anger and rebellion, no healing. At the cross Jesus is not asking God to forgive, it is God showing us what forgiveness is like, that love reaches out even to those who reject God even while they reject God with cruelty and hatred. God was reaching out, He is still reaching out.