Adventist Media Response and Conversation

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.

1 comment:

roy folke said...

Ron I always enjoy your posts. wish you wrote more often