Adventist Media Response and Conversation

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Concerns over Alex Bryan Email posted for the curious

 I debated with myself whether to post the internet email that went out entitled Concerns Regarding Alex Bryan as the New President of WWU. The blog that I had linked to in my previous article to the pdf file of the email removed the file The letter is unsigned and thus of little real value for any substantive meaning. When it was attached to the blog I figured it had that blog"'s support so it seemed of some importance. But if we have no one standing behind the email anymore it of little use other then a curiosity of what some anonymous people think. Who really cares what people who don't even stand behind their beliefs of opinions say? But then I saw a recent news article on the website where they reported what people who had seen the email said. From the Atoday article: "Sources who have seen the email have told Adventist Today that it contained dishonest and unethical allegations." Which I thought was kind of sad that their news team had not even seen the email even though I had posted the link and it had been circulating around the internet. So I decided I would post it as plain text taken from the PDF email except this does not have the pictures or the names and addresses the email included. I have not taken the time to fix the formatting since as I say it appears no one stands behind it so it is now a curiosity. But since the news continues on the issue here it is [though just because I am posting it does not mean I stand behind it in anyway, this for informational purposes only]:

Concerns Regarding Alex Bryan as the New President of WWU Page 1 of 8
Walla Walla University (WWU) is a Seventh-day Adventist University located in Washington State. The board that controls WWU is chaired by the President of the North Pacific Union Conference - Max C. Torkelsen II. John McVay, the 23rd WWU president and former Dean of the Seminary at Andrews University has chosen to step down from his position and return to teaching.
The presidential search committee1 announced an opening2 and is recommending3 Alex Bryan to serve as president of Walla Walla University. Alex Bryan is currently the senior pastor of the Walla Walla University Church and has affirmed his willingness to serve as president. The committee will formally present this recommendation to the university's Board of Trustees at a special meeting that has been called for Sunday, July 1, 2012, at the offices of the North Pacific Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventists in Ridgefield, Wash., at 10 a.m.
As a group of constituents, alumni, educators, pastors, church members, medical professionals, students and parents, we feel that Alex Bryan, at this point in time, is not a good candidate for the next WWU president as evidenced by the concerns expressed in this document.
Out of multiple areas of concern, three follow as to why Alex Bryan, at this point in time, should not be appointed as WWU’s next president: 1) his background, 2) his educational experience, and 3) his views and relationships with spiritual formation.
1) Alex Bryan’s Background
a. Created a “Sunday service” church and left Seventh-day Adventist employment. Alex Bryan began his ministry at the New Community Fellowship in Atlanta in 1996 under the blessing of conference administration. However, the methods used to reach secular young adults resulted in the creation of a “Sunday service” and, as the conference administration was considering his termination, Alex Bryan resigned his denominational employment in 2002 and remained independent for the next five years. The resulting Sunday observing church still meets and its web site is here. The church meets Sunday from 10:30 AM to 12:05 PM. The current pastor is Alex’s brother, David Bryan.
Note: Alex is not currently affiliated with the church he helped start, even though current websites, e.g. corporationwiki and Manta list either Alex Bryan and David Bryan or just Alex Bryan as the current pastor.
Documentation shows how the church Alex Bryan started described itself in 2004, while Alex Bryan was the pastor:
“We are an independent, interdenominational, evangelical church. ‘Independent’ means we are our own organization, not legally connected to any other church. ‘Interdenominational’ means we welcome people of all faith traditions. ‘Evangelical’ means we emphasize the gospel of forgiveness and life transformation through personal faith in Jesus Christ, and we affirm orthodox Bible doctrines. See our ‘Statement of Faith’ for further details.”
1 The search committee members were: Max Torkelsen, John Loor, Lanny Hurlbert, Bob Folkenburg, David Prest, Bruce Thorn, and Barbara Prowant, and WWU VPs Ginger Ketting-Weller and Steve Rose, two faculty, one staff, and one student.
2 The announcement for the presidential search and job position is located here.
3 On 6/15/2012 the committee recommended Alex Bryan to be the next president: Link to WWU Recommendation.
Concerns Regarding Alex Bryan as the New President of WWU Page 2 of 8
( accessed September 24, 2004. 3:42 PDT).
In 2004, meetings at this church occurred on both Saturdays and Sundays; today the web site shows only Sunday services.
For a detailed study of the failures of these types of break-away churches, see the following study.
b. Professional degree in emergent church spiritual formation. Received his Doctor of Ministry4 degree from George Fox University, under the direction of the spiritualist and Emerging Church leader Leonard Sweet.
c. Invited his mentor, a self-admitted spiritualist and leader of the emerging church movement, Leonard Sweet, to Southern Adventist University, to speak for Vespers Jan '09 and attempted to indoctrinate the Southern University Theology faculty by bringing Sweet to speak with them specifically.
d. Opening his pulpit (April 2012, both services) at Walla Walla University Church to emerging church leader Shane Claiborne, a proponent of the “Kingdom Now” theology embraced by the emerging church movement and a teacher of universalism, and founder of the New Monasticism movement. Claiborne’s staff admitted one of their objectives, while at WWU, was to recruit WWU students to join them in the work of their ministry.
e. Alex Bryan has called Ellen G. White a 19th century mystic. He has stated this from the pulpit and included references to this in his book5, page 22, “In 1842, during this era of Advent hope, fifteen-year-old Ellen White6 had a mystical experience.”
f. Openly promoted Roman Catholic Mystics and Contemplative authors at the Adventist Forum on Spiritual Formation, October 2011. These authors included: Richard Foster, Dallas Willard, Brennan Manning, and Henri Nouwen. See the last page for a photo and comment on his book promotion.
g. During his sermons he often quotes from leading emergent church leaders, such as Leonard Sweet and Catholic contemplative authors such as Brennan Manning, and many more.
Note that these authors are also listed as “My Favorites” on his brother’s blog, the current pastor of the Sunday church Alex helped to start. Also, these authors and their books are listed on Alex Bryan’s blog as “Must Reads,” shown on the last page of this document.
h. Belittling Adventist doctrines in favor of mystical experiences during his One project sermon February 2012, Seattle Wa. He suggested that our fixation on doctrine and identity as Seventh-day Adventists has kept us from becoming a great religion.
4 The Role of Human Emotion in Christian Discipleship, dissertation by Alex Bryan, March 2009.
5 The Green Cord Dream by Alex Bryan, 2012. Pacific Press Publishing Association.
6 Note that Alex Bryan uses the name “Ellen White,” but at 15 years old, her name would still be Ellen Harmon, she married at 19 years of age.
Concerns Regarding Alex Bryan as the New President of WWU Page 3 of 8
Summary of Alex Bryan’s Background
Alex Bryan’s background shows that he is capable, while having good intentions, of leading those under his charge in the wrong direction. He can get in trouble. He desires to be a soul-winner. We commend this. Still, results have been problematic. In Georgia-Cumberland, the price was alienation from the Seventh-day Adventist church, and a decision by the conference to terminate Bryan from employment. (He resigned before being terminated.) This resulted in a separation of the Congregation from the Seventh-day Adventist church. Most of the group became a Sunday observing church under Bryan’s leadership.
With Bryan’s history of resigning from Seventh-day Adventist pastoral ministry before the conference could fire him, pastoring a church on Sunday, leading what became a congregational church, one asks, how is it that he is under consideration for the presidency of one of our Universities? He states that he has learned from his mistakes, and the Georgia-Cumberland conference rehired him and placed him as an associate pastor for Mission and Ministry on the staff of the Collegedale Church, to be mentored by the Senior Pastor, in December 2007.
Bryan’s inexperience contributed to the loss of the church plant entrusted to him. Georgia-Cumberland conference leadership sought to implement a plan for corrective ministry action by placing him with a strong pastoral team. This plan was not carried to completion because of Bryan’s 2009 call to the WWU church.
Bryan wrote in 2009, “We also need, in this local church revolution, a major transfer of funds from the many layers of governance back into local settings.” 7 Such thinking is similar to the ideas which led to Bryan’s resignation from the ministry in 2002.
His failure to properly shepherd his misguided Roswell, Georgia flock is disappointing. Former Seventh-day Adventists today are worshiping in the church he started, now led by his brother.
Less than 5 years ago, Alex Bryan was associated with the leadership of a Sunday observing non-SDA church outside Seventh-day Adventist denominational employment. This experience is not compatible with being appointed the president of a Seventh-day Adventist University.
Bryan continues to promote Spiritual Formation in his church. One assumes, as President, he would continue this injection of Spiritual Formation into the WWU campus. We should “Stay away from non-biblical spiritual disciplines or methods of spiritual formation that are rooted in mysticism such as contemplative prayer, centering prayer, and the emerging church movement in which they are promoted.” Elder Ted Wilson, President of the General Conference, July 3, 2010.
2) Educational Experience
a. The presidential search process started with a document that outlined the job description of the new president. This document concluded with 10 performance expectations, the 10th being:
“Possess significant senior leadership experience, and have an earned doctoral degree and teaching experience at the college or university level.”
There are three “expectations” identified in this single expectation item. Bryan does not “significantly” meet any of the three:
7 Adventist Today, Winter 2009 edition, page 9. “The End of American Adventism?”
Concerns Regarding Alex Bryan as the New President of WWU Page 4 of 8
Expectation of “Significant senior leadership experience.” The announcement recommending Alex states that this is met by “Bryan leads a pastoral staff of 10.” The ten are actually five associate pastors, an office manager, worship director, treasurer, and two custodians.
Expectation of “Have an earned doctoral degree.” Alex Bryan has a Doctor of Ministry, a professional degree designed by Universities for pastors to obtain for becoming professional ministers. It is not an academic degree like the PhD, which is meant for academic scholars who wish to work as professional researchers or in academics as professors or administrators.
Expectation of “teaching experience at the college or university level.” Bryan has taught classes at the university level, but the experience gained by his teaching would qualify him to be hired as a teacher at the Assistant Professor level, an entry teaching position, requiring nearly six years of successful teaching at this level to obtain the rank of Associate professor. The rank advancement requirement is based on the value of experience. Remember, 5 years ago Bryan was pastoring a Sunday-observing church.
b. Walla Walla University needs a president with a working knowledge of higher education, with demonstrated success as a good teacher practicing sound scholarship and engaged in research -- within a context of being in unambiguous support of the Seventh-day Adventist church, its teachings and its mission. His teaching experience is limited to that of part-time contract teacher while maintaining a full-time pastor’s position.
3) Views and Relationship with Spiritual Formation
a. Introduction of Spiritual Formation. Alex Bryan has indicated that Spiritual Formation shall be incorporated in all venues of the WWU church.
b. Attitude and Communication.
i. Perception of humility issue. Several attending the WWU Adventist Forum of October 2011, dealing with Spiritual Formation, described him as cocky and arrogant. He reported that “he had not lost two minutes sleep” over the concerns expressed by others about his introduction of Spiritual Formation from the leading emergent church authors of the world. Bryan needs to be willing to listen to people having differing opinions from his own concerning Spiritual Formation.
In one case, a long time member of the WWU church was dismissed from volunteer duties by Bryan, when there was a disagreement with him over the introduction of Spiritual Formation in the WWU church.
ii. Your opinion is not of interest: In the same SDA Forum, Alex was asked questions dealing with concerns about Spiritual Formation in the WWU church by several church members. These were either disparaged or ignored. See Figure 1 on the last page.
Concerns Regarding Alex Bryan as the New President of WWU Page 5 of 8
c. Ecumenical Focus
i. Some constituents were at the One Project gathering February, 2011. Bryan presented a bowl with puzzle pieces that he used to demonstrate that the SDA church, even as we are unique; we are only one of the pieces of the puzzle.
ii. He speaks often of the need to be ecumenical. This emphasized joining with other denominations and leaving behind our Adventist distinctiveness and practice. For example, at the ONE project, Bryan stated that if a Seventh-day Adventist called themselves part of the “remnant church” then they are “arrogant and extremists.”
d. Doctrinal Concerns
i. Seventh-day Adventist beliefs are rarely presented from the pulpit. The Three Angels’ Messages, the Sanctuary message, the Remnant, the distinctive messages of Adventism are not being heard.
ii. Bryan writes (Winter 2009 Adventist Today pg 10) “We need pastorates, pulpits, committees, boards, and initiatives filled with very young adults. Not tokens. Not the one 27-year-old who is really a 77-year-old in a 20-something body.” Bryan should take the opportunity to visit a GYC annual meeting. He would observe over 7,000 young people on fire for the mission of the Seventh-day Adventist church8 which is no small “token.” Statements like these tend to run down the conservative young and old alike and act to disregard the wisdom of elders.
iii. Parents weigh many things as they determine which university they will entrust with their precious financial resources. They send their children to Seventh-day Adventist institutions because they are Seventh-day Adventist institutions.
Bryan’s influence from the pulpit presenting Spiritual Formation principles in place of the distinctive message of the Seventh-day Adventist church should not be propagated throughout a University via the president-level influence.
We believe Alex Bryan should not be WWU president at this time. Please consider choosing an interim president until an academically and spiritually qualified candidate can be chosen.
If you agree that there are concerns with Alex Bryan being appointed president at this time, please call or email the chair of the board of trustees at WWU and express your concern.

[Snip names and addresses]

8 Their identity is defined as: “A youth-initiated and-led movement of Seventh-day Adventists from diverse backgrounds, united in a common commitment to serious Bible study, intense prayer, uncompromising lifestyle, and boldness in sharing Christ with others.”
Concerns Regarding Alex Bryan as the New President of WWU Page 6 of 8
If you know any of the board members of WWU, please express your concern to them directly, as they will be voting whether to appoint Alex Bryan as the new President on July 1, 2012. Here is a list of the board members that will be voting whether or not to appoint Bryan as the next president of Concerns Regarding Alex Bryan as the New President of WWU Page 7 of 8
Figure 1. Alex Bryan displays his favorite Spiritual Formation books at the Adventist Forum meeting held at Walla Walla University, October 2011.
He described these books as “the most helpful.” Bryan described how others, with differing views about Spiritual Formation from his have spoken negatively against these “helpful” books. He says his favorite authors have been “lambasted in some very poorly written books that are very popular in Adventism right now by the way, there are three of four of them which I will not name that are doing great destruction and are very poorly put together (he holds up the books shown above and reads the names of his favorite authors) Manning, Foster, Yaconelli, Foster, Willard, Eldredge, Foster, Manning - so yea, I think the comments made about those authors – I would disagree” and then shakes his head and speaks inaudibly.9 At the end of his statement, he is asked why the Seventh-day Adventist church’s president would speak negatively about the content of those books, Alex is silent and does not answer the question and goes to the next question.
9 Adventist Forum DVD, time stamp 1:11:43 to 1:12:12.
Concerns Regarding Alex Bryan as the New President of WWU Page 8 of 8
Figure 2. A screen shot from Alex Bryan’s blog page, showing his “Must Reads” page. Bryan recommends reading Contemplative Pastor Eugene Peterson, Emerging Church leader Brian Mclaren’s Generous Orthodoxy, and Universalist Rob Bell’s Velvet Elvis.

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