Two Versions of Adventism

From its earliest days, Christian theology has been in conflict. As the gospel spread throughout the Roman Empire, it captured the interest of the simple and educated alike. Many of the latter, instinctively attempted to make sense of the gospel message from within the categories of western philosophy[1], the zenith of antiquity’s intellectual development.

With time, this approach gained momentum and even found its way into theological orthodoxy[2]. The Christian Church thus entered upon a trajectory that, a millennium later, desperately called for a reformation. But, although the reformers identified the problem and proposed a Sola, Prima, Tota Scriptura antidote, they soon also followed in the same footsteps.

Today, Adventism, quite possibly history’s last credible attempt at a Sola Scriptura hermeneutic, is going through a similar conflict. Two versions of Adventism have emerged built upon fundamentally different premises, and, the denomination is laboring as in birth pains determining how to proceed. Will the church morph into a new version of itself? Will it split into two distinct denominations? Or, will the two Adventisms find a way to coexist underneath the same denominational umbrella? Whatever the case, it is important that the sources of the conflict are correctly diagnosed and that the denomination’s collective intellect participates in the process, fully aware of what is at stake.

Truth Sources and Their Relative Authority

We are born into this world a Tabula Rasa. We start with nothing and develop our sense of reality as we go. We begin our learning through sensory experiences, through the guidance of parents (if lucky), through books, TV, school etc. With time, we learn to reevaluate our beliefs and adjust as necessary.

While we recognize that we can know very few things with absolute certainty in this life, some sources of truth definitely carry more weight than others. And, when there is conflict even among the most authoritative of sources, invariably (whether consciously or unconsciously), we end up choosing one truth source as the dominant authority over and above all the rest. Having once done this, we then either abandon or reinterpret the others in light of the principle source. Because this process is inescapable, the obvious question then becomes, how do we choose the correct center for our view of reality?

To the Christian the Word of God naturally carries marked authority. But besides the Bible, we also hold a high regard for Logic, Science, Tradition, Culture, Personal Experience and more. Arriving at the right combination of these authorities however, isn’t always easy and has been a challenge for the Christian Church from its very inception.

An Analogy

Let’s imagine that a group of us woke up together in a room with no doors and no windows and with our memories erased. There are several ways in which we can go about rebuilding our knowledge and making sense of our situation[3]:

1) Science – we can begin to examine our surroundings: the size and shape of the room, the strength of the walls, what materials they are made of, whether knocking on the walls sounds like there are any weak spots, etc. We can come up with hypotheses regarding our environment, make predictions based on those hypotheses and try to test out the predictions.

2) Reason – we can use our logic in two ways. First, we can use it to set parameters to our thinking; two mutually exclusive possibilities cannot both be true at the same time, for example.

Second, we can use it to come up with plausible assumptions and then to draw inferences based on those assumptions. For example, the suggestion might be made that the reason we are in this room is because someone is conducting an experiment. If this assumption is correct, we can then infer that we are either being watched or someone will eventually come to check how things are going. Of course, if the starting premises are wrong, the entire logical structure built upon those premises is wrong as well.

3) Tradition/Culture – Tradition and Culture reflect the collective wisdom of the group, whether historical – Tradition, or modern – Culture. But Tradition and Culture take a secondary role to the other factors. For example, if a scientific finding contradicts Tradition or Culture, the scientific finding takes precedence.

4) Scripture – in the context of this illustration let’s pretend that after some digging around, we discover a hidden compartment that contains a document which explains exactly what this room is and why we are in it. We are now faced with several questions:

  1. a) Is this document authentic? Does it provide any kind of credentials; proof of its authenticity? Can we be sure the document was not placed there by someone inside the room trying to garner support for his or her pet theories?
  2. b) Can the original source be trusted? If it was placed there by the people who put us in the room, are they telling us the truth about why we are here?
  3. c) Is it accurate? Does it contradict Science or Logic in areas where these sources are obviously correct? For example, if we have already carefully measured the room and know for a fact that it has a cubic shape, the document should not claim the room has the shape of a pyramid. Otherwise, other aspects of the document might be faulty as well. Nor should it contain obvious logical contradictions or fallacies.

Moreover, even if we do determine that the document is authentic and trustworthy, there is still the question of whether we are interpreting everything correctly. Can we be sure that we accurately understand what the document is trying to communicate?

Spheres of Authority

Continuing with our analogy, let’s assume we’ve concluded that the document we found is authentic and that the information it contains is in fact trustworthy and straightforward. How does this document, as a source of information about our situation, compare with the other sources mentioned? Which one takes preeminence in case of conflict?

First, obviously, if there’s something about our present situation that this document does not address, we must rely on other truth sources. Also, as already mentioned, in cases where the document contradicts plain scientific fact or contains logical fallacies, Science and Logic have the preeminence.

But otherwise, the document logically should become the preeminent truth source because it was written by the very people who placed us in the room and who obviously know the most about our situation. Our ability to gather knowledge about our room in relation to the outside world by conducting scientific experiment from inside the room, is extremely limited. In like manner, trying to logically deduce why exactly someone would do this to us, would have to rely heavily on assumptions that we just cannot substantiate while still inside the room. And, culture and tradition would hold even less sway than Science or Reason.

Two Hermeneutical Approaches

But even though in our hypothetical scenario, the outside document carries the most authority, in real life, there is another possibility: God could just as easily have used Reason, Science, Tradition and Culture to communicate with us as He could through His written word. After all, the Bible does teach that God has revealed Himself through His created works (Rom. 1:18-21). Thus, the early church was confronted with two possibilities:

1) Concurrent Revelation – While God was developing the Cannon of written revelation through the Hebrews, He was simultaneously guiding the human intellectual, scientific and cultural development to reach its height during the Greco-Roman era[4]. These various avenues of divine revelation were to be placed side by side and held as of equal weight. For the remainder of this paper we will refer to this perspective as the Concurrent Revelation Hypothesis or CRH.

2) Primacy of Scripture – This view acknowledged the revelation of God in nature and human experience but viewed the Scripture as the ultimate arbiter of truth. All other truth sources were to be judged by the one. We will refer to this perspective as the Scriptural Primacy Hypothesis or SPH.

Just to be clear, both perspectives acknowledge the importance of Scripture as well as the other truth sources. They only differ in the relative authority they place on Scripture in contrast with the other truth sources.

The early church went back and forth between these two possibilities for some time, but eventually settled on one of them, and, in so doing, began a millennium-long human experiment.

Primacy and Re-adaptation

Picture a yardstick on which the following words are written at 6 inch intervals: Scripture, Science, Reason, Tradition, Culture, Experience. Take a nail and drive it through any one of these words fastening the yardstick to a wall. You can now spin the yardstick around the nail, and thus, around whatever word the nail went through. If the nail was hammered through the word Science, for example, then Tradition, Culture and even the Bible now revolve around Science.

In the same way, when two or more truth sources are in conflict, we choose one that gets the preeminence. And, whichever one we choose, the others end up being modified to line up with the first. For example, someone who accepts the Biblical creation story has to assume that scientists have either made a major blunder when it comes to evolution or, that there is some sort of conspiracy behind it all.

The argument could be made that we don’t need to choose one preeminent truth source but could instead place all of them on the table and come up with an understanding that accounts for all the different claims equally. In reality, however, all this does is create a new truth source that becomes a new fulcrum everything else revolves around: the Synthesis Truth Source. Science, Reason, Tradition and Scripture, now revolve around our individualized (or corporate), arbitrary notion of a Synthesis.

Hermeneutical Extension

Whenever we give preeminence to another truth source over the Bible because we think that it is more likely to be correct, we must then adjust our Biblical hermeneutic (protocol for interpretation) to align the Scripture with our primary truth source. And, very likely, this new hermeneutic will eventually extend to other parts of the Bible as well.

Even if we ourselves are very careful to restrict the use of our specialized hermeneutic to only a passage, section or topic, others coming after us, even generations later, might adopt that hermeneutic and extend it far beyond our original intent. There is no telling where things could end up because of even minor tampering with a hermeneutic. Sometimes, it’s only as we look back centuries later that we can really trace the long-term effects of apparently minor adjustments.

We will next take a brief look at the impact that western philosophy on Christian theology. But first, let’s take a look at western philosophy itself.

Western Philosophy

The Philosophical Enterprise began among the Greeks as a simultaneous attempt to both question old traditions and superstitions and to rebuild an understanding of reality based on what the philosophers considered the only trustworthy foundation: Reason[5].

The philosophers were interested in trying to figure out the nature of reality. Was the universe entirely physical/material, or was there something beyond the physical? Plato recognized that the material world was in constant flux; always changing, always deteriorating[6]. But the fact that things were deteriorating implied that there was some ideal form[7] that everything was deteriorating from. To Plato, the physical world was an inferior representation of a non-physical ideal which he called the world of the Forms. While the physical world was deteriorating, our minds however, could tap into the ideal and therefore, there had to be a part of us as well that transcended the physical. Thus, to Plato, reality was dualistic; there was a physical and a spiritual reality and we alone in the animal kingdom could tap into that reality and therefore had a spiritual, non-physical component. And, as the physical deteriorated, the spiritual part of us lived on.

Taking over from Plato, Aristotle amended some of the extremes in Plato’s views of the Forms. He further noticed that, as matter changes, there is a shift from potentiality to actuality. And, working backwards from there, he recognized that there had to be an unmoved mover that initiated this entire action sequence. This first cause had to be supreme in every way or else there would be something else even greater that would become the prime mover.

Future generations of philosophers continued to build on these ideas. They merged Plato’s Forms with the concept of a Prime Mover and, by the time of Neoplatonism, the Forms had become ideas in the mind of The One. The God concept had developed into something very transcendent and unknowable, an entity so distinct that it interacted with the material world only through intermediaries[8] or emanations[9]. The distinction between the physical body and the immaterial soul continued to be emphasized and was even taken to practical extremes by groups such as the Gnostics. Attempts were made to maintain connection with the traditional religions by interpreting beliefs and holy writings as allegorical rather than literal; teaching tools meant to express deeper philosophical truths.

Christianity and Philosophy

In relating to us Paul’s experience at Athens, Luke felt the need to quickly share his opinion of the enterprise:

“(For all the Athenians and strangers which were there spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear some new thing.)” Acts 17:21

Paul himself often contrasted the wisdom of the world with the foolishness of God (1 Cor. 1:17-29).

Early Christians generally related to Philosophy in one of three ways:

1) People like Tertullian outright rejected philosophy as in direct opposition to the gospel[10], although he used Greek rhetorical methods to make his point[11].

2) Other early Christians saw Philosophy as a useful tool to communicate Christian concepts to Greek thinkers[12].

3) Finally, another group like Clement and Origen, considered philosophy as another revelation of God and therefore just as much Truth as Scripture[13]. Origen, for example, felt that besides the essential truth of Christianity, everything else was fair game for philosophical interpretation.

As varying theological currents began to enter the Christian marketplace of ideas, the church came together on different occasions to address some of the conflicts. However, for the early church, the priority was to clearly articulate the dual concepts of the Trinity and the Incarnation[14]. There was a general sentiment that if the church did not get these two subjects right, Christianity would fade into insignificance as one religion among many. Arianism was not very different from the demigods of other religions and Docetism was like the divine avatars of other faiths.[15]

Topics that were not immediately dealt with no longer seemed to matter to future generations and became part of orthodox Christian doctrine.

Philosophy and Christian Theology

There are numerous ways in which western thought affected the development of Christian theology. Plato’s dualism carried over the idea of an immortal/immaterial soul into Christianity. This brought with it numerous complications to the Biblical perspective. It confused the question of death as being the wages of sin, since, after all, the individual’s essence lived on after death. It made of little sense the Biblical concept of a resurrection at the second coming of Christ; the ‘blessed hope’ lost part of its anticipation factor. It forced the creation of the doctrine of an eternal hell where the lost would suffer for eternity, and justified the doctrine of purgatory.

On the more practical side, Plato’s idea that matter was inferior to spirit, which was further developed by Gnosticism[16], led to the belief that either the body should be mortified[17] or that it had no impact on the spirit. Those who adopted the former view turned to asceticism to suppress the flesh and focus on the spirit. The latter felt that, since only the spirit mattered, they could do whatever they pleased with their bodies.

The Greek concept of God was also carried over into Christianity. God was so transcendent[18] that He was too distant from us to be reached by the average person[19]. There was a need for intermediaries such as the priests, the saints, Mary etc. to go through to get God’s attention (like the Logoi of Neoplatonism). God was too different from us to be understood by the human mind. God was timeless and temporality was only a perception of the human mind. Temporal reality was created simultaneously and therefore human action was preordained.

Having taken an allegorical approach to the holy writings of the traditional religions, it was only natural to extend that hermeneutic to the Bible as well[20]. Reality was determined through a combination of Biblical and Greek thought. When Philosophy and Scripture disagreed, and when it seemed that the philosophical viewpoint was more likely correct, the Scripture was interpreted allegorically.

The Protestant Reformation

Looking down the corridor of history and trying to make sense of exactly where the Christian church had gone so wrong, the reformers could distill the problem down to one underlying principle: Sola Scriptura. The early church had chosen to go with the wrong option: they viewed the various truth sources as concurrent and equal divine revelations rather than giving primacy to the Scripture.

It was evident to the reformers that the millennium-long human experiment had failed and, they were determined not to make the same mistake again. None the less, they did not fully perceive the depth to which Christian theology had been influenced by Greek thought. Moreover, future generations of Protestants found themselves in a similar predicament to the early Christians: because of the enlightenment and the subsequent scientific revolution, the Scripture once again began to appear as less dependable than other truth sources. In this context enter Adventism.

The Adventist Sola, Prima, Tota Scriptura Project

The Adventist movement can be best understood as a reformation of the Reformation. On the one hand, it was an attempt to reverse the trend away from Scriptural Primacy among Protestants. On the other, it was a determination to go even further than the reformers had gone and to eliminate any unscriptural philosophical presuppositions still present in Protestant thinking.

We thus did away with soul-body dualism and its implications: heaven or hell at death, eternal torment, decreased emphasis on the resurrection and the second coming, unimportance of physical health, etc. We rejected classical theism with its Neoplatonic/Aristotelian view of a God who was completely transcendent, immutable, impassible and timeless[21]. Because of this, we rejected a soteriology rooted in divine sovereignty/predestination and continued to build upon the Arminian framework.

We took the Arminian theodicy, as further developed by Hugo Grotius’ Moral Government of God[22], and perfected it into a complete system of thought: the Great Controversy macro-narrative. We continued to build on a Federalist view of the covenants but pointed out that there is no Biblical evidence of a transfer of the Sabbath to Sunday. We rejected both post-millennialism and amillennialism and emphasized a literal, pre-millennial, post-tribulation second coming of Christ.

Moreover, we reestablished a historicist interpretation of Bible prophecy and, in conjunction with our understanding of the great controversy and the heavenly sanctuary, were able to anchor Christianity back in history. Both Judaism and Christianity had been framed as historical religions: they described a God who had been active in time and space and both anticipated an imminent consummation of God’s historical activity through the eschaton. The fact that the much-anticipated Messiah never made his appearance became a major paradigm shift for the Jewish believer. In like manner, the two-thousand-year delay of Christ’s return placed Christianity itself on a shaky foundation.

Adventists however discovered in scripture a predetermined schedule of events that provided a coherent explanation for this delay. First off, within a free-will based macro-narrative, God had set aside a specific period of time during which sin would be allowed to exist. To ensure that free-willed beings would never consider another rebellion, sufficient time had to be allowed for the effects of sin to be fully understood. For the security of the universe, therefore, the second coming of Christ could not take place before this period of time was completed. The New Testament explained that during this delay, the Man of Sin would be reveled while Daniel 7 clarified that his reign would last until the 19th century. Daniel 8 further told us that God’s timeline for the existence of sin would near its end in 1844 and God’s closing inventory, the Investigative Judgment would then commence.

Since, as a group, we were living at this very time in history, we recognized that this placed on us a unique responsibility. The coming of Christ would cut short the probationary time for people that otherwise might have been saved if history had continued as usual. To make up for this, we were to cooperate with God in providing humanity with a catalyst: something that would help people make their decisions for Christ faster than under normal circumstances.

We understood this catalyst to be two-fold: the preaching of a more holistic gospel, one that addressed the needs of the entire person, not just the soul, and, the preaching of the third angel’s message.

The rationale for the third angel’s message was simple:

1) Based on Bible prophecy we were to make a very specific yet seemingly unlikely prediction.

2) Our prediction would come true.

3) Any sincere individual would recognize that our approach to prophetic interpretation was correct and heed our warning that probation was about to close.

Thus, we had a clear sense of the divine schedule, we had a clear message and mission, and, we organized ourselves in such a way as to most effectively take this message to the world[23].

The Two Adventism

Today however, Adventists stand at the same crossroads as the early Christians and the later Protestants. To a significant segment of the church, the Scriptural Primacy Hypothesis, as seen through Adventist lenses, no longer seems defensible. The reasons could potentially be several:

1) Theological – Other Christians are more likely correct on various points of doctrine, there are contradictions or ‘problem’ segments in the Bible[24], etc.

2) Scientific – History, Archeology, Evolution, the Historical Critical Method all bring certain aspects of the Bible into question,

3) Cultural – disagreements with the church regarding dress, diet, music, entertainment, alcohol, homosexuality, etc.

4) The fact that if the Adventist framework was correct, Jesus really should have returned by now.

The senior vice president of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges makes the following insightful statement:

“I propose that the battles within the Adventist faith community, specifically as played out in its institutions of higher education, are now shifting from hermeneutics to epistemology – from what you know from the Bible to whether the Bible is a valid means for knowing. It is a dramatic shift in focus from how you interpret the sacred texts to whether these texts are even relevant. In a very real sense, a 19th Century tectonic plate is scraping mightily against a 21st Century plate, right underneath Adventist colleges and universities.[25]

None the less, two areas of conflict seem to have done more to change the opinion of large segments of Adventism than any other: Evolution and Glacier View. The remainder of this paper will address these two topics.

Evolution

The theory of evolution stands today as uncontested among the scientists in the field and has gained general acceptance among the educated public. Even Christians who were previously strong opponents of the theory are today converting over, both because of the evidence as well as because of the general failure of the Scientific Creationism/Intelligent Design movements[26]. Most Adventists who reject evolution would likely find the evidence almost overwhelming if they took the time to study the subject without bias.

The Scripture, on the other hand, has a very different story to tell. It’s not just about the first few chapters of Genesis. The narrative is repeated throughout the Bible. It is referenced in the ten commandments and alluded to repeatedly by Jesus and the apostles. Paul builds his case for the fallen human condition on the story of the original fall (Rom. 5), and this doctrine of human depravity is a cornerstone of the Protestant gospel. Moreover, millions of years of animal suffering prior to sin bring the free-will theodicy into question[27].

We’ve mentioned at the beginning of this paper that scientific fact takes precedence over Scripture. If, for example, the Bible made consistent claims regarding a flat earth, the legitimacy of the Scriptural Primacy Hypothesis would naturally be called into question. I would propose however that there is one more step that needs to take place before we can consider Evolution a scientific fact. And, until this step is taken, we should refrain from prematurely adapting our hermeneutic to harmonize with science.

But, before addressing this further, we need to take a brief look at the Scientific Method.

The Methodology of Science

Contrary to public opinion, science is not simply an unbiased search for truth. Rather, modern science is primarily a methodology or protocol; a series of steps that when followed, consistently produce better results than other methods.

An integral element of this methodology however, is the a priori dismissal of the supernatural. This is not due to some atheistic bias in science, but rather because the scientific method requires an ability to make testable predictions, something that would no longer work if nature was inconsistent due to supernatural interference. This facet of the scientific process is known as Methodological Naturalism (MN)[28],[29],[30]. MN should not be confused with Philosophical Naturalism (PM) which is a claim regarding the nature of reality as being naturalistic/materialistic. In contrast to PM, MN takes no stance regarding the existence of God or the Supernatural, but is simply a strategy for studying the universe and therefore can be used by theist and atheist alike.

The obvious problem however, is that an a priori dismissal of the Supernatural must inevitably lead to only naturalistic conclusions. The end result of this methodology is not just the theory of evolution but a universe whose entire existence can be explained naturalistically. Christians who accept evolution must therefore ask themselves if they are comfortable believing in a God who had absolutely nothing to do with the creation of our universe. Otherwise, before a wholesale acceptance of Evolution, we should look for better ways to harmonize science’s naturalistic methodology with our belief in divine involvement.

Why Scientific Creationism and Intelligent Design Have Failed

There are three main reasons why Scientific Creationism/Intelligent Design (SC/ID) can be accurately labeled as pseudo-scientific[31]:

1) Rejection of MN – Recognizing that the naturalistic methodology of science can lead only to naturalistic conclusions, SC/ID rejected MN altogether. However, modern science is so intricately linked with MN that, in rejecting it, they rejected science itself.

2) The lack of an Alternative Scientific Model – When scientists study a topic, they begin by formulating hypotheses, conducting experiments, collecting data and either confirming or rejecting those hypotheses. When several different hypotheses studying different facets of a topic are confirmed, scientist try to merge those results into a Scientific Model that harmonizes all those different facets. Having once done this, they then rely on the Model to guide further research. Scientific Models are extremely useful in science because they keep scientists from wasting a lot of time looking for things that just aren’t there. But Models can also create a bias in that certain pieces of data might be overlooked because they are not found where the model predicts they should be.

As an illustration, imagine 1000 index cards that have either an X or an O on one side. Imagine that all these cards are arranged side by side on the floor in the shape of a rectangle, face down. As you pick up any card, if it has an X you flip it over, if it has an O you set it back down, face down. You know that all the X’s are arranged in the shape of an object, maybe a car, a bike etc., but you don’t know what that shape is. As you start flipping the cards, at first all you see is random X’s here and there. But, after a while, enough X’s are turned over, that you can try to guess what the picture is. So let’s say you look at the picture and think it might be a bike. Well, because you have a mental image of what a bike would look like, you now have an expectation of where the other X’s are. You can uncover the picture much faster this way than if you continued randomly flipping cards. The only drawback, is that if maybe in another corner of the picture there is another object, you’re not really looking there because now you’re focusing on the bike outline.

Both Scientific Creationism and Intelligent Design have spent a lot of time trying to deconstruct Evolution by pointing out all kinds of flaws with the system. The problem with that is, that unless they provide an alternative Scientific Model, scientists will always choose an existing model, no matter how faulty, over not having a model at all. The lack of a valid alternative model is a second reason why SC/ID are pseudoscientific.

3) Lack of a Comprehensive Scientific Model – There are some Creation/ID scientists who have tried to come up with limited naturalistic models to work under. For example, some scientists have worked under a Flood Geology Model. Flood geology does not need to invoke God or the supernatural as far as its limited scope goes. One could just assume natural causes for such a flood and go from there. The problem with this model however is that it only addresses one small part of the question. If someone accepts that Flood Geology is correct, they no longer have any explanation for where life came from etc. without invoking a deity. This model, if taken seriously, ends up destroying every other model in biology, geology, paleontology and many other disciplines, without providing a functional alternative. Thus, again, this version of SC/ID is also pseudoscientific.

A Third Option

Considering that the scientific methodology, on its own, can produce only naturalistic conclusions, and, having identified the reasons why SC/ID have failed, we can now consider a third option. It is still possible to come up with another alternative to both Evolution and SC/ID. But, to qualify as scientific, this option would have to produce a comprehensive, fully naturalistic, alternative scientific model for the development of life on earth. To understand how this can be done, one would have to think through a way to convert the super-naturalistic hypothesis of divine creation into a naturalistic hypothesis that science can evaluate.

It is outside the scope of this paper to provide a full exposition of the topic. I recommend an article series I have published that addresses the topic in detail[32]. My point here is to show that although the evidence for evolution is impressive, and, even though decades of attempts to disprove evolution have failed, there is still a blind spot in science that merits our attention. We should therefore not rush just yet in our interpretation and reinterpretation of Scripture until this blind spot has been thoroughly addressed.

Glacier View

Probably the most critical blow to the Adventist theological framework can be traced back to the Glacier View conference of 1980[33]. Here, Adventist theologian Dr. Desmond Ford presented a one-thousand-page manuscript[34] to church administrators and theologians where he argued that the Investigative Judgment, the Heavenly Sanctuary and our interpretation of Daniel 8 needed serious reevaluation.

This presentation, the subsequent political fallout[35], as well as numerous other Adventist publications since then, have produced a major shift in the thinking of significant segments of Adventism. Even those who continued to identify with the traditional Adventist perspective, had their confidence so shaken that the doctrine was given a peripheral role in their thinking and preaching. The result of this being that, a generation later, the topic has become next to irrelevant.

There certainly are difficulties with the doctrine of the Investigative Judgment and related topics. Unlike most everything else we believe, this doctrine has never been acknowledged by other protestant denominations. The doctrine is also not explicitly stated in the New Testament, as other doctrines are. Moreover, many Adventists have been left with a sense of insecurity regarding their status with God while thinking that their name might come up in the judgment at any time[36]. And, as previously mentioned, Jesus really should have returned by now, if our understanding of the Heavenly Sanctuary and the prophecies was correct.

At the same time, there are serious flaws with many of the arguments presented against the Investigative Judgment as well, flaws that were never aptly pointed out. The four arguments that seem to have done the most to shaken people’s faith in the Adventist framework, are based on clear misunderstandings. I will briefly address each of them here.

The Soteriological Argument

Looking over the history of Glacier View, one of the most significant issues that stands out is the prominent role Soteriology played in Desmond Ford and other’s thinking regarding the Investigative Judgment. As recently as his latest book[37] Dr. Ford writes in the ‘Dear Reader’ section:

“This is not dry theology. It is not a matter to be left to scholars who have little contact with the ‘real world.’ This is about your personal assurance of salvation. The doctrine of the Investigative Judgment that began in 1844 denies the finality of the Cross, God’s omniscience, and the reality of saving faith. Instead of the gospel being ‘good, glad, and merry tidings, which makes the heart to sing and the feet to dance’, it is made an accompaniment to fear.”

Essentially, one of the primary concerns of Ford, other current and former Adventist critics, as well as Evangelical critics, had been the effect that the doctrine of the Investigative Judgment was having on the Adventist understanding of salvation. And yet, somehow, it does not seem that the Adventist theologians who have responded to these critics have fully clued in to the prominent role of Soteriology or the fact that Soteriological objections are many orders of magnitude more serious than other types of objections and should have taken precedence.

None the less, the soteriological objection against the Investigative Judgment is misguided. At its core, the doctrine is nothing more than Arminian soteriology as modified by the doctrine of Soul Sleep.

Since the reformation, three groups have emerged under the banner of salvation by grace through faith. The foundational premise of all three of these groups has been the complete depravity of all human beings, so complete that even our very best intentions were actuated by selfish motives. But this utter fallenness raised the question of how sinners could even choose to accept Christ in order to be saved. And, two distinct hypotheses were proposed:

1) Calvinism – Because we are too fallen to choose Christ on our own, God has to make the choice for us by predestining some people to be saved.

2) Arminianism – To make up for our fallen state, God gives everyone Prevenient Grace thus restoring in them the ability to make a free choice for or against Christ.

Some Arminians however, acknowledged the need for freedom of the will but felt it necessary to place limitations on that freedom. Yes, it was important for people to freely choose Christ in order to relieve God of the responsibility for sin. But, once a decision had been made, additional opportunities to choose were no longer necessary but actually hindered one’s ability to rest in Christ. This gave rise to the third group I will label Once Saved Always Saved (OSAS) Arminians, in contrast with Classical Arminians and Calvinists. These three groups are spread fairly evenly among global Protestants with Calvinists being represented by denominations such as the Presbyterian and Reformed churches, OSAS Arminians by most Baptist and non-denominational churches and Classical Arminians by the Methodist and Pentecostal churches.

The key thing to grasp here is that all Classical Arminians necessarily believe in something akin to an investigative judgment. Because salvation can be lost, at some point God must differentiate between two types of Christians: those who accepted Christ but later turned away and those who accepted and continued in Christ. The only significant difference between Adventists and other Arminians is one of timing. Most Arminians believe that people receive their reward (heaven or hell) at death while we believe people rest in their grave until the resurrection. Therefore, their judgment must take place immediately at death while ours can take place prior to the second coming[38].

The House of Cards Argument

In formal logic and debate theory, it makes a huge difference how an argument is framed: who bears the burden of proof, how heavy exactly is that burden, etc. Debaters often try to gain the upper hand on one another by making it appear that their opponents bear a much heavier burden than should rationally be required of them.

A second factor that has caused many Adventists to lose faith in the Adventist Framework has been the presentation of the Investigative Judgment as a theological construct that is heavily reliant on a long series of prerequisite assumptions. A Facebook Adventist critic said it best:

“The Seventh-day Adventist’s “Investigative Judgment” requires one to swallow 23 dubious ASSUMPTIONS in order to accept the doctrine. If even one of those assumptions fails, the whole house of cards tumbles[39].”

He then links to an article published by a former Adventist who now runs his own anti-SDA blog[40]. Another much more sophisticated publication put out by an Adventist, actually points out hundreds of assumptions that would need to be substantiated which, allegedly, the DARCOM committee never fully addressed[41]. The rationale here being that there are way too many variables that cannot be confirmed for Adventists to continue placing their faith in a doctrine that pits us against other Christians and confuses our understanding of the gospel.

And, with the question framed this way, it only makes sense that Adventist theologians would have difficulty responding. If they could not show beyond a shadow of a doubt that every single one of all these assumptions is undeniable, their entire work is a failure. It is no wonder that people stopped preaching the Investigative Judgment altogether.

But, as mentioned earlier, the doctrine does not need two hundred assumptions or even twenty-three assumptions to stand, just two: Arminianism and Soul Sleep. If someone comes to an Arminian understanding of both soteriology and theodicy and then additionally also accepts the doctrine of soul sleep, they have all the necessary ingredients needed to appreciate the doctrine of the Investigative Judgment.

The Hebrews Argument

Much time has been spent by Adventist apologists trying to defend the idea that Jesus entered the Holy rather than the Most Holy Place at His ascension[42]. But the question is irrelevant to Adventist theology since our concern is not for heavenly architecture or geography but rather has to do with the type of ministry that Jesus entered upon at His ascension and in 1844. Since the Investigative Judgment has already been rooted in Arminianism and Soul Sleep, that question has already been settled before coming to the book of Hebrews.

The Eisegesis Argument

The idea behind this argument has been that Adventists needed some way to save face after the embarrassment of 1844 and therefore came up with a new doctrine to superimpose on Dan. 8 in place of Miller’s interpretation. A major chunk[43] of Dr. Ford’s one-thousand-page work is dedicated to showing that a careful exegesis of Dan. 8 cannot lead to the conclusions held by Adventists. But there’s an even bigger problem with the alternative approaches offered by Ford and other critics who use this argument.

Unlike most world religions, the religion of the Bible has been a religion of evidence. God sent plagues on Egypt for both the Israelites’ and Egyptians’ sakes, He delivered Daniel’s friends through the fire to get through to Nebuchadnezzar, He followed the ministry of Jesus and the apostles with all kinds of miracles, etc. What then is the evidence for us today? What can we present to outsiders as reason why they should consider Christianity rather than hundreds of other religious perspectives?

And, the reality is that the only thing we have in Christianity that would qualify as such evidence is Bible prophecy. Without prophecy, we would have no more a claim to people’s attention than any other religion.

But, for prophecy to qualify as evidence, it needs to measure up to the rules of what can constitute legitimate evidence. These rules would include:

1) Prophecy cannot make obscure claims about obscure events (ex. In the future some nation will conquer another nation). It should address specific and major world events that are well known to history.

2) A prediction must cover events far enough into the future for us to know that the prophecy was not made after the fact or through the common human intuition of someone with a deep understanding of political affairs. (This alone fully disqualifies both the Preterist and the Futurist schools of interpretation)

3) If the prophecy is encoded in symbols, there must be some strict rule or key of interpretation evident in the text that would prevent someone from arbitrarily interpreting the symbols in whatever way fits with history. Otherwise, any version of history could be made to line up with the prophecies.

The Adventist approach to prophecy does offer a clear set of interpretative keys that can be consistently applied in prophetic interpretation. As far as I am aware however, none of the critics have been able to produce an alternative set of keys that would meet all these criteria. Their approach to prophecy is therefore automatically disqualified before we even examine the text itself[44].

To conclude this section, possibly hundreds of independent arguments could be identified among all that has been written against this Adventist doctrines, especially since the 80’s. None the less, it was just a handful of these arguments that have had the most impact on the Adventist church and, many of these are based on deep misunderstandings of the rationale of Adventist doctrine.

Analysis and Conclusion

We began this paper by discussing two different approaches to truth and the relative authority of truth sources. Both the early Christian church and the later Protestants have attempted to replace the Scriptural Primacy Hypothesis with the Concurrent Revelation Hypothesis, something that early Adventists felt required a reformation.

A century and a half after the birth of the Adventist church, its protest against the departure from Scriptural primacy has come to a crossroads. Today, two distinct camps call themselves Adventists. They both worship in the same churches, both hold many things in common, and yet, at the most fundamental level, they are completely different.

Most Adventists are probably not even aware that this is taking place. A good number of them are too distracted with debates over superficial topics like ordination and worship. Among the traditional Adventists, some are secretly hoping the shaking will soon take place and all the ‘apostates’ will fall by the wayside. Among the progressives, some are hoping that the shift to a new Adventism will take place in the shadows, while people are distracted with other matters, sort of like the way the denomination changed its views on the trinity. But it would be a terrible thing if possibly the most monumental decision in the history of the denomination, happened without the full engagement of our collective intellect.

And the conflict goes far beyond theology. Those who hold to the traditional Adventist framework, draw from this a clear message that informs a distinct global mission. The accomplishing of this mission requires that the church be organized with a central government which keeps tabs on the needs of the global work and distributes resources accordingly.

Those who no longer sympathize with this doctrinal framework, no longer agree with the message or the mission. Instead, they only hold to the basic Christian gospel as preached by most other denominations. They view mission as basic witnessing, community service and social justice. To accomplish this, they would prefer a church government that more closely resembles a congregational-style organization where decisions are made locally and the allocation of resources is based on local needs.

Let’s take as a case study, the issue of Women’s Ordination. Many advocates of ordination have framed the issue as a question of bigotry and sexism. In reality, it is a question of message and mission. If we still have a message and a mission, then we must preserve the integrity of our global democracy-style government. This means that we might need to go along with our brothers and sisters who don’t see things the same way until the Holy Spirit also leads them to similar conclusions. If we no longer have a unique message and mission, then protecting the organization is no longer a priority.

Because almost all conflicts taking place in the church today are happening at a superficial level instead of addressing the root of the problem, the church has little chance of making progress. And the animosity will continue to build unless we all place our cards on the table and have a real conversation. Both sides need to treat each other with mutual respect, to acknowledge one another’s dedication to Christ as well as the intellectual rigor of their respective positions. And, whether we decide to move forward by adopting a new perspective, by separating into distinct groups or by coexisting under the same umbrella, let us make this decision wisely, having examined all the data and having thought through our decision carefully and together.

May God help us.

 

 

 

 

 

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“Augustine | Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.” Accessed December 5, 2016. http://www.iep.utm.edu/augustin/.

 

Balch, David L., and Everett Ferguson. Greeks, Romans, and Christians: Essays in Honor of Abraham J. Malherbe. Edited by Wayne A. Meeks. 1st Edition edition. Minneapolis: Fortress Pr, 1991.

 

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Daniélou, Jean, and Jean Daniélou. A History of Early Christian Doctrine before the Council of Nicaea. London; Philadelphia: Darton, Longman & Todd ; Westminster Press, 1964.

 

Enns, Peter. The Bible Tells Me so: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It, 2014.

 

Ford, Desmond. The Investigative Judgment and the Everlasting Gospel, n.d.

 

Gonzalez, Justo L. The Story of Christianity, Vol. 1: The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation. 2nd edition. New York: HarperOne, 2010.

 

Grant, Frederick C. Roman Hellenism and the New Testament. New York: Scribner, 1962.

 

Hatch, Edwin. The Influence of Greek Ideas on Christianity. New York: Harper, 1957.

 

Helleman, Wendy E. Christianity and the Classics: The Acceptance of a Heritage. Lanham; London: Md. ; University press of America, 1990.

 

Hill, Jonathan. The History of Christian Thought: The Fascinating Story of the Great Christian Thinkers and How They Helped Shape the World as We Know It Today. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2007.

 

Holland, Bob. “Bob Holland – The Seventh-Day Adventist’s ‘Investigative Judgment’…” Facebook.com. Accessed December 5, 2016. https://www.facebook.com/bob.holland1/posts/10208513104491338.

 

Ingram, Roy. “The Assumptions of DARCOM and Other Sources in Defending 1844,” n.d. https://adventiststudies.files.wordpress.com/2011/09/assumptions-re-1844-full-version.pdf.

 

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Shiel, James. Greek Thought and the Rise of Christianity. New York: Barnes & Noble, 1968.

 

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[1] Shiel, Greek Thought and the Rise of Christianity., 72.

[2] Hatch, The Influence of Greek Ideas on Christianity, 133.

[3] One common expression of this idea is the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. “Wesleyan Quadrilateral.”

[4] According to Clement, there was only one truth, whether coming through Plato or Jesus Christ. Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity, Vol. 1, 87.

[5] The interview with Dr. Jackson helped me grasp a bird’s-eye-view of the development of Western Philosophy. Jackson, “Interview.”

[6] Webb, The Heritage Podcast – A Complete Liberal Arts Education (in Podcast Form).

[7] Reynolds, When Athens Met Jerusalem, 77.

[8] Armstrong and Markus, Christian Faith and Greek Philosophy, 8.

[9] Bevan, Later Greek Religion, 193.

[10] Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity, Vol. 1, 63.

[11] Jackson, “The Heresy Tertullian Overlooked:   On Prescription against The Apologist’s Use of Rhetoric,” 15.

[12] Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity, Vol. 1, 87.

[13] Ibid., 94.

[14] Grant, Roman Hellenism and the New Testament, 151–57.

[15] Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity, Vol. 1, 187.

[16] Reynolds, When Athens Met Jerusalem, 223.

[17] Dodds, Pagan and Christian in an Age of Anxiety; Some Aspects Ofreligious Experience from Marcus Aurelius to Constantine, 29.

[18] Daniélou and Daniélou, A History of Early Christian Doctrine before the Council of Nicaea, 324.

[19] Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity, Vol. 1, 182.

[20] Hatch, The Influence of Greek Ideas on Christianity, 77.

[21] “Classical Theism.”

[22] Miller, Reformation and the Remnant, chap. 2.

[23] I discuss these concepts in greater detail in this book. Manea, The Conversation Adventists Are Not Having.

[24] This is not an Adventist book but it mentions many of the typical problem areas in the Scripture. Enns, The Bible Tells Me so, 22.

[25] Winn, “How Education Affects Adventist Ecclesiology Richard Winn … Pages 1 – 8 – Text Version | FlipHTML5.”

[26] Applegate, How I Changed My Mind about Evolution.

[27] Ron Osborn has written an excellent defense for a deep time theodicy. The one question that remains however, is whether such a defense would still be needed if Evolution wasn’t the only scientific alternative.  Osborn, Death before the Fall, 126-200.

[28] “How Not to Attack Intelligent Design Creationism: Philosophical Misconceptions about Methodological Naturalism – Maarten Boudry.”

[29] “Methodological Naturalism and Philosophical Naturalism.”

[30] The two previous papers describe the two prevalent positions on Methodological Naturalism within the scientific community. This article is my response to both papers. “A Response to M. Boudry on Methodological Naturalism – Intelligent Adventist.”

[31] “Intelligent Design Creationism: Fraudulent Science.”

[32] Manea, “A Better Way to Fight Evolution, Part 1.”

[33] “Sanctuary Debate (Spectrum, 1980).”

[34] Ford, Daniel 8.

[35] In the interview with Dr. Guy, he mentioned that the methods used by church leadership in dealing with Dr. Ford were just as concerning as the theological issues discussed. Guy, Research Professor of Philosophical Theology | Divinity School | La Sierra University.

[36] I’ve written an article where I argue that the Adventist understanding of the Sanctuary produces the most assurance of any Classical Arminian framework. Manea, “How Adventism Ended the Gospel Wars.”

[37] Ford, The Investigative Judgment and the Everlasting Gospel, 1.

[38] Manea and Torres, “Why The Critics of the Investigative Judgment Have Failed.”

[39] Holland, “Bob Holland – The Seventh-Day Adventist’s ‘Investigative Judgment’…”

[40] “The 23 Assumptions | Armchair Theologian.”

[41] Ingram, “The Assumptions of DARCOM and Other Sources in Defending 1844.”

[42] 65 pages and on appendix are dedicated to the Book of Hebrews in Ford’s document. Ford, Daniel 8, 101–66.

[43] Ibid., 166–272.

[44] For more on how to approach Bible Prophecy see, Manea, “Bible Prophecy for Atheists (Part 1).”

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