Thursday, September 20, 2007

Reviewing Adventist Today

Adventist Today, September/October

This was an outstanding issue. It “outed” the elephant in the room, the decline of Adventism, and did it forcefully and directly. As an added bonus, Alden Thompson, unintentionally, clarified why it is that Adventism is in decline. We are stuck theologically. In his concluding four paragraphs, he alludes to his thesis, fully developed in his book, Escape from the Flames*, that the god of the Old Testament is a god who “was willing to do what needs to be done”, i.e. use mass killing if necessary, to provide us with “the anchor that the law [what he calls the “ten commands”] provides”.

It is remarkable to me that Thompson includes these ten commands “within the safe framework established by Jesus two great commands”. Which is it, Alden, the god of the Old Testament who expediently ruled by fear and the “ten commands” or Jesus Christ who proclaimed neighborliness and a kingdom of peace and freedom. Attempts to serve both, as our Church has attempted to do since 1888, can never enable us to “be a dynamic community working together to make a difference in God’s great world while we await his return”. If we don’t choose to abandon the god of the Old Testament and do it forcefully and quickly, Adventism is a dead man walking.

My Notes on Escape from the Flames, by Alden Thompson

In Escape from the Flames, Thompson effectively documents Ellen White’s journey from fear to joy—conservative and traditional to progressive and liberal.

Problem: He fails to do the same regarding the historical and literary context of Old Testament scripture.

The key principle in my understanding of Scripture and Ellen White, namely, that a good and gentle God, the one we see most clearly in Jesus, the one who wants to win our hearts, is willing to be violent and appeal to fear in order to win over violent people. Indeed, God must use violence if He is going to reach such people at all.

Now I happen to believe, with tenacity even, that Satan was fully as alive and well in the Old Testament as he is today, but for pastoral reasons, God chose to keep Satan under wraps, assuming full responsibility for everything lest the people worship Satan as another deity. Yes, God was willing to be seen as violent, brutal, quick with the trigger, insensitive to animal and human life, because that was what the people had come to expect from their gods. And that was where God had to start.

In short, God does not limit Himself to the “ideal” method. He is the ultimate pragmatist and will use what works.

The unchanging anchor in Scripture consists of the great principle of love, its more specific definition through Jesus’ two great commands (love to God, love to your neighbor), and their even more specific application in the Ten Commandments.

Problem: Thompson asserts that the violent, brutal, ethnocentric, merciless, God described in the Old Testament is Jesus/God acting in love.

The short version of all this is that the violent God of the Old Testament is really the same gracious God who reveals himself more fully in Jesus. Maybe we could even say that God was graciously violent with the Old Testament people in order to meet their expectations of violence. That was his way of starting then on the path away from violence.

Put very bluntly, at Sinai, God came to kill. At Golgotha, God came to die.

Problem: Thompson makes the pragmatic argument that God is justified in using violence in the service of eventual moral behavior while also asserting that in the biblical record,

the moral and ethical anchor [of love never moves.

Problem: The “violence” attributed to God in Escape from the Flames is described in a clinical, unemotional, detached way that does not account for the reality of individual human suffering much less ethnic cleansing of the most hideous kind.

a wicked world is washed clean by a flood

Problem: The thesis of Escape from the Flames provides a moral justification for civil or religious authorities to use the threat of violence to enforce what they believe to be a divinely instituted moral code of behavior until it is

safe for people to know more about the ‘great controversy” between Christ and Satan

Problem: This thesis introduces a moral ambiguity that Thompson claims to reject.

Major Problem: the violent solutions employed “by God” in the Old Testament did not produce a progressively “higher standard” of moral behavior. In fact, according to the biblical record, they had no appreciable effect, even in the short term.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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