Thursday, March 26, 2009

Death Be Not Proud

On Sunday, March 22, a tragic plane crash in Montana abruptly ended the lives of six Pacific Union College and Loma Linda University alumni, and seven of their children. The professional pilot of the plane also died in this accident.

Comic from Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson
(click to enlarge)

Reviewing the Adventist Review

March 19, 2009
Vol. 186, No, 8

In this issue, reader comments in the INBOX were thoughtful and interesting. It’s a really big deal that Patrick Allen has matriculated FROM ADVENTIST PASTOR TO CHIEF OF STATE, because Allen “would become president should Jamaicans approve a referendum changing the nation to a republic”. DIRECTV SERVICE GETS HOPE CHANNEL 368 at the end of April. And Merle Poirier, reminiscing about her family’s “century house” in Plainfield, Wisconsin, introduces us to seven generations of Seventh-day Adventists.

In light of the Montana plane crash that killed four of my neighbors and nine other adults and children, and the plane crash reported in this issue in which 7 lives have been lost, IN VENEZUELA, SEARCH CONTINUES FOR MISSING PLANE, it’s difficult to be reassured by Luste Maran’s explanation that MONSTERS DO EXIST, BUT GOD IS BIGGER.

“The closer we are to God, the safer we are, for Satan hates and fears the presence of God. We must not be ignorant of Satan’s tactics, which include the people he uses. . .Maintaining a close relationship with Jesus, full with prayer and the pursuit of godly things, will protect us—even when we do encounter monsters. We may—no, we will—be hurt, but we will still be protected. And we’ll be healed. Because God is bigger.”

Such naive words comfort children, but they ring hollow in light of actual events. As rational adult Christians, we are obligated to face facts and tell the truth. Bad things happen to good people. God offered Job no explanation, and none of us is qualified to speak for God.

CRACKERS, CHEESE, AND ORLANGE JUICE by Gina Wahlen asks the reader to believe that God answered her prayer for crackers, cheese, and orange juice. Claims like this one trivialize not only prayer but God. These stories border on the obscene in the context of a world of unimaginable pain and chaos.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Reviewing Spectrum

Winter 2009
Vol. 37, Issue 1

Bonnie Dwyer, LIFE BEGINS AT FORTY, and Charles Scriven, WOMEN AND MEN AND MINISTRY: A FAMILY STORY, got me excited. Then a single-page TIME AND TIME AGAIN, feedback page featuring a chart chronicling a 490-year prophecy (457 B.C. to 409) and one more email arguing that gay marriage is protected under the U.S. Constitution curbed my enthusiasm.

Next, AN INTERVIEW WITH DAN DAVENPORT by an old friend and college classmate, Bob Dunn, renewed my positive expectations. But, even with pictures of the Hallmark cast of Expecting and Miracle, the interview focused on script writing and once again my interest waned.

Fortunately, AMERICAN DREAMS COME TRUE chronicled the experiences of two writers, Aubin Fullton and Nicole Frazier, who attended the Obama inauguration, and I was hooked. So, to make a long story short, I kept reading and finished the issue in one session.

A PROPHET AMOS ON GAZA, re-versed by Douglas R. Clark is a poetic commentary on the mess in the Middle East. Clark’s apology to the prophet Amos should not be taken seriously. Amos on Gaza is Amosian, brilliant, and politically on target.

This poetic tour de force is followed by TOP TEN WAYS for the General Conference to Fix the Problem of Women’s Ordination and two pieces which argue that the Church policy that forbids the ordination of qualified women is indefensible. Loren Seibold and Eddy Johnson are rational and convincing. Unfortunately, General Conference committees or a constituent vote can’t right this wrong at the 2010 General Conference Session in Atlanta if the church leadership is silent. Now is the time for General conference, Union, and local conference leaders, worldwide, to demonstrate their support of women’s ordination by official words and actions, i.e. to demonstrate the intestinal fortitude to do what is right, not what is politically expedient.

ADVENTIST LIFE contributors Winona Wendth, Shasta Nelson, Herold Weiss, and Gary Gilbert reminded us of a time when “The Truth” demanded unquestioned obedience, and the declarations of the General Conference were the pronouncements of God.

I’m delighted that for forty years THE SPECTRUM STORY IN ART AND POETRY continues to be told.

David Pendleton’s review of THREE BOOKS ON CREATION, EVOLUTION, AND INTELLIGENT DESIGN—Bleached Faith, Monkey Girl, and Only a Theory—broke no new ground in terms of the intelligent design/evolution argument, but the piece was well written and an excellent introduction to the debate.

WILLIAM MILLER REVISITED is Leigh Johnsen’s review of God’s Strange Work and the End of the World by David Rowe. According to Johnsen, the author “meets Miller on his own terms and offers readers a plausible and compelling portrait”. (Publication by Eerdman’s Publishing not yet finalized.)

THE SILENT WORD is a poem by James J. Londis that appeared in the third issue of the first volume of Spectrum. It’s a not-so-subtle reminder that forty years ago, Adventists were officially silent during the Vietnam War and are officially silent about the war in Iraq, today.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Behind the Scenes With the Evangelistic Team

Modified from the comic Dilbert, by Scott Adams
(click to enlarge)

Reviewing Adventist World, NAD Edition

March 2009
Vol. 5, No. 3

This issue offers the reader some great articles: national news ADVENTIST PATRICK ALLEN IS JAMAICA’S NEW GOVERNOR-GENERAL; old fashioned mission stories from India, Nigeria, and the South Pacific THE ELIJAH PROJECT; health news LIVING WITH SCIATIC PAIN; information about South Korea’s Adventist university SAHMYOOK UNIVERSITY STRATEGIZES FOR MISSION; a breakthrough in religious freedom in China A DREAM, A SEED, AND TWO FRIEINDS; and a special giving opportunity ADRA’S $1=$4 MATCHING GRANT.

In addition to these articles, there are enough news and devotional pieces to justify reading this edition from cover to cover. However, the following articles deserve special attention.

ELLEN WHITE’S CONTRIBUTION TO ADVENTIST DOCTRINE by Kwabena Donkor, an Associate director of the Biblical Research Institute, is authoritative, eye-opening, and a MUST READ!

“It may come as a surprise that in spite of her prophetic status, Ellen White did not have much direct influence over the development of our doctrinal beliefs. For example, the seventh-day Sabbath doctrine came through the influence of Seventh-day Baptists; and the doctrine of conditional immortality came principally through George Storrs, a member of the Millerite movement. The doctrine of the sanctuary, the preadvent judgment, and the significance of the seventh-day Sabbath for the end time came through pioneers such as O. R. L. Crosier and Joseph Bates. The Millerite movement even addressed the three angels’ messages.”

“As a general rule, the pioneers of the Seventh-day Adventist church arrived at their distinctive beliefs through intense Bible study. The period between 1848 and 1850 witnessed about 23 Bible conferences, during which our unique beliefs were forged. At these conferences the pioneers met to study and pray, sometimes the entire night. Ellen White remembers that for a few years she could not understand the reasoning of the “brethren” and the meaning of the Scriptures they were studying. “I was in this condition of mind,” she writes, “until all the principal points of our faith were made clear to our minds, in harmony with the Word of God.”

THE CRACK IN THE ROCK by Nixon de Vera is a well-written devotional essay. However, I have two criticisms. First, de Vera, in his discussion of God’s glory, uses the Exodus 34 account in which Moses must be hidden in a “cleft in the rock” and covered by God’s hand to be protected from His glory because no man can directly experience God and live. There is, of course, another story: “Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel went up and saw the God of Israel. Under his feet was something like a pavement made of sapphire, clear as the sky itself. But God did not raise his hand against these leaders of the Israelites; they saw God, and they ate and drank.” Exodus 24: 9-11.

A more serious concern is de Vera’s warning that anyone, like me, who continually questions of the “validity and practicality of the Scriptures” will be “lost beyond redemption”.

“The Lord Himself discloses that a person’s spiritual downfall involves at least three stages. At first, a typical person, whether Christian or nonbeliever, will have a tendency to live at variance with God’s will or to question the validity and practicality of the Scriptures. As a result, that person will disregard the supreme authority of God and, in essence, live a life of rebellion. In the end, that person will be found guilty and be lost beyond redemption, unless there is a break in this downward pattern.”

If you think I’m already “beyond redemption”, this next review may confirm your opinion. In IT’S ABOUT TIME, Angel Manuel Rodriguez tackles the question, “Are the time periods mentioned in Daniel 12:11, 12 (1290 days and 1335 days) to be understood literally or symbolically? The question is irrelevant, and his answer is unintelligible.

“The reference to the 1260 days in Daniel 7:25 emphasized the time during which God’s people would suffer persecution. Daniel 12:7 emphasizes the moment when the activities of God’s enemies would come to an end. The 1290 days in Daniel 12:11 emphasize the moment when prophetic time begins. In order to synchronize the beginning of the prophecy with a specific event, the period is extended by adding an extra month—instead of 42 months (1260 days) we now have 43 (1290 days). This intercalation allows the angel interpreter to be more precise concerning the event that initiates the period, as well as to its full length. The prophetic period of 1290 days is then extended by 45 extra days, making it total 1335 prophetic years, based on the year-day principle.

“In conclusion, these two time periods are extensions of a well-established prophetic period, and they should be interpreted symbolically, consistent with the rest of the prophecy.”

In my review of the Adventist Review of October 16, 2008, I referred to the following scholarly reference to the Book of Daniel. Adventist theologians and evangelists are obsessed with a book that most scholars believe to be an historical novel. Enough already!

“The date of composition [of the book of Daniel] is decided by clear evidence in Chapter 11. The wars between the Seleucids and the Ptolemies and a portion of the reign of and Antiochus Epiphanes are described with a wealth of detail quite unnecessary for the author's purpose. This account bears no resemblance to any of the Old Testament prophecies and, despite its prophetic style, refers to events already past. . . The book must therefore have been written during the persecution under Antiochus Epiphanes and before his death, even before the success of the Maccabaean Revolt; that is to say between 167 and 164.

“There is nothing in the rest of the book to contradict this dating. The narratives of the first section are set in the Chaldaean period, but there are indications that the author is writing a long time after the events. Belshazzar was the son of Nabonidus and not, as the book says, of Nebuchadnezzar; nor was he ever king. Darius the Mede is unknown to historians, nor is there room for him between the last Chaldaean king and Cyrus the Persian who had already conquered the Medes. The neo-Babylonian background is described in words of Persian origin; the instruments in Nebuchadnezzar's orchestra are given names transliterated from the Greek. The dates given in the book agree neither among themselves nor with history as we know it, for chronology. The author has made use of oral and written traditions still current in his own times.

“The late composition of the book explains its position in the Hebrew Bible. It was admitted after the Canon of the Prophets had already been fixed, and the place to between Esther and Ezra among the very the group of 'other writings' forming the last section of the Hebrew Canon.”

The new Jerusalem Bible, Leather Deluxe Edition, Introduction to the Prophets: Daniel, pages 1177 & 1178.

RECONNECT, RECLAIM, REFLAME by James A. Cress appeared in the February 2009, Ministry Magazine (This article is not currently available online.)

“In North America alone, nearly 300,000 members officially have been removed (and not because of death) from our membership in the past 20 years. That total equals 40 percent of our total membership. . .This equals a total loss similar to that of the ten largest conferences in the division simply disappearing.

“These numbers, tragic as they are, reveal only part of the story. Also thousands of individuals are still on the membership rolls who never worship with other believers—only about 50 percent of all members actually attend weekly worship services.”

Cress suggests “nine principles for reclaiming those who are missing: count, risk, labor, wait, pray, love unconditionally, welcome, restore, and celebrate (Evangelistic campaigns are not included in the list.)

Is this the way the world ends?

Modified from Wulffmorgenthaler, by Mikael Wulff and Anders Morgenthaler
(click to enlarge)

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Reviewing the Adventist Review

March 12, 2009
Vol. 186, No. 7

This is the issue to read if you are wondering what impact the financial crisis is having on the world church. What impressed me about Adventist Church Controlling Costs During Global Financial Challenge reported by Mark A. Kellner was the fact that actual dollar amounts were connected to expense accounts. For further information as to how one conference spends its money, check out How God’s Work is Being Funded in the March edition of the Pacific Union Recorder.

Bill Knott’s editorial, Praying for Alex Rodriguez was one of his best efforts. This Review also contained an insert (along with a donation envelope) advertising an April 11 mission offering for The Christian Record Services for the Blind. This is an official ministry of the Church that has been serving the vision impaired since 1899.

I continue to be bothered by the incessant use of martial references in a Christian context. Soldiers in the army of God fight the good fight against the foe. They march along with prayer warriors brandishing swords of the spirit prepared to wage war against Satan’s hosts. You can imagine my initial uneasiness when I began reading Brothers of the Sword who were “transformed by God into warriors of the Word”. It turns out that reporter Matthew Herzel tells the conversion story of three good-looking brothers who go around doing nothing more violent than planting churches.

Clifford Goldstein rightly chronicles the unjust and morally reprehensible treatment of Jews in his essay, The Infernal Theme. He concludes, citing Ellen White, that at some future time, Adventists, along with Jews, will be persecuted and “blamed for things they never did”. Cliff, don’t you think Adventists are paranoid enough, given the current financial crisis? I long ago decided that I could avoid “violating” a Sunday Sabbath law by staying home and watching sports on TV. There is the need to be persecuted festering in the psyches of too many Adventists. It’s unhealthy.

The following comments might be judged to be “nitpicky”, but words make a difference. So, here goes. In my opinion, James J. Londis, author of Spiritual Gifts in the Modern World, deserves an apology. His attempt to make an important point about spiritual gifts is hampered by careless editorial work. (I cite three instances.) The following paragraph clearly illustrates Londis’ point of view, not withstanding the “etc.”

“Talents in the ministry of the church would refer to one’s personal and professional qualifications, such as good judgment, intelligence, pleasant preaching voice, educational preparation, etc. The spiritual gift of ministry would refer to how one dedicated those talents to the building up of the body of Christ rather than oneself.”

The following linguistic distractions could have been eliminated by thoughtful editorial assistance.

“Spiritual gifts are different. They are not morally neutral. They must always be used for good and never for evil.” (contradictory, confusing)

“A [spiritual] gift does not belong to me but to the church. It has no life apart from the church. It leads not to rivalry, but to mutual support. It is received at baptism, not at birth” (irrational)

‘Even though Paul is diplomatic with his new members, not wanting to unnecessarily discourage or offend them, the point is obvious: the least desirable gifts are those that create friction and disunity, such as speaking in tongues. The “best” gifts—such as faith, hope, and love—unify! And unlike tongues, prophesying, and healing, faith, hope, and love are the most widely distributed spiritual gifts. All members have them, and for that reason alone they are the most important.” (Punctuation is a problem here along with an unnecessary and controversial value judgment.)

Reviewing the Adventist Review

February 26, 2009
Vol. 186, No. 6

This issue is one to share with your friends. Bouquets all around! There are three very special pieces: Adventist Promotes Rwandese Reconciliation in Genocide’s Wake, reported by Ansel Oliver; Charles D. Brooks: Gospel Herald, reported by Stephen Chavez; and “Seventy Times Seven” by Roy Adams.

I know it’s hard to believe, but that’s all folks!

What IS the Right Question?

Comic from Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson
(click to enlarge)

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Reviewing the Adventist Review

February 19, 2009
Vol. 186, No. 5

The cover story in this issue, Like Water Between Our Fingers, by Jimmy Phillips should be required reading for all North American Adventists. We are the financial engine that makes possible our worldwide effort to feed the hungry, provide clean water to the thirsty, shelter the stranger, cloth the poverty stricken, heal the sick, and visit the prisoners.

The Adventist Church in North America is deep trouble. Jesus is clear about our responsibility “to the least of these”. “I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.” He is also clear about the consequences of failure to perform these tasks.

Listen to Jimmy Phillips.
“One in every five Adventist churches in North America doesn’t have a single child or teenager—much less anyone my age. In fact, the median age in these churches is nearly 60—20 years older than the average American.

“As a baptized Adventist since my midteens, there’s a 50 percent chance that I’ll drop out of the church completely by the time I’m 25.

“A quick interpretation of these devastating statistics yields this: today, our church is growing old. At the same time, through lack of cultivation, engagement, and meaningful relationships, tomorrow’s church is leaving . . . like water between our fingers.”

Listen to Pastor James A. Cress
Ministry Magazine, February 2009
“In North America alone, nearly 300,000 members officially have been removed (and not because of death) from our membership in the past 20 years. That total equals 40 percent of our total membership. . .This equals a total loss similar to that of the ten largest conferences in the division simply disappearing.

“These numbers, tragic as they are, reveal only part of the story. Also thousands of individuals are still on the membership rolls who never worship with other believers—only about 50 percent of all members actually attend weekly worship services.”

Phillips makes some salient suggestions about how to make our Church sanctuaries for young adults. (Check out the Center for Youth Evangelism’s recommendations).

I have two further recommendations: reduce the 28 Doctrines to 4 or 5 and relegate the other 22 or 23 to the category of “traditional teachings”; celebrate the theological diversity of mature members rather than making them feel unwelcome in “our community of believers”.

Adventist News and Perspectives is becoming my favorite section of the Review. Hearly Mayr’s report that ADRA is playing an important part in ending the cholera epidemic in Zimbabwe was particularly inspiring. The Changing Face of the Church by Fredrick A. Russell is an eloquent reminder that cultural diversity requires a change in the administrative hierarchy of the North American Division.

When Ellen White’s conflation of the biblical text is used as fact, it undermines the credibility of the Review and Adventist theology in general. In George P. Babcock’s, There is Art—Then There is Art, he asserts that, “Before his fall into sin, Lucifer directed the heavenly choirs and was the consummate artist.” In The Judas in All of Us, Jennifer Jill Schwirzer states that, “This realization [the psychological and spiritual cost of resentment] was probably what finally enabled Mary Magdalene to forgive Simon the Pharisee, who had ‘led [her] into sin.’”

The notion that God ordered the slaughter of entire nation/tribes in the Old Testament because they were evil beyond salvation is another idea that weakens the appeal of Adventist theology. Loyal to the Very End by Thurman C. Petty, Jr. includes this statement, “Samuel sent Saul to destroy the Amalekites. ‘Take no captives, no spoils; destroy everything,’ the prophet said. Why? Because the Amalekites had filled up their ‘cup of iniquity’; they’d gone so far into sin that not even God could save them. God wanted them destroyed so they wouldn’t drag Israel down.”

The careless use of words can jar the reader to the extent that a writer’s message can be diminished or even discounted. Consider the following sentence in Judas in All of Us. “Betrayal is an excellent deterrent if processed in God’s workroom.”

Church members should be actively encouraged to work with and support social service agencies so that when they become aware of human problems, they know how to get help. In this issue of the Review, teenager Hannah Goldstein, author of The Sufferers Among Us, is unable to do more than hand out sandwiches and bottled water when she encounters a destitute woman and her infant.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Ervin and Clifford, these cartoons inspired thoughts of you.

First two comics from Wulffmorgenthaler, by Mikael Wulff and Anders Morgenthaler

Last comic from Rubes, by Leigh Rubin
(click to enlarge)

A Slippery Slope: Next She’ll Want to be Ordained!

Comic from Rubes, by Leigh Rubin.
(click for enlarged image)

Reviewing the Adventist Review

February 12, 2009
Vol. 186, No. 4

This issue is an issue that is generally readable and informative. My comments include one Bouquet.

Mark A. Kellner earned the Bouquet for his editorial, We’re All Lubavitchers Now, and his beautifully written article, Going the Distance: Oakwood’s Delvert Baker Hits Antarctica’s Ice for Fund-Raising Marathon.

Kudos’ to Dorothy Eaton Watts for her reflection, Make Me a Butterfly. Her ongoing struggle to survive cancer is an inspiring account of survival and joyous living.

Clifford Goldstein, I was cheering you on until you used one word in the second-to-last sentence of your essay, The Good News? You said, “All we can do is marvel before the little that language allows us to grasp, and then seek to live our pathetic lives in relation to [the Gospel]. Because if you believe it, what else matters?” The word is “pathetic”. If the human race is “so inadequate as to be laughable or contemptible”, Jesus wouldn’t have created us or taught us how to live as his friends.

I Don’t Wanna Be a Pop Christian by A. J. Church was an OK first draft, but additional editorial assistance should have been supplied. The piece lacks a clear message, the writing lacks discipline, and the organization is confused.

Talk About a Reason to Stray from the Fold!

Comic from Rubes, by Leigh Rubin.
(click for enlarged image)