Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Reviewing Adventist Today

Summer 2009
Vol. 17, No. 3

The following two articles strike out. The rest of the issue hits a home run. WHY I AM A SEVENTH-DAY ADVENTIST by John Tangen belongs in the Adventist Review. ISLAMIC CONNECTION: HOW ONE ADVENTIST BELIEVES ISLAM WAS BIRTHED BY THE ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH by Seth Pierce is an esoteric waste of four pages that could be better spent by expanding the not-quite two pages devoted to Letters. Finally, John Tangen's full-page photograph and what amounts to another full-page graphic illustrating Islamic Connection is monumental graphic excess.

J. David Newman's editorial, GEORGE KNIGHT AND THE NEUTERING OF ADVENTISM, sums up Knight's message with the following comment. "Preaching the beasts is much more captivating than simply preaching Christ. We want to be scared, frightened, whipped into shape. Love is not enough. We need a healthy dose of fear." (My own review of “Neutering” concludes this review.)

LETTERS should be the lifeblood of the magazine. My plea to the Letters Editor: fight for at least four pages and limit Desmond Ford to one response.

In IS GOD FINISHED WITH THE ADVENTIST CHURCH? J. David Newman writes, "There is little call to revival and reformation in our [church] papers and from church leaders, but there is much about the progress of the Adventist Church throughout the world, as if the growth of the Church is God's measure of our purpose." Reality, according to Newman, is that the Adventist Church, like Hans Christian Andersen's emperor, has no clothes. "The problem is that no one . . . wants to admit that we are naked, even though we have biblical proof." This article is MUST READ for all Adventists, particularly Church administrators.

THE END OF MINISTRY AS WE KNOW IT by Loren Siebold is another MUST READ. Siebold tackles the issues of GIVING: "Church members aren't tossing their money into the kettle as readily as they used to. They'll still give, but to what they want to, not to what we (the Adventist Church) tell them to;" NEW WAYS OF DOING MINISTRY: "Some changes, like bivocational or lay ministry, have been thrust upon us;" DEMOGRAPHIC REDISTRIBUTION: "The rural North Dakota church I was born into, a few years after World War II, was thriving. Not anymore. It, and thousands like it, are barely holding on;" DISPIRITED PASTORS: "Those [pastors] who went the whole professional route into parish ministry appear especially disillusioned;" A MONEY-SAPPING SCHOOL SYSTEM: "At least one conference I know of builds its whole program around keeping alive a white elephant of a boarding academy, built for 300 but schooling about 50, and has adjusted the number of pastors and the size of its districts accordingly. That, friends, is where our money goes. . .The irony is that I know of few schools. . . that aren't just barely surviving, even with the subsidies [provided];" A STUCK CHURCH STRUCTURE: "All the bureaucratic levels Ellen White knew are still there, and no one seems to be able to subdue administrative office inflation for very long. One reason might be an overriding fear that without a strong hierarchy, churches could become independent and self-sustaining—the dreaded 'congregationalism'."

Alden Thompson tussles with culture in BABYLON IS FALLEN--OR IS IT, and there is no clear winner. "But can we know when truth is enduring and when it is shaped by culture? That's one of the most challenging questions facing the church today. Yet the answer is simple: all truth that can be known by humans a shaped by culture. All."

Adventist Today's readers' survey provided "surprising insights". "Readers are primarily in their 60s, 70s, and 80s. . . While the readership may be very attached to the magazine and very supportive per capita, a strongly homogeneous readership also demands certain kind of coverage that may have fewer receptor points among younger Adventist readers. . .The decision to become a quarterly publication should translate into increasing general interest in the magazine, and potentially more subscriptions. To the extent that new subscribers are younger and well-educated, the publication stands an excellent chance of expansion, growth, and solvency in an improving economy."

7 QUESTIONS FOR RON GLADDEN by Marcel Schwantes is a revealing look and what makes Mission Catalyst a viable and growing network of unofficial Adventist congregations.

I'm personally delighted that Adventist Man is still a feature. I wish to extend a belated thanks to Chris Blake for keeping the Man alive, and kudos to his anonymous successor. (I've always wanted to know when it was the right time to reveal to a friend that the Pope is the Antichrist.)

My review of George R. Knight's the Apocalyptic Vision and the Neutering of Adventism resonates with J. David Newman’s editorial comments and Ervin Taylor’s thoughtful and devastating critical review, NEO-APOCALYPTIC ADVENTISM: VISION OR NIGHTMARE? However, I decided to provide the reader with my own critique.

After reading Irvin Taylor's extensive review of George R. Knight's The Apocalyptic Vision and the Neutering of Adventism, I thought I had better read the book before I wrote a review of his review. While I find myself in complete agreement with Taylor's comment that "Dr. Knight might wish to look to the future rather than the past and envision a broad spectrum of 'Adventists' at peace with each other or, at least, agreeing to disagree without exchanging invectives", I decided to review the book myself, beginning with Knight's own description of his book.

"The Apocalyptic Vision and the Neutering of Adventism is not a slow-paced 'scholarly' book. Rather, it is a tract for the times and a wake-up call based on the gut-level feeling that Adventism is losing its way and the observation that many of its younger ministers and members have never even heard the apocalyptic vision, while many of its older ones question whether they can any longer believe it or preach it." p. 106

There is a great deal of evidence in the book that these words express “gut level” feelings. Knight explains that his use of the word "neutering" is used for emotional effect.

"Thoughts on the word 'Neutering'
'Neutering' is not a nice word.
Neither is the process agreeable, whether it be physically or spiritually.
Some will hate the metaphor,
Others will love it,
But none will forget it.
If so, I have achieved the first part of my purpose in writing this brief book." p. 6

The following comments and phrases reflect the rhetorically sarcastic tone of the book. The effect is a kind of aggressive diminution of anyone that dares to disagree with him.

"Obviously, we have to downplay references that describe Ellen White as 'inspired', since so much of her writings deal with last-day events. But just make her over into a 'devotional writer' and no problem!” p. 12 "Announcing that people should 'fear God' is politically incorrect' in the early twenty-first century.” p. 25 "I am a big-picture sort of person. My approach is to look at the trunk and the general shape of the theological tree. And to put it in a more homely way yet, I pride myself on the fact that I can identify a tree when I see one.” p. 52 "If I were the devil I would tempt Adventists and their preachers to just be nice evangelicals and forget about such nasty stuff as apocalyptic.” p. 55 “Their arguments are "masterstrokes of the human intellect.” p. 17 “They refuse to commit "the sin of Bible study" p. 33

Knight describes himself as an "outsider to the club of the born-in-the-church community" p. 16 and uses words and phrases to demean those in the “club” whose views differ from his own. They are "adjusted to culture", have "nebulous spirituality”, use "politically correct assumptions", and spout "relatively meaningless [religious] fuzzies". In short, they don't speak with Knight’s "sanctified arrogance".

In Knight's religious world everything is black or white. "All religious communities consist of two sorts of members—believers and cultural adherents." p. 9 "If Adventism loses its apocalyptic vision, it has lost its reason for existing as either a church or a system of education.” p. 11 "Adventism cannot escape the dilemma between being meaningful or being neutered. It can't have both ways. p.19 "Christianity is an abnormal religion." p. 21

Again and again, Knight creates "what if" or "straw man" situations that make it difficult for the reader to challenge his argument or propose a different solution to the question posed. For example, if Adventists were "to dump our heritage and beliefs in eschatology/last day events, along with the implications of our historical stance on the prophecies, and focus only on being Christlike . . . what would be our excuse for existing as a unique denomination"? P. 12

Chapter 3, But Don't Forget the Beasts, is a tortured, almost unreadable, explanation and defense of the traditional Adventist prophetic interpretation of apocalyptic end time theology. According to Knight, the books of Daniel and Revelation contain truths about the apocalypse that are essential if Adventism is to regain its virility. "The apocalypse is what Adventism is all about." p. 25 "The plain fact is that if we have only the Lamb of God, we have only half a gospel. . . An Adventism without the Lion* is a neutered Adventism, just as a Christianity without the slaughtered Lamb is a neutered Christianity. p. 24, 25

Occasionally Knight's "mind wanders in strange directions". [William Miller] was responsible for "one of the most fruitful ministry's in mid-nineteenth-century America. His message was the coming of the Lord 'about the year 1843'." p. 34 "Adventism has only one real theological problem—Jesus hasn't returned." p. 59 Referencing the parable of the Bridegroom and the Ten Virgins, Knight notes “that all 10 [bridegrooms] are outwardly Christians". p. 93

Occasionally reason prevails. "William Miller read the book of Revelation like most of us. We grab hold of those things we think we understand and skip over those we don't." p. 35 "We humans maybe more limited then we might weigh and extrapolating heavenly knowledge from the particulars of an earthly model." (specific reference to ideas concerning a heavenly sanctuary) p. 73 "We are truly keeping God's commandments only when our actions flow out of a heartfelt love for Him and other people. p. 48

What must be shocking to every Adventist liberal who manages to read the entire book is that Knight's "ballsy", bull-in-the-china shop "sanctified arrogance" is neutered by his concluding definition of the term, "neoapocalypticism" and his statements regarding the "ultimate message of both the book of Revelation and the synoptic apocalyptic". Holy smoke screen! It looks like under all the fiery rhetoric and name calling there lurks a closet progressive, a fuzzy thinker of nebulous spirituality!

"Neoapocalypticism does not put forth a message of legalism, but one of true worship that takes God at His word. After all, it is the Christ of the Revelation who forcefully claimed that at the end of time He would have a people who are
1. patiently waiting for his return.
2. keeping God's commandments while waiting.
3. maintaining a faith relationship with God through Him (Rev. 14:12)" p. 106

"The ultimate message of both the book of Revelation and the synoptic apocalyptic is that the only real solution to poverty and injustice is the return of Jesus. It is that solution that makes the Adventist message truly relevant to a dying world." p. 101

"Adventists have too long expressed a wrongheaded approach to the apocalyptic vision that has emphasized what is wrong with other churches, fear-mongering, and—worst of all—a fixation on time. Have a Sunday law show up on the horizon, and Adventists get excited. But they all too often have failed to see that time is not where Christ placed the emphasis." p. 101

"Jesus, even though He cared for the outcasts and fed the poor, repeatedly turned away from the social justice path as the primary focus of His own ministry. His message at its core was that social engineering and Christian benevolence would never solve the world's problems." p. 104

The following words reflect Knight's philosophical ambivalence with regard to the Adventist Church, individual church members, evolving Adventist theology, and his reasons for writing this book.

"I used to be able to preach a sermon entitled 'Why I Don't Like Adventists'. And I really don't, but I finally stopped presenting it because it sounded a wee bit negative. . .Not long ago I saw a bumper sticker . . .'JESUS SAVE ME' read the large print. 'From your people' declared the small. I thought the entire blurb might make a meaningful book title. And then there was the atheistic philosopher Frederick Nietzsche, who proclaimed the profound truth of my early years: 'The best argument against Christianity is Christians.' In all too many cases the same dictum would hold for the best argument against Adventism.

"Well, as you can see, my mind wanders in strange directions. But the upshot of my journey has left me with three inescapable questions that have driven my life both existentially and intellectually.
"What is the meaning of life both existentially and intellectually?
"Why be a Christian?
"Why be a Seventh-day Adventist?
I have to admit that I'm not happy with most people's (including most Adventists’) answer to these all-important questions." p. 10

George, speaking as one of the "most people" born-in-the-church Adventists, I'm not at all sorry that my answers to these three questions are not your answers. And it's not my job as a Christian Adventist to make you happy. In this instance, it’s my job as a reviewer to let readers know that the book is poorly organized, carelessly written, mercenary, and in spite of the title, eminently forgettable. And writing as a follower of Christ—inflammatory and divisive.

*"That is where the wrath of the Lamb (Christ) comes in. That is where the Lion of the Tribe of Judah enters, pictured in Revelation 19 is arriving from heaven on a white horse to put an end to the sin problem and its ongoing mystery.” p. 24

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm disappointed in your superficial dismissal of Seth Pierce's article as "esoteric". I can assure you that here in South Africa - the home of Walter Veith and his conspiracy theory evangelism (and in many other parts of the world I am assured by friends in ministry) - the importance of Pierce's article cannot be over-stated. Veith has done (and continues to do) enormous amounts of damage to the SDA Church with his conspiracy evangelism, and I am very grateful that someone has had the time & courage to refute him on at least one point.