Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Reviewing Adventist Today

Winter 2010
Vol. 18, No. 1
WWW.ATODAY.COM

GENERAL COMMENT
Unfortunately, the headlines promise more than the editorials and articles deliver.

REVIEWS
J. David Newman’s editorial, WOMEN PASTORS OFFICIALLY ORDAINED simply references old news. The Adventist Review reported that fact months ago.

In Edwin A. Schwisow’s commentary, TURNING THE OTHER CHEEK is a whine about AT being misunderstood for advocating financial reform.

LETTERS was allocated three pages. Unfortunately, the equivalent of one of those pages was taken up by graphics and the appeal for esoteric articles like “When did sin come into existence?” and “Will a person be saved regardless of their views on whether sin and death always existed”. A second “page” was devoted to Des Ford’s theology. Enough already!

IS THERE ROOM FOR MAVERICKS IN THE CHURCH by David Newman is another self-serving whine. “The [SDA] church too must wrestle with the challenge of encouraging the dreamer, learning from the heretic, tolerating the gadfly, and accommodating the maverick, even Adventist Today.”

In WHAT REALLY IS THE REMNANT CHURCH? Harry Allen is given five pages, full-page graphic included, to reveal that there isn’t one. It is “an indiscernible network of affiliates whose names are known by God alone”. In other words, “people who “will be saved at his second coming”. (Mathew 25:31-46, anyone?)

My biggest disappointment is the feature article, LEGALISM OR PERMISSIVENESS: AN INESCAPABLE DILEMMA? reprinted with the permission of The Christian Century, April 16, 1980. L. A. King makes the following quasi sociological argument: Churches inevitably decline from legalistic cohesive beginnings to a collection of permissive “atomistic individuals, each of whom goes his or her own way without taking any responsibility for one’s fellows or accepting any concern from them”.

King believes that when this “atomistic” condition becomes unsatisfactory to “a person or small group”, there will be a spontaneous “new attempt to get back to primitive Christianity”. It will “reproduce the vividness or the original [legalistic] experiences”. This will produce “strikingly spontaneous agreement. No long debate, no rules imposed, little institutionalization, but a striking unity of the Spirit. There will also be a remarkable mutual concern and love for one another”. *

This article doesn’t answer to the question, “Where is the Adventist church on this continuum?” Because this commentary implies that this cycle of legalism to permissiveness is inevitable, there is no suggestion as to how this cycle can be broken. My question then, “Why waste the space?

WHAT DO WE DO IF WE DON’T AGREE? by Don Watson, is pretty simple. Listen, make sure you understand what the other person is saying, and remember, it’s the Holy Spirit’s job “to straighten them out”. Good advice for spouses. Good luck if you’re a teacher or administrator!

Loren Seibold suggests that LETTING ROMAN CATHOLICS OFF THE HOOK is a good idea. “Today religious liberty still has more dangerous enemies than Catholicism—in the United States, perhaps even some of our fellow conservative Protestants.” Earthshaking, this message is not.

I hope Nathan Brown is right when he poses the rhetorical question, DID GOD DIE FOR MORE THAN JUST PEOPLE? with these concluding remarks: “Because we have accepted God’s gift of salvation, we seek that same salvation and re-creation for our fellow human beings, our fellow creatures, and the whole created world.” I hope this is true. I love my dog.

Alden Thompson and I don’t always se eye-to-eye, but on this one we do. MESSAGES TO YOUNG PEOPLE—REVISITED, a compilation of Ellen White’s advice, wasn’t worth revisiting.

RACISM AND DARWIN, a book review by T. Joe Willey, is informative and well written, with one exception. It is not immediately clear that the introductory quote by Tony Campolo is inaccurate. It is included to provide a commonly held misconception that Darwin considered skin color to be an indicator of God’s favoritism when it came to the human genetics. This misstep gets the reader off on the proverbial wrong foot, and slows the realization that Darwin detested the idea.

7 QUESTIONS by Marcel Schwantes is an interview of filmmaker Martin Doblmeier who is currently producing The Adventists, a documentary film inspired by the fact that we Adventists live a long time. The film will be shown on PBS stations around Easter.

ADVENTIST MAN tries hard and is satirically successful about half the time. That success rate isn’t bad when you consider his competition this time around. I’ve awarded him my “E” for effort.


*The argument seems to be that legalism is the glue that holds churches together. If this is true, then Adventist leaders are responding to a real threat to their salaries when they attempt to enforce uniformity of belief.

2 comments:

J David said...

Andy,I always enjoy your writing whether I agree or not. I am perplexed by your review of Permissiveness or Legalism. You wrote: 'My biggest disappointment is the feature article, LEGALISM OR PERMISSIVENESS: AN INESCAPABLE DILEMMA? reprinted with the permission of The Christian Century, April 16, 1980."

First of all it was not the feature article. There were two feature articles listed on the contents page: the articles on mavericks and the remnant.

Second, you wrote,"L. A. King makes the following quasi sociological argument: Churches inevitably decline from legalistic cohesive beginnings to a collection of permissive “atomistic individuals, each of whom goes his or her own way without taking any responsibility for one’s fellows or accepting any concern from them”.

I don't know what you read but that is the opposite of what King wrote. King wrote that religious groups begin with an infective fervor that attracts people but when people join for other reasons than the original reasons the movement begins to lose its fervor. As a result it adherents try to preserve the fervor by developing rules to keep the order. When that does not work a group splits off to be more loving which ends up being more permissive.

You then wrote:
"King believes that when this “atomistic” condition becomes unsatisfactory to “a person or small group”, there will be a spontaneous “new attempt to get back to primitive Christianity”. It will “reproduce the vividness or the original [legalistic] experiences”."

Then you added "legalistic" which is your interpretation of what the original movement was all about. King never said they began in a legalistic way. They only became legalistic when the original fervor began to decline.

The title is the clue: Legalism or Permissiveness: An Inescapable Dilemma? It did not start out with either of those two options. Those simply became the choices when the group could not continue the same spirit with which they began.

Did we read the same article?

J. David Newman

Andy Hanson said...

J. David,
If you look at the maroon strip at the top of page 16, you will fine the word “FEATURE”.

Now to your substantive response. The article uses the history of Quakerism as an example of what happens to Christian denominations. “In their early years (about 1650 to 1690), Quakers were marked by a fiery evangelism and an obviously and radically different style of life from that of their neighbors.” As King goes on to report, “Quakers could by their appearance and way of life be instantly and infallibly identified—even from afar.” In other words, the early community adhered to a strict code of dress and behavior.

Perhaps we read the same article with different definitions of “legalism” in mind. To me legalism means, “adhering to law or prescription”. When the term, “legalistic”, is applied to a religious group, it is not a pejorative term, unless it is used in the context of damning people with opposing beliefs. King simply observes that initially, members of religious groups define themselves legalistically, i.e. very specifically with regard to their beliefs and actions. Over time, these groups inevitably become a collection of permissive “atomistic individuals, each of whom goes his or her own way without taking any responsibility for one’s fellows or accepting any concern from them”. King defines this condition as “permissive” and the religion “arthritic”.