Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Backstory

From Non Sequitur, by Wiley
(click image to enlarge)

Reviewing the Adventist Review

January 20, 2011
Vol. 188, No. 2

The “historical-critical” method of biblical scholarship informed Alex Cortez’ essay, READING WITH UNDERSTANDING. Petra Houmann Howe added an extra-biblical bit of information about Jesus’ childhood in YOU HAD TO HAVE BEEN THERE, and Cliff Goldstein asserted in CONFESSIONS OF A PHILOSOPHER that “unless you can answer the problem of death, you have no answer to the problem of life”.

While I’ll have an observation or two concerning the aforementioned, there will be no separate COMMENTS section in this review.

In TRANSFORMATION, an editorial by Gerald Klingbeil, he argues that “true transformation is a heart issue. It comes from within. It requires a mind-set change—not a change of social, legal, or any other circumstances.

Carlos Medley notes the impact of one small act of kindness in HE MADE A DIFFERENCE.

NEAL C. WILSON PASSES TO HIS REST is a brief, informative, and well written biography of President Wilson. Kudos to Mark A. Kellner.

The title of Melissa Breetzke essay says it all. LET THEM HAVE SEX…LATER.

The illustration that accompanies SUPER-SIZED CHURCHES by Clinton Wahlen is a not-do-subtle indication of how he feels about nonAdventist megachurches.

Note to Editors: In READING WITH UNDERSTANDING by Felix Cortez uses the officially discouraged “historical-critical” method of biblical scholarship* in his effort to share his thoughts in reading the Bible with understanding.

“Epistles are not theological expositions. They are pastoral messages that contain counsels and teachings (as well as greetings, news, and other things), written to produce a specific effect in a particular audience. In other words, they were designed as a solution to a problem or a set of problems. Therefore, in order to understand a letter, we need to understand the situation or the problem it’s addressing. Every interpretation of a letter, or of any section of it, implies, then, a reconstruction of its historical situation.”

* ”The historical-critical method of explaining the Bible, however, puts the scholar or individual above the plain approach of the Scriptures and gives inappropriate license to decide what he or she perceives as truth based o the resources and education of the critic. This type of approach leads people to distrust God and His Word.” Ted Wilson, page 11, Adventist World, September 2010

CONFESSIONS OF A PHILOSOPHER is Clifford Goldstein’s latest installment of his Cliff’s Edge essays. In it he quotes Bryan Magee, an Oxford professor who “was overwhelmed, almost literally so, by a sense of mortality.”

“Magee wrote eloquently about his struggle with meaninglessness, the realization that no matter what he did ‘none of it would make the slightest difference to me or to anyone else when all of us were nothing, as everyone was going to be, including everyone not yet born; …that there was no meaning in any of it, no point in any of it; and that in the end everything was nothing.’ “

“Magee expressed what I’ve [Goldstein] been harping on for decades now: unless you can answer the problem of death, you have no answer to the problem of life. Death ruins everything. It voids all that comes before it. It’s not the great equalizer; it’s the great neutralizer, the great destroyer even.”

Cliff, I see things differently. Unless I can deal with the problems of life, I have no answer for the problems death presents. Life is the greatest gift, and my dead heroes live on in my mind, and they accompany me wherever I go. They provide guidance and inspiration and comfort every hour of every day. I have children and grandchildren who will live after I die. Death doesn’t frighten me. I’m part of an ecosystem in which death makes life possible.

Our separate take on existence my hinge on our theology. Christ’s life is what makes living significant for me--what He taught and the manner in which He celebrated the good and confronted the evil in the world. Christ died because men killed him, not as a blood sacrifice offered up to appease an angry god. For you, it seems, Christ’s sacrificial death is an all-important affirmation that your life has significance.

REKINDLING OUR PURPOSE reflects the outlook of Andrew W. Kerbs.

"I am only 21 years old as I write this. I am young, but I am acutely aware that I am a part of the next generation (and hopefully the last) of Seventh-day Adventists. With this in mind, it leads me to be concerned. Upon graduating from academy, I didn’t know too much about the heart and soul of Adventism. It took personal study and devotion to get me there, a journey well worth the effort, but a journey not shared with many others of my generation, as I’ve come to find.

“And so I state the problem: Though our schools may teach our doctrine, we have lost every ounce of urgency. In other words, a church that touts itself on preaching the three angels’ messages shouldn’t be celebrating its 160th birthday; it should be mourning it! We have lost (or betrayed) our identity and therefore our purpose.

“It is time we wake up. It is time we rekindle the flames of urgency and biblical fervor that once drove our church. It is time we stop riding the fence of compromise and make a choice.”

YOU HAD TO HAVE BEEN THERE by Petra Houmann Howe recounts what she learned as someone who didn’t “fit in” socially because she was a “highly mobile” missionary kid. The essay is thoughtful, and my only criticism is her extra-biblical statement that Jesus “grew up getting picked on and cuffed about by bullies in tough Galilee”.

PARTY UNLIMITED is the story, recounted by missionary to the Philippines Maritess Robles-Branson, about a birthday party for 12 that unexpectedly became a party for an entire village.

In CRESTING JOY, Associate editor Gerald A. Klingbeil shared an experience with dolphins with poetry and a photograph. The experience was “a symmetry of joy”.

It’s Fundamental

Modified from the comic Non Sequitur, by Wiley
(click to enlarge)

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Ted’s moral compass seems to be unreliable.

Comic modified from Pearls Before Swine, by Stephan Pastis.
(click to enlarge)

Reviewing the Adventist Review

January 13, 2011
Vol. 188, No. 1

This issue is pretty standard stuff with the exception of one MUST READ story. It’s I JUST WANTED TO VOLUNTEER by volunteer hospital chaplain, Dixil Rodriguez. The writing is superb, and her account of what happened at 2:00 am in a hospital emergency room will both move you to tears and make you proud to call yourself a follower of Christ. My critical comment regarding WE’RE ALL ONE ARMY will appear at the end of the review.

I UNDERSTIMATED HIS POWER by E. Edward Zinke is a testimony to what happens when you read the Bible with an open mind.

PRACTICING VERSUS PREACHING is a reminder by Wilona Karimabadi that nothing can separate us from the love of God.

The WINDS OF RENEWAL, FLAMES OF REFORMATION by Hyveth Williams is a call “to go where the needs are great” after the inspiration provided by “spirit-filled gatherings”.

I JUST WANTED TO VOLUNTEER by Dixil Rodriguez is what happened when she decided to enter the chaplain certification program. It meant that she committed herself “to on-call hours, 24-hour shifts, and a sacred ministry”. I’ve read the Review for many years, and this is the finest written testimony of what it means to be a Christian that I have encountered. If you don’t have a subscription, borrow a copy of this issue and read this story.

David Asscherick’s advice is PREPARE. PREPARE. PREPARE if you decide to run a marathon. “My marathon quest turned out to be about so much more than personal physical fitness. It has proved more important than toned calves and a lowered body mass index (BMI). It has opened a window to my soul. It has been a call to personal religion and personal revival—alone, in the inward being and in the secret heart. It has been a call to unrushed prayer, undeferred Scripture study, and unfeigned ministry. It has been a call to radical self-evaluation and a thorough spiritual inventory.”

HE CALLED, GOD ANSWERED is the improbable story of Mathew Gamble’s coversion told by Wilona Karimabadi. It begins in Jamaica. “At age 19 ‘I decided to travel to Jamaica in hopes of learning firsthand about the Rastafarian religion,’ Gamble remembers. After two weeks in the Caribbean nation he met a Rasta named Peter who provided him with all the marijuana he desired—including two pounds of the stuff stashed in his bags as he arrived in Miami. Somehow Gamble made it through customs undetected. ‘When I didn’t get caught coming through customs, I started believing for the first time in my life that a power greater than me was looking out for me,’ Gamble says. And in that highly unusual moment, his quest for truth and understanding of spiritual things was born.”

In IT’S YOUR CALL Jimmy Phillips tells us how he ended up writing a column for the Review.

AN APPEAL is an Ellen White recounts the story of Cornelius to encourage members to recognize the financial needs of the church.

Amy Lee Sheppard advises us that BUCKING THE TREND of giving up on our spiritual new year’s resolutions can be avoided if we “stay focused on Jesus”.

Justin McNeilus claim that WE’RE ALL ONE ARMY is a quote from Bill Knott’s interview with Justin McNeilus, president of Generation of Youth for Christ (GYC). I know I’m not in that army, in spite of McNeilus’s assertion that “this movement isn’t “conservative”. I’ve read this article and checked out GYC’s conference speakers and seminar leaders. GYC is also affiliated with Hope Media Ministry. But I’ll let McNeilus try to make his case.

“This movement isn’t “conservative”—it’s Adventist; it’s centered on the Bible; it’s right in the center of God’s will for His remnant church…We want a strong working relationship with the youth ministries of the Adventist Church…We were officially part of the delegation to the Atlanta General Conference session; we’ve been invited to serve on key committees, such as the new Revival and Reformation initiative. We’re meeting and interacting with top church leaders in youth ministries and other departments.”

I’m a survivor of the Missionary Volunteer and Youth Congress movement of the 50’s and 60’s. We too were assured by evangelists and charismatic youth leaders that they were preaching THE TRUTH, that we were living in END TIMES and that our generation was THE ONE THAT WOULD FINISH THE WORK and usher in the return of Christ. Only three of the graduating class of my Adventist high school and less than a dozen of my college companions at Pacific Union College are Adventists. And by no stretch of the imagination would any of us be comfortable at a GYC convention.

Why did the Adventist youth movement of my day fail? Because, over time, irrational doctrines breed cynicism. Because along the way, we met and even married wonderful people who weren’t Adventists. Because we read the Bible rather than the Adult Quarterly. Because calling ourselves “the elect” fostered a kind of egotism that we were ashamed of. Because of the realization that we are going to die rather than “be caught up in the air”. Because of bureaucratic pettiness. Because of the Church’s official misogyny and homophobia. Because we had children and grandchildren whom we loved more than we loved Adventism. Because we could be followers of Christ without being afraid.

What I am saying is that emotional, anti-intellectual, conservative “movements” like GYC don’t accomplish much in the long run in spite of all the hoopla. They are ineffective in achieving their own long-term goals and can be spiritually harmful to the young innocents who blame themselves for delaying the Second Advent.

The Checkup

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

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Psalms 15 Prayer

The Tucson Tragedy: In memoriam

Who will live next to you in Heaven?
Who will be your neighbors?

Those with integrity
Those us do right because it is right
Those who tell the truth
Those who speak well of others

Those who are true friends
Those who treat their neighbors as themselves
Those who do not associate with evil
Those whose lives reflect your graciousness

Those who stand by their word at any cost
Those who loan money without interest to those in need
Those who cannot be bribed to harm the innocent
Those whose characters are honorable

Our prayer today
Is to be invited to live forever
In your neighborhood



Here’s How It Works!

Modified from the comic Non Sequitur, by Wiley
(click to enlarge)

Reviewing Adventist World, NAD Edition

Reviewing Adventist World
January, 2011
Vol. 7, No. 1

Adventist World is free online. For that reason, I only review or comment on articles and editorials that I believe to be of special interest.

If you are caught up in the Ted Wilson inspired, “revival and reformation” prescription for the Laodicean ills of the Adventist Church, this issue is designed to increase your fervor. If you are convinced that the Latter Rain and the Second Coming are imminent, this issue will get you ready. If you are tired of the hype and fear mongering and pious posturing, give this review a miss and write out a generous check to ADRA or a local charity.

If you find yourself somehow compelled to keep reading, I couldn’t help making a comment or two. They follow the reviews.

There are now 15 men and women commissioned as ministers in active service in the IAD and its publishing association. This is the highest recognition the church can give to nonministerial workers.

According to the church’s working policy, whenever an employing organization considers it prudent to offer commissioned minister credentials to any of its workers, a ceremony is held to officially confer upon such a worker this high honor of the organization’s approval of the service of the worker…In order to be considered for the commissioned minister credential, the employee must be in regular standing in the Seventh-day Adventist Church with more than five years of service, and be able to demonstrate proficiency in the assigned responsibilities.

PRAYING FOR THE RAINY SEASON by Bill Knott outlines the content of this edition.

“This special edition of Adventist World is focused on a call to Seventh-day Adventists around the globe to open their lives to a new experience of revival and reformation. Unlike any other edition in the five-year history of this journal, this issue clusters readings and resources designed to call your attention to God’s desire to renew His people.

“ ‘God’s Promised Gift’ (page 8) is a compelling call to personal and corporate revival unanimously voted by the delegates at October’s Annual Council meeting of the General Conference Executive Committee. Read it carefully—and prayerfully.

“Gerald Klingbeil’s devotional, ‘The Nehemiah Story,’ traces the narrative of one of the most important revivals in the history of Israel—with lessons for today.

“ ‘Why Not Now? Reflections on Revival’ underscores the practical experiences and new attentiveness that will characterize any group of believers opening their lives to God’s latter rain power.

“This month’s Spirit of Prophecy selection, ‘True Revival,’ reminds us that the Word of God must be central to every genuine experience of renewal.

“ ‘Revival and Reformation Resources’ offers readers a sampler of biblical material, devotional books, media materials, and Web sites that will call you and your congregation to prepare for the outpouring of Holy Spirit.

“ ‘Already Under Way,’ an interview with a pastor whose church is currently experiencing revival, underlines the simple steps that draw congregations into a new awareness of God’s power.

‘And this month’s Fundamental Belief article, ‘Our Most Urgent Need,’ reminds us that revival and reformation have one world-changing event in focus—the Second Coming of Christ.”

Allan R. Handysides and Peter N. Landless provide a sensible answer to the following question:

“I’m worried about my spiritual health. Our pastor is doing revival meetings, but having folk confessing sins and giving testimonies arouses a sense of suspicion in me that’s disturbing. I feel guilty that I feel this way. What’s wrong with me? Can you give me a spiritual prescription? I do want to be a good Christian.”

“Don’t worry about the methodology someone else uses; become content with seeking God in the way you feel most comfortable. A revival of true godliness finds expression in gentleness, humility, compassion, and caring—a willingness to suffer rather than to hurt another. These are the fruits of sanctification, which is a lifetime of revival.”

HOLY TO THE LORD by Angel Manuel Rodríguez provides an answer to the following question regarding tithe.

Question: “Is it correct to return tithe to any organization or individual who claims to be doing the work of the Lord?”

Angel’s Answer: “In the church tithe is to be used only by those recognized by the church to be God’s appointed instruments in the proclamation of the gospel (1 Cor. 9:13, 14).”

Here’s the text: “Don’t you know that those who serve in the temple get their food from the temple, and that those who serve at the altar share in what is offered on the altar? In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel.”

Andy’s Answer: 1 Cor. 9:13, 14 is Paul’s appeal for support of his mission, not the support of GC Headquarters in Jerusalem. If you believe that the official Adventist Church alone proclaims “the gospel”, then put your tithe in the official envelope. If you believe that other institutions or programs or people are preaching “the gospel”, you have every right to direct tithe money to them.

Ellen White believed that TRUE REVIVAL would stand the test of time. I would be happy to be wrong, but I don’t believe this one will, and the darkness that follows will be “more dense than before”.

“Many of the revivals of modern times have presented a marked contrast to those manifestations of divine grace which in earlier days followed the labors of God’s servants. It is true that a widespread interest is kindled, many profess conversion, and there are large accessions to the churches; nevertheless the results are not such as to warrant the belief that there has been a corresponding increase of real spiritual life. The light which flames up for a time soon dies out, leaving the darkness more dense than before.” Chapter 27, The Great Controversy

A Theological Joke

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

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Perfectionism Personified

Comic modified from Pearls Before Swine, by Stephan Pastis.
(click to enlarge)

Reviewing Reflections on the future of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in North America: Trends and challenges (part 1 of 2)

By David Beckworth and S. Joseph Kidder
University, San Marcos, Texas, United States.
S. Joseph Kidder, DMin, is associate professor of Christian ministry, Andrews University Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary, Berrien Springs,Michigan, United States.
David Beckworth, PhD, is assistant professor of economics at Texas State

D E C E M B E R 2 0 1 0

The information in this article describes the symptoms of a failed theology. No amount of evangelistic fervor or multimedia exposure, no calls for revival and reformation, no Daniel and Revelation bestiary, no fear of "The Mark of the Beast", and no insistence that “we are living in the last days of earth’s history” can stem the tide of educated, thoughtful young people and adults streaming out of the Adventist Church in North America.

“Present Truth”, the foundational cornerstone Adventist theology, requires a commitment to an informed, progressive approach to discovering Truth, i.e., “the way things really are”. Once the idea of “Present Truth” is abandoned, education and educational institutions undermine rather than support traditional, and in the present case, regressive religious dogma.

The most egregious assault on Adventist doctrinal credibility is the insistence of the leadership that the first eleven chapters of the Bible are literally true. A close second is the resurgence of the idea that Seventh-day Adventists along with “other sheep who come out of Babylon” are the “Eschatological Remnant”, i.e., the “saved”. Authority for this assertion is Angel Rodriguez, former Director of the SDA Biblical Research Institute who provided the article and illustration that appeared in the Adventist Review of December 10, 2009.*

The Ministry article validates two of my earlier observations. (1) The officially blessed evangelistic efforts of the Adventist Church in North America are spectacularly ineffective. Their primary purpose is to persuade the membership that the Church is not moribund. (2) NAD functions primarily as an Adventist employer.

My abridgment of the Ministry article begins with the Editor’s Note. What follows are the words of the authors.

Editors Note

This article focuses on the church in North America. We suggest that other parts of the world may want to do a similar analysis and determine how the church is doing in that area. How is the Seventh-day Adventist (SDA) Church doing in terms of growth, finances, and Christian education? We will examine important long-term trends in these areas in the Seventh-day Adventist Church in North America (NAD). The research presented here covers the period between 1913 and 2005.

The conclusions, however, have far-reaching consequences. These trends affect the fulfillment of the mission and vision of the church, its growth, structure, polity, and the finances worldwide. We find a significant departure in most trends beginning in the mid to late 1970s in both absolute and relative terms. The causes of these trend changes and their implications for the future of the Seventh-day Adventist Church will be explored in detail.

Church growth: The big picture
In 2007 the Adventist Church in North America baptized 37,359 people. Yet, as we examine the numbers in context, we find this reality: even as we added members, we shrank.

Membership growth rate

The membership growth rate (membership growth = [previous year’s membership – apostasy and death + converts] / previous year’s membership) in the NAD since the mid-1980s has been hovering around 2 percent or less. In order to exceed the population growth rate and thus experience meaningful growth relative to the population, the church must grow beyond the 2 percent level. In the last hundred years we have exceeded the 5 percent growth level only twice.

The first time was during the First World War in 1917, the second time was during the Depression of 1935. How do we know what is a healthy and meaningful growth rate for the church? It is possible to have a positive rate of growth (any percentage over zero) but still not grow at least as fast as the population is growing. In such a case we will find ourselves adding more members and yet still shrinking relative to the population.

Ethnic composition of the Seventh-day Adventist Church

Not only is the church not keeping up with the general population growth in the NAD, but the membership growth does not match the ethnic makeup of the population.

The graying of Adventism

Another important trend is reflected in what is being called the “graying of Adventism.” In 2008 the median age of Adventists in the NAD was 51 years while the median age in the population was 36. These numbers mean the church is not doing well in keeping or attracting young believers. The church seems to be surviving by the energy and resources of previous generations. But if this graying trend continues, what is going to happen to the church when these supportive generations fade into the sunset?

The ratio of Seventh-day Adventist churches to the population of the North American Division

The NAD had 3,000 more Adventist churches in 2005 than in 1913. The ratio of the general population to the number of Adventist churches has also risen. In 1913, there were approximately 52,000 people in the population per church, but in 2005 there were 65,000 people for each Adventist church. This indicates that there is an urgent need to plant churches if the NAD churches are to maintain their current presence in North American communities.

Church and membership productivity

The landscape of church productivity is changing, mostly for the worse. (In this context, productivity is a snapshot of resources put into baptisms.) Member productivity has declined since 1980. It now takes about 27 members to produce one baptism, whereas from 1913 to 1980 it took only about 15 members. The figure indicates this number is on the rise, heading quickly toward 30.

Pastoral productivity

If pastoral productivity is defined as the number of converts per pastor, then pastoral productivity is on the rise…The ratio of members to pastors has risen from less than 86 in 1913 to about 250 in 2005. This trend became particularly pronounced in the mid to late 1960s. The number of ordained and licensed ministers in the church rose to about 3,500 in the early 1980s and has essentially stayed the same since that time…However, the number of Bible workers and literature evangelists in the NAD is dropping. This trend reveals a potential loss of frontline, congregational workers.

Economic productivity: Total dollars spent per convert

In terms of economic productivity, the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the NAD was spending about $41,000 in 2005 per convert while in 1913 it took about $5,500 (2005 US$) to do the same. This indicates inefficiency in resource management, with much of the donated money to the denomination being spent to support the structural system of the church in its various levels and organizations, nurture members, and sustain our educational system. Should we not be investing more of our resources directly in the evangelistic mission of the church and less in the administration of the church?


Our research shows major disturbing trends in Adventism in the North American Division in the area of church growth. While the church experiences a decline in the rate of church growth as compared to membership and the rate of growth in the population, the church also takes more and more financial resources to produce one convert.

Busting these disturbing trends in the North American Adventist Church will take much more than a few small changes of technique; it will require a reconsideration of our values and methods. In the February 2011 issue we will deal with plausible explanations of the current trends and some suggestions to reverse the trend.

* GOD’S END-TIME REMNANT: WHAT ARE THE PRACTICAL IMPLICATIONS OF THIS THEOLOGICAL CONCEPT? Angel Manuel Rodriguez provided a chart that answered that question clearly and definitely. He also provided the following commentary.

“God has a people in figurative Babylon, and it is our mission to call them out to be part of God’s end-time eschatological remnant (Rev.18:4). These are sincere Christians who serve the Lord in different Christian denominations and even among world religions. They are part of the church of Christ. At the present time they are not a visible group; that is to say, they do not possess the characteristics of the remnant, but it is God’s plan to bring them out of their invisibility through the mission of His remnant people. We can, then, suggest that the fullness of the church of Christ is constituted by a visible, historical remnant people who have specific characteristics, and also by loyal believers who are still in Babylon, in exile. They need to hear the message of the remnant in order to reaffirm their commitment to biblical truth and not be deceived by the dragon and its allies.”

According to Rodriguez, while today “there is salvation outside the remnant”, the final remnant will all be Seventh-day Adventists.

“Constructive” Critics Beware

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