Thursday, February 16, 2012

Reviewing the Adventist Review

February 9, 2012
Vol. 189, No. 4

WORD NEWS AND PERSPECTIVES is an important section of each magazine. I do not report on its contents because it is available at the online address I provide with every review.

I am excited about this issue, because Andy Nash’s, UNREST OVER A REST DAY, argues the official Adventist position on the sacredness of the Sabbath as a holy day rather than an “arbitrary” day in the weekly cycle of seven days. Willie Hucks provides the opportunity to discuss the theology supporting the notion of God’s “permissive will” in his essay, THE MOST DANGEROUS PRAYER. And Carol Campbell’s A PEACOCK AND INQUIRING MINDS touts Adventist approved textbooks that blend religious dogma with science.

As you might expect, I can’t wait to comment!

However, before I get to that, I want to send kudos to Bill Knott. His editorial, MORE THAN A HUDDLE, began to thaw out a progressive Adventist’s winter of the soul.

“Adventist congregations aren’t simply evangelistic huddles, as vital as evangelism is to the overall faithfulness of a remnant people. Our worship, our fellowship, our holding of each other in the dark moments that come to every life are just as fully expressions of our loyalty to the Good Shepherd as are the Bible studies we give or the sermons we preach. They don’t replace the deliberate telling of the story of Jesus, but neither are they only precursors to it. Heaven measures faithfulness in more than converts won or souls reclaimed.

“Praise matters; fellowship matters; reconciliation matters—and when the body gathered in His name affirms these truths, it will find a power in its witness greater than it has ever known.”

Don’t miss THE ANONYMITY OF WARMTH by Dixil Rodriguez. Her columns alone are worth the price of a subscription.  This one is a MUST READ!

Andy Nash’s cover feature, UNREST OVER A REST DAY, begins the discussion with an assertion that may shock traditionalists.

“Sure, some Adventists have put way too much emphasis on the seventh-day Sabbath, as though we invented it. Sometimes the theology has been way, way off. I once visited a Sabbath school class in which the teacher posed this question: “Is it possible for someone to be saved who doesn’t keep the Sabbath?”

“Raising my hand, I said, “I think it’s possible for someone to be saved who does keep the Sabbath.”

“I probably shouldn’t have said that, but I was frustrated by the attitude that keeping Sabbath contributes to our salvation. It doesn’t. No more than prayer, Bible study, living with integrity, or helping abused children contribute to our salvation. We are saved by Christ’s finished work alone.”

Unfortunately, Nash does not follow-up this theological assertion with an explanation of “Christ’s finished work”. Instead, he launches into an argument defending the traditional sanctity of the traditional seventh-day Sabbath.

Nash discusses three passages that “present a challenge to Sabbathkeeping after the cross. Three texts in particular are cited by critics of Sabbathkeeping: Romans 14:1-6, Galatians 4:8-10, and Colossians 2:13-17”. He then uses these texts to make an argument for the official Adventist position on the Sabbath:

“With all of our faults—and we have many—one of the most beautiful things about the Seventh-day Adventist Church is that we are truly Judeo-Christian. We celebrate salvation in Christ alone as taught in the New Testament. We also celebrate our heritage in the timeless commandments written by the finger of God on tablets of stone. This is the new covenant: laws written not just on stone, but on our hearts as well.”

from Romans 14
“Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters…Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand…One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord.”

Paul goes on to say: “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification…So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God.”

The sense of the words is clear. Nash’s argument: “It seems highly doubtful that something as important as the Sabbath would be dismissed so casually” is not convincing.

from Galatians 4
“Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods. 9 But now that you know God—or rather are known by God—how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable forces? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again? You are observing special days and months and seasons and years. I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you.”

Here, Paul suggests that those promoting the “observation” of some days, months, and seasons are an attempt to influence the theology of the new believers. “Those people are zealous to win you over, but for no good. What they want is to alienate you from us, so that you may have zeal for them. “ 

It’s not clear which “days” Paul is referring to. Nash makes his case.

from Colossians 2
“And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.”

The sense of the words is clear. Nash’s argument: “Apparently the expression ‘Sabbath days’ in this sequence refers to some of the annual [Jewish] festivals…Whenever we find the sequence of feasts, new moons, and Sabbaths in the Old Testament, it’s almost always within one particular context: sacrifices,” is not convincing.

Not only do two of Nash’s reasoned arguments fail to persuade, his arguments throughout the piece are officially anathema! *

* The grammatico-historical or “plain word of Scripture” hermeneutic position is (currently) sanctified by official Adventist theologians. (The literal interpretation of Genesis 1 is a good example.) In his defense of a sacred seventh-day Sabbath, Nash employs the historical-grammatical method (the attempt to discover the author’s intended meaning) and historical-critical method (the process for determining the original meaning of the text through examination of the grammatical and syntactical aspects, the historical background, the literary genre as well as theological considerations).

THE MOST DANGEROUS PRAYER by Willie Edward Hucks II assumes that God “allows” tragedy and misfortune. (How is this different from “decides not to protect us from” or “causes”?) Hucks go on to explain that God “allows” suffering because it teaches us to trust God. Tell that to the child being raped, the man whose genitals have just been connected to electrodes, or the woman watching helplessly as her infant dies from malnutrition.

Job asked the question, “Why do the innocent suffer?” God’s reply, “It’s impossible for you to comprehend the answer.” That mysterious reply had to be good enough for Job, and it has to be good enough for thoughtful Christians.

Carol Campbell’s A PEACOCK AND INQUIRING MINDS promotes a series of science textbooks that support religious dogma.

“Learners need to realize that there is no spiritually neutral subject matter, but that ‘every subject area should be taught from a solidly biblical perspective so that students grasp the interconnections among the disciplines, discovering for themselves that all truth is God’s truth’…Using the Bible as the lens for [scientific] inquiry has the potential to transform our Adventist classrooms.”

Sadly, these words were written by the Director of Elementary Education for the North American Division Office Of Education.

As I reflect on the attempt, by an Adventist Professor of Religion, to defend the sacredness of the Sabbath using hermeneutical positions that are officially heretical; an argument, by an Adventist theologian, that suffering is ultimately good for us; and the declaration, by the NAD Director of Elementary Education, that scientific inquiry should be limited to religious assumptions and biblical explanations, it allows me to better understand the following statistics reported in A PASSION FOR REVIVAL: AN INTERVIEW WITH LEE VENDEN in the February, 2012, issue of Ministry Magazine.

“At the present time, up to two million inactively attending and/or former Seventh-day Adventists live in North America.

“Of the nearly 1.2 million North American Adventists currently on the church books, less than 500,000 attend church even once a month.

“Based on the above statistics, for every North American Adventist who regularly attends church, five have either left the church or no longer attend.

“If North America had retained 80% of its own youth  (since its inception), and it only experienced biological growth, there would presently be more than 8 million Adventists in North America.”

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