Thursday, June 28, 2012

Reviewing Adventist Today

May-June, 2012
Vol. 20, No. 3

I read the issue in our dentist’s waiting room—66 minutes—while my wife was sedated for a complicated tooth extraction. The only memorable piece was written by Adventist Man—his best performance in memory. If he hadn’t come through, I, a long time subscriber and passionate supporter, might have asked the receptionist if I could use their shredder. I had contemplated phoning my doctor for antidepressant medication. Aw well, on with this painful business.

In his editorial, CONFLICTS ARE BETWEEN PEOPLE, J. David Newman offers a general definition of conflict that is in conflict with common sense and dictionary definition when he asserts that conflicts only occur within people and require desperate states of mind in which persons feel their self-esteem is endangered to the point that they think something drastic must be done in order to restore their self-respect…feelings and thoughts that exist inside persons, not outside them…always involve disagreement, but with hostility.

This premise turns what might have been a brilliant use of the moral confrontation between Shimei and David (2 Samuel. 16:5-11) into psychobabble. In this confrontation, Shimei is distraught and grieving to the point of provoking a suicidal confrontation with David. David is forced to recognize that his actions, the politically expedient execution of members of Saul’s family, are murder, and that Shimei’s condemnation and stone throwing, is a message from God. David is humbled, and by allowing Shimie to live, publically acknowledges his guilt and asks God for forgiveness. Moral: Don’t confuse the messenger, no matter how unkempt and unpleasant, with the message.

BINGO, RAFFLE TICKETS, AND PLEDGE DRIVES by Chester Hitchcock is a cautionary tale about committing monetary resources to church projects that put your livelihood at risk. This article should have been edited down to one page. However, Hitchcock offers some sound principles to consider before pledging money for anything.

  • Avoid appeals that pressure people to make pledges beyond their means.
  • Inform those who wish to make a pledge that it is not a sin to make a pledge, but it is a sin to fail to pay it.
  • Instruct people to give according to God’s design—through systematic giving. Like tithes, systematic offerings are based on actual—not future—income.

THE JESUS CENTERED LIFE by Joe Kidder  is a paean to a church that existed only in the imaginations of folks who love to talk about “the good old days” and use trite phrases like “the Jesus–centered life” and refer to the Holy Spirit as “the empowering agent” to inspire devotional responses in their readers. It’s as if these writers have no conception of the human foibles and organizational difficulties Paul experienced in ministering to his wayward congregations. Kidder’s descriptions may describe “the church we long for,” but a realistic portrayal of the problems of the Early Church would go a long way toward helping the reader understand that church has always been the proper place for sinners, not the residence of the people described in this article.

The life and example of the early church is a picture of the Lordship of Christ ruling over every area of life—religious, secular, emotional, and physical. It is the integration and balance of the individual and the corporate, the theological and the practical, the internal and the external, God and others, but always with Jesus in the center… These first believers had an intense passion for God. Their souls were preoccupied with his kingdom, his purpose, his love, his creation, his people, and his vision for the world.

APOCALYPTIC OR PROPHETIC? by Richard Coffen makes the distinction between prophetic and apocalyptic this way: prophetic theodicy explains: You suffer because you’re bad; therefore, repent and God will repent. Apocalyptic theodicy tells you: You suffer because you’re good; therefore, wait for divine deliverance. Unfortunately, these definitions are about as helpful in confronting suffering and evil as were the speeches of Job’s friends.

Coffen argues that  Maybe, just maybe, the wise among us should adopt an agnostic attitude when it comes to theodicies. (1) If the existence of suffering is a consequence of evil, and (2) if the existence of evil is inexplicable, inexplicable (Ellen White proposes that this is the case because explaining evil entails defending it), then (3) suffering is just as much a mystery as is evil.

THE CAREER OF THE UNKNOWN PROPHET was disappointment. Benjamin J. Baker revealed very little of William Foy’s career and nothing whatsoever of what he prophesied.

FROM PUSHING DOPE TO PUSHING HOPE—IN JESUS by Greg Sereda is the story of a man who spent eight years in prison for drug trafficking and gun possession and became a Seventh-day Adventist while he was incarcerated. He is adamant about sharing his faith. Happily there is no shortage of opportunities to do so, since I have been deported to a predominantly Catholic country: Poland.

SABBATH MUSINGS an eBook by United Church of God, 2012. It purports to provide exhaustive proof that Sabbath is the seventh-day of the week. When outsiders agree with us about Sabbath keeping, we seem to forgive their sometimes tortured and unsophisticated arguments.  Mike Fortune adds CURRENT SABBATH APOLOGETICS as a short, concluding essay.

Alden Thompson continues to beat his dead theological horse with his essay, DOLLARS, CANDY BARS, AND TACKS UNDER THE WRISTS. He uses the analogy of different piano teachers. Some punish to get results; other use dollars and candy bars. According to Alden, in the Old Testament, God punished to get results. In the New, he used grace. (At least he didn’t use one of his most notable sayings: In the Old Testament He came to kill; in the New Testament He came to save).

Note that this “new” covenant is an Old Testament promise for Old Testament people. It’s not Old Testament law (Sinai) and New Testament grace (Golgotha). God always saves by grace, and law is always his gracious gift. But en route to the ideal, some get dollars and candy bars, while others get tacks under the wrists—and, as we all know, the Old Testament has lots of tacks.

Usually, I complain about the paucity of space devoted to LETTERS. Not this time. The previous issue didn’t contain much to reflect on.

Just before my wife managed to separate herself from the dental chair and walk carefully into our dentist’s waiting room, I had a pleasant surprise. Adventist Man came through with a marvelously witty and sly piece called THE PERFECT PASTOR. If you aren’t a subscriber, you are going to miss the most original, well-written, intelligent piece in the issue.

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