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    "The Future of Adventism:  Where's The Church Headed?"


                                 (Compiled and tendentiously annotated by A. Thompson)

                                    IBCC WWC (10/95); Kirkland (3/00); Portland (9/00); North Cascades (2/02)

I. Secularization and Rationalization

Once upon a time, Gerald Winslow and Robert Gardner dreamed up an Honors course at Walla Walla College to address the interplay of religion and culture. The basic texts for HONR 349 Religion in a Social Context are still in use, and still classics:

Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (Roxbury, 1998; first German edition: 1904-1905). Weber argues that the secularist tendencies in our culture are rooted in the religion of the Old and New Testaments. The Protestant Reformation sharply focused those tendencies, rationalizing religion and "disenchanting" the world.

Peter Berger, The Sacred Canopy (1967). Berger argues that much of our world is "socially constructed," a product of human activity. [A more recent book from the Free Press may be good companion for Berger. John R. Searle, The Construction of Social Reality (1995), argues that "there are two kinds of facts--some independent of human observers, and some that require human agreement" (Free Press Sociology catalog). He is attempting to counter the "postmodern insistence...that reality exists only in the eye of the beholder."]

Chaim Potok, The Promise (1969).  A novel set within the American Jewish community, illustrating the dramatic clash between traditional religion and secular culture.

Additional sources that document and illustrate the process of secularization and its influence on modern culture:

James Turner, Without God, Without Creed:  The Origins of Unbelief in America (Johns Hopkins, 1985).  Turner argues that the state of "continued unbelief" was not a viable option in American culture until the middle of the nineteenth century.  Worshipping science, the cultural elite narrowed "truth" to include only demonstrable "facts." In Turner's words, "believing in God came to seem -- there is really no avoiding the word -- sinful" (p. 204).

Roger Finke and Rodney Stark, The Churching of America, 1776-1990: Winners and Losers in Our Religious Economy (Rutgers, 1992). Finke and Stark argue that "conservative" churches have always been the ones to grow. In our secular culture, education, sophistication, and wealth dramatically effect the growth curve. The initial line in their concluding paragraph is worth noting: "There comes a point, however, when a religious body has become so worldly that its rewards are few and lacking in plausibility. When hell is gone, can heaven's departure be far behind?" (p. 275).

From the standpoint of a sectarian mindset, "change" can be catastrophic, as illustrated by the effect of Vatican II on American Catholics. In Catholic countries, the authors argue, allowing meat to be eaten on Friday may have had little effect,

"But in a pluralistic setting the observance had been a clear cultural marker and social boundary. When Catholic teenagers at drive-ins on Friday nights counted down to midnight before ordering their burgers, everyone present was reminded who was Catholic and who was not. To waive this very visible rule necessarily raised serious questions about the basis of religious truth and institutional credibility. From the point of view of teenagers and even of some adults, the scrapping of meatless Fridays for Catholics appeared as radical as a decision by the Mormon Church to authorize cola and coffee drinking or one by the Southern Baptists to market beer" (p. 264).

George M. Marsden and Bradley J. Longfield, The Secularization of the Academy (Oxford, 1992), document the process by which religion has been marginalized in academia in America. More recently, Marsden has explored the implications for Christian education in The Outrageous Idea of Christian Scholarship (Oxford, 1997). Mark Noll, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind (Eerdmans, 1994), deplores the failure of Evangelicals to establish a viable intellectual and educational community. A slightly older classic, documenting the secularization process in Europe, is Owen Chadwick, The Secularization of European Mind in the 19th Century (Cambridge 1975, 1993).

Ari L. Goldman, The Search for God at Harvard (Random House, 1991). Goldman was the first Sabbath-keeping Jew to work as a reporter for the Jewish-owned New York Times. Eventually he became the Times religion editor and was sponsored by the Times for a full year at Harvard. Without rancor, the book depicts the impact of secular culture on a prominent School of Divinity in America. The numerous Sabbath-keeping anecdotes are of special interest to Adventists.

Stephen Carter, The Culture of Disbelief (HarperCollins, 1993). Carter argues that the long-standing separation of church and state in America has contributed to the process of secularization.

Ronald L. Numbers, The Creationists: The Evolution of Scientific Creationism (Knopf/Random House/University of California, 1992). Numbers shows how Christians attempted to adopt the norms of modern science to defend religious faith.  He argues that George McCready Price is a key figure in the history of scientific creationism.

Bart Kosko, Fuzzy Thinking: The New Science of Fuzzy Logic (Hyperion, 1993). Kosko suggests ways in which classic binary modes of thinking are inadequate. He opens his book with the striking quote: "One day I learned that science was not true.  I do not recall the day but I recall the moment. The God of the twentieth century was no longer God" (p. xv). And if one wishes for greater humility from scientists (and from us all), the following quote is also worth noting: "There are just too many molecules involved in a `fact' for a declarative sentence to cover them all. When you speak, you simplify. And when you simplify, you lie" (p. 86).

II. Sacred Text

Quite aside from those who reject any idea of God and the sacred (e.g. Lloyd Graham, Deceptions and Myths of the Bible [1975; Citadel: 1995]) attitudes toward Scripture vary widely from a theocentric fundamentalism to an anthropocentric rationalism.  The re-appearance of The Jefferson Bible (Henry Holt, 1995) highlights the religious experience of one who played a key role in separating church and state in America. Thomas Jefferson scaled down his Bible from 773,000 words to 25,000 words (3.2% of the whole), culling the words of Jesus from the "misconceptions" of his followers, words which are "as easily distinguished as diamonds in a dung hill" (p. ix, [1913 letter to John Adams]). The following works provide a sample of the modern spectrum:

On the rationalist left:

John Shelby Spong, Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism (HarperCollins, 1991). The Episcopalian bishop's rationalism is captured in the following quote in which he argues that the virgin birth narratives are not "literally true": "Stars do not wander, angels do not sing, virgins do not give birth, magi do not travel to a distant land to present gifts to a baby, and shepherds do not go in search of a newborn savior.  I know of no reputable biblical scholar in the world today who takes these birth narratives literally" (p. 215).

Uta Ranke-Heinemann, Putting Away Childish Things: The Virgin Birth, the Empty Tomb, and Other Fairy Tales You Don't Need to Believe to Have a Living Faith (HarperCollins, 1994). The extended subtitle from this German Roman Catholic scholar makes her position clear.

Moderate mainstream:

James Barr, Fundamentalism (1977), Beyond Fundamentalism:  Biblical Foundations for Evangelical Christianity (Westminster, 1984 = Escaping from Fundamentalism [SCM (UK), 1984]). Barr is an OT scholar, a former fundamentalist, who usually veils his anger -- but not always.

H. M. Kuitert, I Have My Doubts: How to Become a Christian Without Being a Fundamentalist (Trinity, 1993). A thoughtful presentation by a Dutch Christian. He reserves the discussion of Scripture until the last chapter and opens it with an intriguing quote from G. E. Lessing: "If we are likely to treat Livy and Dionysius and Polybius and Tacitus so respectfully and nobly that we do not put them on the rack for a single syllable, why not also Matthew, Mark, Luke and John?" (p. 279).

Historical development:

George Marsden, Reforming Fundamentalism: Fuller Seminary and the New Evangelicalism (Eerdmans, 1987). Fuller is the best (and maybe only) example of an evangelical seminary that seeks to be open with Scripture (liberal) and affirm God's active intervention in human history (conservative). Marsden traces the history of how Fuller came about and how it has managed to survive.

Alan Wolfe, "The Opening of the Evangelical Mind," Atlantic Monthly (October 2000, pp. 55-76), argues that Evangelicals are finally awakening. Featured on the cover of Atlantic Monthly, the cover blurb reads: "The next Great Awakening may be in the world of ideas, as evangelical Christians seek at last to wield some intellectual might." The subheading to the article itself is somewhat more sobering: "Of all America's religious traditions, the author writes, evangelical Protestantism, at least in its twentieth-century conservative forms, has long ranked 'dead last in intellectual stature.' Now evangelical thinkers are trying to revitalize their tradition. Can they turn an intellectual backwater into an intellectual beacon?"


From liberal to conservative:


Eta Linnemann, Historical Criticism of the Bible:  Methodology or Idealogy? Reflections of a Bultmannian Turned Evangelical (Baker, 1990 [1986]). The remarkable documentation of a Bultmannian rationalist (a PhD in New Testament) turned near-Fundamentalist. Unfortunately, the autobiographical element in the book is brief and cryptic.


The full spectrum:


Charles R. Blaisdell, ed., Conservative, Moderate, Liberal:  The Biblical Authority Debate (CBP Press, 1990). A surprising collection of essays that originated in an in-the-flesh dialogue with representatives of all three positions.


                                            III. Sacred Text in Adventism: The Bible


Proposal of a moderate paradigm:


Alden Thompson, Inspiration:  Hard Questions, Honest Answers (RH, 1991), argues that the source of stability in Scripture is not an inerrant text but an unchanging moral/ethical structure: the One principle of love, Jesus' Two great commands, the Ten Commandments. His model involves a codebook-casebook distinction within Scripture and a shift from "information" to "motivation." Such a model proposes a realistic role for reason while recognizing its vulnerability. Thus the student may approach Scripture with openness and reverence, being "honest" with the text while preserving the "honor" of the text.


The conservative reaction:


Frank Holbrook and Leo Van Dolson, eds., Issues in Revelation and Inspiration (Adventist Theological Society, 1992). A collection of essays that critique Thompson's approach. Free copies of this book were sent to every Adventist church in North America.


Samuel Koranteng-Pipim, Receiving the Word: How New Approaches to the Bible Impact Our Biblical Faith and Lifestyle. Berrien Springs, MI: Berean Books, 1996. A more flamboyant book than IRI (above), but one which makes significant concessions. The footnotes label some 66 Adventist scholars, authors, administrators as being on the wrong side of the divide. Ironically, a change in leadership at RH has meant that the same press which published Thompson's Inspiration, sending it through the full publishing house process, also "markets" Pipim's book, and in so doing, by-passes the very process which led to the "publishing" of Thompson's book.


An expanded sacred text:


Jack J. Blanco, The Clear Word [Bible] (1994, 2000), printed and marketed (but not published) by RH. Written out of many years of devotional study of the Bible, the Clear Word actively seeks to harmonize the apparent contradictions in Scripture. A popular best-seller for RH, CW has undergone several revisions in an attempt to mute criticism of the book.


A restricted sacred text:


Russell R. Standish and Colin D. Standish, Modern Bible Translations Unmasked (Hartland, 1993). A vigorous defense of the "KJV only" position, building on G. B. Wilkinson's Our Authorized Bible Vindicated (1930). For a strident, 690-page, error-filled, KJV-only attack on all modern translations, see G. A. Riplinger, New Age Bible Versions: An Exhaustive Documentation Exposing the Message, Men and Manuscripts moving Mankind to the Antichrist's One World Religion (AV Publications, 1993).


                                IV. "Inspired" Text in Adventism: Ellen White Studies


Although the White Estate has moved to full disclosure, "official" interpretations of Ellen White materials are still quite protective. The availability of the published Ellen White material on disc has opened the discussion. The plethora of anti-Ellen White materials on the Web is sobering. The following "official" publications are important contributions to the discussion:


Herbert Douglass, Messenger of the Lord: The Prophetic Ministry of Ellen G. White (PPPA, 1998). See Alden Thompson's review, "A Kinder, Gentler Ellen White," Spectrum 27, no. 1, (Winter 1999): 58-65. Douglass' book is massive (586 double-column pages, plus 17 pages of front matter), protective, but often helpful and insightful.


George Knight, Meeting Ellen White (RH, 1996); Reading Ellen White (RH, 1997); Ellen White's World (RH, 1998); Walking With Ellen White (RH, 1999). Knight's series on Ellen White and his A Brief History of Seventh-day Adventists (RH, 1999), constitute a useful and readable cluster of books.

V. Divine Sovereignty and Human Freedom

A crucial element in western Protestant communities is the interplay between the anthropocentric (Arminian) and  theocentric (Calvinist) impulses. A key publication in Adventism was Richard Rice's The Openness of God: The Relationship of Divine Foreknowledge and Human Free Will (Review and Herald, 1980), republished as God's Foreknowledge & Man's Free Will (Bethany, 1985). Rice collaborated with Clark Pinnock and other evangelicals in the InterVarsity publication, The Openness of God (IVP, 1994).

VI. Adventist Eschatology

Given the prophetic element in Adventism, eschatology plays a crucial role in the community. A creative impulse is represented by John Paulien's What the Bible Says About the End-Time (Review and Herald, 1994). By contrast G. Edward Reid, in Even at the Door, a book printed but not published by the Review and Herald (1994), comes perilously close to date-setting based on 6000-year-age-of-the-world calculations. Larry Wilson carries such speculations to further extremes with new forms of explicit date-setting.


On the academic side, an intriguing book from the University of Tennessee Press, explores the relationship of Adventism to American politics: Douglas Morgan, Adventism and the American Republic: The Public Involvement of a Major Apocalyptic Movement (2001). The book grew out of Morgan’s doctoral studies at the University of Chicago. Martin Marty was his doctoral mentor and contributes an insightful preface.


                                                       VII. Eschatology Out There


Several impulses are at work in the larger scene which should allow Adventists to do some careful re-thinking and make a contribution:


Paul Boyer, When Time Shall Be No More: Prophecy Belief in Modern American Culture (Harvard, 1992). An historical survey.


Hal Lindsey, Planet Earth -- 2000 A.D. (1994). Continued projections by the futurist-dispensationalist whose books have sold over 35 million copies.


Craig Blaising and Darrell Bock, Progressive Dispensationalism (Victor, 1993). A remarkable re-drawing of dispensational thought by two professors at Dallas Theological Seminary.


                                         VIII. Adventist Theology: Contested Issues


During the final decade of the 20th century, several Adventist authors  attempted to address the theological and experiential difficulties that can spring from Adventist roots:


Roy Adams, The Sanctuary (RH, 1993); The Nature of Christ (RH, 1994).


Marvin Moore, Conquering the Dragon Within: God's Provision for Assurance and Victory in the End Time (PPPA, 1995).


Jack Sequeira, Beyond Belief (PPPA, 1993).


Martin Weber, Who's Got the Truth? (Home Study, 1994).


A. Leroy Moore, Adventism in Conflict: Resolving the Issues that Divide Us (RH, 1995).


                                   IX. Adventist Theology: Growth and Development


Appearing almost simultaneously, two important books trace the development of Adventist theology:


George Knight, A Search for Identity (Review and Herald, 2000) is targeted at the popular Adventist market, but is full of substantive (and surprising!) content.


Rolf Poehler, Continuity and Change in Adventist Teaching (Peter Lang, 2000) is intended for a more academic audience, but is still very readable. It is the sequel to his Continuity and Change in Christian Doctrine (Peter Lang, 1999). 


                                                          X. Adventism in Crisis?


The first serious study of Adventism from a sociological perspective was Malcolm Bull and Keith Lockhart, Seeking a Sanctuary (Harper & Row, 1989). The following are all mainstream Adventists who have addressed the challenges facing the church:

Steve Daily, Adventism for a New Generation (Better Living, 1993). Perhaps the most radical of the current evaluations; argues for a more involved, expressive, mission-oriented church that is less bound to its traditional past. Daily reflects a distinct evangelical bias.


Roger L. Dudley with V. Bailey Gillespie, Valuegenesis: Faith in the Balance (La Sierra University Press, 1992). A largely descriptive analysis of the problems facing the church.


William Johnsson, The Fragmenting of Adventism (PPPA, 1995). An analysis by the current editor The Adventist Review.


Jon Paulien, Present Truth in the Real World (PPPA, 1993). Addresses the challenges facing a sectarian body that seeks to fulfill its mission in an increasingly secular world.


Jack Provonsha, Remnant in Crisis (RH, 1993). A heart-felt analysis by a physician/minister who taught for many years at Loma Linda University.


In addition to the mushrooming anti-Ellen White material available on the Web, some significant publishing developments involve former Adventists. Mark Martin and Dale Ratzlaff, both former Adventist ministers, are reprinting and/or distributing a full spectrum of anti-Adventist and/or anti-Ellen White literature, from D. M. Canright's Life of Mrs. E. G. White, Seventh-day Adventist Prophet, Her False Claims Refuted (1919), to Walter Rea's The White Lie (1982). Of particular interest are the following:


"Seventh-day Adventism: The Spirit Behind the Church" (Grace Upon Grace Productions, 1998 [video]). A blurb on the video jacket promises a "hard-hitting, eye-opening documentary." The contents include strong anti-Adventist testimony from six former Adventist pastors, all of whom have moved into a fundamentalist-style evangelicalism: Mark Martin, Dale Ratzlaff, Wallace Slattery, Sidney Cleveland, Dan Snyder, and Dave Snider. The video even claims that the Adventist rejection of hell is a departure from biblical teaching.


Dale Ratzlaff, Sabbath in Crisis (Life Assurance Ministries, 1990, 1995); The Cultic Doctrine of Seventh-day Adventists: An Evangelical Resource, An Appeal to SDA Leadership (Life Assurance Ministries, 1996). Ratzlaff is a 4th generation Adventist, a former pastor and academy Bible teacher who has become very active in speaking out against his former church.


Jerry Gladson, A Theologian's Journey from Seventh-day Adventism to Mainstream Christianity (Life Assurance Ministries, 2000), documents Gladson's experience with Adventism at Southern Adventist University and after.


                                                        XI. Alternate Publications


While Adventists no longer share a common literature, numerous journals now represent particular positions within the liberal-conservative Adventist continuum. The following list moves (roughly) from the most"liberal" to the most "conservative":


Adventist Today. Published since 1993, AT is critically loyal, representing the Adventist left. It is similar to Spectrum in perspective, but quicker to publish the "news" and often more careless. In the past it has too easily succumbed to the temptation to publish ad hominem attacks.


Spectrum. The voice of the Association of Adventist Forums. It has been a significant force in the church for the last thirty years. It is critical, analytical, left-of-center, and often feared by more traditional forces in the church.


Perspective Digest. The popularized journal of the Adventist Theological Society, edited by Roland Hegstad, a non-ATS member. Hegstad is sympathetic to ATS concerns, but is seeking to nudge the society toward the Adventist mainstream, even publishing articles by non-Adventists.


Journal of the Adventist Theological Society. The technical and theological journal of ATS. The society is right-of-center but claims to be centrist.


Adventists Affirm. A conservative journal published out of Andrews University. It stands to the right of ATS, with its primary focus being opposition to the ordination of women.

Our Firm Foundation. Published by Hope International, OFF is the theological heir to the perfectionism of the "old" Adventist Review (era of Kenneth Wood), though its strident criticism of mainstream Adventism has alienated many who would share its theological perspective.

Pilgrim's Rest. A strident "Adventist" voice (Vance Ferrell), literally from the wilderness (of Tennessee). Pilgrim's Rest has been active in stirring up traditional elements in Adventist against the "compromising" mainstream Adventist institutions, especially the General Conference and Adventist colleges.

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