Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Will the REAL Adventist position please stand up

I was reviewing the CRI position on Adventism again and it reminded me of how difficult it is to pinpoint the true Adventist position on so many themes. When it comes to the exact Adventist teaching there are several perspectives:
  • Historic/Traditional Adventists (see Ellen White)
  • Evangelical Adventists
  • Administrators
  • Former Adventists
  • Non-Adventists
Each of these has a different source and different perspective. The traditionalists derive most of their theology from reading Ellen White. They have, at a minimum, read the five books of the Conflict of the Ages series. If you want to know their position it is mostly EGW, primarily the "traditional" or conservative parts. They resist those quotations that sound like "cheap grace". Further, they often have read and follow the late Joe Crews.

The Evangelical Adventists span from grace-oriented traditionalists to mainstream Evangelicals. Those leaning toward historic Adventism understand grace and that we are not saved by works, but they can be somewhat schizophrenic by both emphasizing grace and law.

Administrators tend to take a political or marketing approach, and craft their language depending on their audience. At campmeetings, where may traditionalists attend, they speak traditional language. If speaking to a non-Adventist or more "liberal"/Evangelical audience, they speak in more grace-oriented language.

Former Adventists often wrongly attribute all manner of evils toward Adventism, primarily because they tend to group all Adventists under the extremes of traditionalism. Finally, non-Adventist writers will portray Adventist depending on which "camp" they have been most exposed to.

This, of course, makes it very difficult to identify the true Adventist position. If one chooses a traditional/Ellen White position many modern Adventists will retort with "Well, I don't believe that". When they see a refutation of an Adventist doctrine they discount it because they feel that the writer has wrongly portrayed the Adventist position.

Adventists in other countries were recruited into the church through the traditional views and materials (which are still used in the U.S in prophecy seminars). As a result, though the North American church would mostly be happy to permit ordination of women, the much larger world congregations prevent it due to their traditional views.

So, what is the "official position"? 27 Fundamental book? I had professors bluntly tell me that the book should not have been written, is not official, and should not be taken as dogma. Ellen White? Many Evangelicals today simply do not understand the extremes she or church founders took. Current "historic Adventists"? California Evangelicals? Questions on Doctrine?

Each camp will not only hold to a particular position on a specific doctrine, but they will differ in their emphasis. Obviously, Evangelical Adventists tend to emphasis grace more while traditionalists strongly upload the law of God and His requirements. Perfection of character over perfect peace. (I once heard a conservative declare "peace is for the dead".)

So what is the true Adventist position? Ultimately it must be whatever Ellen White clearly taught or affirmed. This is because at the end of the day very few Adventist leaders will dare to blatantly defy her publicly and the traditionalists capitalize on the leverage her writing affords them with many members. How do the more Evangelical handle this? By emphasis. They emphasize what they can support and ignore what they can not or what is unacceptable to Evangelicals as a whole. But in practicing this the "crazy uncle" is still in the attic waiting for another generation to discover him and bring him back to the party.


Anonymous said...

Thank-you for your great summation of all the different types of Adventist.

What I have noticed is that with 13 million members, you have 13 million different understangingd on what it means to keep, the Sabbath, and 13 million different understanding on the legitimacy of Ellen White's gift, role, and relevance.

In every case, no one feels like they are keeping or believing as well as they should or coud.

There is no unified understanding of the Gift of Salvation, or how we access it. I find this sad and an utter shame.


Forrester Footnotes said...

Randy, your name sounds very familiar. Have we met? I'm thinking Madison or possibly TAA but can't may just have a famous sounding name :)

Anonymous said...

I don't think we have met.

As far as I know, there are two Randy Gerbers.

One is married to Cindy Crawford.

And then there is me.

TrudyJ said...

Interesting post, but is this any different from any other denomination? (Note: you didn't say it WAS any different, but the tone of your post seems to suggest this level of diversity is somehow unique to Adventism).

I actually think there are a lot MORE ways to be Adventist than your post suggests ... If everyone had to fit in one of those five boxes I would probably come closer to being "evangelical Adventist" than anything else but I don't think that really summarizes me or my views. I call myself a "liberal Adventist" when I have to be labelled, but I don't really think labels are that useful.

I personally think diversity is great and that everyone's Adventism should be unique. A church that doesn't tolerate different understandings, pursuing different paths -- that's the one I'd be uncomfortable with.

I often have trouble understanding people who are angry at "The Church" -- because the particular type of Adventism they are angry with is one I've never experienced. But there is a lot to be said for appreciating diversity, and recognizing that everyone is coming from a different place.

Forrester Footnotes said...

Trudy - I agree there are many more ways that we could define Adventists. It's the Indian parable of the elephant. Each sees something differently depending on their position and perspective. However, if we pull back our view we see that it is an elephant.

I have lived in many places and experienced Adventism from many perspectives: In all those places I went to our schools and our churches. I have seen everything from liberals who deny the blood atonement and subscribe to more of a "moral influence" of the cross to the critics who deride liberals as the anti-christ from hell. I've known Adventists who are balanced and happy and some who thump EGW and worry that their diet isn't perfect.

I too want freedom to hold my own theological view; it is for that reason that I felt I could not pastor in the Adventist church. I can not affirm our unique Sanctuary doctrine as historically taught and affirmed by Ellen White. I should not have had to defend vicious attacks just for using the analogy that salvation is like fishing: God casts his line and hooks us. As long as we do not take the hook out or cut the line He will save us. That is simply not “cheap grace” – it cost God his life. That is not “once saved always saved” – we can cut the line.

If I had preached this in, say, California I would have been warmly received by Adventists. Preaching it in Arkansas proved fatal. These 5 perspectives are simply broad strokes to discuss how today there are these divergent views on Adventism.