Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Is the Only Difference the Sabbath?

There has been quite a reaction in the last couple of days within the Adventist community about the latest episode of Family Guy, in which Seventh-day Adventists are briefly discussed. You can watch the link below:

Most of the reaction I have heard has been positive, though some have said the clip needs to be watched in its larger context to truly see whether it is positive or negative. I have not yet been able to do that, but leaving that behind, I think the clip betrays a misunderstanding that most Adventists and some other Christians do not recognize. The sentiment of many is that Family Guy does a good job of showing just how silly it is for mainline and conservative Christians to think we are all that different. After all, we essentially believe the same thing; we just happen to go to church on Saturday. (Many Adventists view it as a positive that other Christians are just beginning to realize we're not all that different.) 

I know most Seventh-day Adventists recognize that there are other differences, of course, but these are "minor" differences. Our basic understanding of the gospel, salvation, grace, and so forth, is essentially the same as that of the "typical" Protestant denominations.

But is this so?

I would propose that there are incredible differences between our fundamental understanding of the gospel and the average Evangelical's. Of course, we run the risk of painting everyone with a broad brush, but, nevertheless, in a general sense, the Adventist version of the gospel, I would submit, is more compelling, more powerful, and more heart-changing. This is not to say that we are superior or that other Christians cannot be saved. It's just that our understanding of God's character, His way of salvation, indeed, His love, is a more robust version of the gospel. And, as my dad likes to say, the Evangelical gospel can "save" a person but it cannot "translate" a person.

What are those fundamental differences in our understanding of the gospel and the typical Evangelical's? I realize the term "Evangelical" is a very broad category, but I would like to offer a few key areas of differences between a large segment of Evangelicalism and Adventism.

A few caveats are in order, however: first, I do not want to approach this in an arrogant way. Again, I do not feel like Adventists are superior to any other Christians. I do not feel like we are loved more by God or that others cannot be saved. I do think, however, that, as a whole Adventists have continued the Reformation and accepted "light" that others have refused to embrace. This comes with greater responsibility more than anything else.

This is not to say, either, that we should distance ourselves from our fellow Christian brothers and sisters and say that we should not have fellowship with them. Nor is it to say that we should spend a great deal of our time in our interactions with fellow Christians emphasizing our differences. It is simply to recognize that there are fundamental differences, and picking up a book on the gospel by an Evangelical is not the same thing as picking up a book by an Adventist. So we mustn't assume that it's all right to read a book or listen to a sermon on the gospel by non-Adventists because their gospel and ours is the same (I am not saying we shouldn't read or listen to non-Adventists; I am just saying we should expect - and be aware of - the differences).

Similarly, the reason one would want to highlight the differences is so that we can recognize just how good the good news is that we have in our possession, which should compel us to want to share it with our fellow Christian brothers and sisters. We don't want to do it in a condescending way, but if we have something that excites and compels us, wouldn't we naturally want to lovingly share that with others?

If, on the other hand, we believe our gospel is simply the same gospel and we have nothing to really share with our fellow Christians on the basics of the gospel, we might be robbing them of the fullness and depth of the gospel, which might be the exact remedy to what ails them. In short, if there is no perceived difference, we won't be compelled to point our brothers and sisters to a higher and richer experience.

Secondly, I recognize I am a pastor who enjoys theological exercise, but I am going to try my hardest to avoid overemphasizing theological nuances. The differences I am seeking to point out are core, fundamental differences. 

Thirdly, I want to make it clear that Adventists, along with other denominations, believe that we are saved by grace alone through faith alone. As we will see below, however, we do have a little different definition in many regards to the key terms "saved," "grace," and "faith." So, although Adventists and Evangelicals might agree on that concept at face value, what an Adventist means by being "saved" and an Evangelical means, for example, may be incredibly different.

1. The nature of God. Our basic understanding of God's character, as seen in the Great Controversy (GC) theme, is really the grand metanarrative that binds all of Adventism's beliefs together. While many Christians give cursory thought and attention to the idea of a "good vs. evil" dynamic in the universe, it is really the lens through which we read the whole Bible.

And the theme really brings out a core difference between Adventists' understanding of God and Evangelicals'. The GC theme points out that God is fundamentally other-centered, that He is humble, that He is willing to open Himself up to questioning, that He regards human freedom as more important than getting His own way all the time. Though certainly not the view held by all Christians, the most common understanding of God is influenced by John Calvin, whose God is most concerned with self-glorification and control. Out of this comes doctrines like predestination and a great deal of other self-centered theology.

Of course, many Christians do rightfully reject Calvin's view of God (whether in part or as a whole), but I am not aware of entire denominations that fully embrace the GC picture of God. At the very least, it cannot be emphasized enough how different the Adventist view of God is and most Evangelicals'. When one gets a picture as to just how loving and humble God is - demonstrated, especially, by His willingness to be slandered by Satan and judged by the Universe - one's appreciation of God is capable of reaching greater heights than what one would get simply by consuming the Evangelical diet. (Ironically, in the Family Guy video, the discussion was between an Adventist and a Methodist. This is ironic because of all the denominations, historic Methodism perhaps aligns more with Adventism's theological framework than any other denomination.)

2. The nature of man. Perhaps no verse in the Bible demonstrates the depth of power that the Adventist gospel employs over and against the Evangelical gospel than Matthew 26:38 (which is restated in Mark 14:34). There, Jesus utters to Peter, James, and John, while in Gethsemane, "My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death." It cannot be underscored how significant this passage is in distinguishing the power of the Adventist gospel in comparison with the Evangelical gospel.

Simply put, because of the Adventist understanding of the nature of man - which states that human beings do not naturally possess an immortal soul - the sacrifice of Christ reaches to a much greater depth and, as a result, is able to compel a much greater appreciation. This is not to say that Evangelicals don't have a deep appreciation for Christ's sacrifice, it's just that the appreciation, theoretically speaking, has a "ceiling." This is because, whether realized or not, the Evangelical version of Christ's sacrifice cannot appreciate the total annihilation that Christ was facing when He was in Gethsemane and ultimately experienced at Calvary.

Though most Evangelicals would probably not recognize the logical outworking of their own theology, the fact remains that when the belief is in place that man possesses an immortal soul, it means that Christ's sacrifice is blunted because, ultimately, his humanity never truly met its end. This is why Catholics and Evangelicals alike need to spend so much time emphasizing the physical suffering that Christ experienced because they are unable to comprehend the true sacrifice - the annihilation of His soul - that Christ faced.

And this is one of the chief reasons why the Adventist gospel is more powerful; that the Adventist gospel can "translate" while the Evangelical gospel can only save. When a person meditates upon the implications of Christ's sacrifice, the same Christ whose soul was crushed to death, the appreciation that results from that meditation knows no bounds.

Of course, it needs to be mentioned that there are a significant number of Christians who do not subscribe to the "immortal soul" belief. Many leading Christians are beginning to see the folly of such a view. Yet the fact still remains that no denomination - with the exception of Jehovah's Witnesses, and perhaps a few others - subscribe to the same belief on the nature of man.

3. The nature of Christ. The nature of Christ debate has never truly been officially settled within Adventism. Yet that is, to some degree, irrelevant. Whether one takes a post-lapsarian view or a pre-lapsarian view (or a combination of the two, which seems to be the working understanding of many within the church), our understanding of Christ's nature, and the "risks" He subjected Himself to in becoming man, is foreign to many Christians.

What do I mean by this? 

Let me simply quote Anthony J. Hoekema who, in critiquing Adventism in his book The Four Major Cults wrote this about our views of Christ's human nature: "It should be observed here that Christian theologians have usually insisted that we must not say that Christ could have sinned" (The Four Major Cults, p. 114). 

Say what?

Christ could not have sinned?

I will not get into all the theological issues at play here, and those that contribute to this view, but, suffice it to say, the Adventist understanding of Christ has a greater ability to give one an appreciation - and thus elicit a response of faith - for Christ, His condescension, His humility, and His sacrifice. It is able to bind our hearts closer to His when we realize that when He took upon Himself humanity, He wasn't just playacting and going through the motions. He faced real struggles, real temptations, and the real possibility that He could have sinned. And thus, He "is able to aid those who are temped" (Hebrews 2:18).

4. The nature of the atonement. There are two issues here in this subcategory that relate to Evangelicals' ties to Calvinism. The first is the teaching that says Christ's atonement on Calvary was "limited" (ie., He only died for the elect) while the second relates to the concept of the "perseverance of the saints." A more popular version of this latter teaching, though certainly not condoned by "hardcore" Calvinists, is the "once saved, always saved" belief. The Adventist version of the gospel rejects both these views.

To begin with, we reject outright the idea that Christ merely died for the elect. We believe He died for every single sinner that has ever or will ever live (see 1 John 2:2). Many Christians also believe this idea as well but they may not fully recognize the implications of what that means. Though not embraced by all Adventists, many see the further implications of Christ's sacrifice in the fact that His death has actually affected all human beings, whether realized or not. In other words, though it might be expressed differently by different people, Christ, in a sense, "saved" every human being on some level already. At the very least, He saved us from premature death and condemnation. Indeed, as Ellen White states, we owe Him even this "earthly life" (see The Desire of Ages, p. 660).

I don't believe most Evangelicals understand this.

Secondly, we reject the view that says once a person accepts Jesus one time, his destiny is sealed for all eternity. This is partially why we have the doctrine of the investigative judgment - which ultimately vindicates God's decision-making process as to who should be granted eternal life and who shouldn't.

Thus, what it means to be "saved" is fundamentally different. Being "saved" for Evangelicals is something a person did ten years ago, or when he or she said a prayer last week. Being "saved" to an Adventist is an ongoing experience of continual surrender - which, in many senses, is a lot more assurance-laced than hardcore Calvinists who say that if a person's life is not demonstrating fruit in his or her life it must mean that he or she was not elected by God to begin with. Talk about anxiety!

These are four of the most fundamental differences I see between the Adventist gospel and the Evangelical gospel. There are more, of course, but I will leave it at that. I think these four are enough to demonstrate why the Adventist gospel is more robust, more compelling, and ultimately able to bring a person to full maturity in the Christian walk so as to get his or her eyes off of self and squarely onto God.

For further reading, I might suggest Herbert Douglass's A Fork in the Road, which details the fascinating dynamics surrounding the Questions on Doctrine issue that to a large degree divided Adventism 50 years ago (and continues to do so today, though unrealized by many). 


Charles said...

This a good explanation in revealing the beauty of the true gospel, the everlasting gospel! Charles Rietman

My way said...

Welcome to my blog


Andrew said...

I am so excited I have to comment before continuing to read.

You said:

"Though certainly not the view held by all Christians, the most common understanding of God is influenced by John Calvin, whose God is most concerned with self-glorification and control. Out of this comes doctrines like predestination and a great deal of other self-centered theology."

I am not sure most Christians are Calvinist--although this idea is growing in the Evangelical world at a rapid clip. Certainly I think you are spot on about the difference in worldviews.

However, Many (maybe even most) SDAs do not understand this idea behind the Great Controversy. Adventism (at least the Caribbean iteration I grew up with) is replete with a Calvinist outlook on God and His character.

Emphasis is placed on God's sovereignty and power that is the basis of many religious appeals.

On to read the rest...

Andrew said...

I do not think our church has fully embraced the implications of the Great Controversy to be honest.

The Great Controversy is most often seen in terms of future dark themes in Revelation (and increasingly modern conspiracy theories that are seamlessly conflated with the Spirit of Prophecy).

The character of God should be the primary focus of the Great Controversy and it will, as a result bring about other sorts of changes as well (i.e. in the way we treat people or in our attitude towards the Sabbath).

As a matter of fact, talking about the Sabbath--God's sovereignty is still the primary argument for the Sabbath that we offer. What it says about His character is roundly ignored.

Micaiah said...

"for the sake of your name, LORD, forgive my iniquity, though it is great" (Ps25:11)

"But for the sake of my name, I brought them out of Egypt. I did it to keep my name from being profaned in the eyes of the nations among whom they lived and in whose sight I had revealed myself to the Israelites." (Ezek 20:9)

“Therefore say to the Israelites, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: It is not for your sake, people of Israel, that I am going to do these things, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you have gone." (Ezek 36.22)

Is God really "other centered" in the way that you suggest? The Psalmist is pleading for Gods name to be glorified, and God is insisting His name be glorified. Does this look like the God you mentioned in your point regarding His nature? There is perfect fellowship and love within the Trinity. Isn't it other centered for the Triune God to demand that all creatures glorify Him (other centered within the Godhead and all of humanity)? Is that not best for His creatures, and the very best thing for the universe which consists in Christ? And is it not our very purpose of existence to bring glory to God with our lives?

Shawn we Calvinists look to the scriptures for assurance. The fact is, "all who call upon the name of the Lord will be saved" and that is without exception. The criteria of assurance is given to us in the book of first John. "These things I have written that you may know". I can't speak for all evangelicals I'm sure, but it is not taught in the circles that I run, this idea that salvation is a "I done did that" type of thing. Salvation is dynamic and all of the elements - including perseverance are there! However does that mean that one cannot refer to the time of the new birth as when he was saved? I think the reason you might hear that more in Calvinist circles is that there is an effectual work of the Spirit in our soteriology where we can say as Paul did in Romans 8:30 that "whom He justified, these He also glorified". How shall that cause me anxiety unless I "fail the test" in 1 John?

I do appreciate your willingness to admit distinctions. I think there should be more of that going on - Thats not to say that I think all of your characterization of evangelicalism is fair.

Micaiah said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Shawn Brace said...


I think there are a number of similarities between your view on my view! And I am worried that I might be wearing off on you!! You wrote, "Is that not best for His creatures, and the very best thing for the universe which consists in Christ?"

Yes, I fully agree! God being glorified is the best thing for His creatures. Thus, this is God's motivation in being glorified: our well-being, which makes His desire for glory completely other-centered.

Secondly, you wrote, "And is it not our very purpose of existence to bring glory to God with our lives?" Yes, I fully agree! This should be our aim.

Micaiah said...

You wrote: “this is God's motivation in being glorified: our well-being, which makes His desire for glory completely other-centered.”

Completely? I would agree but not 'completely'. I would say completely other centered within the Trinity. I think there is where we differ. Primarily, God is the proper object of the universes affections I’m sure you would agree, and properly so. All things i.e. rocks, and humans are to glorify him. This is the purpose of creation! God’s glory and love are perfect within the Trinity from eternity past. (btw How would you suppose Gods glory was other centered in eternity past?) I’ll say that God is to the soul as water is to the body. It is best for us to glorify God ‘because’ that is why we were made, therefore the first motive of God is to glorify Himself, the second but probably simultaneous byproduct is that we are fulfilled!

Colossians 1:17 “All things were created through Him and for Him. 17 And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist.”

Romans 11:36 “For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever.”

Shawn Brace said...

Micaiah: now we're getting somewhere! I understand what you're saying now. I agree that each member of the Trinity ever lives to glorify the other members (John 17:4, etc.), and this obviously was taking place before there was any creation.

Thanks for the clarification.

Andrew said...

Which still makes God other-centered; and which also means that there must be a Trinity.

Micaiah said...

Indeed Andrew, here is the difference between the two views. Shawn has shown that Adventists are in total agreement that, "He regards human freedom as more important than getting His own way all the time". This is the basis for Shawns doctrine of God's "other-centeredness". Now we know that God's attributes are transcendant, and unchanging, which means that the "other-centeredness He had in eternity past is identical to what He has now - that will never change (that is the one within His Triune being). I criticized Shawns view and tried to show scripturally that God is "God-Centered" as we should be also. This is not equal to a human acting "self centered" - for we are not the highest and most holy beings in the universe! So when we are God centered, He is recieving the Glory that is due him, and we are fullfilling our purpose - which is best for us. Our being created, His mercy, His wrath, Love etc. are all displaying God's glory in one way or another. As for God being humble that is another, but related issue. I would venture to say that true humility has some relationship to reverence before God - just how that applies to God as He relates to us is the question. The Biblical principal of humility as in Philippians 2 is "esteem others as better than yourselves" - shall God do this? I almost think He would be lying in some sense given that He is intrinsically far better than we; as all should know.

Anonymous said...

Could you please explain further the contrast between "save" and "translate"---as used in your post?

Andrew said...

Micaiah, I will have to disagree.
God was other-centered since eternity and this does not change with our advent here on earth.

In other words, I do nto think it right to attribute faulty/sinful human behaviours (like selfishness or fickleness) to God but declare it to be "good" because (basically) "God can do whatever he wants".

God keeps His own commandments. Selfishness is selfishness and cannot be "sanitized by decree".

In the end it comes down to the Great Controversy. I believe that it is real--and that God is on trial (by His very nature). I also believe that He will win because He is right and love is stronger than selfishness in reality.

God does not have to fix the match to win.

Andrew said...

Put another way, the truth is on God's side.
God is not right by might but by fact--and he is willing to demonstrate this to us because He values our free choices. Free choice is a necessary prerequisite to true allegiance; which is the only kind of allegiance God wants.

Micaiah said...

Andrew, like so many you let philosophy dictate what you believe about God instead of the scriptures. I'm comfortable believing that this universe is God centered - rather than man centered. Your view seems to place man at the center does it not? Whereas The very purpose for our existence is to bring glory to God. Your position is based on "human/human" interaction, which cannot; in the fullest sense equate to a "human/God" relationship. The "rules" so to speak, are centered around honoring God! Therefore when God is concerned with His own glory He is acting quite appropriately.

As far as free choice and allegince; once again the ball (as always) is in God's court. I tend to believe God has free choice - which for some reason is over shadowed, and over powered by mans free choice in your view. How is this? -Romans 9:18 says, "Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens". So according to the apostle Paul the dichotomy is God's. He will either have mercy - or harden, and the scriptures clearly teach that He gets glory from either action.

I'll be up front, I think y'all make God look like a teddy bear. But who kills at the appointed time? Who makes the blind and the mute? Who creates calamity? Who deliberately says things so that some will not understand while hearing every word?

Shawn Brace said...

Anonymous: good question! The distinction between "saved" and "translated" is the two classes of people that will go to heaven when Jesus returns (1 Thess 4:14-18). Both will be "saved" of course in a broad sense, but the first group will be resurrected, while the group that is "translated" will not die before Jesus comes. They will be alive when He returns.

This second group, while fully saved by the blood of Christ, will have a fuller and more mature experience than those who die before Jesus returns. This is because they will have come to the place where they have fully matured in their Christian experience and have been sealed against deception. See Revelation 3:7-22; 7:1-8; 14:1-5. I hope this clarifies it!

Micaiah, thanks for your response. The challenge I see with your thoughts are two-fold: 1) The Bible itself frames the God-human relationship in humanly relational terms. The whole Bible, from cover to cover, has God comparing His relation to His people in human-human terms. That is the only way we can make sense of God.

Consider a few verses:

"And in the wilderness where you saw how the LORD your God carried you, AS A MAN CARRIES HIS SON, in all the way that you went until you came to this place" (Deut 1:31).

"Can a woman forget her nursing child, And not have compassion on the son of her womb? Surely they may forget, Yet I will not forget you" (Isa 49:15).

"When the LORD began to speak by Hosea, the LORD said to Hosea: 'Go, take yourself a wife of harlotry And children of harlotry, For the land has committed great harlotry By departing from the LORD'" (Hosea 1:2).

"And it shall be in that day, says the Lord, 'that you shall call Me 'My husband,' and no longer call Me 'My Master,'" (Hosea 2:16).

Read the whole book of Hosea; and the whole book of the Song of Solomon.

Furthermore: "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her . . . For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church" (Eph 5:25, 31, 32).

Like I said, the WHOLE Bible places the God-human dynamic within relational terms. This is because God is a relational God.

Secondly, when we interact with God it is not simply a "God-human" thing; it is actually a human-human thing, anyway. This is because of the incarnation!

Lastly, you speak about us not talking about God's choice. No one is diminishing this. This is why I ever live to honor and glorify God and ask Him what His desire is; what His will is. I want God's choice to be played out in my life. Yet God, by His own choice, has willingly limited His own choice so as to honor our freedom and maintain the obvious dynamics of mutual loving and committed relationships.

Micaiah said...

I wrote, "Your position is based on "human/human" interaction, which cannot; in the fullest sense equate to a "human/God" relationship. The "rules" so to speak, are centered around honoring God!"

I will assume your last comment to be arguing against this statement.

You wrote: "The whole Bible, from cover to cover, has God comparing His relation to His people in human-human terms. That is the only way we can make sense of God."

True God uses analagies to explain our relationship with Him, but as you know analagies are never perfect. When you get to the end of the analagy in Hosea what do you see? Hosea 2:23 ‘You are My people!’And they shall say, ‘You are my God! As you know, the point of wrong was that they were "playing the harlot" with the Baals. What a perfect prophetic picture for all to see; the picture of the harlot wife. That doesn't portrait a picture of the human/God relationship... in the fullest sense! The analagy seeks to illustrate appropriate behavior of His people as glorifying HIM as God, not Baal.

Another thing to consider is the typological use of earthly fathers, and husbands as they correlate with the Church and our heavenly Father. (emphasis mine) 1 Corinthians 11:7For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and GLORY of God; but woman is the GLORY of man. 8 For man is not from woman, but woman from man. 9 Nor was man created for the woman, but woman FOR the man. 10 For this reason the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels.

With the exception of the last part of vs. 10 I think this picture is pretty clear. It shows, as the woman was created FOR man, man was created FOR God displaying HIS GLORY. The whole Bible begins and ends with the glory of God. If you see the analagies and ignore God's glory, you miss the point! Look at the pleading of Daniel, 9:15 And now, O Lord our God, who brought Your people out of the land of Egypt with a mighty hand, and MADE YOURSELF A NAME, as it is this day—we have sinned, we have done wickedly! God's glory seems infinitely important to Him.