In view of the events that occurred in Atlanta 2010, there are reasons to be less than optimistic about the future of Adventism, and recent events on this forum will probably not disabuse most of us from such sentiments. Yet, I hold out hope that like cream, wisdom will rise to the surface in the end. In the meantime, perhaps it would be a useful exercise to reflect on, and honor the best of Adventism. My own worldview is indebted to it, given that 18 out of 21 years of formal education occurred within the walls of Adventist educational institutions.
Below I have composed a list of points within Adventism to which I give honor, recognizing that each reader would likely draft the list differently. But these are points that mean something to me, points which I admire within Adventism.
1. Education Emphasis
When I look at the superficial and somewhat aimless culture around me, I honor the Adventist subculture for nurturing educational achievement. There are few other denominations that promote education with the degree of urgency that Adventists do, and consequently Adventists have developed a rich professional and intellectual diversity.
2. Stimulating Intellectual Community
Closely related to the first point, is the honor I direct to those towering intellectual giants in the Church who have enriched my life. I have great admiration for the many Adventist professors I have come in contact with who teach students “how to think” and not merely “what to think;” those who stress the importance of all avenues to knowledge—1) revelation, 2) empiricism, and 3) reason. While some live near leading Adventist centers of learning, most do not, so part of my honor goes to forums like Spectrum, which do a wonderful job of bridging the void for people who otherwise would be unconnected to the best of Adventist thinking.
3. God as Creator
While many read Genesis in literalistic ways, I pay tribute to Adventist thought that gives respect to science, yet recognizes the importance of Genesis in capturing something powerfully important to our worldview about the nature of the universe—1) that it has purpose, 2) that it had a beginning, and 3) that it has a certain definable order. While the question of purposefulness is beyond the realm of science, certainly the question of “beginnings” and “order” are not. If we can learn to appreciate this broader point of Genesis, it can remain a continuing blessing.
4. Humans as a Multidimensional Unity
While much of the Christian community has adopted Platonic dualistic assumptions about human nature, I give honor to Adventist theology for its understanding of humans as a multidimensional unity, a view that parenthetically is consistent with the dominant scientific thinking.
5. Atonement Theology in the Context of Cosmic Conflict
Adventists have been debating Atonement theology almost from the beginning. Many seem to be stuck on forensic notions, where substitutionary divine justice is viewed as necessary to adjust the legal status of sinful humans. I honor a number of Adventist theologians who recognize the inadequacy of this approach and have proposed an important role for the cosmic conflict motif, it being understood as part of a divine self-revelation to humanity to redress human estrangement, and to provide rational beings with evidence of the nature and character of the divine universal order.
6. Emphasis on Healthful Living
In the midst of some who engage in petty legalism on matters of diet and health, when people are dying all around us for living unhealthy lifestyles—due to drug abuse, obesity, diet and sedentary living. I honor the best of Adventism that instills the relevant concept of healthy lifestyles, and does so with balance and nonjudgmental sensibilities.
7. The Openness of God
In an age when superstition and utter nonsense are prevalent constructs regarding the divine nature, I have great admiration for Adventist theologians who respect the idea of an omniscient God, qualifying this concept in a way that permits it to pass a basic test in logic—that is, with recognition that part of the future in a moral universe must be unknowable, even for God. To conclude otherwise leaves us with the problem incumbent with traditional notions of God, namely that if he knows in detail all future actions of free moral beings he is logically implicated as the causal agent of sin—having set that chain in motion. In short, we either live in a moral universe, or a determined universe, but not both, and the best of Adventism recognizes this reality.
8. The Consistency of the Divine Nature
When many voices within Christianity think in dispensational terms, the best of Adventist thought recognizes the unity and consistency of God’s actions where “law” and “gospel” are seen as part of the same cloth—that being love of God and love of others—with the law being an emergency substitute to operate until the fullness time afforded a more complete divine revelation to humanity of the essence of the moral universe.
9. Understanding the Nature of Revelation
Assuming that we do indeed live in a moral universe and that some part of this order of things is not discoverable on the basis of reason alone, we obviously need assistance in ordering life if we are to have any hope of merge individual purpose with that of a larger cosmic purpose. But over against the tendency of many to interpret Scripture with an unassailable certitude that is beyond the reach of critical analysis, I honor those who recognize the important role that Scripture plays in addressing our predicament, but do so by giving voice to its very human imprint; acknowledging that all writers were children of their age who could do no more than articulate based on their own experience and culture; open to the prospect of a progression and a hierarchy in the emergence of human understanding.
10. Finitude of Earth’s History
In the face of the larger Christian community where the doctrine of Hell often depicts God as an cosmic figure bent on torturing to death all those who reject his exacting mandates, I honor the best of Adventist thought which recognizes the fundamental problem of referring to a loving God who, incidentally, is also vengeful and sadistic. Those who openly suggest that a loving God could not be like that are often suspected immediately of abandoning this doctrine. The response to this is to point to the scientific community, which has concluded that Earth will one day experience a heat death as a consequence of the Sun’s exhaustion of its energy supply. When that day comes, the Sun will swell into a red giant consuming Earth. The point is, there is an appropriate place for the idea that “Hell” is part of a naturalistic process that eventuates. Considered in this way, the ultimate fate of Earth does not change from that of the Biblical description, but it does have tremendous implications for how we understand God.
Obviously this is a very skeletal outline of my top-10 list that I would hold out as worthy of admiration. While I would advocate each of these points as meritorious, I am mindful that none of them captures the reality in a complete way. As much as I might like to think they each have a correspondence to the reality, in my more discerning moments I am also quite certain they are at variance in certain particulars. To any taunt that “I don’t get it,” I am resigned to acknowledge that in fact “I don’t get it,” however, I do get that I don’t get it. This is humbling admission, but it is the posture we each are eventually forced into when tempted by arrogance and ignorance to pretend that we have cornered the market on a full understanding of reality.