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Not long ago I had the chance to eat Sabbath lunch with Marco Belmonte and Brad and Dorothee Cole (three founding members of the Good News Tour) at the home of a mutual friend. They sat around the dinner table discussing God’s character and the difficulty many Adventists have accepting the notion that God does not demand a blood sacrifice to satiate divine justice.
Listening to the conversation, I detected frequent references to the ideas of Adventist teacher, preacher, and theologian Graham Maxwell. In fact, the Good News Tour unapologetically adheres to Maxwellian thinking (referring to Graham Maxwell, not his brother C. Mervyn Maxwell).
The Good News Tour preaches an unswerving message of God’s love, and they are coming to Loma Linda University September 5 and 6.
For the Good News Tour, Jesus' death was significant because it simultaneously revealed the ultimate length that God would go to in order to demonstrate love and forgiveness to humanity and the ultimate length to which evil will go to steal and kill and destroy. They reject the notion that Jesus died in order to pay a penalty. “To whom?” they ask. God? Satan? The Law? There is no room in their theology for a God that demands human sacrifice. But don’t assume that the Tour buys into a "moral influence" theory. If you need a label, "christus victor" may fit better.
Adventists in some quarters have had a difficult time warming up to soteriology that denies sacrifice and blood as necessary agents of salvation or that denies a God of punitive judgment. During a Good News Tour stop at Southern Adventist University in Collegedale, Tennessee, Senior Pastor John Nixon of the Collegedale Adventist Church preached a fiery sermon during the second service refusing to back down on the absolute certainty of God’s angry punishment of the wicked at the Judgment.
“God is angry at the wicked, and he will punish them. There is one way to escape his anger—that’s under the shadow of the cross…God is not sentimental and God is not to be trifled with,” Nixon insisted (emphasis original).
That aspect of the sermon seemed a deliberate retort to the content of the Tour’s message that weekend, namely that God is not a God of anger, of punitive wrath or retributive justice. The Tour emphasizes the natural consequences of sin—separation from God, and ultimately death.
Marvin Moore, Editor of Signs of the Times in North America, countered such an idea in the Autumn 2004 Journal of the Adventist Theological Society. Moore asserts that God’s wrath is an active wrath of deliberate destruction, not a passive wrath of handing over to the natural consequences of actions.
If those theological differences seem like significant opposition to the Good News Tour, they are small in comparison to some public responses when the Tour stopped in Portland, Oregon with a controversial flyer announcing the arrival. The flyer (you may have seen it around – even here on the Spectrum blog), created by the Justinen Creative Group, depicts Jesus washing the feet of George Bush, Kofi Anan, Osama Bin Laden, and others. When the flyers went up in malls around Portland, outcry over the thought that Jesus and George Bush would occupy the same space as Bin Laden resulted in the hurried removal of the posters.
In Loma Linda, some war veterans requested that the flyers be removed, resulting in the beheading of all the characters except Jesus so as to make them anonymous recipients of Jesus’ grace. Not all reactions have been negative. The poster prompted praise from Greg Boyd, who you might know from his book “Myth of a Christian Nation.”
Controversy or no, the Good News Tour arrives at the Loma Linda University Church in a few weeks’ time with a fully-loaded roster of speakers: Belmonte and Cole, Alden Thompson, Randy Roberts, Sigve Tonstad, Manuel Silva, Tim Jennings, and Herb Montgomery. The full event will be televised on the Loma Linda Broadcasting Network (LLBN) so that those who cannot attend might still benefit from the event.
If you’re in the area, make plans to attend – I plan to (and it’s my birthday weekend). I especially look forward to the panel discussion on Saturday night and the Q&A time with all the presenters. I want to ask Alden Thompson how the “Old Testament God” (Thompson’s specialty) can wipe out entire nations and people groups in order to preserve a record of Godself in the earth without being a utilitarian God – a God that uses reprehensible methods as a last resort because the end result will be alright.
What are you going to ask?
*After having posted this article, I corresponded with Dorothee Cole by Email. She expressed some disappointment with the way that this article labels the Good News Tour as adhering to a specific brand of theology, adding that the fundamental belief that Jesus is the exact representation of God's character is the glue that binds together the members and speakers of the Good News Tour; their thinking in many ways transcends simple categories.