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God the eternal Father is the Creator, Source, Sustainer, and Sovereign of all creation. He is just and holy, merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. The qualities and powers exhibited in the Son and the Holy Spirit are also revelations of the Father. (Gen. 1:1; Rev. 4:11; 1 Cor. 15:28; John 3:16; 1 John 4:8; 1 Tim. 1:17; Ex. 34:6, 7; John 14:9.)
I see that I stirred up a little discussion about the metaphors for the Trinity. Now we actually get to the Father: our infinite ruling progenitor. Or that’s what I get by trying to summarize the first sentence. One can see, perhaps, why questions of women’s ordination or origins are so hot in Adventism. As a creating father with ultimate power, our official definition of God defines us too.
It is interesting that the second sentence also defines God, but in lowercase. First, He is Potent, and second, God is good. I know that this overly simplifies things, but the first reads like a favorites list for conservatives while the second seems more liberal. Again, there are exceptions, for instance I like the inclusion of Source and while it is a textual reference, I’m not sure what “slow to anger” helps us understand. Is God simmering?
Since the question of the monarchical metaphors got a few folks riled up, let’s lean in to that. God is defined as Sovereign. The reader might notice the Sovereign frontispiece from Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan at the top of this post. In Richard Rice’s contribution to The Openness of God: A Biblical Challenge to the Traditional Understanding of God, he does a helpful job comparing the sovereign view of God with the dynamic open view of God. He defines the later as “love is the most important quality that we attribute to God, and love is more than care and commitment; it involved being sensitive and responsive as well” (15). In this fundamental belief God is not Love, even though 1 John 4:8 is included. While steadfast love gets at the idea, defining God as Love, as the Bible does carries much more impact. As Rice states: “Love is what it means to be God.”
But I’m fine with "sovereign" metaphors if we actually act like we believe it. It seems that the current theological questions that vex us so much are ultimately God’s domain to sort out. I find that most young Adventists are more resonate with language that involves Openness understandings of God. But it seems that those who prefer Sovereign or cosmic monarch metaphors would show they trust in this overarching divine control by not being as worried about sorting out sheep and goats in God’s realm.
As recorded in Acts 8, the Sanhedrin was debating what to do with a few with new thinking—Saint Peter and other apostles. They were teaching heterodoxy in their community. Some wanted to expel them. Others called for their death. The widely respected Rabbi Gamaliel is recorded as saying: "if it be of men, it will come to naught, but if it be of God, ye will not be able to overthrow it; lest perhaps ye be found even to fight against God." That seems to be the logical approach for those who believe in the Sovereign view of God. This is particularly true given the other attributes assigned to God in this belief. As Creator, it is really God’s business to sort out the questions that exist in nature and scripture regarding the story of origins on earth.
In his 1990 book The God Who Commands: A Study in Divine Command Ethics, Richard Mouw, president of Fulller Theological Seminary, asks a very essential question. “When you think about obeying God, which member of the Trinity do you view yourself relating to primarily?” One could also ask the following, when you think of love, which member of the Trinity do you find yourself relating to primarily?
For my final month editing the Spectrum blog I'm reflecting on the 28 fundamental beliefs. In particular I'm asking, is there more to essential Adventist identity than giving mental assent to a belief? Where's the ethical action? Here's number two.
There is one God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, a unity of three co-eternal Persons. God is immortal, all-powerful, all-knowing, above all, and ever present. He is infinite and beyond human comprehension, yet known through His self-revelation. He is forever worthy of worship, adoration, and service by the whole creation. (Deut. 6:4; Matt. 28:19; 2 Cor. 13:14; Eph. 4:4-6; 1 Peter 1:2; 1 Tim. 1:17; Rev. 14:7.)
This is one of the few fundamental beliefs that includes an action element. Out of this understanding of the trinity Adventists should worship, adore, and serve God.
But whenever the Trinity is discussed our language tends to pick favorite Persons. When’s the last time you heard a sermon about adoring the Holy Spirit or even worshipping Jesus? God the Father gets most of the glory. This asymmetrical reciprocity is common to various forms of Protestant theology. Of course, many early Adventists would not be able to agree with this doctrine as written. I don’t want to get too hung up on the history of the Trinity as an orthodoxy signifier or its support in scripture. Richard Rice and Graham Maxwell, among others, have explored the meaning in helpful ways for the contemporary Adventist. In his Thinking Theologically, Fritz Guy called for an update in our language.
The fact is, our metaphors for God are still too rooted in the language of monarchy. Everytime I hear a song or homily praising the King of kings or about adoring our Lord, I have flashbacks to some weird medieval scene in Game of Thrones.
Our language around the Trinity sounds irrelevant and, honestly, not that spiritual. Much of the world has fought off kingly power. A person who needs constant praising and adoration has an ego problem. We make fun of North Koreans calling their dictators "Dear Leader," but then we’re fine with collectively calling out collectively “Dear Lord” or “Dear Heavenly Father” in church.
Given our current state of authoritarian power struggles by Adventist leaders, it’s clear that our language about God shapes our ecclesiology. How we talk about God is how we act. I just don’t see God revealed in the Gospels promoting monarchical or autocratic metaphors. In fact, Jesus repeatedly fought against the attempt by the disciples to force him into their kingly mental mold.
Instead, to Jesus, God was an important relative, a father. Calling God “dad” rather than a king in a culture of empire might be as radically meaningful as calling God a mother, grandfather, or friend today.
Much brokenness is caused these days by forceful efforts to fire Adventist science professors who don’t publicly believe/teach everything in another belief. But as one starts to look through each belief, singling out one doctrine or one academic discipline seems capricious and inconsistent. This Trinity doctrine clearly states that God is gendered and He is male. Should we also fire or disfellowship Adventists who use gender neutral or democratic words to describe God?
Many great theologians outside of Adventism have explored the implications of the doctrine of the triune God. Instead of an authoritarian model, some like Jürgen Moltmann and Miroslav Volf draw upon Eastern Orthodox understandings of the Social Trinity in which God is relationship or that the church is the image of the Trinity.
Moltmann writes in his The Trinity and the Kingdom of God:
If we search for a concept of unity corresponding to the biblical testimony of the triune God, the God who unites others with himself, then we must dispense with both the concept of the one substance and the concept of the identical subject. All that remains is: the unitedness, the at-oneness of the three Persons with one another, or: the unitedness, the at-oneness of the triune God. For the concept of unitedness is the concept of a unity that can be communicated and is open…(150).
If one believes in the fundamental belief of the triune God the evidence is not mere words. The proof lies in ones ability to prioritize divine commune through relationship. God cared so much about humanity that God self-sacrificed in order to reconcile humanity. That broken body of Christ is the church. Now by communing through the power of the Spirit, the believer participates in the divine commune. Thus, this fundamental belief calls Adventists to prioritize the social meaning of the church as the divine presence on earth. The active Adventist does not seek to divide and expel, but rather participates in atonement by understanding and reconciling through community.
For my final month editing the Spectrum blog I'm reflecting on the 28 fundamental beliefs. In particular I'm asking, is there more to essential Adventist identity than giving mental assent to a belief? Where's the ethical action? Here's number one.
The Holy Scriptures, Old and New Testaments, are the written Word of God, given by divine inspiration through holy men of God who spoke and wrote as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. In this Word, God has committed to man the knowledge necessary for salvation. The Holy Scriptures are the infallible revelation of His will. They are the standard of character, the test of experience, the authoritative revealer of doctrines, and the trustworthy record of God's acts in history. (2 Peter 1:20, 21; 2 Tim. 3:16, 17; Ps. 119:105; Prov. 30:5, 6; Isa. 8:20; John 17:17; 1 Thess. 2:13; Heb. 4:12.)
In reflecting on this belief I read all the support texts listed. After all, it is the fundamental belief of Holy Scripture. What caught my attention is that our doctrine of The Text is officially supported by some bizarre prooftexting—eleven verses scattered around eight different books. At first I thought it would be interesting to post the first verse that immediately follows each passage cited above. But that exercise in randomness would have distracted from the point here. As Isa 8:21 says, “They will pass through the land hard-pressed and famished, and it will turn out that when they are hungry, they will be enraged and curse their king and their God as they face upward.”
Yes, that was one of the sentences that immediately follows a supporting text for this belief. It is sola puzzling that scriptura would not have at least three verses in a row in any of the sixty-six books that would logically clarify its role and authority.
Actually, perhaps that is the power of belief in Holy Scripture.
The meeting of the divine and human is random, unpredictable, even surreal. It is an act of divine/human cooperation, which is not logical; it's relational, even incarnational. In his The Powers That Be: Theology for a New Millenium, Walter Wink critiques several models of understanding this heaven/earth connection. He finally settles on an integral model in which the divine and human are “the inner and outer aspects of a single reality” (20).
There are some theologians who sort of passively claim we must wait first for Scripture to act on us. But this is often deployed by those holding one end of the text against some new potential threat to the status quo (see women’s ordination.) This fundamental belief feels like it was written by the half-hearted or a committee. Where’s the love of scripture? It reads like a legal policy to order, define and control. Someone who actually loves the idea of God being revealed in human words would laugh at this cobbled-together definition. As the Black Eyed Peas asked: Where is the love?
Commenting on fundamentalism in The Parallax View, Slavoj Žižek explores this question of active love:
More generally, when I am passionately in love and, after not seeing my beloved for a long time, ask her for a photo to remind me what she looks like, the true aim of this request is not to check if the properties of my beloved still fit the criteria of my love, but, on the contrary, to learn (again) what these criteria are. I am in love absolutely, and the photo a priori cannot be a disappointment—I need it just so that it will tell what I love. . . . This means that true love is performance in the sense that it changes its object—not in the sense of idealization, but in the sense of opening up a gap in it, a gap between the object’s positive properties and the agalma, the mysterious core of the beloved (355).
Love changes. We change by reading the Bible—and the Bible transforms too. Each translation, analyzed pericope, and reading changes the word. It is only the unself-aware who can talk about only a one way relationship with Holy Scripture. These Manti Te’o-esque Adventists can proclaim their object is never changes because they really don’t know what and Who they talk about. Anyone claiming a static scripture shows that they have turned the Bible into an idol and forgotten that it's only God that is the alpha and the omega.
The Adventist is in on the revelation of God. The fundamental believer acts as the Word. "You are my witnesses," declares the Lord.
If Jesus is the Word made flesh, and the Christian is to be like Jesus, then the believer acts a part of the mystery of the Word. This is an integrative, recreative faith. The active Adventist creates a gap and breathes life into the text. The imago dei becomes performed. As a result the Word is resurrected and the active, ethical Adventist becomes more relational, even incarnational.
They are the standard of character, the test of experience, the authoritative revealer of doctrines, and the trustworthy record of God's acts in history.
Image: Barbara Kruger, Belief+Doubt, 2012.
The time has come for me to move on from the daily editing of the Spectrum blog. I will continue to write for Spectrum and stay connected to the community, but I need to free up some space in my schedule for other media and academic projects. Before I finish on June 30, we'll keep you informed about what's next for the blog.
I owe the Adventist Forum board and especially Bonnie Dwyer much gratitude. They supported my interest in starting this blog in June of 2006. It’s been a great seven years. Thanks to your contributions and commitment to conversation the blog has grown every year since. In the last four years, we’ve had 8.3 million pageviews. Of those, 2.6 million pageviews have come just in the last year. We’ve created a community!
Toward that end I’ve appreciated Chuck Scriven’s advocacy for short mission statements and have found Spectrum’s—“creating community through conversation”—to be a very useful guide as the blog evolved over the years.
In growing our conversing community, I am particularly proud of the original reporting that Spectrum has done about ADRA, a certain alleged, conservative sexual predator, LGBT rights, La Sierra University, and women’s ordination. Thanks to your support in reading and talking about these issues and many more, together we have actually made progress.
Telling the truth about these Adventist stories has, I hope, witnessed to a fact-based, historically aware and forward-looking progressive faith. One of the best tests for good or bad models of Adventism is how it fits with various cultures, identities, and generations. Through the last five years of teaching at Pacific Union College, I’ve periodically had young Adventists sit in my office and share their frustrations, beliefs and hopes about our church. Telling them that they are not alone, and pointing them to this online witness to a wider Adventist community has been very fulfilling. Thank you for being and becoming that with me.
One of the first things I edited on this blog was a series of articles on the 28 fundamental beliefs of Adventism. Since my last day will be June 30 I’m going to go out on a challenge to myself. Sure, “the 28” can sometimes seem far removed from day-to-day life in the 21st century, but they remain one of the frameworks for Adventist identity. If there is one thing that I’ve learned from my experience reading hundreds of thousands of Adventist thoughts, it is that belief matters. But I don’t think that belief is enough. We need more ethical action. As I close out my time editing the blog this month, I’d like to sketch out what our fundamental framework might actually call Adventists to do. What are 28 essential Adventist actions?
This was recorded in the Young Adult division at the 2012 Georgia-Cumberland Conference Camp Meeting on the campus of Southern Adventist University.
Pragmatism, an American Adventist inheritance, brings us too often to look for solutions before we have framed the problem. We are accustomed to speeches on different topics presented in self-affirmative ways, that include answers that anticipate doubts. I consider this to be a weakness. I believe we need, first of all, to identify the problem, or, at least, list some of its aspects and categories.
Pluralism is the result of an historical process generating a revival in our believes who are increasingly placed in the field of private choices. Pluralism requires the excercise of tolerance that often we interpret as indifference, in the live and let live attitude, that it's the failure of human solidariety and it weakens the conscience.
The problem between pluralism and solidariety can be extended to any type of social relationship: in the family, in friendship, in work settings, in our neighborhoods and in the church. It's evident the difficulty is in accepting the need for compromise. I think the reason lies in the complicating call to the absolute, which grounds our faith. This leads to a process, even partial, of identification with divine infallibility, causing relational conflicts. This loving, great God who became a man who loved even the dissenters, becomes an inflexible guardian of abstract principles. This is the problem.
The question of truth
In the last century we have witnessed a change in the methodology of the perception of truth whereby reason is no longer the only or major criterion, but individual and social experience are strongly enhanced. All of this has had a significant influence on theology.
Our religious tradition tends to conceive truth as a revelation which is perceived rationally; it is an attitude generally positive because it combines the divine with the human but tends to become absolute, rigid and very prescriptive precisely because of the nobility of the sources from which it draws. Christians are called to follow the “truth of gospel” (1 John 1:6; 2Co 13:8; 1 Co 7:17-24); but it does not come to us pure, but in different cultural contexts and traditions; it is not identified with any specific culture, but we do.
I believe that Christians possess only fragments of the truth and must connect to understand the infinite truth of God. The theologian Jürgen Moltmannsays: "I believe truth to be dialogical for us. Only in dialogue can we discover the truth, because only by being in relationship with others do we build our identity." The idea of owning the truth, sets up, instead, the foundations for a violent attitude, of a mastery exercised in the name of the owned truth. Even today, we can see it in the world which is populated by many crusaders, each one blessing his own flags in the name of the same God. The church, each church, is not escaping this peril. A Christian reflection on the concept of truth I think should consider some elements:
· The idea of truth as horizon, which conceives eternity as the only place of truth, means that no appraoch, neither any path, can assume to identify itself with the truth. Hans Kung says, “ … we, here, now, today, cannot say where, in the last analysis, may be the truth. We are all walking… We are walking only toward the conception of the truth, as it is really, and that will reveal itself only in the end”.
· The duty of the pastor is to put the believers on the path toward that direction, recognizing that it is not a goal to reach, but a life-long pursuit.
· Truth is never ending and it can never be possessed by what is finite. Bruno Forte writes, “… If I would be thinking to have the truth, than I'll think the others to be unecessary, altogether, to my research; if I know that the truth is always overcoming me and that I am only its servant, than anyone is coming toward me is, somehow, a messanger of the truth and my effort is to listen to him and to listen to the voice from the inside that, by him or her, is reaching out to me”.
· Truth makes its way by iteself, never imponsing itself, it doesn't need to be aggressive. Behaviours impose themselves, and sometime need to do so, but not so with faith in Jesus--that is an experience of freedom.
· Christians, in their attitudes towards other religions, have not always taken into account the fact that revelation is an act of God's love and have been disrespectful of others. Adventists have done it as well against other Christian denominations. Within the church, too, often we are shocked by theological differences, much less for moral falls.
· Fundamentalism, even inter-ecclesial, involves a withdrawal into oneself, a rejection of the history and rights of others.
· We must keep alive the tension between truth and freedom. On one hand,freedom questions the truth of Christian revelation; on the other hand, the revealed truth questions critically the freedom of men.
The relevance of the doctrines with human existence
The value of a doctrine, the real truth of a statement, should not be abstractly assessed but based on its relevance to human existence. Human existence is subject to cultural conditioning, relational, social, making it always a little different, sometimes very different from others, even though geographically close. One aspect of pluralism is even this: I feel that a statement of faith is true because it touches my life.
In a society where the value of privacy and personal faith is increasing, I think that the pastor needs to move progressively from the category of outreach to the one of witnessing. The witness shares what he has seen and understood.
We must learn to come tiptoeing into the homes and lives of others and spend a long time to learn about their lives. Those who accept the truth quickly often need to escape from something else and they see the Gospel as an analgesic. We need to make listening more than a tactic. It seems to me, evangelism has tended to create generations of intolerant and superficial believers, a sort of Adventist pasdaran.
Sensationalism and fundamentalism
We should be watchful, because there is risk with authoritarian positions of developing intolerance, of ignorant fundamentalism, of uncontrolled and aggressive emotions dominating the conscience; with the explosion of personal needs at the expense of ethics and of the true prophetic passion for justice in society, which is appealing to human intelligence and sensitivity. The answer to legalism is not the sensationalism that seeks a miracle, but the recovery of the world of feelings, the intense and prudent look to the human existence, the reflection on the pain and concrete joys, a reading of the Bible, that might not be liturgical or literal or exegetical, but that might be existential and meaningful.
Ellen White noted that "when the authentic spiritual life declines, people tend to become conservative, avoiding discussion and worshiping what they don't know". We should, perhaps, establish a framework of fundamental beliefs and observances, leaving the rest to be regulated by the several fields in which the church is divided all over the world. Enlarging upon that is the problem that comes from having the same Church Manual all over the world. I believe that the outline of this gap between an official regulatory framework and its practical application creates more problems than a clear recognition that certain differences do not threaten the unity of Christ.
Adventism is facing enormous challenges, to which its tradition seems to have not properly prepared it. What kind of Adventist church can we see in the future? My hope is for a church built on a foundation that's ideologically identified with the Adventist theological tradition connected by concentric conversations about new and diverse ways to share our values around the world.
—Giampiero Vassallo is the pastor of the Adventist Church in Lugano, Switzerland.
 Jurgen Moltmann, “Chi è Cristo per noi oggi?”, Quereniana, Brescia, 1995, p. 115.
 Hans Kung, “Perché un etica mondiale?”, Quereniana, Brescia, 2004, p.22.
 Bruno Forte, “La fede e il problema della verità”, p.1.
 Ellen Gould White, “Counsels to Writers and Editors”, Southern Pub. Ass., Nashville, 1946, p. 39.
Image: Andreas Gursky, Rhine II, 1999.
The Spanish Adventist pastor and Equatorial Guinea Adventist Mission President, Manuel García Cáceres, was recently expelled from the African country after being accused of being a threat to national security. His wife and daughter remain there with the hope of being able to be reunited again with García, whether in Spain or another country.
García’s expulsion happened very quickly. On Tuesday, May 21, around 3 p.m. local time, the general secretary of the mission, Pastor Filiberto Bugo Isuka, telephoned García that his presence was required in the Office of Religion, part of the Ministry of Justice.
Once there, García was accused of possessing equipment with which he reported to the outside world via satellite about the country’s condition. Arguing that the supposed machine was undetectable by the country’s security service, they classified García as a national security threat.
Such accusations were initially based on the testimony of several people. According to García, the authorities searched his house and office, and the only object of interest that they found was a radio transmitter that still had not been unpacked since its arrival, and that had been sent by the Spanish Adventist Church in Villajoyosa.
According to García and other sources from the country, the radio transmitter had been correctly declared to the corresponding authorities of Equatorial Guinea. Even so, said transmitter served to support the accusation that García reported to the outside world about the country’s condition in a clandestine manner.
That same afternoon, they took his statement in the General Office of National Security (DGSN), withdrew his passport and ordered him to return home.
Also according to García, on the morning of Wednesday, May 22, they returned to order him to present himself to the (DGSN). The Adventist mission had to pay a fine of one thousand Central African CFA francs, about two thousand North American dollars, and García had to be put in prison.
The following day, the Spanish ambassador notified García that the charges against him were so serious that the ambassador couldn’t do anything. He also told García that they were going to deport him to Spain and that given the circumstances, it was the best that could happen. At 7:30 p.m. the same day, García was taken to the airport and from there, left Equatorial Guinea. A little more than a year ago, García had been sent as a missionary to the African country.
García has sent the following statement to Spectrum-Café Hispano by email: “The Equatorial Guinea authorities have nothing to do with what happened, except that they have been used by the person or persons that have falsely accused him to get him out of the way and deport him from Guinea” (translated).
According to the independent watchdog organization based in Washington, D.C., Freedom House, Equatorial Guinea has one of the worst human rights records in the world.