The gospel According to John invites us to enter an environment quite different from the one we have become accustomed to in the synoptic gospels. In these gospels Jesus preaches about the kingdom of God by means of parables that describe activities and objects of everyday village life. In According to John, as we have already pointed out in previous columns, Jesus preaches himself as the One Sent by the Father. His message is “I Am”.
Sunday morning delegates to North American Division year-end meetings addressed the Great Controversy Project, a favorite initiative of the General Conference President, Ted Wilson. The project involves raising the money and finding the will for mass distribution of Ellen White’s famous book, and many NAD leaders appear to have mixed feelings about it.
“Hope and Wholeness.” That, in a phrase, is what the North American Division has embraced as its mission.
Friday morning the North American Division year-end meeting began with a reading of world Adventism’s current mission statement, an admirable if somewhat conventional document of about a paragraph in length. Then NAD President Dan Jackson introduced a summary version that would express, for North America, the kernel of the world church’s statement.
It was my mentor, Dr. Jack Provansha, who introduced me to Hans Kung, a Catholic theologian from the University of Tubingen. (1) Having read Kung, (and not being struck dead by lightening) I went on to read other serious Catholic theologians such as John Wijngaards, Karl Rahner, Edward Schillebeeck, Anthony Tambasco and more devotional writers such as Father John Powell. I discovered the novels and the ‘who-done-it’s’ by the Catholic sociologist, Andrew Greeley and found these to be a great source for understanding the cultural context of Catholicism.
In the first church where I served as a pastoral intern, Carmen and I always chuckled when we heard in Sabbath School classes the assertion that before the time of the end Billy Graham would accept the Sabbath and join the Seventh-day Adventist church. I don’t know the origin of this story (I suspect Emilio Knechtle who was, I think, acquainted with Graham) but it was stated as a fact. It was mentioned frequently, and never questioned: people simply nodded as though it were something every Adventist knew.
The other day I found in a second hand book store a copy of Felipe Fernández-Armesto’s Truth. The title and the author caught my attention so I bought it, and I am reading it. Fernández-Armesto does not pretend to tell his readers what truth is. His purpose is to show how through the centuries human beings have searched ways to distinguish truth from falsehood. He has written a history of the search for truth.
Consider this thought experiment:
You are placed in a time machine and transported back to Bethlehem shortly after Jesus’s birth. You enter the stable and see Jesus, Mary and Joseph, and perhaps a few shepherds. Approaching the baby you kneel and gently ask Him (in your native, modern, non-Aramaic language): “Dear Jesus, What are the solutions to the equation: 3x4 + 20x2 + 50 = 2x4 + 5x2 -4?”
What response do you think you might get?
Throughout his ministry Jesus deliberately and intentionally broke and challenged societal stereotypes and cultural taboos. He spoke to women publically; he encouraged women to speak out publically. He taught women equally with men; he gave them the Spirit of understanding and freedom to study. The apostle chosen by him to take the news of the resurrection to the disciples was a woman. “Go and tell,” he said to Mary.
This past spring Navy chaplain Lieutenant Commander Nathan Solomon learned that the Taliban had convinced local Afghani citizens that the Afghan soldiers deployed alongside Americans on a base in Helmand province weren’t Muslims. It wasn’t true, of course. But the rumor was destabilizing, for the purpose of the joint deployment is to build the citizens’ trust in the Afghan military so they can eventually be left in charge.
The prophets of Israel gave to Western Civilization its orientation toward the future. They were the ones who diagnosed the need for a radical change from the status quo, and predicted that this change would come in the future. Traditional societies were anchored in the annual natural cycle. Life was to be lived in conformity with the constant repetition of the vital cycle in nature.
Back when I was a boy it was a fashion in the Adventist press to embed Bible studies in stories. Pacific Press badged theirs “Stories that Win.” And they did. Perhaps you remember The Marked Bible by Charles Lindsay Taylor, still in print in the millions of copies, or Frank Steunenberg’s Greater Love, about assassin-turned-Adventist Harry Orchard.
The temptation the serpent confronted Eve with was to make herself equal to God (Gen 3: 5). The temptation that the pre-existent Christ confronted and rejected was to make himself equal to God (Phil. 2: 6). In the gospel According to John, Jesus explicitly accepts as accurate the accusation of making himself equal to God (5: 18). This affirmation is at the center of its theology.
The word that we generally use to describe a gathering of Christians comes from kuriakē oikia—in Greek, “house of the Lord.” The first word of the phrase, kuriakē, through a series of linguistic evolutions whose intermediate you can spot in the Scottish “kirk”, eventually became the English “church”.
The prologue of According to John concludes by presenting the basis of the whole gospel: “No one has ever seen God” (1: 18). The Old Testament tells us that Adam and Eve saw and conversed with God in Eden, and Ex. 24: 9 – 11 says that Moses, Nadab, Abihu and seventy Israelites saw and ate with God on the top of Mount Sinai.