"On The Margins": Reinder Bruinsma’s Facing Doubt

Adventist Forum Conference banner
 

 

Written by: 
Published:
August 22, 2016

Let me say right off that for decades now I have known and liked Reinder Bruinsma. We have worked together on a few occasions, and I especially remember one fond time on the Island of Malta 20 years ago when we both were in religious liberty work. He is smart, articulate, charismatic, and committed to the church—at least as he understands it.  

Which is precisely the problem: his understanding of the church is reprehensible.

Facing Doubt was written, ostensibly at least, to help Adventists “on the margins” not to jump ship. That’s fine, except that, given his views on what the church should be—in contrast (thank God) to what it is—Why would anyone with those views want to belong to it to begin with?

Though Bruinsma had been open, even before retirement, about his positions, in this book he seems to be covering himself. Instead of flat out saying this is what I don’t accept, he talks about the Seventh-day Adventist teachings and beliefs that those “on the margins” struggle with, even though he does admit that “I am extremely worried about a number of developments and have serious questions about some of the official beliefs I am supposed to subscribe to.”

What, then, are the “official beliefs” that either he and/or those “on the margins” find so troubling?

For starters, since I have known him, Bruinsma has expressed doubts about the Adventist understanding of last-day events, especially the role of Rome in biblical prophecy. He has dissed our end-time prophetic scenario, deeming it just nineteenth century nativism and, as such, of no relevance today. Besides, many on the margins find this stuff, he says, “a major source of unease and doubt.”

The only problem? The Seventh-day Adventist understanding of papal Rome is founded not on nineteenth-century American bigotry, but on the prophecies of Daniel interpreted through the historicist method, the method that the texts themselves demand. The chronological sequence of Babylon, Media-Persia, Greece, and Rome prove that the prophecies unveil a successive progression of world history, which is why the historicist interpretation had been used by Jewish and Christian scholars centuries before Adventists adopted it.

In the statue of Daniel 2 itself, Babylon (gold), Media-Persia (silver), and Greece (bronze) are all followed by the iron in the legs that extends through the toes to the end of time. What power comes up after Greece and, though eventually changing form (the iron mixes with clay in the feet and toes), remains the same power until supernaturally destroyed at the end of time?  Of course, it’s Rome—solely, totally, and only Rome, which rises after Greece and ends only when the world does.

In Daniel 7, after Babylon (lion), Media-Persia (bear) and Greece (leopard), a fourth beast appears, one that comes up after Greece and extends to the end of time when supernaturally destroyed, just like the iron in Daniel 2 (the little horn power that arises in the head of the fourth beast is still part of the fourth beast). What power comes after Greece and remains (in another form) until the end?

Solely, totally, and only Rome.

In Daniel 8, after Media-Persia and Greece (which are named!), another power arises and remains until destroyed “without hand” (verse 25). What power comes after Greece and endures until the end?

Again—solely, totally, and only Rome. And because Scripture often depicts pagan and papal Rome as one power, and because the pagan phase has long disappeared, papal Rome alone remains the entity unmistakably depicted—and condemned—in Scripture.

Bruinsma simply brushes this off, taking the über-dubious (though über-popular) position that this power is not Rome but Antiochus IV Epiphanes—even if in all three chapters in Daniel that power is an entity of global proportions that remains to the end of the world, while Antiochus (a local hegemon only) vanished 150 years before Christ.

How seriously does Bruinsma take Daniel, anyway? In other context, one about the “extremely shaky” assumptions behind our 1844 doctrine, he wrote that that even though Daniel dates itself in Persian period (about sixth century BC), “most experts on the book of Daniel believe that this section of the book was actually written in the second century BC.” Daniel puts itself in the sixth century, the “experts” put it in the second.  

Also, were he correct about Antiochus in Daniel 8, then the entire sanctuary message, including the justification for our church’s founding, and Ellen White’s credibility—it all, of necessity, gets flushed down the toilet. Which (one gets the impression) is where he thinks most of that should go anyway, even if, in talking about Ellen White, he conceded that her books, at least the ones that aren’t compilations, should be treasured “as devotional reading for the enrichment of our spiritual life.”

Bruinsma also bemoans the fact that Adventists are falling back into what he calls “enemy thinking,” a pejorative way of depicting our end-time scenario—which warns about persecution, violence, and apostasy. Sure, conspiracy nuts exist in the Adventist church, and anti-Catholic billboards do us no favors. But does not the book of Revelation, in the context of final events, warn about religious violence, persecution, and even a decree (Revelation 13:15; see also Rev. 12:17; 13:16-14; 14: 9-11; 16:16; 17:1-7)? All this apocalyptic stuff, he worries, gets in the way of Adventists forming “any close ties with other Christians communities or inter-church organizations.” In other words, our end time message doesn’t help foster ecumenical relationships, which seem so important to him.

Referring to Adventists who, unlike him, actually believe in our end-time scenario, he asks: “Should I not rather focus on Christ as my Friend than on other Christians as my enemies?” A catchy but cheap caricature of the vast majority of members who take our prophetic message seriously.

Bruinsma also wrote about “another tragic example of the steady slide into an utterly fundamentalist reading of the Bible” that he fears has been overtaking our church. What, pray tell, is this “tragic example?” It was the vote, in San Antonio, in 2015, to strengthen the language of Fundamental Belief #6, regarding creation. The Adventist Church, in session, thought that maybe those who take the name Seventh-day Adventist ought to actually believe the name that they take for themselves. And because the “Seventh-day” in our name points to the six days of the creation and the seventh-day Sabbath rest, the idea that you can reject this belief in favor of billions of years of evolution and still be a Seventh-day Adventist, is not only illogical—it is dishonest, and it is wrong.

Also, if the “Seventh-day” in our name can be spiritualized away, what about the “Adventist” part? To be consistent, shouldn’t that too be allegorized into something radically different than what the texts themselves say? Also, at the Second Advent, the dead are resurrected. Is this an instantaneous re-creation, or will God use billions of years of evolution, this time to recreate us, as He (supposedly) did when He created us the first time? And, if not, and He does resurrect us “in the twinkling of an eye,” (1 Corinthians 15:52) then why didn’t He do it like that the first go around?

Facing Doubt, however, gives the impression that Bruinsma doesn’t worry about much of this because he doesn’t believe much of this. In a very troubling section entitled “Miracles,” he questions the validity of the biblical stories about miracles. Lest I be accused of taking him out of context, here is the complete final paragraph in that section:

Must all of these biblical stories really be taken at face value? including the ‘mother-of-all-miracles,’ the resurrection of Jesus Christ? Or is there perhaps another way of looking at what happened to Jesus? Must the resurrection perhaps be understood in a spiritual sense? Could it mean that, in spite of the tragic death of their Master, the disciples began to understand the great significance of what he had taught them and the values he represented, and that, as a result, Jesus became alive again, as the Christ, in their hearts?”

He spends a lot of time on what the Seventh-day Adventist Church teaches that he doesn’t agree with, or that he has doubts about. Toward the end of the book, though, Bruinsma does give a summary of what his own Fundamental Beliefs would look like—things like belief in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and that Jesus came to earth and has” radically solved the sin problem through His death and resurrection” (even though, as we just saw, he has some interesting views on just what the resurrection means).  

His list also includes the statement “that, together with all true Christians, I can be a member of God’s church,” even if he hasn’t said what “false” Christians, as opposed to “true” ones, are. (What? Bruinsma might have doctrinal criteria that could marginalize others the way that he and other like-minded ones are marginalized by the Adventist Church?) Though nothing’s here that any three-martini-a-day Episcopalian couldn’t agree with, conservative Baptists might wonder why he said nothing about the biblical teachings of sin and judgment (Acts 14:25; Ecclesiastes 12:14; James 1:15; Matthew 12:36; Romans 6:16). The only thing distinctly “Adventist” is when he writes: “that every seventh-day Sabbath I have the unique opportunity to experience the rest that God provides.” Well, at least that’s something, but it hardly sounds as if God commands this rest. It’s just, well, an opportunity that He gives. Thus, even Bruinsma's one distinctly Seventh-day Adventist belief is turned into Pablum. Nothing in his Christianity seems countercultural, nothing in his faith causes him, it appears, to challenge the Zeitgeist. The sentiment seems to be: This is what our culture is now into, so let’s find a way to make our religion fit it, period.

As does most left-wing writing in the Adventist Church, Facing Doubt gives us a fascinating insight into how early Christianity—compromising with the culture instead of challenging it—switched from Sabbath to Sunday. We can see the same principle, right now, play out before our eyes, Facing Doubt being one of the more in-your-face manifestations.

In short, this book confirms what I’ve believed for decades: the Seventh-day Adventist Church would be better off burnt to the ground and rebuilt from scratch than to have an iota of the left-wing’s vision implemented in it. And, as far as all his talk about reaching out to those on the margins, that’s a joke. These people are not “on the margins”—they’re out of the ball park.

Bruinsma is too; he just needs the intellectual honesty and moral integrity to finally admit it.

See also Tom de Bruin's "Facing Doubt: A Review."

 

Clifford Goldstein is Editor of the Adult Bible Study Guide.

 

If you respond to this article, please:

Make sure your comments are germane to the topic; be concise in your reply; demonstrate respect for people and ideas whether you agree or disagree with them; and limit yourself to one comment per article, unless the author of the article directly engages you in further conversation. Comments that meet these criteria are welcome on the Spectrum Website. Comments that fail to meet these criteria will be removed.