One of the lessons I take my first year seminary students through are the ten most often used theological terms they are likely to encounter in their studies: Christology, Soteriology, Ecclesiology, theological anthropology, grace, etc. I introduce them to the classical definitions, but then I have them explore the interconnectedness of these aspects of the Christian faith. For instance, what happens to a Christology if one’s soteriology is Pelagian or even semi-Pelagian? What, then, does that say about one’s understanding of grace? Or the sacraments? Or ecclesiology? Or the atonement?
The essence of our humanity has a great deal to say about soteriology, sin, repentance, and forgiveness, just for starters. When we pray for forgiveness for our sins are we repenting of the things we do or the thing we are? Or both?
I begin with these questions to demonstrate that theology is messy, it is malleable, it is liquid, because like many of the social sciences, it is our presuppositions and hermeneutic that guides us to our conclusions.
Christians, including Adventists, have wrestled with these for generations. Unfortunately, we have expended most of our energy on who is right (and more importantly who is wrong) rather than on what the implications are of what this belief means. And this brings me to the matter that has occupied many of the estimated 20,000,000 Adventists around the globe for the past few years.
I am concerned that any official Adventist voice in matters of liberation for those who have either physically or professionally or spiritually labored under a dominant entity, that voice will at best be muted. How can we support economic, educational, and civic reforms for African Americans when we do not officially support full recognition of women to the gospel ministry?
How can we be taken seriously when we speak out against brutality against innocents—children, women, people of color, when called women are refused access to pulpits and positions of leadership to exercise that call? Either we believe in social justice for everyone or we don’t. Jesus Christ did not pick and choose who were to be the recipients of His grace, and neither can we. Either His sacrifice was fully efficacious for all or for none.
Addressing these issues and more, individually, is not the whole answer, but it is a start. And thank God there are people who have stood up to be counted and to engage in ministries that they see as just and merciful and right. But what is needed more is an entire reorientation of our understanding of who God is and what He requires from His followers.
So, instead of having to spend countless dollars and time on questions of correctness and church policy legality of female ordination to the Gospel ministry, it seems the questions could be something like, “Praise the good Lord you, sister, have heard and accepted His call. We rejoice with you and ask how can we be of assistance as you serve the Lord.”
I realize changing an entire religious culture that has slowly turned to what we have today is a task too large for us. But it has to be done. I do not want to sound like an alarmist, but if we refuse to reorient ourselves, I am unsure where we will be as a church 10-20 years from now.
“Nobody’s free until everybody’s free.” —Fannie Lou Hamer
Roger S. Evans, PhD, is Professor of Historical Theology and Chair of the Department of History at Payne Theological Seminary.
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