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Adventist Theological Society Convenes “The Cross: A Symposium on Atonement” at Loma Linda University


Although all Christians believe that the Roman Empire’s execution of Jesus of Nazareth more than two thousand years ago was an important event, they have somewhat different explanations as to why this is so. As they are everywhere else, these differences are present among the world’s eighteen million Seventh-day Adventists.

Giving them special attention, the Adventist Theological Society will launch “The Cross: A Symposium on Atonement” at the Loma Linda University Campus Hill Church at 7:00 pm on Thursday, April 18. The meetings will continue the whole of Friday, April 19, and the entirety of Sabbath, April 20.

In addition, as separate events, at the two worship services on Sabbath morning in the nearby Loma Linda University Church, Jon Paulien’s sermons will address the same topic. He is the Dean of the LLU School of Religion.

The symposium will begin on Thursday evening with a “Welcome and Orientation” by Felix Cortez of University of Montemorelos. A presentation titled “The Death of Christ and Theodicy: Main Theories of the Atonement and their Impact on Understanding the Character of God” will follow. It will be given by Jiri Moskala incoming dean of the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University.

The meetings will conclude late on Sabbath afternoon with a panel consisting of Jiri Moskala, JoAnn Davidson, Richard Davidson, Roy Gane, John Jovan Markovic and Tom Shepherd of Andrews University. Ross Winkle from Pacific Union College will also join them.

The majority of the symposium’s presenters will be professors and students at Andrews University; however, there will be some from other places too. These will include one from the University of Montemorelos, one from the General Conference Biblical Research Institute, one from Middle East College, one from Pacific Union College, one from the Washington Conference and one from the world of business and the Adventist Review.

The Seventh-day Adventist colleges and universities in North America that will not have presenters in the symposium include the Adventist University of Health Sciences (formerly Florida Hospital College of Health Sciences), Canadian University College, Kettering College, La Sierra University, Loma Linda University, Union College, Southern Adventist University, Southwestern Adventist University, Walla Walla University and Washington Adventist University.

Some might view the symposium as an Andrews University event that is co-sponsored by Loma Linda University. This is not so. Andrews University and the Adventist Theological Society are organizationally distinct. Also, the Andrews University professors who will participate in the symposium constitute a small proportion of the approximately 50 faculty at its theological seminary and the 10 or so in its Department of Religion and Biblical Languages. As is the case everywhere else, AU’s religion professors don’t all agree about everything and they don’t all share the same understanding of atonement.” The symposium will therefore be an activity of the Adventist Theological Society and not Andrews University, even though there is considerable overlap in their personnel. Also, it will take place on the campus of LLU without being sponsored by it.

The Adventist Theological Society is one of two independent associations that serve Seventh-day Adventist college and university religion teachers. It sprouted from the earlier association, now called the Adventist Society for Religious Studies, for several related reasons. One of these was theological. Many of those who formed the ATS believed that the ASRS was insufficiently supportive of the denomination’s doctrinal positions. A second factor was logistical. Although the ASRS grew in numbers, it was reluctant to schedule concurrent sessions at its annual meetings. The result was that the opportunities to present papers and so forth were limited and some felt that even these were not distributed equitably. A third factor was cultural. Differences in how people dressed, talked, ate, read, worshipped and respected authority became increasingly uncomfortable for many. A fourth factor was professional. The ASRS has held its annual meetings in conjunction with those of the Society of Biblical Literature and the American Academy of Religion whereas the ATS has aligned itself with the Evangelical Theological Society which often meets at the same time. A fifth factor was psychological. Those who formed the ATS often felt that the greatest danger facing the denomination is that it will not be true it its past. Many of those in the ASRS were equally anxious that it might forfeit its future.

All members of the ATS can be members of the ASRS and many are; however, the opposite is not true. This is because the ATS requires its members to adhere to a very specific list of theological positions whereas the ASRS doesn’t. The two societies often meet around the time of other professional meetings for one meal and scholarly papers by the two presidents.

Paragraph “a” in Section 2 of Article III in the Constitution of the Adventist Theological Society reads as follows:

The Society affirms that Christ’s substitutionary death on the cross was both the supreme revelation of God’s love for humankind and atoning sacrifice for sin and that his life provided a perfect example for His people to imitate. His substitutionary death pays the penalty for sin, provides forgiveness, and creates gratitude and saving faith in all who receive Him. The cross is central to every aspect of life and work, of witness and outreach, of research and doctrine.

This statement, with its emphasis on “substitution,” will strike many as an unusually focused understanding of atonement. It is more common to be reminded that the Biblical writers used many different analogies to explain the meaning and importance of the execution of Jesus. Because each of these analogies illumines some features of God’s reconciling or atoning endeavors and obscures others, we need them all and we need them to interact in mutually informing and mutually correcting ways. One analogy is not sufficient, most people in all denominations hold. Neither is a plurality of analogies that are controlled by any one of them as though it trumps all the others.

It will be interesting to hear what the presenters at the ATS symposium will say this weekend.

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