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The Ear: Scripture, Science, Experience in Sabbath School


Timothy Jennings, M. D., teaches a Sabbath School class that meets weekly in the Collegedale City Hall, near Southern Adventist University in Tennessee.  A board-certified psychiatrist, and president-elect of the Tennessee Psychiatric Association, he practices in Chattanooga.  

Jennings leads an organization called Come and Reason Ministries and writes about the Bible and the healing of the mind.  His most recent book is The God-Shaped Brain: How Changing Your View of God Transforms Your Life, published by Intervarsity Press in 2013.

About seventy-five people, often more, attend his class in person and others tune in to a live webcast of the goings-on.  

This exchange is part of an ongoing effort to highlight the Sabbath School, where Adventists engage Scripture by way, ideally, of spiritually challenging conversation.  The premise is that when participation drops off here, a real crisis is in the making; on the other hand, when people gather, with enthusiasm and open minds, for shared Bible study, it signals the prospect of renewal.

Here is Dr. Jennings’ point of view:

Question: What are one or two keys, do you think, to building a great Sabbath School class? 

Answer: Integrating Biblical truth with scientific evidence (Romans 1:20) and real life experience (Psalm 34:8) which all harmonize and reveal that God’s character of love is the design protocol upon which He constructed life to operate. This makes Bible study more than just theory; it becomes practical and applicable in the real world.

Question: How do you construct community—the sense that your class is a mini-Christian family—among participants?

Answer: By focusing on a common mission and purpose of sharing a message that actually heals and transforms lives here and now. We share prayer requests, have fellowship meals, periodic social gatherings and participate in mission activities. Our class sponsored the building of a bakery in Uruguay to provide jobs for students who want a Christian education, but would otherwise not be able to afford one. 

Question: Do you bring in guest teachers?  Are some taken from the membership of the class? 

Answer: Whenever I am away, a member of the class teaches. 

Question: Does your class attract some people who may be on the “edge” of Adventism?  If so, how does it happen?  Is intentional effort put into doing this?

Answer: There are numerous people who attend my class, either in person or online, who were raised in Adventism but left because of the inconsistencies typical in penal/legal models. They report my class has brought them back because we discuss a God they can trust and a universe that makes sense.  It is intentional to have our beliefs make sense and to this degree we are intentional in reaching people who long to believe but have given up on God because of perceived inconsistencies or nonsense teachings. 

Question: Do you follow the church quarterly?  Always, sometimes or never?  Why?

Answer: Yes, but we are two weeks ahead of the scheduled lesson as people from around the world use our materials to prepare for their local classes. 

Question: If your class is intellectually adventurous—you take up matters many would be uncomfortable with—how do you maintain good relationships with the rest of your congregation?

Answer: We always practice the principle of allowing everyone to be fully persuaded in their own mind (Romans 14:5). I frequently say, “I am not here to tell you what to think, but to stimulate you to think for yourself.”

We utilize the Integrative Evidence-Based approach, which requires harmony of three threads of evidence: scripture (2 Timothy 3:16), science (Romans 1:20), and experience (Psalm 34:8). Science alone risks godlessness, experience alone leads to mysticism and Scripture alone results in division and confusion. According to the Christian Encyclopedia there are 34,000 different Christian groups all claiming the Bible to support their views.

Some church leaders have been uncomfortable with this approach because certain penal views of God cannot be maintained if an integrated approach is used. This is a sad commentary on how tradition has eclipsed our ability to advance in our understanding of truth, especially since this method is supported by both Scripture and Ellen White (Christian Education, 66:2; Education 130.3).

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