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N. T. Wright, Rob Bell, Jamie Oliver: A Disappointment for Adventism?

The Seventh-day Adventist Church has always had a peculiar understanding of scripture when compared to Christianity at large. For instance, Adventists beliefs about health, hell, the Sabbath, the final location of heaven, the resurrection, and the mission of the church exist outside traditional orthodoxy.

However, recently a theologian, a pastor, and even a celebrity chef have managed to elevate Adventist beliefs into the mainstream cultural conversation. The surprising fact is that these three are not affiliated with the Seventh-day Adventist Church. The following two part essay will compare Ellen White and three prominent figures of contemporary culture to ascertain how close their propositions are and whether this news should be disappointing to Adventists.

N. T. Wright
According to Christianity Today, Dr. N. T. Wright is one of the top five most influential theologians alive. Tom Wright, as he is often referred to, has spent his life studying the history surrounding the New Testament and early Christianity. He has written several widely-acclaimed books on the historical Jesus as well as many on the Apostle Paul and the epistles. Throughout his writing and lectures he has touched on themes topics that resonate with Adventist understanding of the authority and thought inspiration of scripture, the Torah being followed by the early church, the resurrection of Jesus and the mission of the church today. However, the most striking proposition that N. T. Wright shares with Seventh-day Adventists is that heaven will not be somewhere else, that in the end, God will eventually bring heaven to earth. This is similar to Ellen White’s vision of the new earth in the last chapter of The Great Controversy. According to both Ellen White and N. T. Wright God ultimately renews creation.

Connected to this theological sympatico, both Wright and Adventists agree that when people die they don’t go to heaven or hell. Rather, they wait for the resurrection of the body when God will restore the saved to live with him on the earth renewed. Since his exhaustive publications on the subject, Wright has captured the attention of theological seminars across the globe. He has argued persuasively on these subjects and although the general Christian world has not adopted his views yet, they are certainly grappling with them. Even iTunes presents plenty of his lectures for free where he has been invited by America’s most influential universities to defend his views on the New Earth, the resurrection of the body, and the mission of the church. His main views can be found in the books Simply Christian, which could almost be called “Simply Adventist” and Surprised by Hope.

Regarding the mission of the church, N. T. Wright’s conclusions that heaven will indeed be brought to earth at some point after the second coming has led him in the same direction as Ellen White and many other Adventists since. It is clear that in her last few years of ministry Ellen White focused her energy on anticipating the New Earth in the midst of this old one. This kingdom mission led the Seventh-day Adventist church into mission fever the planted hospitals, schools, food factories, and other institutions that would somewhat restore humanity to its future condition. Similarly, today, N. T. Wright argues beautifully that the church should somehow show the world what the new creation will look like through it’s art, worship and everyday work. The striking disappointment here is that Adventism has been so inefficient at engaging the world and sharing this vision and now an Anglican bishop is bringing it to life! It is remarkable that even after many decades of teaching theology in dozens of Adventist universities around the world, not even one Adventist scholar has seriously engaged the theological world as much as N. T. Wright has. What is it about Adventist theological culture that neuters its influence beyond our institutional walls?

Rob Bell
CNN describes Rob Bell as having achieved rock star status in the Christian world. It would be difficult to deny his influence to a generation of evangelicals. His books often spark controversy and his latest work has been no exception. It’s called Love Wins and even before it’s release last Tuesday it has sparked contention, even rage, across the Christian world. For many years Rob Bell has been challenging mainstream Christianity to rediscover Jesus as a first century Jewish rabbi, much like Ellen White did. It isn’t surprising therefore that Rob Bell also defends the thought inspiration and authority of the Bible as well as the Sabbath, the New Earth, future judgement, and the mortality of the soul.

In his first book, Velvet Elvis, Rob Bell presents the Sabbath commandment as the definition of his ministry. His video, ‘Everything is Spiritual,’ was an incredibly popular call to take a weekly Sabbath. In his journey of rediscovering the Old Testament in Christianity Rob Bell admits to keeping the Sabbath with his family on Saturday, although he is not prescriptive on which day people should choose. Bell’s description of how restful and positive his Sabbath is has also sparked controversy among Adventist pastors who find themselves so busy running a show in their Adventist churches that they actually keep the Sabbath on Sunday or Monday, when they finally take a day off.

In addition, Rob Bell is aligned with Adventist theology when in how he thinks of the new earth and the love of God regarding punishment. Much like Ellen White and many Adventist preachers since, Bell defends that God will not keep sinners burning in an eternal hell. In fact, heaven and hell are simply the result of people’s choices—God will destroy evil once and for all along with those who choose to cling to it. “Love demands freedom,” he says. His views in Love Wins are remarkably similar to those of N. T. Wright. However, whilst Wright is read by theologians and seminary students, Rob Bell, who is published by HarperCollins, is read by a wide swath of Christianity.

This presents the second disappointment for Adventism. Not only has the movement been inefficient in arguing its theology of hope at an academic level, it has also failed to promote its view of God’s love and judgement to a popular audience. Despite having a worldwide footpring that impacts millions, it apparently requires an evangelical local church pastor, who knows who to use YouTube to truly bring significant aspects of Adventist theology to the world.

Jamie Oliver
The BBC defined Jamie Oliver as one of the most influential chefs in the western world. The TED conference has also invited him to present a world changing wish to its membership. Jamie is a celebrity chef famous for bringing healthy food to schools both in Britain and parts of America. Again, much like Ellen White, Jamie believes that people’s eating patterns define their quality of life. Also like Ellen White and most Adventists since, he has worked tirelessly to educate children and parents how to eat and develop healthy lifestyles. Although he is not known the world over, Jamie is widely recognized in Britain and America as someone who promotes healthy eating.

This demonstrates a third disappointment for Adventism. Since 1863 Adventists have been proclaiming that what humans eat connects body to spirituality. At a time when doctors recommended smoking to clear the lungs, Adventist hospitals prohibited tobacco and defended, even without solid evidence, that tobacco severally damaged users. Over a hundred years later there is now solid scientific evidence for most of Ellen White’s claims about tobacco and heathly living. Beyond this, the western world is constantly emphasizing a holistic view to health that sounds remarkably Adventist. Meanwhile, there is a wave of Adventist youth who reject these principles whilst their parents stop reading Ellen White altogether!

Beyond this, the disappointment is that Jamie Oliver is a single chef who has captured the attention of governments and the media. The Adventist Church has multiple health institutions and nutrition degrees taught in various universities around the world. Despite this structure, Adventists have only been slightly influential due a National Geographic report on Loma Linda and the independent documentary The Adventists, by Martin Doblmeier. It is indeed disappointing that Seventh-day Adventists could have been the mainstream voice calling proclaiming health in the last few decades. Instead, we struggle to inspire our own membership to lead healthier lifestyles. To add insult to injury, when Jamie Oliver was called by ABC to produce a series of documentaries in the United States, he called for Christian pastors to join his cause for healthier living. This would have given a great voice to any Adventist who stepped forward. However, the main Christian to join him is a Baptist pastor from Virginia.

Part II coming tomorrow.

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