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QOD conference bulletin four

By Richard Rice
Friday, October 26, 2007
was the final full day of the QOD Conference, emphasis on “full.” It
began with a stirring appeal from John McVay, president of Walla Walla
University, based on Paul’s exhortation in Ephesians to Christians to
put away all animosity and treat each other with consideration and
love. The various presentations and discussions that followed were
variously characterized by scholarly impassivity and spiritual fervor,
giving the overall atmosphere a rather strange mix of campmeeting,
testimony meeting, and academic seminar.

Adams and I had the first two papers on the theology of QOD, and we
both addressed the question of Christ’s humanity. Roy wrote his
dissertation on M L Andreasen, so he had a lot to offer about the
historical and theological backstory of QOD. But we agreed, I think,
that in his human nature Christ was not subject to sin either
experientially or inherently. Adams detailed the various faux pas of
those who prepared QOD—the same problems noted by a number of
presenters–and concluded with a critique of “final generation”
theology, the view of Andreasen, Douglass and others that the last
generation of God’s people on earth will attain an unprecedented level
of spiritual excellence, and will thereby demonstrate conclusively that
Satan’s charges against God’s character are false. “To bend theology to
fit our eschatological goals and objectives,” Adams asserted, “is
neither sound nor prudent.”

other morning papers offered impassioned pleas for opposing views of
perfectionism. Colin Standish, Russell’s twin and close collaborator,
took emphatic exception to the two problematic elements in QOD, the
affirmation of Christ’s sinless humanity, and the notion that the
atonement was complete on the cross, rather than continuing with
Christ’s ministry as high priest. He too railed against the authors of
QOD, describing their work as “a planned attempt to reshape the beliefs
of our church.” For Standish, the concept of original sin is
particularly objectionable, since it describes sin as a condition
rather than an act of transgression.

Whidden matched Standish’s rhetorical flair as he talked through his
paper on the “enduring theological legacy” of QOD. A historian of SDAm,
Whidden finds a great deal of Wesleyan theology in the background of
EGW’s doctrine of salvation, and he faults “last generation” theology
for a failure to appreciate the difference between sanctification and
glorification. Sinlessness comes only with the latter, he argues, and
not before. For Whidden, “effective forensic justification” and “penal
substitutionary atonement” are the key concepts in a valid doctrine of
salvation, and last generation theology is a huge mistake.

Moore argued that it is possible to pull together competing strands
from both groups by affirming the paradoxical nature of truth. In his
view, Christ had “a post-fall inheritance” but a “sinless spiritual
nature,” resisting sin throughout his life by relying on the Holy
Spirit. I’m not sure just how these pieces fit together, but I like
Moore’s irenic motives and his confidence that we can all get along.

Larson began his remarks with a touching remembrance of his father, the
late Ralph Larson, who is well known for his extensive discussion of
the issues of the conference, especially his treatment of Christ’s
humanity. For his part, David believes the denominational preoccupation
with the person of Christ and the question of whether the atonement was
or was not completed on the cross are not worth the theological energy
SDAs have spent on them. On the one hand, the whole idea of human
nature is problematic, as Buddhist views of the ephemeral self
indicate. On the other, there are suggestive elements in SDA thought
that deserve much more attention, such as Sabbath time, God’s ongoing
work of salvation throughout human history, and the affirmation of
human freedom, and our concern for “the state of the living.” To those
mired in a concern for the precise nature of Christ’s humanity and the
precise locus of the atonement, Larson had a strong piece of advice:
“Get a life!”

the close of the day, the deans of the three sponsoring institutions,
Andrews, Loma Linda and Oakwood, offered some concluding observations
on the conference and its themes, along the lines of where we have been
and where we might go from here.

retrospect, the conference gave me an overload of things to think
about. I learned a great deal more about the production of QOD than I ever
knew; I heard from people who have been energized by its controversial
themes for years, and I still have a hard time understanding why it has
attracted so much attention. It is a persistent challenge to me as a
theologian to relate issues of such specific denominational dimensions
to some of the larger issues in Christian thought. There are other
elements in Adventism, and there are certainly other elements in
Christianity, that deserve more consideration.

the same time, I recognize that doctrinal diversity includes not just
conceptual differences, but emotional differences, too—for want of a
better word. What is a minor matter to one SDA may be an issue of
crucial importance to another. Learning to live together requires us to
accept different ideas and different personalities, too, and sometimes
the latter pose the greater challenge. However, in this supposedly
postmodern age, in which beliefs allegedly no longer matter, it was
encouraging to me as a theologian to find so many people intensely
interested in doctrinal issues. It gives pause to consider the fact
that virtually every theological question has been, for someone
sometime, a matter of life and death.

final note. The organizers of the conference deserve enormous credit
for pulling it off. They did all they could to plan an interesting
program (in the face of widespread suspicion) and to make things run
smoothly, from setting an appropriate tone in the first meeting, to
providing various ways for us to interact with each other, from group
prayer to common meals, and for so efficiently covering all the details
that no one thinks about until something goes wrong, like getting us
meal tickets and parking permits. Kudos to all of them, Michael
Campbell, Jerry Moon, Julius Nam, and their associates. 
Note enough QOD for you. . .check out the QOD wikipedia page.

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