Reviewing the Adventist Review
February 19, 2009 – Vol. 186, No. 5
The cover story in this issue, “Like Water Between Our Fingers,” by Jimmy Phillips should be required reading for all North American Adventists. We are the financial engine that makes possible our worldwide effort to feed the hungry, provide clean water to the thirsty, shelter the stranger, cloth the poverty stricken, heal the sick, and visit the prisoners.
The Adventist Church in North America is deep trouble. Jesus is clear about our responsibility “to the least of these”. “I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.” He is also clear about the consequences of failure to perform these tasks.
Listen to Jimmy Phillips.
“One in every five Adventist churches in North America doesn’t have a single child or teenager—much less anyone my age. In fact, the median age in these churches is nearly 60—20 years older than the average American.
“As a baptized Adventist since my midteens, there’s a 50 percent chance that I’ll drop out of the church completely by the time I’m 25.
“A quick interpretation of these devastating statistics yields this: today, our church is growing old. At the same time, through lack of cultivation, engagement, and meaningful relationships, tomorrow’s church is leaving . . . like water between our fingers.”
Listen to Pastor James A. Cress
Ministry Magazine, February 2009
“In North America alone, nearly 300,000 members officially have been removed (and not because of death) from our membership in the past 20 years. That total equals 40 percent of our total membership. . .This equals a total loss similar to that of the ten largest conferences in the division simply disappearing.
“These numbers, tragic as they are, reveal only part of the story. Also thousands of individuals are still on the membership rolls who never worship with other believers—only about 50 percent of all members actually attend weekly worship services.”
Phillips makes some salient suggestions about how to make our Church sanctuaries for young adults. (Check out the Center for Youth Evangelism’s recommendations. “www.churchofrefuge.org”
I have two further recommendations: reduce the 28 Doctrines to 4 or 5 and relegate the other 22 or 23 to the category of “traditional teachings”; celebrate the theological diversity of mature members rather than making them feel unwelcome in “our community of believers”.
Adventist News and Perspectives is becoming my favorite section of the Review. Hearly Mayr’s report that ADRA is playing an important part in ending the cholera epidemic in Zimbabwe was particularly inspiring. The Changing Face of the Church by Fredrick A. Russell is an eloquent reminder that cultural diversity requires a change in the administrative hierarchy of the North American Division.
When Ellen White’s conflation of the biblical text is used as fact, it undermines the credibility of the Review and Adventist theology in general. In George P. Babcock’s, There is Art—Then There is Art, he asserts that, “Before his fall into sin, Lucifer directed the heavenly choirs and was the consummate artist.” In The Judas in All of Us, Jennifer Jill Schwirzer states that, “This realization [the psychological and spiritual cost of resentment] was probably what finally enabled Mary Magdalene to forgive Simon the Pharisee, who had ‘led [her] into sin.’”
The notion that God ordered the slaughter of entire nation/tribes in the Old Testament because they were evil beyond salvation is another idea that weakens the appeal of Adventist theology. Loyal to the Very End by Thurman C. Petty, Jr. includes this statement, “Samuel sent Saul to destroy the Amalekites. ‘Take no captives, no spoils; destroy everything,’ the prophet said. Why? Because the Amalekites had filled up their ‘cup of iniquity’; they’d gone so far into sin that not even God could save them. God wanted them destroyed so they wouldn’t drag Israel down.”
The careless use of words can jar the reader to the extent that a writer’s message can be diminished or even discounted. Consider the following sentence in Judas in All of Us. “Betrayal is an excellent deterrent if processed in God’s workroom.”
Church members should be actively encouraged to work with and support social service agencies so that when they become aware of human problems, they know how to get help. In this issue of the Review, teenager Hannah Goldstein, author of The Sufferers Among Us, is unable to do more than hand out sandwiches and bottled water when she encounters a destitute woman and her infant.