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Theological Harmony in New Orleans

Adventism’s two theological society presidents agreed on the biblical call for social justice and the significance of Scripture on people’s lives during a historic session in which the two societies met to not only share a meal but to present ideas for discussion.
Both presidents told heartbreaking stories as they engaged the Biblical texts in their official presidential addresses.
Roy Gane, [pictured on the right] president of the Adventist Theological Society, used the words of Minnie Warburton, a woman abused as a child by her father, to show the vindication and freedom given by the law as recorded in the Old Testament. He quoted Warburton’s description of how Leviticus 18 brought her healing and her assertion of the power Scripture has to heal, absolve, cleanse and purify in his telling of the deliverance offered by the gospel according to Moses, not only for the Israelites, but for those who read the narratives in the first books of the Bible.
Then he turned to Elijah’s gospel, calling it also one of deliverance as recorded in Malachi, but a deliverance from strife in terms of reconciliation. “He will turn the hearts of parents to their children and the hearts of children to their parents,” were the words he used from Mar. 4:6. Both the “Elijah” message of reconciliation” and the laws of Moses are about “God’s kind of unselfish love in relationships,” he said. “Loyalty to God is expressed through ethical treatment of other people.”
Gane tied together the eschatological messages of Malachi 4 and Revelation 14 concerning relational, ethical restoration to harmony with God and his principles. Also relevant, he suggested was Joel’s promise of a special outpouring of God’s Spirit, who empowers relational growth by providing love.
“The Spirit does not simply perform seismic signs or overwhelm the populace with the indisputable correctness of our theological argumentation. The Spirit accomplishes a more powerful witness for Christ by enabling his community to be loving and united, as his praying disciples became after his resurrection. The greater the challenges to unity in the church and in the world, the greater the opportunity for the ‘fruits of the Spirit’ to stand out.”
He concluded with the Gospel of Forgiveness as taught by Jesus. “Jesus’ forgiveness did not mean that he was lowering Moses’ standard,” he said. “It is not that his morality is weaker, but that his ‘new covenant’ forgiveness, based on his own self-sacrifice, is stronger. Thus Jesus’ Gospel culminates the deliverance messages of Moses and Elijah and points to our role: If we love Christ a lot because he has forgiven us a lot, we will find no greater joy than reconciling precious people to one another and to him before the great day of his return.”
Zdravko Plantak, [pictured on the left] president of the Adventist Society for Religious Studies, told of his mother’s incredible survival story from World War II and the liberating effect of the Gospel on her life. Born in 1931 to two blind parents in Eastern Europe, Angela and her family were sent to the Austrian Alps as refugees in 1944. “During the train journey the Russians and Germans bombed the train several times, and in one instance God placed her in a position to save the entire train of refugees,” Plantak said.
Life in refugee camps included illnesses for her and her family. Typhus took the life of her father whom she had to prepare for burial by wrapping his body in a sheet, putting it into a wheelbarrow and taking it to a pit with 500 other bodies for mass burial. Next her sister died and, although she was herself sick with Scrub Typhus, she had to pull herself out of bed to go and bury her sister.
“Three times Angela avoided being sent to Siberia by sleeping in a chicken shed or inside the bread-baking oven or by hiding all night in the top of a leafy oak tree. And that is all before Angela married my dad, when she was just two months shy of 17,” he said.
Plantak’s father shared the gospel with Angela and her mother, who became Seventh-day Adventists. He said that “somehow, miraculously, Angela felt that this Adventist faith became a balm to heal her open wounds, that faith pregnant with hope and shalom like leaves for the healing of the nations soothed her open sores and bleeding wounds, which were so deep that, even though healed, continue hurting today.”
He told this personal story, he said because, “I believe that our stories shape us and they give us theological center and meaning. If Angela can be healed out of the utmost despair and pain of the horrors of this sinful world, which are almost unimaginable to my generation, and if she could persist in raising all three of her children to work in the Seventh-day Adventist ministry today, then God’s restoration and reparation of the world are real.”
Then Plantak moved to a brief description of his own difficulties—but rather than the physical challenges of survival in a refugee camp, he told of the difficulty that he once had with the vision painted in the book of Revelation of the earth made new. “My difficulty with this picture was that I always thought of it in terms of post-eschaton and therefore could not reconcile it with the invitation to the moral community of Christ here and now,” he said. “And yet, what eschatological living urges is to take seriously the aspirations of the new Jerusalem and project it to the eschatological living today, that living that is informed by what is soon to come.”
He continued, “I have become fully convinced that the biblical imagery of the leaves that are given for the healing of the nations in Revelation 22:2 are indeed leaves that must be already applied to our eschatological living here and now. And I have no doubt that the image Is linked to the previous passages in the prophetic literature and to several other metaphors used to call a community of God-fearers to a prophetic living laden with social justice and concerned with the under-privileged and the most vulnerable.”
Larry Geraty, a previous president of the Adventist Society for Religious Studies, then led the audience through discussion of the issues as presented by Gane and Plantak, first with individuals seated at tables together and then with the audience at large.
Officers from both organizations expressed satisfaction with the meeting and immediately began to make plans for a similar session next November in Atlanta when once again the Adventist Theological Society will hold meetings in conjunction with the Evangelical Theological Society and the Adventist Society for Religious Studies will convene during the Society for Biblical Literature’s annual meeting.

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