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Is Today’s Official Adventism Adventist?– Presidential Annual Council Sermon 3


The Sabbath and the Second Advent of Christ are God’s gifts to all humanity, not only to the SDA Church. This is the reason why SDA mission shouldn’t be that of defending an exclusively ecclesiocentric interpretation of both, as this presidential address does. We should never think in terms of “possessing” these truths or maniacally trying to keep them “pure”. Otherwise, as in Matthew’s eschatological parable of the talents, the SDA Church would assume the role of the hoarding and obsessive-compulsive servant rather than the open-minded faithfulness of the praised servants. Such theological misreading creates a missiological, hermeneutical and psychological misunderstanding. 

First, the missiological misunderstanding emerges when we idealistically fuse and confuse baptizing with witnessing. Our missiological task shouldn’t be to baptize all humanity into the SDA Church but, while baptizing all those who ask and desire it, instead articulate a credible Sabbath and Second Advent message for all, irrespective of whether they ever enter our church. If everybody became an SDA member we paradoxically would fail because that successful church would undoubtedly be a big Idol.

Second, the hermeneutical misunderstanding emerges when we theologically identify our Biblically-rooted interpretation either with a presumed exclusive Biblical reading or worse, with the truth itself. All our personal and institutional deep convictions are just interpretations. Necessary and blessed in the sense that they incarnate what is enough to understand and to experience of Jesus and his salvation. But at the same time they are relative and insufficient interpretations in the sense they may miss the complexity and diversity of God’s call to everyone and each one’s authentic answer to this call.

Third, the psychological misunderstanding emerges when we confuse the truth of the single elements with that of the whole reality. This presidential address is orthodox. No well intentioned reader or listener could deny this. But the question about the real value of its larger organic and holistic perspective in relationship to God’s Kingdom can and legitimately needs to be addressed. In this sense something can be orthodox and wrong at the same time. The heresies are not only deficient theological affirmations. They can very also be orthodox, inflexible and rigid convictions. A “paranoid mind”, in opposition to a “psychotic mind”, generally gets the single elements right but misses the whole picture.

Can we as Adventists, in understanding and implementing of our cherished End-time Mission, get the single elements orthodoxically right but miss the whole picture? In order to avoid or at least reduce the possibility of such a paradox I would like to call attention to three urgent and necessary hermeneutics we need to develop for breaking a solipsistic and narcissistic image of Adventism that powerfully still haunts us. We might then be able to articulate a noble, world and future-oriented Adventism. These are:

1.      Hermeneutics of a poli-centric and multi-layered Bible,

2.      Hermeneutics of a heterogeneous and multicultural Adventist worldwide community,

3.      Hermeneutics of complex and differentiated contemporary societies.

While we almost completely lack the second and third Hermeneutics, the only one we have cultivated – Biblical Hermeneutics – is unfortunately thoroughly reductive.

1. A Heuristic Bible-based Hermeneutics

The New Oxford English Dictionary defines heuristic adjectivally as “serving to find out” and, when employed as a noun related to learning, as a “system of education under which pupils are trained to find out for themselves”. Thus a Heuristic Bible-based Hermeneutics is not one that uses the Bible as “The Last Word” but rather as the “Opening and Facilitating Word”. It initiates an open process that requires the believer’s faithfulness, analytical capacities, emotional involvement, creativity and intuition to face the unique challenges of today’s world. A heuristic Bible-based hermeneutics will be one that experiments and tests, that thinks in an as-if fashion, that imagines new possibilities induced by the power of Biblical metaphors and narratives. It will be a hermeneutics that dares to think differently, pushed by the Bible itself. It will not passively accept rules, principles and norms supposedly based on the Bible, but which surreptitiously come either from a rightist or leftist ideological Adventism. It will search for what is convincing and persuasive in the subjective and objective, individual and communitarian conviction – as sown by the Holy Spirit. This problem-solving hermeneutics will not, however, be arbitrary or mere fantasy. It will assume that there is something to find out and that if some imagined possibilities fail others may succeed. Up until now we have had, as Adventists, a reductive Biblical hermeneutics based on a rationalistic, formal and almost algorithmic reasoning. Instead of making us more flexible and empathetic, pushing us to read the human reality as it is and not as we would like it to be, it has induced us to misread the secular reality outside of our own bubble. And the recent reiterative, “generous” official call to go back to the Bible only is actually, paradoxically, worsening our structural isolation from others and from the real world – and deepening our chronic theological narcissism.

2. A Poly-centric and diversified ecclesiological Hermeneutic

We as community are not the same as we used to be in the nineteenth or twentieth century. Statistically and demographically our profile has changed. And this change has not been solely a quantitative one. For this reason our Ecclesiology – the understanding of what a community is, of what we are now – can’t be linked to an anachronistic cultural and theological model. The ecclesiological paradigm used by Adventism up until now has been Unity. This has also been a panacea, both theologically and administratively. The unity paradigm has been unconsciously picked up more from western modernity than from the Bible. In large degree we have projected this paradigm into the Bible. But the Bible is instead polycentric, not only because it has structurally integrated various narratives of the same events or included a diversified list of authors. It is theologically polycentric because it gives place to diversified theological projects that cohabit despise their apparent mutual exclusion. That’s the case with the Jewish-Christian community and Gentile-Christian community in the New Testament. The same could be said of the pneumatology[1] issue. Are the epistles’ subordinationist[2] and ethically-oriented pneumatology the only view possible? Certainly not. In Matthew, for instance, we find a life-oriented pneumatology.  In fact Christ is born by the action of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit doesn’t succeed or just prolong Jesus’s work but rather precedes and makes possible his very arrival into this world. Both pneumatologies are legitimate and cohabit together, complementary but also in tension. This polycentric perspective needs to be applied within our heterogeneous and multicultural Adventist communities today instead of imposing what we believe is a Biblical paradigm of Unity.

3. A Diatopical socio-cultural Hermeneutics

But the attention and understanding of diversity doesn’t represent a challenge only for the internal reality of the church. It’s also a tremendous challenge for describing the external reality of society and culture. Here the secular model of unity, the model of “Western Universalism” has not been better than the Adventist one. In fact Adventism has just applied to itself and the Bible a religious version of this reductive model of unity. And this in a paradoxical way because Europeans, perhaps for the first time so massively in history, have encountered diversity in extraordinary and unique ways: geographical diversity, radical ethnic differences, linguistic plurality, parallel religious mindsets, diversified and sophisticated economical organizations, etc. Europeans have thus far managed to address it by imposing, to every culture and nation in the world, their normative European abstract universalism.This type of abstract universalism can be found in arts as much as in literature, in science as in theology. This reductive type of unity would like us to naively believe that sociology, philosophy or science just started two or three centuries ago in Europe. And western abstract universalism has been diffused and disseminated through several powerful and sophisticated cultural strategies: assimilation and multiculturalism. A renewed and relevant twenty first century Adventism can’t be entrapped in this cultural misunderstanding and colossal mistake. Western societies and western Adventism are not the whole world but just a province, albeit an important one. Other societies and cultures from abroad have contributed anthropological motives, categories, perspectives and metaphors that can, in a critical cultural dialogue, help to disentangle western and Adventist theological and ethical conundrums.And none better than Adventism can take advantage of this because Adventism is a radical multi-ethnic community. But it must stop considering this ethnic diversity as just an aesthetic “show” every five years in the General Conference Parade of Nations evening. Adventism needs to take seriously into account these non-western nations and establish with them, culturally and theologically, a credible and equal dialogue.

This is what I call a Diatopical Hermeneutics. A Diatopical Hermeneutics acknowledges diversity not only within one tradition but also the diversity of different hermeneutical traditions. It stands for the thematic consideration of understanding the other without assuming that the other has the same basic self-understanding. It takes as its point of departure the awareness that the locations within distinct cultures cannot be understood with the tools of understanding from only one tradition or culture.  To achieve this, there must be a renewed encounter between mythos and logos, history and cosmology, between subjectivity and objectivity, the heart and the mind, rational thought and symbolic thinking. Such a perspective is more important than the dialogue between progressives and conservatives, modern and post-modern Adventists, or even between Adventism and other Western Christian traditions. It is the challenging dialogue between Western and Southern Christianity, Adventist or not.

Is today’s official Adventism Adventist? On a first and more immediate level, the answer is certainly yes. On a second, more nuanced level, the answer is not so clear. And in this, the World Church should be thankful. It should take more advantage of the patient and still ignored work of some Adventism institutions that, with all their imperfections and limits, are trying to develop this necessary threefold Hermeneutics. These include the Schools of Religion of Loma Linda and La Sierra University, the theological schools of Villa Aurora, Sazava, Marusevec, Newbold or  Friedensau.  And particularly take more into account the still orphaned, neglected and sometimes even despised European Adventism that certainly doesn’t shine by its numbers but that qualitatively, theologically and culturally, has a lot to offer to the balance and relevance of the Adventist World church and mission.

[1] The study of spiritual beings and phenomena, especially the spiritual aspect of human beings and the interactions between humans and God. Pneuma (πνεῦμα) is Greek for “breath”, which metaphorically describes a non-material being or influence. See:

[2] A doctrine in Christian theology which holds that the Son and the Holy Spirit are subordinate to God the Father in nature and being.


Hanz Gutierrez is a Peruvian theologian, philosopher and physician. Currently he is Chair of the Systematic Theology Department at the Italian Adventist Theological Faculty of “Villa Aurora” and director of the CECSUR (Cultural Center for Human and Religious Sciences) in Florence, Italy.

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