Skip to content


This isn’t the essay I’d planned to write for my quarterly column slot. I’ve been procrastinating for weeks, with my deadline fear creeping up the back of my throat, just like a bad metaphor. I have at least two articles 80% finished. But, as I found near-universal in my software engineering career, a project that seems to be 80% done is, in cold actuality, more like at 45% solid-deliverable. That seems to also be true with my writing. But such essays have the luxury of remaining forever stuck at incomplete. With software, it usually got thrown over the proverbial wall, to a “field” release. Then we let the customers find the bugs. With writing, the customers are you. And the “bugs” are readers who conclude: “Well, that essay was five minutes of my life I’ll never get back.”

The Adventist Continuum and the Problem of Loss

So, as I pondered the dilemma of how to get closure on these resistant essays, I helpfully procrastinated by reading a few web articles, first from Adventist “progressive” (which I’ll shorthand to AP) locations, then from Adventist “militant historic“ (AMH) ones. The APs tend to wistfully opine about what we should and could be. The AMHs are often verbally “shooting” at heresy. Fortunately, the AMH people aren’t close to being fully representative of those who would consider themselves conservative, and be uncomfortable being called progressive. These AMH shooters have the self-image of faithful Truth Protectors. There is, of course, a continuum from ideological left to right in Adventism’s thought-universe. And it’s also reductionistic to view our various differences as representable along only a single axis. The church, like all communities focused on something(s) considered important, is a complex, multi-dimensional “space,” and the labels we apply for convenience are partial and should be used cautiously.

But, as I reflected on my reading, I got sad. Yeah, and a bit angry at poor argumentation and pejorative language from many of the AMH reads. But, after trying to discount the most extreme, I still had a sense of implicit loss in reading and comparing these perspectives. Ironically, when I read “official” essays, like from the Review, one undercurrent I detect (with an admittedly imperfect detector) is denial. Officially, all appears well. At least we rarely analyze (or even report) problems in such venues, and the presupposition I perceive is that the Church considers itself motivated and on-task. I wish I thought that was adequately true. But since I don’t, I then wish the institution was at least more candid about our evident-to-me shortcomings. Unfortunately, that’s not what institutions ever seem to be capable of. And if you cannot or will not diagnose, how can you remediate?

The independents, however, are not so constrained. With Spectrum and Adventist Today representing APs, and those-that-shall-remain-unadvertised representing the AMHs, the issue of loss is on display. Now our pioneers could metaphorically get out of bed every morning with a spring in their step, because they were confident in the message and mission. But that’s not where Adventism is today, denominational self-assurance notwithstanding. Both APs, and traditionalists more generally, somewhat agree that the denomination currently has problems. The left-right disagreement, then, is about why. And the inflection points of disagreement come when the original message confronts a broader depth of information in the present, real world. Especially, though not exclusively, in science and hermeneutics.

Take science, as a major point of contention. Institutional Adventism is unwilling to engage with the topic/problem of deep time and evolution. APs have questions they pose to the church. And the answers they think follow, would significantly alter current orthodoxy. “Sorry about that,” they might say. And really mean sorry, but also consider change as progress, toward a better understanding of reality. Wherever “truth” takes us, is the bottom line.  Now, conservatives generally (not just the AMHs) want to conserve “truth” (hence the label, right?). Nothing wrong here, as long as it is actually truth being conserved (there’s the rub). But the conservative angst is that change is maybe (ok, likely) regressive. After all, Adventism is divinely inspired, tasked by God with a message the pioneers worked out, guided substantively (primarily? exclusively?) by Ellen White. So, you don’t budge when you’ve already got The Truth.

Loss as a Constructive Lens

But, as I was reading, then thinking about loss, it seemed that this can actually be a useful lens for considering Adventism, and religion more generally. At the denominational level, the left-to-right ideological continuum from questioning orthodoxy, through denial, to resistance-as-fidelity, can be seen as our collective struggle to correctly apply the “present” part of our Adventist slogan—Present Truth.

But, even if officially orthodox Adventism is 100% true, dropped straight from heaven, we still need to both validate it for today’s membership, and preach it in ways non-Adventists will—or even can—hear. And the situation is more complicated, obviously, if there are parts of our historic beliefs that aren’t true, or even just not important for today.

Yet we seemingly cannot or will not dialog about this. So, we then won’t resolve the issues that must be dealt with to produce an adequate, let alone flourishing Adventism, in modernity.

This is a loss.

And the younger generations are leaving when they cannot see relevance. More loss.

So, is such loss inevitable? The best we can do? If we think harder about what is not happening and who is not being reached, then maybe a few more of us would stop shooting and start dialoging.

Denomination, Local Church, Individuals

The perception I have of pioneer Adventism is that their “big idea”—the intersection of Present Truth and the Remnant Church—made the movement dominant to everything else. I mean, Jesus was coming soon, not in 180 years. Soon! So, to a full-on believer, everything understandably was and should be subordinated to that reality. The End is near. To not see that was to not be fully Adventist.

But pioneer Adventism has now solidified (calcified?) into the Denomination.

Yet all this time hasn’t really turned the church into Laodicea, although some AMHs, and others more mellow, might want to dumb it down to that. Time has both uncovered weaknesses in the original “pristine” world-view, and produced some very constructive reflections on perspective.

At the Adventist denominational level, not quite equivalent to the institutional level, there is a constellation of ideas. We try to tame them into the 28 Fundamental Beliefs. And many of those beliefs are crucial to Christianity, let alone to Adventism. But a problem here is that beliefs are abstractions and they risk first dominating, then sometimes stepping on—people. If (when?) that happens it’s a failure at the denominational level. Jesus surely had “theology” in his head and it guided his words and actions. But people mattered more. Sloppy, error-prone, sinful, really annoying—people. Sorta like some of our relatives. But we don’t (and mostly can’t) throw our relatives under the bus.

So, where do these messy people hang out? The Local Church.

This is where we have a much better shot at making a difference in our world, whether or not the denomination ever moves one ideological iota. We should never forget, thus possibly lose, this Jesus-grounded perspective.

Of course it may be, for you, that the denomination’s present normative beliefs have become too out-of-balance with your religious center to even tolerate any Adventist congregation. Or perhaps your practical options on Sabbath are too toxic, because the local collection(s) of in-the-pew people are too much like a dysfunctional zoo. Ok, then you have to leave for your mental health. But, for a lot of us, distress at the denominational level doesn’t need to translate into disappearance at the local church level. If we let that distress unnecessarily bleed into our local church experience, we have added a loss surcharge to our spiritual lives.

If the Bible says anything, it tells us that community matters. Thus, every subtraction from the group is a loss. The local church needs us, to even get up to the level of mediocrity. Just reducing loss in this context, is a win.

But finally, however important community is, we are Individuals.

Sure, there may be too much individuality dominating Western culture. But we have to live with ourselves and choose our actions, with ethics that let us look in the mirror and not be ashamed. The world is both “glass half-full” and “half-empty.” Sunsets, music, humor, learning, etc.—these are good. But the most important good resides at the personal and interpersonal level, where friendship and love can possibly take root. Loss here is deep, ubiquitous, and can leave profoundly troubling questions about God. The so-called Problem of Evil gives a label to some of this, and theodicies try to carve out a path to sustain belief. But religion doesn’t get any more important than right here. It’s personal. So, if we are to still choose faith in the midst of a littered battlefield of undeniable loss, should we ladle on extra pain, because the church—at whatever level—is somewhat messed up?

The answer is, necessarily, yes and no. Yes, because there is legit spillover from the general subculture to our individual experiences. But no, if we can think dispassionately and not let an environment we likely have little control over, unduly harm our personal experience with God. It’s a tough move to find that balance. But thinking about loss can help us minimize what is actually collateral damage.

Now, I personally care about Adventism writ large. I’ve been associated with Spectrum in various capacities—writer, editor, web team, board member—for 20-ish years. I’d like to think I’m not totally wasting my time here, not channeling Don Quixote. But, even if every AP effort amounted to spitting in some vast Silver Spring “ocean,” we ought not let that disappointment overwhelm the more important local church context, then the even more important individual one.

Among the most significant texts in the Bible, in my flawed opinion, is 1 Corinthians 15:19. “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.” (KJV) The core of Christianity has to do with hope, eternal life, reunions that turn our losses around, and the durability of love. It’s tough enough, when in our quiet space, to choose faith. But that choice provides a grounding that can actually weather the storm. Let’s not let the disappointments we may have with Adventism, magnify loss. Perhaps using the idea of loss as a metric, and a viewing lens, can help us resolve to not self-manufacture more of it than is necessary.

Image Credit: Veit Hammer on Unsplash

About the author

Rich Hannon, a retired software engineer, is columns editor for His long-standing avocations include philosophy, geology, and medieval history. More from Rich Hannon.
Subscribe to our newsletter
Spectrum Newsletter: The latest Adventist news at your fingertips.
This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.