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A Tragic Flaw in “An Invitation to Uplift Jesus”


The quick sequence of interlocking articles that caught my attention was either fortuitous or perhaps providential. Whatever it was, my limited knowledge of the One Project was expanded by a rapid succession of essays on the topic.1 My process of enlightenment began with Nathan Brown’s robust essay in the Record titled “The End of the One Project” (March 16, 2018).2 He fired quite a cannon ball at administrators for not defending the One Project against unfair criticisms despite their having authorized numerous investigations of its bona fides. He made the accusation that “most Church leaders have remained silent, out of the understandable fear of the political risks of speaking up.”3 In Brown’s opinion, “that we struggle to accept that Jesus is enough or that Jesus could be ‘all’ demonstrates deep flaws in our theology.” This is a very serious charge and may have its own shortcomings.

Whether by design or accident, the response was swift for on April 11, 2018, the General Conference Leadership and Division Presidents posted their invitation to uplift Jesus though apparently this statement never appeared on the agenda.4 The statement begins in apparent agreement with the focus of the One Project: “As we proclaim the three angels’ messages let us make sure that Christ stands at the center of all our activities and initiatives [and contextually also “beliefs”]. The statement assays to give members guidelines for assessing the orthodoxy of independent ministries such as the One Project. Indeed, the leaders must consider this entity the model for all such unofficial groups as it is the only one listed. The leaders give seven “crucial questions” with which to assess the independents.

There is a clear concern lest the “Jesus-only” message be disconnected from doctrine, hence several questions test this; for example, question 2 asks: “How do they understand the role of doctrine in Christian faith? Is there an organic connection between the person of Christ and the teachings or doctrines of Christ?  Is there the understanding that knowing Christ necessarily includes knowing and living His teachings and the Biblical truths He taught” (italics added)? The answer to this question is surely yes. Jesus was repeatedly referred to as “teacher” in the Gospels—“that is, teacher of Torah, for there was no other textbook in the curriculum, and one who radically divorced himself from the Torah would not have been called ‘teacher’ by interested audience and hostile Pharisee and Sadducee as well as by his own disciples.”5 So what is wrong with the GC statement?

The first to have an opportunity of reply were two of the former leaders of the One Project, Japhet J. De Oliveira and Paddy McCoy, but both of them chose to turn the other cheek and give a testimony that affirmed the centrality of Christ in their lives. McCoy asked to be judged by the fruits of his ministry. Like Paul (2 Cor. 11:16–33), he felt obliged in his defense to boast as a fool about his achievements.6 And it is a very convincing defense. The former Review and Herald editor, Bill Johnsson, was not quite so reserved when he posted a swift rejoinder on the Spectrum website on April 17, 2018.7 Johnsson’s main concern was with the statement’s emphasis on doctrine: “The statement is all doctrine, doctrine, doctrine. Doctrine is important, but living is more important.” Johnsson accuses the GC of dissociating Jesus from the doctrines: “What an opportunity is lost in this document claiming to uplift Jesus! Why doesn’t it invite the reader to what lies at the heart of the Scriptures—a personal, living, growing relationship with Jesus as our Savior, Lord, Best Friend?”

So what do I think is the tragic flaw? I do not think it is doctrine as such, for doctrine is not only important, it is also actually indispensable. Let us remember that doctrine simply means teaching. One cannot clarify who Jesus is, what he taught, or why he died without exposition. One can have doctrine without Jesus, and that is seriously tragic. But on the other hand, one cannot have Jesus without doctrine/teaching; that is impossible. Catch phrases may be true, but they are inadequate. Jesus cannot be reduced to a slogan.8 Consider a conversation on a train.

Him: I see you are a Christian from what you are reading.
Me: Yes, I am.
Him: I’m a sort of a Hindu myself. Tell me, who is Jesus?
Me: Jesus is a name above all names.
Him: Did he actually live in history?
Me: He’s the center of it all.
Him: Center of what?
Me: No other name but Jesus.
Him: How did he die?
Me: Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
Him: What’s his importance to you?
Me: You can have all this world; give me Jesus.
Him: This is my stop. I think I’ll stay a sort of a Hindu, thanks.

Such catch phrases give us a truncated Christ, not the Jesus of the Gospels. Nor should Jesus be squeezed into doctrines like jelly and cream into a donut. Doctrines or teachings must not be treated as if they stood alone awaiting to be infused with Him. The doctrines grow out of Jesus, never the reverse. Take, for example, the so-called “state of the dead.” This is not merely a proof against Plato’s immortal soul or even a claim that we have the truth. It is about the resurrection of Christ from which the hope of a general resurrection arises. The sequence is the first fruits and then the harvest (1 Corinthians 15:23).

I know that resting in a grave seems to most mourners a poor hope compared with the immediacy of a soul being with God in heaven. Yet, Christianity from its inception was a communal faith. The final hope is also communal; we enter the resurrected life not as fans pressing into the football stadium through the turnstiles one by one, but as Paul says, “at the same time and together with them [the raised] . . . to meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall always be with the Lord. So comfort one another with these words” (author’s translation). Without the resurrection of Jesus, there is no hope and no comfort (1 Corinthians 15:17–19). “And this is the testimony: God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life” (1 John 5:11–12).

The Christ-centeredness of Paul is patent. For example, when reminding the Corinthians of their pledge to support the Christian Jews with a generous offering during a famine in Jerusalem, he gives as the basis of his appeal the example of Christ: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9, NRSV, modified by the author). Of course the promised riches are salvation and not monetary wealth.

We should also remind ourselves how central God himself is to the New Testament’s authors. Take for example the central redemptive acts of Christ—his death and his resurrection. Notice how God is the subject of the action. First his death and then his resurrection:

In the crucifixion
God gave his only Son (John 3:16)
God sent his Son (Galatians 4:4)
God put forward Jesus (Romans 3:25)
God spared not his own Son (Romans 8:32a)
God delivered him up for us all (Romans 8:32b)
God made him to be sin who knew no sin (2 Corinthians 5:21)

In the resurrection
But God raised him up, having freed him from death (Acts 2:24, 32)
The Author of life, whom God raised from the dead (Acts 3:15, 26; 4:10; 5:30; 10:40; 13:30, 37).
We who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead (Romans 4:24; 8:11),
God raised him from the dead (Romans 10:9; 1 Corinthians 6:14; 15:15; 2 Corinthians 4:14; Galatians 1:1; Ephesians 1:20; Colossians 2:12; 1 Thessalonians 1:10; 1 Peter 1:21).

Perhaps we should be singing “God only” and “God is enough.” So I agree with the uplift-Jesus statement that one cannot proclaim Jesus without teaching (doctrine). It is a false dichotomy to pit Jesus against teaching. I also agree that Jesus-only phrases do not tell us much. However, I agree with the One Project that doctrine that is not centered in Jesus is deadly. Christian teaching must issue from, be centered in, and focused on Jesus. So what is the tragic flaw in the GC statement?

The seven questions are formatted without any reference to Jesus, as Johnsson rightly complained; they stand alone as a given. And even worse, when we examine them, we find they exalt not the Jesus of the Gospels, or even the Epistles, but the doctrines peculiar to the Adventist denomination. What we get when we align Jesus with the seven test questions is a thoroughly Adventist Jesus—a Jesus defined more by our interpretation of Daniel than by our reading of the Gospels.

What the statement advocates is a Jesus who teaches not only his return to the Father who sent him but also a Jesus who, since 1844, ministers in a heavenly sanctuary (test query 3); a Jesus who favors the Adventist church above any other Christian community, especially above the Evangelicals (test query 4);9 a Jesus who affirms not only the Sabbath but also a literal six-day creation “in the recent past” (test query 5); a Jesus, who, when he appealed to Daniel, as he does, used the historicist hermeneutic, or he would have, if he had known it (test query 6); and a Jesus who had compassion on an adulterer and a prostitute (John 8:2–11; Luke 7:36–50) but no care for those of the LGBTQ community (test query 7). Where does Jesus teach any of these things in the Gospels?

This GC statement gives us a Jesus who conforms to our doctrines; it does not give us teachings that conform to Jesus. No wonder Johnsson boiled over and got mad.10 But we can answer his question: “It seems as though most everyone has heard that there’s something not quite right, but no one can inform me where the problem lies.”  Here is the answer as I see it. Yes, the One Project teaches Jesus, and yes it presents the doctrines that cluster around him, but the One Project does not teach the Adventist Jesus. Indeed the One Project shapes the Adventist beliefs by the Jesus of the Gospels; and that, Bill, is its sin in the eyes of those who lead us. It is a sin of omission rather than commission; it is not what the One Project says but what it does not say that condemns it. The GC clearly believes that Jesus should be shaped by the 28 fundamentals and not the reverse. So there’s your answer, Bill. God help us.


Notes & References:

1. I have never attended one of the seminars, but we did have Dr. Lawrence Turner and Pastor Japhet De Oliveira join us in our home for a meal one time when there was a One Project program at Avondale College. I did not quiz either of them on their orthodoxy lest they repaid the compliment and reversed the interrogation onto me.

2. It was republished on the Spectrum website a few days later on March 19, 2018.

3. Brown exempts the SPD from this charge and cites the Field Secretary’s supportive article in the Record; see Graeme Humble, “The One Project: Jesus in Adventism,” Record (September 20, 2016).

4. “An Invitation to Uplift Jesus: A Statement from the General Conference Executive Leadership and Division Presidents,” Adventist News Network (accessed on June 6, 2018). It was available on the Spectrum website by April 12, 2018). According to Bonnie Dyer the statement was posted onto the ANN site without it ever having been on the agenda (“Spring Meeting Postlude,” Spectrum website, April 12, 2018).

5. James D. G. Dunn, Christian Liberty: A New Testament Perspective (Grand Rapids; MI: Eerdmans, 1993) 44.

6. Bonnie Dwyer, “Responding to the General Conference’s Latest Document,” Spectrum website, April 12, 2018.

7. William G. Johnsson, “‘The Uplifting Jesus’ Statement: A Theological Perspective,” Spectrum website, April 17, 2018.

8. In my church, I happily sing songs such as “Jesus at the Center of It All,” “Jesus, only Jesus,” “Christ Is Enough,” “It’s All About Jesus,” “Jesus, All for Jesus,” “None but Jesus,” and “Only Jesus.” However, these hardly scratch the surface of the Gospels’ accounts of Jesus.

9. On Adventist ecclesiastical exclusivity, see Leroy Sykes, “The GC Says ‘Uplift Jesus.’ Say What?” Spectrum website, May 14, 2018.

10. William G. Johnsson, “The One Project: Why I'm Mad,” Spectrum website, September 1, 2016.


Norman Young is Conjoint Associate Professor at Avondale College of Higher Education, Cooranbong, NSW, Australia.

Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash


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