Post 33, “The State of the Dead” and Faith, Hope and Love

The end of the old year can speak to us powerfully of the end of life; the start of a new year can remind us winsomely of the beginning of new life. Today’s meditation is a bit atypical, compared with the other blogs on this site. Those who want to read about the key Adventist teaching called “The State of the Dead” may want to go to the two books on  the history of conditionalist faith by LeRoy Edwin Foom or a more scholarly and recent volume on mortalism by Dr Bryan Ball. But those who want to personalise the message of Scripture, stay with me.

Here at Cooranbong with its retirement villages, we are often drawn to the cemetery chapel by two powerful realities: death and love. Our scientific age has learned how to postpone death, but even our studied sophistication cannot prevent it. Yet we are energised and inspired in the presence of death by a constant that is as old as eternity: the beauty and strength of love.

So often our perceptions are enlarged by the insights of believers in other times and places. John Donne, born in 1572, became one of the truly great communicators of Anglican London. In his Divine Meditations he looks death steadily in the eye and warns: “Death, be not proud, though some hath called thee/Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so.”

Human pleasure, Donne contends, comes from rest and sleep. Rest and sleep are pictures of death; therefore its reality is not to be feared. Thus the poet confronts death with stalwart assurance: “… why swell’st thou then? One short sleep past, we wake eternally/And death shall be no more, Death thou shalt die.”

According to the Scriptures, God has in Jesus Christ put Death on notice. Our Lord interrupted every funeral that He attended, aptly symbolising He is the Creator of Life. The fact that Death could not hold Him in Joseph’s tomb intensifies the message that in His loving, powerful hands are the keys of Death and the grave (Revelation 1:18), that He is both resurrection and life  (John 11:25). No wonder the Apostle Paul in the most cogent explication of the resurrection theme declares, “The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (I Corinthians 15:26, N.I.V.).

The Scriptures offer many fitting passages for our meditation. Since there are so many treasured nuggets, how can one be more precious than the rest? But, for me, Paul’s words in I Corinthians 13 fit our need as human beings wonderfully.  Notice these fragments of the larger whole:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud…. it keeps no record of wrongs. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails…. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

The New Testament has much to say of faith. It affirms “the faith of Jesus” and challenges us with the life stories of men and women of faith. It also speaks of “the faith,” as when Paul exclaims, “I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7). So often we celebrate the faith of a man or a woman whose life was centred on the faith of Jesus, inspired by the biblical faithful, and who themselves “kept the faith.” Thank God that faith remains!

But hope is faith’s enduring partner. Forever in the now, the Christian is aware of the not yet. Over against failing powers of sight and hearing, ebbing strength and diminishing vitality, we long for the time when the eyes of the blind will be opened, the ears of the death will be unstopped, when the lame will leap like a deer, and the mute tongue will shout in the joy of eternal youth and vigour (see Isaiah 35: 5). After farewelling a loved one we anticipate the moment of resurrection, when “the dead in Christ shall rise.” Thank God that, with faith, hope also remains to light the Christian walk!

But remember the Apostle’s exclamation that these three remain, and he names them: faith hope and love. The Bible declares that “God is love.” Its message is that there is nothing that we can do that will make Him love us more, and nothing that we can do that will make Him love us less. To speak of His love is to speak of His grace that abounds, that is a gift beyond words: unconditional, unearned, enduring.

As we fix our human eyes upon the surpassing splendour of God’s love in Jesus Christ, we (in all our human incompleteness) start to reflect that love. We exult in the faith, the hope and the love that God reveals in His Word, models in His Son, indwells by His Spirit. We thank God for the inspiration of the lives around us that are shaped by faith, hope and love. Never are these enduring gifts of God more precious than when we confront the Last Enemy.

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee/Mighty and dreadful, for, thou art not so. …why swell’st thou then? One short sleep past, we wake eternally, And death shall be no more, Death thou shalt die.

Arthur Patrick, posted 31 December 2011


Post 32, Whither Adventist Studies: Several doctoral studies point the way

Dear Reader, if you go to the archives of this website you will find a blog (dated 2 November 2011) about one of my favorite Old Testament exegetes, Dr Alden Thompson. There is no need to offer a biography of Dr Thompson here, since you easily can read that (plus his actual writings) on his website at Walla Walla University. Recently I asked Dr Thompson to write a short paragraph introducing readers to a book (my papers and articles) that another colleague is editing for publication. On 12 December 2011 Dr Thompson wrote:

Fresh excitement is stirring in Adventist Studies and Arthur Patrick has played a key role in the resurgence. His article in the Journal of Religious History (September 2010) is just one example of the quality materials he has produced. This collection of essays is a good sign that the old paucity is being replaced by a new richness.

There is evidence that “fresh excitement is stirring in Adventist Studies” to the extent that I dearly hope “the old paucity is being replaced by a new richness.” It was a thrill to see a German pastor receive a PhD degree on 11 December 2011, at the annual graduation for students of Avondale College of Higher Education. His thesis in impressive indeed; its content and its thoroughness speak volumes for the diligence of the candidate and the competence of his principal supervisor, Dr Steven Thompson. PhD projects in Australia are examined by external scholars who have expertise in the academic discipline that is under consideration. The principal academic focus of the German pastor’s thesis was Biblical Studies, so why do I mention it in a blog about Adventist Studies?

I mention the academic discipline of Biblical Studies precisely because it is so crucial for Adventist Studies. We take a high view of the Bible and a low view of creeds. When we say, in the preamble to our Fundamental Beliefs, that we “accept the Bible as our only creed” we mean that we are determined to mine the whole of Scripture for everything it tells us about God, Christ, the Holy Spirit, humanity, sin, salvation, eternity, and so on. This might be described as a “big ask,” or even an impossible ask, but it is our task. To highlight the centrality of the Bible over against the interpretations of the Bible that we find in the Christian creeds, it is well for us to remember John N. Loughborough’s vivid warning about the potential misuse of statements of faith:

The first step of apostasy is to get up a creed, telling us what we shall believe. The second is to make that creed a test of fellowship. The third is to try members by that creed. The fourth is to denounce as heretics those who do not believe that creed. And, the fifth is to commence persecution against such (Review and Herald, 8 October 1861, 148).

 Therefore, it is an encouragement that we have available to us cogent studies of Scripture like that by the German pastor, as mentioned above. Also, a “dinkum Aussie,” teaching at Helderberg College in South Africa, has recently completed a PhD thesis at the University of Queensland. Jeff Crocombe’s study explores the subject of hermeneutics: how the Bible was interpreted during the early years of the Second Advent Movement. Another PhD project by a Finnish pastor offers a fresh analysis of Ellen White’s spirituality. Graeme Sharrock’s review of that thesis, published on the Spectrum website, includes paragraphs such as these:

 Many years ago, I noticed how often Ellen White referred to the “soul” in her devotional writings. It was a precious and sacred aspect of the human personality, the object of divine guidance, nurturance, and protection, and “soul-saving” was God’s purpose in the world. When early Adventists exchanged the conventional idea of the immortality of the soul for the more biblical view of the unity of body and soul, they largely abandoned the term soul and substituted the contemporary language of character development. Ellen White, however, remained interested in the soul—along with the human body and spirit—and became Adventism’s chief advocate of holistic spirituality.

In our time, the emerging field of spirituality has ignited research into “spiritual formation” and “spiritual guidance” in the religious traditions. The recent dissertation by Harri Kuhalampi, written at the University of Helsinki, offers an analysis of White’s mature spirituality, slanted toward Lutheran culture of northern Europe, but using the modern academic study of Christian spirituality as a framework.

I have been appreciative of Graeme Sharrock’s writing since he was an Avondale College student in the 1970s. At present he is almost through a fascinating study of Ellen White’s testimonies in their historical context, to be presented to the Divinity School at the University of Chicago. A chapter that I have read, Graeme’s contribution to the Ellen White Project (see more detail elsewhere on this website) is stimulating to say the least.

In my pamphlet offering guidance for higher degree students who wish to pursue Adventist Studies, and in the Journal of Religious History article that Dr Alden Thompson reviews (see above), I list more that thirty doctoral dissertations/theses that make a significant contribution to Adventist Studies. When the time is right, I will review a thesis by another Australian researcher who has placed Ellen White more cogently than usual in the setting of nineteenth-century North American Christianity.

Yes, Dr Thompson is correct: “Fresh excitement is stirring in Adventist Studies” and there are signs aplenty that “the old paucity is being replaced by a new richness.”

Arthur Patrick, 25 December 2011

Post 31, Norman H. Young: Christmas through the eyes of a New Testament exegete

What does an Adventist who is also an exegete of the New Testament think about Christmas? Our e-mail inboxes have been filled constantly, during recent weeks, with messages from friends around the planet. Dr Norman Young and his wife Elizabeth arrived on the campus of what is now Avondale College of Higher Education during the first half of 1973; Joan and I arrived in September that year. Norm gracefully carried back to Australia a newly-minted PhD degree from Manchester University, and has in the past 38 years distinguished himself by continuing research into the New Testament. Shared in lectures, sermons, books, papers and articles, his insights have blest many people. I particularly enjoy his presentations on the Gospel of John, a theme reflected in his Christmas letter to family and friends; our copy came three days ago. I reproduce the first part of his letter here, exactly, with Norm’s permission.

A Christmas Meditation:

This is the season for the nativity scene to appear in shop windows and on church lawns. We hear again through Matthew and Luke’s eyes the story of the birth of Jesus. We are regaled with the account of the journey to Bethlehem, of the pregnant Mary riding on the donkey, of the cruel inn-keeper that wouldn’t give them a room, of the stable with the farmyard animals as witnesses to the birth, of the placing of the new-born child in a feed box, of the shepherds hearing the angels sing, and of the star that guided the wise men to Bethlehem.

It’s a story I love, even in its popularised traditional (and inaccurate) form, but given the satiety of it at the present it is with some relief that I consider John’s Gospel. This is because it has nothing of the usual Christmas story: no stable, no wise men, no donkey, no feed box, no expectant Mary, no King Herod, and no shepherds; nothing at all like it. Indeed, I’m tempted to say no … Santa or flashing lights on plastic fake conifer trees. Needless to say, John is not often referred to over Christmas, either in the media or from the pulpit. So contrary to the present trend I choose to paddle against the current and turn to John—a good text you may surmise for “grumpy old men.”

Jesus’ trial was before the Judean elite and the Roman governor Pontius Pilate. The Roman Empire into which Jesus was born was violent, brutal, and rapacious. Both its wealth and its power centred in the elite few. Pilate himself was a typical Roman governor, greedy, brutal, capricious, and corrupt. One part of his interrogation at the trial of Jesus went as follows:

“Are you the king of the Jews?” Pilate asks at the commencement of Jesus’ ordeal before him (18.33).” Jesus’ response is to point out that his kingship does not belong to this world (vv. 36a, 36c); if it were, then of course his followers would now be fighting to prevent him being delivered to the Jews (v. 36b). Warfare is a constant in human kingdoms. Jesus’ kingship is not simply different in origin (not from here, 36c); it is different in nature (otherwise my servants would now be fighting, v. 36b). Jesus’ reference to his kingship being not of this world evokes Pilate’s derisive question: “So you are a king then, aren’t you?” (v. 37). “King” is Pilate’s term, but he does not for a moment believe that Jesus has any regal status. Although Jesus does not disown it, he intimates that Pilate’s understanding of the title is far from the truth.

“You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth” (v. 37b). In Pilate’s tough political arena of intrigue, bribery and hubris, truth was as foreign as an elephant in Antarctica. Hence he cynically dismisses Jesus’ assertion with a sneering reply that indicates he thought the pursuit of truth a vain folly: “What is truth?” And having asked the question, he turned and went out to the Jews without showing any interest in Jesus’ possible reply (v. 38).

Today I imagine truth is defined as that which survives our best efforts to invalidate the datum; or perhaps as the point where four or more independent lines of data coalesce. Jesus meant that he had come from God into the world to testify to the truth about God. He is the true bread, the living bread that came down from God. He testifies to what he knows—the truth about God. Make no mistake the God of Jesus is not identical with the God of Moses.

Atheists such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens (who sadly died this last week) accuse Christians of cherry picking when it comes to the Hebrew Scriptures. Absolutely correct, and we do so not so much on the basis of rational thought, but rather more on the basis of Jesus, who was born to testify to the truth about God. And that truth is embodied in Jesus (John 14.6-7, 9). “The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (1.17). I for one am glad that he was born and came into this world. This man, as the celebrated playwright Dorothy Sayers correctly noted in the title of one of her plays, was born to be King. May Christmas encourage us all to think of the profound and sublime significance of that event.

The “Meditation” then moves to a narration of personal and family events, but returns in its last sentence to a sharing of faith: “Our hope of an afterlife is not because Christians fear non-existence, but because genuine friendships are life-long, and that goes for friendships with the immortal God.”

Arthur Patrick, posted 23 December 2011

Post 30, William Tyndale, the Sword and the Word

“As a good surgeon cutteth away a putrefyed member, for the love he hath for the hole body, least it infecte the others members adjoynge to it.”

With those vivid, quaintly spelled words, the Bishop of London justified the martyrdom of reformers in England during the reign of Mary Tudor (1553-58). Mary lived in obscurity until the death of “the godly imp” Edward VI, her half-brother. Of the many earnest believers burned as heretics by “Bloody Queen Mary” we remember most of all four of the men who died during 1555-6: Thomas Cranmer, Hugh Latimer, Nicolas Ridley and John Hooper. However, uncounted others made the supreme sacrifice as “slowly in a shambling sort of way” (to use Vivian Green’s expression) a new English church emerged by the time of Elizabeth I (1558-1603). “You have the Word,” one of Mary’s supporters boasted, “we have the Sword.” The sword was sharp and cruel, but the Word won after a long and painful struggle.

 A Great Need: the Word

One of the greatest needs of Christianity in England during the sixteenth century was for a better translation of the Bible, one that spoke to ordinary men and women as well as to preachers and scholars.  The authors of the New Testament used everyday speech to express divine truths, the language commonly heard in homes and marketplaces. The Jewish rabbi (teacher) we call the Apostle Paul knew that his letters would be far less effective if his ideas were imprisoned in the esoteric beauty of classical Greek, so even he used ordinary (Koine) Greek. Then, as missionary movements brought the message of Jesus to new nations (such as those in Europe, Africa and Asia) there was a constant need to translate God’s Word for people who knew nothing of either Hebrew (Old Testament) or Greek (New Testament), the original languages in which the 66 sacred books were first written. Latin translations widened the influence of the Bible, especially while the Roman Empire was influential or educated people cherished classical learning.

John Wycliffe (died 1384) took a huge step toward meeting the need of English-speaking people when he translated Scriptures from Latin into English, but within a hundred years Wycliffe’s language needed updating. Not until the seventeeth century was a version of the Bible published in such excellent English that it would last for centuries. In fact, even now many English-speaking Christians still cherish the “Authorised” or King James Version (KJV). Most of us know little about King James I, except we recall that it was “by his Majesties Speciall Commandement” that the KJV was issued in 1611.

In many respects the Protestant Reformation was initiated by Bible study amongst its leaders like Luther, Calvin, Cranmer and Knox, but it was sustained because of a wider availability of the Scriptures in the diverse languages of ordinary believers. The effect was not only spiritual, of course; it had many cultural dimensions. Owen Chadwick notes in A History of Christianity:

In every country of Protestant Europe the translation of the Bible deeply affected both literature and everyday language. A fine English translation of the New Testament and parts of the Old Testament was made during the reign of Henry VIII by William Tyndale, who was obliged to hide on the continent and was later betrayed and strangled. It was adapted from time to time, and eventually formed the basis of the much-loved ‘Authorised Version’ or ‘King James Bible’ of 1611.

Our Debt to Tyndale and Cranmer

The language of devotion and worship currently used in Australia and New Zealand owes an enormous debt to two of the men who were reduced to ashes in 1536 and 1556. Cranmer created much of the language of faith enshrined in The Book of Common Prayer; some of his phrases are familiar even to casual Christians who only attend church to celebrate “hatches, matches and dispatches” (baptisms, weddings and funerals). Since Tyndale influenced Cranmer and the entire English-speaking world through his translation of the Bible we do well to give attention to this man of faith who was so roughly treated.

William Tyndale was born about 1494 in Gloucestershire and spent five years studying at Oxford University before additional study at Cambridge. By the early 1520s a bold plan was forming in his mind: he determined to create a fresh translation of the Bible not from Latin but from the original languages, beginning with the New Testament. According to the Bishop of London this was not an acceptable idea. For a time, London merchants such as Humphrey Monmouth supported him, but it became necessary for Tyndale to flee England, never to return. Sheltering in Hamburg, Tyndale had his first translation ready for printing in Cologne by 1525. Even though local magistrates interrupted the process there, the work was printed in Worms and reached England the next year to be bitterly attacked, collected and burned by the Bishop of London and others. The fugitive moved to the English House in Antwerp, continuing his writing and, especially, the constant revision of his New Testament. By 1530 Tyndale had also translated the first five books of the Old Testament; much more of it was in manuscript form before he was betrayed, arrested, imprisoned, strangled and burned at the stake on or about 6 October 1536.

A Martyr’s Witness

Tyndale understood the Greek and Hebrew in which the original authors told the story of salvation; his genius was to express Scripture in “straightforward, vigorous English” (according to The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church). So winsome was Tyndale’s language that, although many others would attempt their own translations or revise Tyndale’s work; his translation formed the basis for the most-cherished English Bible, the Authorised Version, and its major offspring, the Revised Version made in England and North America between 1870 and 1884. What might he have accomplished, had he been permitted to live a normal lifespan?

Three almost complete copies of Tyndale’s 1526 New Testament printed in Worms are known to exist. Some years ago the British Library bought one of them from the Baptist College of Bristol for a million pounds and in 2000 the Library made the first complete reprint since 1526 of Tyndale’s “pioneering translation.” That reprint is before me as I write. Tyndale would be pleased that “The errours committed in the prentynge” of 1526 are corrected in this edition, even though the original spelling is used. (This book of 558 small pages is one of the most cherished possessions of my friend Dr Bryan Ball, a scholar whose research often requires him to decipher little-known manuscripts in English libraries.)

Ponder with me information given by W.R. Cooper in his “Introduction” for this reprint. By 1274, Cooper says, a Latin Bible in England cost thirty pounds, the total wages of a labouring man for fifteen years; therefore, only very rich people were able to own a Bible. By 1420 a hand-copied Lollard Bible could be bought for ten pounds or less, so groups of people were better able to club together and purchase a Bible. Tyndale’s New Testament was smuggled into England and, at times, sold for three or four shillings, although some copies were given away to those who could not afford to buy them. No wonder religious and political leaders were angry; their authority and their demands would be challenged increasingly should people read for themselves that salvation is by grace through faith (compare Romans with Ephesians 2:6-10).

Now, for a few dollars, we can buy an excellent translation of the entire Bible in accessible language, to read or to give to others. The expectation of the Founder of the Christian church is very clear even in William Tyndale’s 1525 translation. Here is the last paragraph of “the Gospell of S. Mathew”:

Then the xj. Disciples went there waye into galile, into a mountayne where Jesus had appoynted them. And when they sawe hym, they worshipped hym. But some of them douted. Jesus came and spake unto them, saynge: All power ys geven unto me in heven, and in erth. Goo therefore and teache all nacions, baptisynge them in the name of the father, and the sonne, and the holy goost: Teachinge them to observe all thynges, whatsoever I commaunded you. And lo I am with you allwaye even untyll the ende off the worlde.

By the time of his violent death Tyndale was probably only in his early forties, but he had helped to lay an effective foundation for the Reformation in England by arming people with “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17; cf. Hebrews 4:12, NIV). Cranmer and others ensured that The Book of Common Prayer emphasised the Bible: “Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation,” they declared. And, in The Litany they wrote for Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays they encouraged people to “beseech” the “good Lord” for “increase of grace to hear meekly thy Word, and to receive it with pure affection, and to bring forth the fruits of the Spirit.”

Note: This post is meant to frame the Adventist passion for Scripture and to highlight the enormous privilege we have of ready access to it.

Arthur Patrick, posted 17 December 2011


Post 29, The Wesleys and the Background of Adventism

Note: It will help us to understand early Adventism if we explore the various movement from which Adventists came. Here is a short excursion into Methodism, along with Baptists the most important influence upon our pioneers.

John Wesley was born in 1703 as the fifteenth child of the Anglican rector of Epworth, the Reverend Samuel Wesley, and his wife Susannah. John Wesley wanted to transform the Church of England from within rather than develop a new organisation. However, according to The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, at the time of his death in 1791, Wesley’s Methodist Movement had “294 preachers and 71,668 members in Great Britain, 19 missionaries and 5,300 members on mission stations, and 198 preachers and 43,265 members in America.”

“Bible Moths”

A life of faith was a high priority for the young John Wesley as a student at Oxford University. His magnetic personality attracted other devout, studious young men to a group founded by his brother Charles—ridiculed by many as the “Holy Club,” “Methodists” or “Bible Moths.” Charles, writer of more than 5,500 hymns, was Samuel and Susannah’s eighteenth child. George Whitfield, one of the “Bible Moths,” would become famous in Europe and the United States as a Christian orator.

To onlookers it seemed that the derided “Methodists” at Oxford were drawn to the Bible like moths are attracted to a flame. But the Wesleys weren’t satisfied with just being part of a holy huddle. In company with Charles, by 1735 John was venturing across the Atlantic Ocean to preach in Georgia, representing the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel. The experience was disappointing. The colonists sensed John’s inexperience as a minister and they detested his aversion for both gin and slavery. In 1736 Charles returned to England; the next year a disappointed John was also back home.

Both John and Charles were searching for a deeper understanding of the Bible and God’s purpose for their lives. Peter Böhler, a young Moravian Christian en route from the continent of Europe to the United States, convinced John Wesley that he lacked “that faith whereby alone we are saved.” In John’s mind were wistful memories from his 1735 crossing of Atlantic en route to Georgia when, during fierce storms, calm faith was shown by a group of Moravians. On 24 May 1738, urged by Charles, John attended a meeting in London of a small group of Moravian Brethren. John Wesley’s vivid account is available to us as a tiny part of his copious published journals:

In the evening, I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death (emphasis in original).

Wesley’s heart was not only “strangely warmed” with the saving message of the Scriptures; he determined thereafter “to promote as far as I am able vital practical religion and by the grace of God to beget, preserve, and increase the life of God in the souls of men.”

Grace: “Say It!”

John Wesley was now better equipped to move multitudes with his preaching, but most of the churches were closed to him. However, he discovered coal-miners were very willing to hear his message while standing in the open air. Soon Wesley was travelling widely throughout the British Isles as an itinerant preacher; in 1747 he made his first trip to Ireland; in 1751 he made the first of 22 visits to Scotland. By 1760, as Irish and other converts migrated across the Atlantic, Methodism was taking root in North America.

Historians estimate that John Wesley travelled on horseback an average of eight thousand miles a year to proclaim the grace of God. Perhaps his journeys were longer than those of any other Christian witness who lived before his era. Certainly the famous missionary journeys of the Apostle Paul, largely on foot or by boat, were much shorter. We think that some of Wesley’s huge open-air meetings may have attracted audiences of up to thirty thousand people.

Not everyone was glad to hear Wesley’s message, however. There were “classes” in English society of the 1740s, sometimes described as the “upper ranks,” the “middling ranks” and the “lower orders,” with land ownership being the cherished key to power. As Henry D. Rack, one of Wesley’s best biographers well observes, “Men were expected dutifully to obey their betters and to be content with the lot appointed to them by God, even if they could try to prosper within their sphere.”[1] Over against this notion, some people sensed what was rightfully due to them in employment, wages and physical protection. While the poor were sometimes seen to have a religious advantage that enabled them to escape the worry of wealth, frequently they were expected to believe that poverty was ordained of God as essential for the well-being of society. So, to use Rack’s description, the eighteenth century was “punctuated by riots.”

There are many reasons why Wesley was a focal point of social tensions. A clergyman censured his teachings as presenting “an imaginary new birth, and an imaginary new faith and an imaginary assurance” of salvation in Jesus Christ. The wealthy suspected any gathering of the poor as likely to imperil their status. Pious folk felt church order was threatened by a dangerous new religion. Some tradespeople—alehouse keepers, musicians, actors and entertainers—deemed Methodist morality might cost their jobs. Since rumour can readily distort reality, it was easy to provoke unrest. Hence, in John and Charles Wesley’s journals, we read vivid account of mobs, riots, assaults, violence—and remarkable escapes that they interpreted as miraculous.

To read the Christian Scriptures is to be confronted by the command of Jesus: “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation” (Mark 16:15; compare Matthew 28:18-20, NIV). In 1739, John Wesley wrote, “I look upon all the world as my parish.” He was, by this statement, defending the way he disregarded recognised church boundaries that were deemed to be so important in Britain at the time. Wesley was also expressing the vision of an entire world transformed by the grace of God. Few others match John Wesley’s diligence and energy as a herald of the gospel.

Grace: “Sing it!”

The Encyclopedia of Religion in sixteen volumes, with Mircea Eliade as its general editor, is one of the best publications of its type, Such encyclopedias assign topics to experts in each of the areas under consideration; understandably, Frank Baker wrote the entry on Methodism and a single entry for the two most-famous Wesleys, John and Charles. Both brothers were itinerant preachers and able writers. If John was a master at expressing the Christian faith in prose, Charles is noteworthy for his skill in enabling people to sing their faith.

After 150 years of comparative neglect, in 2006 the world was given a comprehensive, fresh biography of Charles Wesley, written by Gary Best.[2] In 390 readable pages we get to know John’s younger brother as founder of the Holy Club, as John’s most constant travelling preacher for two decades, as founder of Methodist societies, as mentor of local preachers, and as an effective sounding-board who moderated some of John’s radical ideas. Best tells the story of Charles Wesley winsomely, helped by many graphic examples of his poetry.

Beset by illness, Charles tried to recover his health in the famous spa city of Bath. During that difficult time he wrote over two thousand items, published as Short Hymns on Select Passages of the Holy Scriptures. Not only was his health at risk, Charles was distressed by the controversy over John’s extreme concept of Christian perfection. In his poetry, Charles often struggled to present the case clearly, as when he wrote in 1749:

Thou wilt not leave Thy work undone/But finish what Thou hast begun,

Before I hence remove/I shall be, Master, as Thou art,

Holy, and meek, and pure in heart/And perfected in love.

These two sons of Samuel and Susannah Wesley were stronger together than they could ever be apart. John’s “enthusiastic religion” with its reliance on the miraculous was wisely tempered by Charles; John’s disastrous marriage was balanced by the delightful relationship between Charles and his wife Sally, even though five of their children died in infancy.

It has been claimed that “a skilful man, if the Bible were lost, might extract it from Wesley’s hymns.” At least, John said his brother’s verse was “the handmaid of piety” and contained “all the important truths of holy religion.” The compelling biographies by Henry Rack and Gary Best demonstrate the challenges and rewards of diligent Bible study and the joy of God’s transforming grace that is “open to all, regardless of their inadequacies and sinfulness.” With this in mind, the last words of Best’s book, written by Charles Wesley, seem to fit John’s faith as well:

Peace, righteousness, and joy Divine/Thou dost with love impart,

That Thou art love that Thou art mine/Assure my happy heart:

Then am I meet for Thy reward/Renew’d in holiness,

And live the image of my Lord/And die to see Thy face.

Arthur Patrick, 11 December 2011

[1] Reasonable Enthusiast: John Wesley and the Rise of Methodism (London: Epworth Press, 2002), 6.

[2] Gary Best, Charles Wesley: A Biography (Werrington, Peterborough: Epworth, 2006).

Post 28, Thanking God for Scientists That I Know

On the morning of December 3, I received the following message from Dr James Gibson of the Geoscience Research Institute in the United States:

The latest GRI Newsletter is now on-line at

Contents: Reports

3rd Conference on Teaching Origins, in Canmore, Alberta, Canada; Creation Conference at SahmYook University, South Korea; Book review, Evolution. A view from the 21st century. James Shapiro.

Science Notes

Gene duplication questioned as source of new enzyme functions; Rapid change in island birds; Evidence of Paleozoic chitin.

My readers can access the website (above) for succinct, attractively-presented data that supports the contemporary understanding of the Seventh-day Adventist Church about creation, time and related matters.

Historical Reflection

I’ve been thinking recently about the ongoing warfare between believers and scientists. The conflict goes back to (and far beyond) Galileo (1564-1642) who observed that spots on the Sun moved, and inferred that must mean the Sun rotated! He closely watched the Moon, the Milky Way, Jupiter and more. However, as rewards for his diligent study of the heavens, Galileo suffered a wearisome trial, imprisonment, condemnation, then house arrest.

What relevance does such a sad record have for Adventist Studies? A bit more than meets the eye. Perhaps I can explain a little by briefly telling some of my story.

As a college student (1954-7) I came to love the writings of George McCready Price (1870-1963), the stalwart “Crusader for Creation,” teacher and author of some 23 books. Price convinced me that the geological column was a figment of the flawed imaginations of misguided scientists. I still deeply respect Price. As an historian I am interested in the profound impact he had on the Protestant world, far beyond the borders of our church. But I now believe that Price’s lifelong crusade was, at its core, a sad mistake.

Late in his life Price realised some of his best and brightest students, now mature scientists doing their own research, were already beginning to seriously question what he had taught them. The scientific evidence was so powerful that these dedicated Christians were no longer vigorously denying the existence of the geological column (like Price did), they were explaining it (as Dr James Gibson and his team at the Geoscience Research Institute are still attempting to do). Hence, much of what I learned as a Theology student in the 1950s was no longer taught when I was a Seminary student in the 1970s. More than that, some of what I learned in the 1970s is now no longer either believed or taught.

What does this mean? First, that truth is in God; it is unchanging. Second, that our perceptions of truth are always partial. Usually we “see through a glass darkly,” to cite an apt symbol given to us by the Apostle Paul.

Having left school at eleven years of age, I was delighted to be able to begin high school in 1950, on the campus of Avondale. That year the College welcomed to its campus three students who undertook external science degrees from the University of London: Eric Magnusson, Laurie Draper, and Ken Thomson. Each of them graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree and then went on to complete a doctorate, except Eric completed two, one in Australia and one in England. Eric, Laurie and Ken taught countless students in Australia, the Pacific and the United States, always sensitively in terms of the debates between science and religion.

During August 2009, Joan and I spent a wonderful day with Eric and other friends, walking for some hours in the beautiful National Park just north of the mouth of the Hawkesbury River. When we arrived back  at the Avoca home of our mutual friends, Eric and I sat on the verandah in deep conversation. After perhaps an hour, we were about to join the others in the lounge; Eric glanced in, commented that there were already too many people in that space before saying “let’s talk in the family room.” Until we were called for a delightful evening meal, Eric shared with me his life experience as a Christian dealing with the issues of science: the Theology students he had taught, the Geoscience field trips he attended since 1968, and much more.

Eric’s headlights were in our rear vision mirror for several minutes that evening as we each drove toward our respective homes. Within two hours his life was violently taken by an aneurism.

Ever since that night, I have felt deeply grateful for the in-depth conversation we shared, Eric’s commitment to Scripture and his unyielding quest to understand God’s other book, Nature.

I thank God for so many of the people I have known personally, trained to PhD level in physics, chemistry, botany, biology, archaeology, anthropology and other branches of science, who also respond to the message of Revelation 14:6 and 7: “Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water.” I have great trouble with what many earnest individuals expect our young people to believe about both Science and Religion.

But that will be the focus of other blogs. This one is about being thankful!

Arthur Patrick, 4 December 2011


Post 27, Apocalyptic, Adventism and America

Note: This volume is reviewed here because it is one of the outstanding publications (relating to Adventism) that appeared during the first decade of the 21st century.

Seventh-day Adventists began as a marginalized fragment of the millennialist ferment that stirred the United States during the 1830s and 1840s. Their millenarian ethos persists into the present, one result being their energetic advocacy of religious liberty and the separation of church and state. Now the complex factors sustaining continuity and effecting change in Adventism are more understandable, with the help of Douglas Morgan, Adventism and the American Republic: The Public Involvement of a Major Apocalyptic Movement (Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 2001).

Morgan’s volume is essential reading for quite diverse individuals: those with an interest in the way that religion and society interface with each other, wishing to explore what H. Richard Niebuhr called “the double wrestle of the church with its Lord and with the cultural society with which it lives in symbiosis”; those who want to understand the motivations and constraints that operate in millennialist movements; those who are drawn to or repelled by North American public policy, and many others. An important segment of the others will be Seventh-day Adventists who find themselves intrigued by almost an alphabet of concerns: church and state, civil liberties, ecumenism, eschatology, fundamentalism, labor unions, military service, political involvement, religious liberty, Sunday laws, and a complex of related issues.

Morgan is assistant professor of history at Columbia Union College in Maryland, so he is a believer-participant as well as a researcher of Adventist thought and history. But his book has satisfying depth. It was born at the University of Chicago, developed under the supervision of Martin Marty, honed into a doctoral thesis, and now, after a dozen years and ongoing research, it is published as a highly-readable monograph.

Insights in Marty’s foreword are worth the price of the book, not least for the way he packages Adventist peculiarities or distinctive characteristics. “Adventists see Catholicism as part of a conspiracy, along with ecumenical Protestantism”; we are “confused when official Catholicism celebrates religious liberty and when Protestant ecumenists come through not as conspirators but as consecrated fellow Christians”; we care a great deal about religious liberty and have “made major contributions in the American legal tradition by helping expand the liberties of all Americans.” Even though we are moving from the position of “religious outsiders” (Moore) and “cognitive minorities” (Berger), Marty notes that we make our “peculiar view of the Second Coming active” in our lives, mingling “major efforts to effect conversion” with “Endism.”

Marty separates Morgan’s book from what some would expect to be “a work of apologetics and public relations” on the one hand, or “a work of destruction” on the other. He rates Morgan as an author who “deals with controversy serenely” and, in a word that he likes “better than ‘objectively’ or ‘disinterestedly,’ with fair-mindedness.”  Marty testifies that he has been Morgan’s “teacher and colleague” and that he remains “an admirer and friend of this historian who taught me so much about Adventism and religious liberty.”

Currently, Adventism is viewing itself in more mature ways with the help of a plethora of books and journal articles from presses outside the church. We would be greatly the poorer without Numbers and Butler, The Disappointed; without Michael Pearson’s Millennial Dreams and Moral Dilemmas; without Roland Blaich’s articles on Adventism and Nazi Germany; without Ronald Lawson’s continuing sociological analyses reported in the best journals of their genre. Morgan must now be added to any list of such pioneering calibre.

No evangelist should preach on Revelation 13:11-18 before reading the way in which this passage has been exegeted since 1844; no religious liberty author should write on Adventism and the public sphere without an in-depth understanding of this aspect of our heritage; no young person should engage in military service without an awareness of the struggle of his or her forebears; no college or university president should guide an institution through the issues of public funding without examining the relevant precedents; no member should relate to labor union issues uninformed by the past. For all such, Morgan has performed a great service.

This “must-read” book is also a “can’t stop” book. It divides Adventist history into six epochs characterised in its chapter titles: Remnant versus Republic, 1844-1861; An Activist Remnant, 1861-1886; Apocalyptic Faith and Industrial America, 1886-1914; Conscientious Cooperators, 1914-1955; A Flexible Wall, 1955-1976; A Pluralistic Remnant, 1976-2000. This reviewer found the prose so accessible and the narrative so compelling that it was an effort to put the book down; there was always the urge to follow the strands of continuity through the processes of constant and often significant change. Such is the nature of the Adventism that Morgan enables us to better understand.

The book has 269 pages, including 40 pages of notes and references, six pages of bibliography, nine pages of index.

Marty gives a perceptive context to Jonathan Butler’s observation about Adventists: “They wished to delay the end in order to preach that the end was soon.” Now, with Morgan’s help, we can perceive more fully the nature of our faith and the ways in which it motivates us. The spin-offs are numerous: not least, we can now function with increased awareness and greater effectiveness in the public sphere.

Arthur Patrick, 6 April 2002