Post 89, Reviewing Adventism in 2012, with help from ADVENTIST TODAY

 

Hearty thanks and warm regards to the thousands of people who have logged on to this little website during 2012. It seems appropriate to offer a few comments about the old year, as it becomes history.

Seventh-day Adventists, more than most Christian groups, identify with particular dates. There is 1844, a year of sublime expectation and bitter sorrow; the hope was so lofty and the disconfirmation so disastrous that ever since our religious community has spoken of the GreatDisappointment. The years 1860-63 were memorable in that, after a long struggle, we at last found a name for ourselves, developed state conferences and an over-arching General Conference structure. The year 1888 began an explosive debate about the central truth of Righteousness by Faith; it would take almost a century for rationality to supplant rhetoric. In 1901 we reorganised our denomination in a way that better accommodated the needs of a growing movement that was reaching out to a diverse world. The memorable conference of 1919 was almost totally lost to living memory for more than a half-century, until we realised that to ignore history made us liable to repeat its mistakes. The year 1970 marked a turning point as we were confronted by a powerful need to interpret our history from its primary sources rather than through the tinted glasses of our traditions. The years 1980 and 1982 witnessed something of a climax for this process as we faced the disturbing issue of how evidence shapes faith.

 

All these crucial dates (and many more) are rather familiar to readers of this website. So, the insistent question arises: How does 2012 look when compared with the years of acknowledged significance from the Adventist past?

The weekly Adventist Today newsletter that arrived on my computer (as expected) on the morning of December 29 carried its usual freight of interesting reports. Many of its narratives are unmentioned in the church’s official media, although (commendably) Adventist Review recently made a conscious decision to report the discussion about women’s ordination. Even so, it remains an arresting fact that, without independent news agencies such as the electronic and printed reports made available by entities such as Spectrum and Adventist Today, we would be ignorant of some of the crucial developments taking place within the church we value so highly.

The newsletter tells us:

“Adventist Today published more than 225 news stories this past year to provide an independent record of the Adventist community, unfettered by promotional goals and institutional interests. A number of these were controversial. Some resulted in a large number of comments and correspondence, as well as occasional internal debate among our journalists and the policy-makers at Adventist Today. There were even times when other publications made our reporting part of the news itself.

“Picking ten of these stories as the most important for 2012 is a difficult task. The most important events or trends are not always the most interesting or debatable. Feel free to nominate you own additions or replacements for these ten in the ‘Comments’ section at the end of this article.”

Here is the first of the ten issues selected from 2012, cited in the precise words of the AT report:

“Six union conferences in North America and Europe took a stand to end gender discrimination in ordination to the gospel ministry. At least two of these unions have already seen the ordination of women clergy and it has come to light that the Seventh-day Adventist Church in China has been doing so since the 1980s.

“The year began on an inauspicious note related to this issue; the North American Division (NAD) officers notified the members of their governing body that they would not publish a policy repeatedly voted by significant majorities over the previous three years, due to a ruling by the General Conference (GC) legal office that the body lacked then-necessary authority. The policy E 60 had been revised to permit women with credentials as Commissioned Ministers to be elected conference presidents.

“In early March the Mid-America Union Conference executive committee voted to support the ordination of women but did not take steps to immediately implement that position. In April retired GC President Jan Paulsen told the GC executive committee that he wished the issue had been settled during the 11 years he served as the denomination’s global leader. ‘The Spirit is ready to lead us where we, for various reasons, are reluctant to go,’ he told the denomination’s top leaders.

“On April 22-23 during a regular constituency meeting, the delegates to the North German Union Conference voted by a two-thirds majority to approve the ordination of women pastors in its territory. July 29 delegates to a special constituency session of the Columbia Union Conference in the United States voted four out of five by secret ballot to immediately authorize ordinations without gender discrimination. On August 19 the delegates to a special constituency session in the Pacific Union Conference voted the same thing by the same overwhelming majority. On both occasions Pastor Ted Wilson, current GC president, made a personal appeal to the delegates to not adopt the new policy.

“Since that time the union conferences in the Netherlands and Norway have voted the same policies. As a result there are now three union conferences in North America and three in Europe clearly on record. It is likely that others will eventually join them, even if they do not go so far as to implement the policy along with the scores of women who have been ordained or issued the credentials of an ordained minister in view of their having previously had a ‘laying on of hands’ when they were commissioned.

“The GC officers issued a statement expressing their view that these actions were regrettable and not valid. Rumors flew about possible sanctions that the GC might put in place against these union conferences. Adventist Today published analysis by former GC officers and well-known Adventist theologians. There was extensive debate among many of our readers about ‘unity versus uniformity’ and the role of women in the church. At the annual meeting of the GC executive committee in October the three hours of discussion were respectful and no sanctions were applied or suggested in the draft distributed to the committee members. A month earlier, Bill Knott, editor of the Adventist Review had announced that the ‘general paper’ of the denomination would again open its pages to the topic of women’s ordination after decades of silence.”

However, is the suggestion that 2012 may rank in importance with 1844, 1888, 1901, 1919, 1980 (and such) sustainable? I think not. Yes, the ten examples that are named and described are indeed impressive but, should our Lord tarry for another decade, will 2012 still appear as a towering peak?

The quoted report is succinct and meets the journalistic standards that we have come to expect from the news team at Adventist Today. The progress made on the issue of female ordination is indeed significant. You may want to read the other nine reasons given why 2012 seems particularly significant, and then judge for yourself just how 2012 fits within Adventist history. While I recognize the importance of the ten issues that the AT news team elaborate, I will be waiting for a while before I elevate 2012 to the level of importance claimed for dates such as those listed above.

Arthur Patrick, 30 December 2012

Post 88, Alexander the Great and Adventist Biblical Interpretation

Yesterday Joan and I, in company with a small group of friends, travelled 125 kilometres South to view a remarkable exhibition of some 400 artifacts that are currently on display at the Australian Museum. Alexander the Great is the focus of this particular exhibition; we are grateful to people like Catherine the Great of Russia who helped to stock the world-famous State Hermitage in St Petersburg with a great many such treasures that illumine the past. It is a wonderful privilege to have these items on loan from Russia, touted as “the most exciting and prestigious classical culture exhibition ever to be hosted by the Australian Museum in Sydney.”

Why refer to Alexander III (356 BCE to 323 BCE), usually simply named as Alexander the Great, in a blog about Adventist Studies? Because, in part, Alexander is one of the most important historical figures alluded to in the Book of Daniel, an apocalypse written by a Jewish prophet who was exiled to Babylon by crown-prince Nebuchadnezzar’s first raid on Jerusalem in 605 BC.

Uriah Smith (1832-1903) published his Thoughts Critical and Practical, on the Book of Daniel in 1873. At last, Millerite prophetic interpretation was re-packaged in a more-sustainable but still experimental manner. Smith standardised for Seventh-day Adventists the concept that the Greek empire was the shaggy goat of Daniel 8 that “touched not the ground” and “had a notable horn” between its eyes, symbolising Alexander its “first king” (verse 21).

My interest in Daniel and Revelation was (as mentioned elsewhere on this website) enhanced when LeRoy Edwin Froom delivered a series of lectures at Avondale in 1955. Froom was able to offer us an historical context that helped us to better understand how we arrived at our interpretation of Daniel, not least with his four volumes entitled The Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers. Also, about that time, I bought a newly-published book that I couldn’t really afford, Volume 4 of the Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary. Our church was on a journey toward a faithful exegesis (leading out of the meaning) of Scripture, including its apocalyptic portions, such as Daniel. We can now more adequately, with the help of a vast literature, interpret the complex symbols of Daniel. Chapter 2 depicts various metals (Greece is the kingdom of bronze that was to  “rule over the whole earth”); Daniel 7 portrays fearsome beasts (Greece is the creature that “looked like a leopard”); Daniel 8 describes a ram and a goat in deadly conflict (Greece is the goat that “became very great”).

The exhibition emphasised that almost 2,500 years ago Alexander, as a twenty-year-old Macedonian, embarked on a military campaign that, within a decade, enabled him to rule the then-known world and thus experience unparalleled power. It also documented for us, yet again, that Alexander was a multi-faceted personality whose “conquests dramatically shaped history with effects still felt today” in Western civilisation and even Asia. It further portrayed how history shaped Alexander; indeed, it created many “Alexanders” over the centuries, “few of whom would be recognisable to those who knew him.” Was he a ruthless destroyer, a chivalrous liberator, a military genius, a visionary statesman, an alcoholic, a god, a megalomaniac and a murderer? Yes, and much more.

“Alexander’s life was what legends are made of – gods and heroes, love and war, murder and betrayal, adventure and conquest.” Therefore, it is understandable that “his deeds were used to inspire or terrify, his name was invoked to achieve glory and his face became an artistic ideal.”

I had not realised the extent of the ancient sources that are available, nor the many fascinating ways that medieval legends and modern biographies have depicted Alexander the Great. A BBC series of DVDs on Alexander, that was kindly loaned to us, also helped us prepare for the Museum exhibition. Back in 2009, we spent about six weeks in Turkey, constantly confronted with evidence of Alexander’s travels, conquests and cultural inclinations. That experience spurred me to read the 2005 book by Paul Cartledge, Alexander the Great: The Hunt for a New Past. Now the exhibition in Sydney offers a marvellous visual experience for anyone interested in either ancient history or the symbolism of Daniel’s prophecies. Even the story of the New Testament would be different without the influence of Alexander the Great on Greek language (koine) and society. Rome ruled the world of the first century when Christ came to earth, but is was Greek speech, writing and culture that helped to facilitate the founding and development of Christianity, “the religion of Jesus.”

Arthur Patrick, posted 20 December 2012  

 

Post 87, A Christmas Thought by Dr Norman Young

So it’s Christmas again, and that surely is a fitting time to think about the birth of Jesus. The words of the messenger Gabriel to Mary are quite staggering really, especially when one considers her lowly estate: “And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1.31-33). Many of the terms used to declare Jesus’ status were also used for Caesar—Lord, Son of God, Bringer of Peace, and Saviour of the World etcetera. But one title that Caesar avoided, Jesus accepted; at least when it’s rightly understood, and that title was “King” (that is, Christ or Messiah). Of course, Caesar’s avoidance of the title did not mean he eschewed the role, and in Asia Minor his subjects had no hesitation in giving him the royal title. Like most modern dictators (for example, Mohammed Morsi), Caesar purportedly only took absolute power for the benefit of the people. Given the Christian claims about Jesus, it was inevitable that his movement would clash with the Roman Empire, and clash it did—beginning with the crucifixion of Jesus.

But what kind of King, Lord or Son of God was Jesus? And what kind of Kingdom did he reign over? Well he was a servant king: “For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Mark 10.45). “Son of Man” by the way is a divine title from Daniel 7.13. His kingdom was one to which the poor belonged (Luke 6.20), in which the persecuted found a place (Matthew 5.10), and into which the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind were invited to sit at the King’s table (Luke 14.13-21). His is a kingdom not after the models of this world (which fight over gold and silver with weapons of bronze and iron—Daniel 2); his is one where God’s will is done as it is in heaven; it’s characterised by the power of love rather than the love of power. One enters it with humility, which is the precondition of accepting the grace or the gift of God–and that gift is Jesus (2 Corinthians 9.15). Let’s pray that this kingdom of reversals, this antidote to human pride, is truly a “kingdom without end,” as Gabriel declared at the conception of Jesus.

Note: Within my lifetime of ministry, Adventists have changed from being dismissive about Christmas to being enclosed by (all too often) the tinsel that Western culture wraps around it. Dr Young (see the section about him in Post 86) is one of my most cherished New Testament exegetes. His brief paragraphs (above) express one way that a New Testament scholar helps us understand the meaning of this special time of the year.

Arthur Patrick, 18 December 2012

Post 86, Senior scholars contribute to Avondale’s research output

Avondale College of Higher Education from time to time confers the status of Honorary Senior Research Fellow on active researchers who have retired from full-time employment. The arrangement maintains their association with the College and encourages continued publication, contributing to Avondale’s research profile. This article surveys some highlights of the scholarly careers of three of Avondale’s most published Honorary Senior Research Fellows.

Dr Bryan Ball

Dr Bryan Ball, principal of Avondale from 1984 to 1990, has published prolifically in the fields of ecclesiastical history and theological thought. His first book, A Great Expectation: Eschatological Thought in English Protestantism to 1660 (E.J. Brill, Leiden, 1975) documents the thinking of Protestant English writers on themes associated with the second coming of Christ, demonstrating that belief in Christ’s return was in the mainstream of English Reformation thought.

The English Connection: The Puritan Roots of Seventh-day Adventist Belief (James Clarke & Co., Cambridge, 1981), traces the influence of English Puritanism on later religious movements, particularly Seventh-day Adventism, investigating Puritan thinking on such matters as Scripture, salvation by faith in Christ, baptism, gospel obedience, Christ as our high priest, the seventh-day Sabbath, prophecy, the second coming and the new earth.

The Seventh-day Men: Sabbatarians and Sabbatarianism in England and Wales, 1600-1800 (Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1994) shows that observance of the seventh day was a significant minority practice in English Nonconformity, and that many Sabbatarians exercised considerable influence on the religious life of the period. A revised and expanded edition was published in 2009 (James Clarke & Co., Cambridge).

The Soul Sleepers: Christian Mortalism from Wycliffe to Priestley (James Clarke & Co, Cambridge, 2008) studies the rise and development of the doctrine of conditional immortality in England during the Reformation and post-Reformation periods, demonstrating that this view of humankind’s essential nature and ultimate destiny was held across a wide theological spectrum in English thought for at least three centuries.

Dr Bryan Ball contributed articles on six Puritan and Nonconformist preachers and writers to The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2004). He is also a contributor to the online edition of the Oxford English Dictionary.

His scholarly works for a more popular readership include The Essential Jesus: the Man, His Message, His Mission, co-edited with William Johnsson (Pacific Press, Boise ID, 2002); and Can We Still Believe the Bible? And Does It Really Matter? (Signs Publishing Co., Warburton, 2007), a book subsequently published in Latvian and Spanish. A revised and enlarged edition appeared in 2011.

Bryan Ball’s latest book, In the Beginning (Pacific Press, Nampa ID, 2012) is an edited collection of scholarly essays exploring issues relating to origins. Eleven chapters discuss origins from biblical and theological perspectives, six from scientific viewpoints, and one is a critique of social Darwinism. The book contains significant essays on the origin and reliability of Genesis, its theological themes, its importance in the rest of scripture, and its utilisation by Christ and New Testament writers. The discussions about design and the limits of neo-Darwinian evolutionary mechanisms are offered at greater depth than in most previous Adventist books.

Dr Arthur Patrick 

With degrees in history, biblical studies, theology and ministry, Dr Arthur Patrick brings a broad spectrum of knowledge to his scholarship. While he has published in all the above fields, he has developed a special interest in the history of religion and in Adventist studies, writing on Adventist history in relation to its broader historical and cultural contexts.

Patrick’s Master of Letters (MLitt) thesis was entitled “Ellen Gould White and the Australian Woman, 1891-1900” (University of New England, 1984). His PhD thesis expanded the scope further: “Christianity and Culture in Colonial Australia: Selected Catholic, Anglican, Wesleyan and Adventist Perspectives, 1891-1900” (University of Newcastle, 1992).

Patrick’s mastery of Adventist studies is evident from his bibliographical survey of the published literature in this field, which he prepared in 2006 as a guide for doctoral students. See http://www.avondale.edu.au/Departments::Main::Courses::Adventist_studies.pdf. He had previously published a review of sources on Adventist history in the South Pacific in the refereed Journal of Religious History (1987).

Patrick’s extensive publications include articles in refereed journals and in publications such as Ministry, Adventist Review, Spectrum and Adventist Today. A number of his papers have also been published online at www.sdanet.org/atissue and on the Avondale website under [email protected]

Since retiring from full-time employment he has continued to write prolifically. In 2003 he authored the centenary history of the Sydney Adventist Hospital (The San: 100 Years of Christian Caring 1903-2003); and in 2004 he wrote a chapter on the history of Adventists in Australia for the electronic resource Australia’s Religious Communities (Christian Research Association, Nunawading, Victoria).

His 2009 paper “The Re-parenting of Seventh-day Adventists? Reflections on the Historical Development, Substance and Potential of Ellen G White Studies” ([email protected]) surveys the historical development of Ellen G White studies, documents literature published on Ellen White, and provides insights into White’s authorial methods. A refereed article in the Journal of Religious History (2010) contextualises the struggles of recent decades between continuity and change in Adventism, documenting three possible stances in relation to traditional Adventist thought: reversion, alienation and transformation. The article urges the importance of effective internal and external dialogue. A refereed article in Lucas: an Evangelical History Review, co-authored with Associate Professor Daniel Reynaud, traces the maturation of Seventh-day Adventist historiography from the early days of the movement to the era of professionally trained historians, and evaluates the significance of that development for the church’s view its own history.

Patrick has presented numerous papers at scholarly conferences, many of which have been published. These include “Re-visioning the Role of Ellen White for Seventh-day Adventists Beyond 2000” (Adventist Society for Religious Studies, San Francisco, 1997, published at www.sdanet.org/atissue); “Learning from Ellen White’s Perception and Use of Scripture: Toward an Adventist Hermeneutic for the 21st Century” (South Pacific Division Theological Conference, 2003, published at sdanet.org/atissue); and a paper at the 2007 conference at Andrews University marking the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of the controversial book Questions on Doctrine. Patrick’s paper analyses the historical context of the publication of Questions of Doctrine in 1957, the conflicting subsequent perceptions of the book, and the impact of this controversy on the church. The paper, which was published in the Conference Proceedings, seeks to provide an interpretative framework to help the church move constructively beyond these tensions.

In 2009 Patrick delivered a paper on Ellen White as author at a conference in Portland, Maine, USA, which Patrick considers one of the most significant events in the history of Ellen White scholarship. The conference, organised by Professor Gary Land of Andrews University and others, brought together 66 scholars, one-third of non-Adventist background, to discuss the life, work and significance of Ellen White in the context of nineteenth-century America. Many of the participants were well-known authors in the field of American religious history. Two scholars, one Adventist, the other non-Adventist, were invited to present responses to each paper. Patrick saw the conference as “a fresh opportunity to foster a mature, sustainable understanding of Ellen White amongst believers and the wider community.”

Dr Norman Young

Dr Norman Young has established an international reputation for research and scholarship in New Testament studies, publishing an impressive array of articles in refereed scholarly journals, and presenting many papers at national and international conferences and other scholarly meetings.

His publications include the book Rebuke and Challenge: the Point of Jesus’ Parables (Review and Herald, Washington DC, 1985), and a supplement to John Wenham’s widely used Elements of New Testament Greek (revised edition, Cambridge University Press, 2001). He has also published a significant book documenting the fight to free Lindy Chamberlain (Innocence Regained, Federation Press, 1989). His scholarly publications include articles in leading international journals such as the Journal of Biblical Literature, New Testament Studies, Novum Testamentum, Journal for the Study of the New Testament, and Biblical Archaeologist. He has also published extensively in Seventh-day Adventist literature.

Since his retirement from full-time employment Young has continued to present papers at scholarly conferences and to publish in peer-reviewed journals. His conference paper “The Founding Fathers and the Fledgling Church According to the Epistle of Hebrews” (Macquarie University, Sydney, 2004) was published in the Society for the Study of Early Christianity Newsletter (2005). His paper at the Chamberlain Case Symposium (Macquarie University, 2005) was published in The Chamberlain Case: Nation, Law, Memory (Australian Scholarly Press, Melbourne, 2009). In 2008 he presented a paper investigating passages from Romans and Colossians in their social context at the 63rd General Meeting of the Studiorum Novi Testamenti Societas, Lund, Sweden. In 2009 he presented an analysis of Romans 14:5-6 at the New Perspectives on Christianity Conference at Avondale, a paper subsequently published in The International Journal of New Perspectives on Christianity. In 2011 he contributed a paper on irony in the writings of the apostle John at the 66th Studiorum Novi Testamenti Societas Conference in New York.

In retirement Young has also written book reviews in the fields of New Testament studies and theology for the peer reviewed journals Biblical Interpretation (2005) and Pacifica (2007). In 2008 he published an article in Wartime, the peer reviewed journal of the Australian War Memorial, Canberra, on his father’s involvement in the Second World War in New Guinea.

Avondale greatly appreciates the continuing contribution of its honorary senior research fellows to the College’s research profile.

Posted (with permission from Dr John Cox who wrote the article as editor and published it in Reflections 24:2, Summer 2012), 19 December 2012

Post 85, Symbolising the Writings of Ellen White

A note for the reader: Any investigation of publications such as Adventist Review, Ministry and Record is likely to lead the researcher to conclude that, by 1982, the tidal wave of new information that began to rise in 1970 was about at its peak. Constantly ministers, teachers and members were dealing with qualitatively new data about the history and thought of the Seventh-day Adventist church, as well as the life and writings of Ellen Gould White (1827-1915).

I set about the task of creating symbols that would both embrace and apply the new information about Ellen White in a simple way, for general readers of Adventist magazines. It was deeply encouraging when Adventist Review published one of my short pieces under the title “Landmarks and Landscape” (27 October 1983, page 4), and rather surprising when Australasian Record reprinted the said piece is its 31 March 1984 issue, page 12. My intent was to offer an accurate understanding of both Ellen White’s inspiration and the specific limitations to what Adventists may expect from her writings. The words are my own, except for one sentence that was pressed upon me by a church leader: “On occasion she gives a ‘surface exploration’ account.” Here is the text; it will make more sense if it is read after Post 84.

 IN APRIL 1982, I again flew across the United States. For the first time in my flying experience there, visibility was excellent. From the warm sky above Los Angeles I saw the serene Pacific Ocean and the vast sprawl of the City of the Angels hugged by mountains. I saw marks of human effort and the panorama of nature, a vast continent spread below me.

If you asked me to draw a street map of Las Vegas, state the depth of the Grand Canyon, or give the location of the John Hancock Centre in Chicago, mistakes would mar my response. You may ask a thousand other simple questions about the continental United States that I could not answer. You may discount my claim that I saw a panorama of a great country beyond the vision of a surface traveller. Through the miracle of jet transport I was shown a useful vista of landmarks and now can interpret better a vast landscape.

To the benefit of Seventh-day Adventists, Ellen White was given a jet-aircraft vision of crucial realities in an age of spiritual surface travel. She saw landmark truths: God as the one whom to know is to love; health as the right arm of the third angel’s message; education dealing with the whole person throughout the whole period of existence possible to humanity; history as moving toward a supreme confrontation between good and evil, all to climax in the universal declaration that God is love; and many other distinctive features of faith precious to Seventh-day Adventists. She was shown such landmarks so she could encourage and guide the Advent people.

Some are tempted to claim either too much or too little for Ellen White’s ministry. Those who would require her to give the equivalent of a detailed surface survey have difficulty with certain statements in her writings. Those who deny her spiritual gift, assessing her to be a fraud or a false prophet, miss the enduring value of her prophetic vision. Either of these options can lead to conflict and disillusionment.

Ellen White wrote from an attitude of urgency, sensing an imminent end to all things earthly. Since her death, Seventh-day Adventists have benefitted from surface advances into the historical background of Scripture, aspects of science, causes of certain diseases, details of Christian history, and so forth.

In responding to detailed insights of painstaking investigation, we must remember the abiding usefulness of Ellen White’s direction-setting, panoramic vision. On occasion she gives a “surface exploration” account. To deny a role for either her panorama or our detailed investigation is to reject part of God’s gift of knowledge to humanity.

Arthur Patrick, posted 13 December 2012