In the Present Tense

May 28, 2009

Questions– and Answers– that Build Faith

Filed under: Uncategorized — edoutlook @ 2:16 am

A 20-30 something Adventist woman recently asked a number of questions, the kind of questions lots of people wonder about, but not everyone has the courage to ask. To protect her, I’m not going to reveal her name, although I hope she’ll use the comments section to dialogue with me, while maintaining her anonymity.

Before I begin looking at these questions, I want to make one very strong point. Too many Adventists of my age or older, reading questions like these, tend to say, “Well, obviously, this young woman just hasn’t accepted the TRUTH.” Be advised, comments of that sort are not welcome on this blog.

My experience tells me that, on the contrary, these are exactly the type of questions– if asked and answered honestly– build faith. For many reasons, I am convinced that this young woman is asking honestly. And even if she were not, it would be my duty as a Christian to assume that they are honest questions, and– here is the really hard part for most of us– to be equally honest in answers.

One more thing. The only answers that count are ones that a person has made their own. Just repeating “Answers to Bible Questions” written by someone else simply won’t cut it.  To be of any use at all, it must have the ring of conviction, and the texture of experience. It must be real. So, here’s my pledge to. . . I’ll call her Cindy (not her real name): I’ll give you my answers, from my study and experience. I’ll welcome questions, and I won’t press you to agree. You and God will have to work out your faith. All I can do is share mine.

So I’m going to begin by simply listing her qeustions, in her words.

1. Is the Bible fallible?  In any way?  How much have human beings had a hand in the Bible, and how much of it is “culture?”  For example, women are told to keep their heads covered.  Our answer is that it was a cultural thing in the day.  How much of the Bible was culture and not directly applicable?  How much is culture and, frankly, wrong??  (Ie. position of women, hatred of gays, racism against other cultures, etc)

2.  Why don’t the Old and New Testaments agree?  I know that we are supposed to believe that they ultimately DO agree, but after reading them for myself and comparing, they do NOT agree.  The OT says that we should not even touch a pig.  The NT says that what passes a man’s mouth does not make him unclean.  Yes, the NT was talking about different issues, but the rules seemed to have changed after Jesus came.  In the OT a man was stoned for picking up sticks on Sabbath.  In the NT, we are told not to judge people based on Sabbaths.  So if God is the same yesterday, today and forever, why isn’t He the same spanning a few thousand years?

3.  I am reading the Messianic prophecies, and many of them are entirely out of context.  David was not talking about Jesus’ death, he was talking about his own experience feeling hounded by his enemies.  Things where we point out and say, “See?  That is Jesus there!” in the OT are talking about something entirely different in context.  So in the OT, we don’t care about context, but suddenly in the NT, we care a lot about context.  Why the flip?

4.  If the feast days were given to be celebrated “forever” and for all generations, why do we not celebrate them now?  Granted, there were sacrifices involved, but God never actually said to stop celebrating them.  All of the Adventist arguments for the Sabbath not being “nailed to the cross” could be used for the feast days as well.

5.  Why did the OT never speak about a Heaven or Hell?  Why was there no mention of life after death directly?

6.  Why do there seem to be two different versions of the Messianic Second Coming?  Version one is that there will be a cataclysmic event with trumpets and angels and dead being raised.  Version two is that the righteous reign will just sort of slide in, and the earth will worship the one true God, living good long lives, but still apparently dying.  Is one version wrong?  If so, see the question about the fallicy of the Bible.

May 24, 2009

The Gospel vs. “Now”

Filed under: Uncategorized — edoutlook @ 9:16 pm

In the last entry  I talked about how the gospel confronts every culture, focusing on how it confronts the traditionalist. I expect to expand on that more int the future. But for now I want to focus briefly on how the gospel confronts the progressives.

Many who have accepted the challenge to communicate effectively with contemporary audiences are quite conscious of how traditionalism often mutes or obscures the gospel. Unfortunately, some of the leaders in this effort fail to see how the gospel confronts postmodern, contemporary culture.

One reason for this, I think, is that they encounter the genuine and refreshing spiritual hunger and thirst of many contemporary people. Where Traditionalists see onlysecularized, spiritually deaf people, we — and I am one who continually interacts with postmoderns–find authenticity and genuine interest. They seem uninterested to traditionalists, because they don’t buy pat answers–they want more, and that’s good. Those who truly seek will find.

But some go a step further, and simply reject everything from the past, and embrace everything called “new.”

Was traditionalism judmental? Then the gospel must be pure acceptance!

Was traditionalism exclusionary? Then the gospel must always be inclusive!

Did traditionalism condemns some behaviors? Then the gospel must be tolerant!

Are traditionalists into free enterprise? Then the gospel must be socialist!

And on it goes.The problem is, they don’t want more than pat answers, just a different set.

Because the gospel is more complicated than that. Jesus’ example demonstrates that “being nice” –however the culture defines “nice– isn’t always the same as “beign Christ-like. As C. S. Lewis wrote, God wants to engage our minds as well as our hearts. Sometimes Christ said, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” and sometimes he said, “Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” Sometimes he said, “Come unt me,” and sometimes he said, “Get thee behind me, Satan.”

May 22, 2009

Authentic Lunar Green Cheese

Filed under: Present Truth — edoutlook @ 8:33 pm

As I mentioned before, some more traditional members bristle at the word “relevance.” For them, it means changes. Often, they have difficulty distinguishing between changes in emphasis or methodology versus changes in doctrine, in basic beliefs.

Of course, Ellen White had to deal with these same concerns in her day. And her list of basic beliefs, or “Old Landmarkss,” was considerably shorter than most of her contemporaries. But more of that later.

A legitimate concern is that, in adapting methodology or emphasis to appeal to contemporary people, we will in fact abandon the central core that makes up our Adventsist identity. Here again, we come up against a complex question with no simple answer, at least not one I will attempt here, today.

I do want to address something else that I believe is pertinent to this question. Both the traditionalists and the progressives have lost sight of one important thing: the gospel confronts every culture.

Traditionalists tend to see how their understanding of the gospel confronts contemporary culture, while progressives tend to focus on how the gospel confronts the traditional Adventist culture. Both have half the truth.

The traditionalists who believe in “absolute truth” forget that though God’s truth may be absolute, our comprehension of that truth is partial. As Paul reminds us, “We know in part and we prophesy in part,” 1 Cor. 13:8. We spend so much time accumulating correct Bible knowledge forget that “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” 1 Cor 8:1.

So when traditionalists try to appeal to contemporary culture which rejects absolute truth,  by telling them we have “the Truth,” with a capital “T,” this approach not only fails to confront contemporary culture, it fails even to engage that culture. We might as well tell people we possess “Authentic Lunar Green Cheese.” At best, they consider us deluded; at worst, dangerous. They never consider us serious.

Now, I’m not saying that “the Truth” doesn’t exist, or that it’s equivalent to “Lunar Green Cheese. ” I believe absolute truth exists. How much of it I have is another matter. The point is simply this: as long as they think we’re peddling “Authentic Lunar Green Cheese,” they will not listen. And if Adventists cannot engage the present culture, then we’re not faithful stewards of ‘present truth.’

It’s our job to make the gospel accessible to the contemporary culture, to put “present truth in the present tense.” That’s the challenge for all Adventists to undertake, to reach our own children, if no one else.

But what about the progressives? How does the gospel confront contemporary culture? Next time.

May 13, 2009

Return to Which Historic Adventism?

Filed under: Present Truth — edoutlook @ 3:34 pm

I’m always curious when I hear older members longing for the way things used to be in the church–longing for a return to ‘historic’ Adventism. I wonder which part of our history they want to return to.

Do they want to return to Oct 1, 1844, so they can go through the great disappointment? I doubt it. And remember, that group of Adventists didn’t share our understanding of the Sanctuary. Or how about the Adventism of 1845, when we still didn’t keep the Sabbath? How about 1859, when James White announced in the Review that his family had just slaughtered a pig for consumption?

Maybe they want to return to a time when there were no Adventist schools. Or when, as a denomination, we lost sight of righteousness by fsith. Who wants to revisit the divisive 1888 General Conference in Minneapolis?

Usually, it turns out that those longing for a return of some kind, want a return to an idealized church of their childhood or youth. But nostaligia is not what it used to be. When you look at the real history of the Adventist Church, it has been a history of continual conflict, growth, and change. And that encourages me. It’s when an organization calcifies and stops changing, when it tries to stifle all debate and conflict, that it becomes irrelevant and dies. And this longing for an imaginery past is a bad sign, as is the fact the GC hasn’t reorganized since 1903.

But there are good signs as well. One encouraging sign is the existence of these blogs. Presiden Roscoe Howard and Communications Director Martin Weber are taking a considerable risk, allowing so many people unfiltered opportunities to sound off on church issues. But that willingness to take some risks, the willingness to allow–no, empower–debate and discussion is an indication of vigor and health.

Even though, unless I live to be 119, my time in this present life is more than half over, I don’t want to go back. The Advent Movement, the movement of Present Truth, must always be In the Present Tense (Hence the name of my blog). Now is the hour of salvation; now is the only time any of us has. And the God whose name (Yahweh) means, “I am that I am” is the God of the present tense. He is always in the present, and to be in His Presence is to transcend time. That’s where I want to be, today and every day.

May 6, 2009

Return to Historic Adventism?

Filed under: Uncategorized — edoutlook @ 3:00 am

For most of my adult life, I’ve heard older Adventists calling for a return to our roots, to “stand by the old landmarks,” and decrying the fall away from “standards.” To hear them tell it, the church was once pristine and faultless.

Whenever I hear this, I wonder why that exemplary bunch wasn’t translated long ago. They were too good for this Earth! And those tales don’t bear a lot of resemblance to the institution I studied in my church history classes.

If the church members were all so exemplary, who did Ellen White write all those testimonies to? Were they all members of some other denomination? When the saints met in Minneapolis in November of 1888, they seemed to have some serious disagreements. So much so that later Mrs. White said that a number of individuals needed to confess their wrong doing.

The church is, was, and will remain filled with imperfect human beings. People like you and me. It was never so perfect– as someone has said, “Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be.” C.S. Lewis wrote that “The past is as much a product of the imagination as is the future.”

Now, this can be discouraging to contemplate. The church is always going to be “weak and defective.” Satan will do some of his dirtiest deeds there. So why, if I were 25 years old, would I want to be part of such an organization?

Because the church isn’t only weak and defective. It is also the theater of grace, the avenue to hope for lost and hurting people. Yes, in the church I have met some of the most despicable human beings it has ever been my misfortune to encounter. Nauseating self-appointed saints full of pious posturing. . . .but enough. If you’ve spent much time in the church, you have your own disappointments.

But I have also met some of the dearest saints, some of the most treasured friends, and witnessed the power of grace in my life, and the lives of others. . . in the very same church.

One of my heroes in Ben Franklin (my only son is named Benjamin). And his remarks about the U.S. Constitution, of which he was a signatory, mirror my sentiments about the church:

I confess that there are several parts of this constitution which I do not at present approve, but I am not sure I shall never approve them . . . .Thus I consent, Sir, to this Constitution because I expect no better, and because I am not sure, that it is not the best. . . .

There are things that go on in the church of which I do not approve, but I remain within it because I see no better alternatives, and I am not sure that it is not the best. . . .

This may seem like faint praise, but no human institution can really merit much more. No one will be saved because their name is on the books, and no doubt more than a few will be lost because of things experienced in the church. But I also believe that the opportunity is available to build relationships with God and with others in the church that will enrich us for eternity. The opportunity. . . .no more. But that is more than enough for me.

May 2, 2009

Would They Be Welcome?

Filed under: Present Truth — edoutlook @ 2:37 pm

Would a young Ellen White– coming as she did from the so-called “Shouting Methodists,” be welcome in your congregation? Shouting Methodists were known for their noisy and demonstrative activities during worship. In fact, the police were once called because of noisy praying by the Harmon family allegedly disturbed the peace.

You can find more on this topic at the White Estate’s website: http://www.whiteestate.org/issues/israel_damman.html

Young James White was well known to walk down the center aisle of the church, singing loudly and thumping the time on his Bible as he went to the pulpit.

The early Adventist church also adapted popular songs–yes, there were such, Stephen Foster made a fortune as a song writer–putting sacred words to secular melodies. For example, for Foster’s “Carry Me Back to Old Virginny,” they substituted “Carry Me Back to Calvary’s Mountain.”

Now, maybe it’s just me, but I can’t help wondering if such young people would be welcomed in most of today’s congregations.

Next time: Return to Historic Adventism?

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