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Crosscurrents in Adventist Christology

by Claude Webster

Chapter Five


In this chapter we turn our attention to a contemporary Adventist theologian who represents a stream of Adventist thought, the direction of which should be noted. We will, firstly, take a brief bird's-eye view of the man and his accomplishments. Secondly, we will focus on his theological convictions as they relate to Christology and intertwine with anthropology, soteriology and eschatology. Finally, we will seek to evaluate the theological contribution of Douglass to Adventism and endeavor to give a critique of his theology with special reference to his Christology and its impact on his total theology.

I. A Brief Look at the Man

Herbert E Douglass was born May 16, 1927, in Springfield, Massachusetts, and obtained a Bachelor's degree in the arts and theology in 1947 at Atlantic Union College in the same state of the United States. After graduation from this Seventh-day Adventist institution, Douglass spent six years (1947-1953) in ministerial work in Illinois as an Adventist clergyman. Towards the end of 1953 his interest turned back to the classroom as he responded to a call to join the Department of Religion at Pacific Union College (1953-60), another Adventist educational institution, in California. During his assignment at this college, Douglass was granted study leave to attend Potomac University at that time situated in Washington, D.C.1 Here Douglass completed an M. A. in Religion in 1956 and a B. D. in 1957.

In 1960 Douglass transferred to his alma mater, Atlantic Union College, where he spent the next ten years. For the first four years he was Chairman of the Department of Religion at the college. 67 he served as academic dean of this institution. His administrative gifts were recognized when he was invited to become President of Atlantic Union College, which position he held from 1967-70.

During Douglass' teaching experience at Pacific Union and Atlantic Union Colleges he continued to study theology, enrolling in the Pacific School of Religion in California. In 1964 he obtained a Th.D. degree from this latter institution, submitting his doctoral dissertation entitled, "Encounter with Brunner: An Analysis of Emil Brunner's Proposed Transcedence of the Subjectivism-Objectivism Dichotomy."2 In this dissertation Douglass considered Brunner's theology of preaching and saw in it "the possible solution to the problem inherent in the subjectivism-objectivism dichotomy as it relates to the Christian faith and its proclamation."3 He emphasizes Brunner's concept of "truth as encounter" and sees it as providing a solution to the tension between objectivism and subjectivism. He sets forth Brunner's understanding of this personal encounter assuming the shape of an ellipse, "the first focus being the self-communicating God and the second, the responsibility of man. Faith is that point between when man accepts the love of God as a gift and as a task."4 This dissertation must be borne in mind when seeking to evaluate Douglass' own theological thinking.5

In 1970 Douglass moved from the college atmosphere to the editor's desk. Responding to a call from the Review and Herald Publishing Association, Douglass became an associate editor of the Adventist Review, the weekly periodical of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, with headquarters in Washington, D.C. Here, in association with Kenneth Wood, editor-in-chief, Douglass was in a position of influence in the Adventist Church from 1970-76.6 Between 1976-78 Douglass was granted a sabbatical and in 1978 he once again took up responsibilities in the Adventist organization, becoming an associate book editor of the Pacific Press Publishing Association in Mountain View, California. He was appointed chief book editor in 1980 which position he still holds at the time of writing in 1982.

Douglass' writing career really blossomed with his move to editorial work in Washington. Aside from his numerous editorials in the Adventist Review, Douglass now had opportunity to author a steady flow of books published by Adventist publishing houses.7 To balance his writing Douglass has shown a keen interest in the out-of-doors and the world of nature.8 His pursuit of excellence has been a motivating influence in his career and has brought him recognition.9


1 Potomac University was the registered name of the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C. prior to its transference to the campus of Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan in 1959.[back]

2 Herbert Douglass, Encounter with Brunner: An Analysis of Emil Brunner's Proposed Transcendence of the Subjectivism-Objectivism Dichotomy in its Relation to Christian Proclamation, May 1964. Microfilm-xerography, 1974, University Microfilms, Ann Arbor, MI., U.S.A. 382 pages. [back]

3 Ibid., p.11.[back]

4  Ibid. [back]

5 Douglass comments on the importance of the subject matter of this dissertation: "You can easily imagine how important this study has been to me through the years - especially during the last ten. The theological divisions within our church have all developed because someone has pushed a truth either into objectivism or subjectivism. And truth can not be found in either camp" (Letter from Herbert E. Douglass to Eric C. Webster, December 28, 1981). [back]

6 The Adventist Review has a long history in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Appearing every week since 1850 this magazine is considered the official mouthpiece of the church and has considerable weight in influencing theological thought in the church. While The Ministry magazine has greater influence amongst the ministers the Adventist Review has an important impact on the church at large. [back]

7 Herbert E. Douglass, If I Had One Sermon to Preach, Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1972, 192 pages. A book in which Douglass has invited selected Adventist ministers to submit a sermon which they might preach if it were their last; Why I Joined, editor, Thomas A Davis, Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1972, 63 pages. A booklet in which Douglass selects seven Adventists and briefly tells the story of how and why they became Seventh-day Adventists; What Ellen White Has Meant to Me, edited by H Douglass, Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1973, 226 pages; We Found This Faith, Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1974, 64 pages; Perfection, the Impossible Possibility, Nashville, Tennessee: Southern Publishing Association, 1975, 43 pages (book has 200 pages). In this book Douglass joins three other Adventist theologians, namely, Edward Heppenstall, Hans K. LaRondelle and C. Mervyn Maxwell, in discussing the issue of Christian Perfection; Why Jesus Waits, editor, Thomas A. Davis, Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1976, 61 pages; Jesus the Model Man, Adult Sabbath School Lesson, second quarter, 1977, Mimeographed Publication copy, 187 pages; H Douglass and Leo Van Dolson, Jesus - The Benchmark of Humanity, Nashville, Tennessee: Southern Publishing Association, 1977, 128 pages; Faith, Saying Yes to God, Nashville, Tennessee: Southern Publishing Association, 1978, 96 pages; The End, Mountain View, California: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1979, 192 pages; Parable of the Hurricane, Mountain View, California: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1980, 32 pages; Lewis R. Walton and H. E. Douglass, How to Survive the Eighties, Mountain View, California: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1982, 108 pages. [back]

8 Douglass has shown a keen interest in the wilderness survival seminars and counts gardening as one of his hobbies. [back]

9 Douglass was designated distinguished alumnus of Andrews University for 1976. He has also been listed in Personalities of the West and Midwest, Notable Americans, Directory of American Scholars, Personalities of America and Men of Achievement - International Edition. [back]

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