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Crosscurrents in Adventist Christology

by Claude Webster


The Soteriological Implications of Douglass' View on the Humanity of Christ

Douglass' main Christological effort has concentrated on the humanity of Jesus Christ. And this concentration has been for the distinct purpose of challenging his readers to emulate the example of Jesus. Jesus Christ has been set forth as Model for man as he seeks to follow in the footsteps of Christ. This is clearly seen from a careful study of the two most significant Christological productions of Douglass, namely, Jesus-The Benchmark of Humanity, and Jesus, the Model Man162

When the motivating force of the example of Jesus remains in the realm of the fruitage of the Christian life it is one thing, but when this example becomes the driving force which must be emulated in order to assist God in bringing the plan of salvation to fruition, there are certain clear soteriological implications which emerge.

In studying Douglass' Christology it becomes apparent that a definite basic pre-supposition exists. This pre-supposition is that Jesus Christ stood on exactly the same level as fallen man with regard to basic performance.163 equipment, the only difference being in the realm of Hence, from birth to death, what Jesus Christ was, man is; what Jesus Christ did, man can do.

Now this basic pre-supposition regarding Jesus and man is the foundation upon which Douglass' soteriological edifice is erected. Let us observe how this pre-supposition has affected Douglass' concepts regarding sin, man and the last things.

l. Implications of Douglass' Christology in the understanding of sin

Because Douglass accepts Jesus Christ as equal to fallen man at birth there must be some accommodation with regard to the doctrine of sin. If Jesus Christ is not to be guilty of any type of original sin or of depravity, then man must, likewise, be free from these states. Christ must have no distinct, basic, advantage over fallen man. Hence, Douglass would not accept any doctrine of original sin or of depravity that would make man or Christ guilty at birth.164

While Douglass rejects the concept of original sin, he would accept that Jesus Christ and fallen man both possess sinful natures. These sinful natures are the result of thousands of years of sin and mean that hereditary weaknesses and liabilities are passed on to man and Christ.165 In this way Douglass sees the very real possibility of temptation arising from within as well as from without. For Christ and man these sinful natures meant the reality of tendencies and propensities to sin, weaknesses, liabilities and clamors of the fallen nature. Jesus Christ successfully resisted the pull of His sinful nature, but all other men have succumbed to temptation.

Because of Douglass' view on the basic equality of Christ and fallen man, he sees sin in the realm of performance rather than state. The state of Jesus and man is the same and hence is not basically incriminating. Sin is only seen as a deliberate choice of wrong acts in thought, word and deed.

Douglass would, therefore, conclude that because Jesus constantly performed without sinning man must be able to do the same. Because of their identity in equipment, man should be able to reach the place where he stops performing acts of sin. This ideal with regard to the cessation of sin in the life of man becomes a driving force for Douglass.

2. Implications of Douglass' Christology for our understanding of man

For Douglass, Jesus Christ becomes the prototype of man. Jesus is the benchmark and the Model for all men.166

Because of the equality of equipment, the quality life of Jesus becomes the dominant ideal for fallen man. Hence, Douglass' emphasis on man's quality life. There is a concentration on the importance of character, health, happiness and self-development in man. Constant progress is necessary in order for man to attain to the necessary level of Christ's life.

As Douglass sees the perfect performance of Jesus, he believes that man must likewise perform perfectly. This emphasis on the role of perfect performance has opened the door to some form of perfectionism for Douglass.167

Because of Douglass' basic Christological presupposition, the performance of Jesus remains a constant motivating power. Hence, for Douglass man's performance (sanctification) takes precedence over his state (justification).168 Because man's fallen state is identical with the nature of Jesus, the state of man is not the vital issue. It is man's acts of sin that must be forgiven and then attention must be given to the eradication of wrong performance. While the death of Christ on the cross provides forgiveness for wrong acts, it is the indwelling life of Christ through the Holy Spirit that provides victory over sin in the actual life. Man cannot really be satisfied until his performance (sanctification) equals that of Jesus Christ.

Douglass would see the performance of Jesus linked very closely with His obedience to the law of God. In fact, for Douglass the most important reason for the Incarnation is that Jesus Christ came to show that He and fallen man could perfectly keep the moral law of God.169 Because of the equality of Christ and fallen man, the whole question of man's obedience and man's keeping the law perfectly becomes a major issue for Douglass. The 'great controversy' over the law is settled not only by Christ's performance but by the necessary perfect performance of man. The 'controversy' will only be settled when a significant number of people reduplicate the perfectly obedient life of Jesus Christ.

While Douglass views man's faith in Christ as helpful, it becomes imperative for him that man develop the same faith that Jesus had by reliance on the Father.170 Man is quite capable, with God's help, of demonstrating this similar faith. Having developed the faith which Jesus exercised, Douglass sees man as having a vital part in vindicating God. For Douglass it is not sufficient that Jesus Christ should vindicate the law and His Father. Man must have an important part in this vindication process. Only when fallen man participates in Christ's perfect obedience and in keeping the law as He did will the vindication of God be complete.171

In Douglass' soteriology his concept of Christ's humanity has driven him into the absolute necessity of fallen man reduplicating the perfect life of Jesus in order to complete the plan of salvation. For Douglass only those who equal the performance of Jesus, even if it be for a short period, are 'safe to save'.172

3. Implications of Douglass' Christology for eschatology

We will also note how Douglass' basic presupposition that Jesus Christ equals fallen man except in performance has influenced his eschatology.

Because Douglass accepts that man's performance has not always equaled that of Christ, he has developed and refined what is called the 'harvest' principle.173 The time must come even if it be at the end when fallen man will reduplicate the life of Jesus. In the 'harvest' principle Douglass has found an answer to the problem of man's apparent inadequacy. Just as the plant grows from the seed to the stalk and then to the full grain, so Douglass sees each generation of believers growing and developing until we come to a generation which has achieved maturity and perfection. The 'harvest' principle is Douglass' soteriological solution to the demand of his Christological pre-supposition.

In Douglass' eschatology the problem of the delayed Advent has assumed important significance. He scribes this delay, not to the fact that the gospel has not been proclaimed or to the fact that world conditions re not ripe for this event, but to the fact that his Christological pre-supposition has not been realized.174 Douglass believes that the Advent is being delayed because fallen man has not yet realized his destiny, namely, of reduplicating the performance and lifestyle of Jesus Christ.

Likewise, Douglass understands that the heavenly sanctuary has not yet been 'cleansed' because man is till falling short of the lifestyle of Jesus.175 Only when fallen man reaches the place where he equals the performance of Jesus and stops sinning will the sanctuary be 'cleansed.' The reduplication of the life of Jesus in the flesh will synchronize with the final 'cleansing' of the records of sin in the heavenly sanctuary.

Even the presentation of the gospel is closely inked to Douglass' Christological pre-supposition.176 The reason why the gospel message has not been finalized and accomplished is because the life of fallen man has not equaled that of Christ's life. The gospel in reality is seen in the lives of God's children and if this picture is defective the gospel of the kingdom is not being proclaimed effectively. Only when God's people live like Christ lived, will the gospel message be effective and the end will come.

While in his prophetical interpretation Douglass has opposed the dispensational schema,177 and while at times he has upheld the uniform method of salvation by faith as a Matterhorn principle,178 he has slipped into a soteriological dispensationalism because of his Christological pre-supposition. If fallen man can equal the life of Jesus Christ, Douglass faces the problem that either only those who achieve this ideal for a certain length of time will be saved or God will save some by a less exacting standard than others. It would appear that Douglass has chosen the second alternative and sees God's requirements for perfection as higher in certain times than others. The challenge for fallen man to perform like Christ is always present but for Douglass it was more urgent after 1844 than before179 and today it is more vital than at any other period. In fact, only when a generation of believers reduplicate the life of Jesus will the problem of sin be finally settled. For those who wish to live through the 'time of trouble' and be alive when Jesus returns the standard of salvation will be higher than for those who have died before Christ returns.

In this section we have seen that Douglass' Christology has very clear implications for his understanding of soteriology especially as this relates to the problem of sin, the doctrine of man and the understanding of eschatology.

162 Jesus, the Model Man is the Adult Sabbath School lesson prepared by Douglass for the world Seventh-day Adventist Sabbath School for the second quarter of 1977. Jesus-The Benchmark of Humanity is a joint-publication by Herbert E. Douglass and Leo Van Dolson also appearing in 1977. A comparison of the contents of the two productions will show their interdependence upon each other. We would anticipate that the book was an outgrowth of the Sabbath School manuscript prepared by Douglass. Each work contains thirteen chapters and we list these in two columns to demonstrate their similarity:

Jesus, The Model Man Jesus-The Benchmark of Humanity

1. God with Us. l. God with Us.

2. God with Us. 2. God with Us.

3. Model Child and Youth. 3. The Teenager's Best Friend.

4. Model Overcomer. 4. The Model Overcomer.

5. Model Man of Prayer. 5. Prayer Makes all the Difference.

6. Model Witness. 6. Friend of Non-church Members.

7. Model of Integrity. 7. Putting the "Grit" back into Integrity.

8. Model Teacher. 8. Prince of Teachers.

9. Model of Sociableness. 9. Whose "Light" is about to Dawn?

10. Model of Faith.10. The Faith of Jesus.

11. Model of Humility.11. He Emptied Himself.

12. Model of Love.12. "Inasmuch".

13. The Model Waiting13. Our Measure is too Short. to be Reproduced.

Although the wording in each chapter in these two productions differs there is a similarity of thought and content.  [back]

163 Douglass writes: "Jesus was like fallen humanity, identical in form and nature, except that He did not sin. That means He was like fallen humanity in every respect from the stand-point of human equipment, including basic desires and needs. But He was not like fallen humanity from the stand-point of human performance: He did not sin" (The Humanity of Jesus, mimeographed document, p.14). [back]

164 In An Historical Footnote, 1975, Douglass briefly discusses the book Questions on Doctrine and is quite clearly opposed to its presentation of Adventist Christology. When opposing what he calls 'the transmitted sin syndrome' he writes: "Although there are many variations, the idea seems to surface that either all men are born guilty, or that all men are born sinful" (page 4). Quite clearly Douglass is opposed to this concept. [back]

165 See Perfection, pp.40-42. [back]

166 This is the basic described in footnote 162. [back]

167 See "What Jesus Achieved Will Be Reproduced in the Last Generation," Perfection, pp. 46-51. [back]

168 The emphasis of Douglass' writings is far heavier on performance than on state. See, for example, his Review and Herald series on "Ellen White's Eschatological Principle" (May 23-August 29, 1974); the series on "How the Church Becomes Convincing" (May 15-August 21, 1975); and the series on the "Importance of the Sanctuary Truth" (September 4-December 4, 1975). This preference for sanctification over against justification was also seen in the early 1960's. Douglass wrote: "On this point of imparted righteousness pivots the whole plan of salvation. Imputed righteousness to cover struggling reconciled sinners proves that God is merciful but not that He was fair in asking His creatures, angels or men, to obey His law as the only avenue to achieve happiness" ("Hastening the Advent," Part IV, Gleaner, August 28, 1961, p.1). [back]

169 Although Douglass gives several reasons for the Incarnation, we submit that the weight of evidence in his writings favors this one. [back]

170 See "Faith, the Key to the 'Last Generation", Faith, Saying Yes to God, pp.85-95. [back]

171 See "The Integrity of God's Government Vindicated," Perfection, pp.52-56. After speaking of God's ways being vindicated by the life of Jesus Christ and the lives of all Christians to follow, Douglass states: "Yet, the most dramatic demonstration was to be made in the last generation of Christians to live on earth. Just as soon as this demonstration is revealed there will be no further need of continuing the experiment of sin" ("Hastening the Advent," Part IV, Gleaner, August 28, 1961, p. l). [back]

172 See footnote 89 of this chapter. [back]

173 See footnote 125 of this chapter. [back]

174 A careful analysis of the chapter, "What Jesus Waits For," The End, pp.92-114, will reveal the truthfulness of this claim. See also Perfection, pp.15-34.[back]

175 This is basically the whole thrust and message of the book Why Jesus Waits. [back]

176 See Douglass' presentation "What is the Gospel?" mimeographed document, 19 pages. Available from the Biblical Research Institute. [back]

177 See The End, pp.28-64. Also "No Prophetic Significance for Modern Israel," These Times, August 1974, pp.3-5 In this article Douglass takes an antidispensational stance. [back]

178 Note Douglass' words: "The awesome Matterhorn truth of the New Testament is that there is no spiritual distinction between the men of faith in the Old Testament and the men of faith in the New" (The End, p. 47). The same words found in "No Prophetic Destiny for Modern Israel," Review and Herald, November 22, 1973, p,9 .[back]

179 Douglass writes: "One of the most urgent messages of the sanctuary doctrine to Christians since 1844 is that something special is required of God's followers in terms of character development that may not have been so crucial to the development of the church heretofore" (Why Jesus Waits, p.45). [back]

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