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Avondale College Church, September 2002

Envisioning an Effective Adventist Future:
What the Church Can Be in the Twenty-first Century

by Fritz Guy, Ph.D.

Two things about our subject deserve an explanation. First, it is a matter of envisioning, not previewing, so rather than make predictions I will suggest possibilities. I am not going to describe what the Adventist future will be—because my crystal ball is no better than anyone else’s, and my past predictions have not been impressively accurate. Furthermore, except for a few brief visits to other parts of the world, I have lived and worked entirely in the United States. I note this with neither pride nor apology; it is simply a fact, like the fact that I am male. But these two facts—my Americanness and my maleness—mean that my point of view is necessarily limited and partial. I am going to describe what I believe the Adventist future can be—what it could be and should be. About this I can speak with some conviction; and it is often more interesting and useful to think of possibilities, because envisioning them can sometimes help to turn them into realities.

Second, our subject assumes that there will be an Adventist future—that our Adventist community of faith is a community with a future and for the future—precisely because Adventist faith is faith with and for the future. We could of course challenge this assumption, although it is certainly plausible and I am quite willing to defend it. But here I don’t want to defend it directly; I prefer to think about the potential effectiveness of the Adventist future—and, more specifically, about how our Adventist future can be most effective. If we can think meaningfully about how our future can be effective, we will at the same time have shown that our Adventist faith has a future.

Looking at our subject from the perspective of five decades of various kinds of work in, with, and for the church, I will identify some of the characteristics of an effective Adventist future:

• It must be, first of all, an authentically, distinctively Adventist future. Without distinctive beliefs, values, and life, there is no Adventist vocation and mission, and hence no truly Adventist future at all.

• It can and should be a progressive future, an innovative and exciting future. One reason many of the younger members of our community—our teenagers and twenty-somethings aren’t much interested in Adventism is that too often Adventism doesn’t seem very interesting. They have become bored with it because we have let it become boring. Too often we have been more concerned about preserving the faith of our fathers (and grandfathers) in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries than in advancing the faith of our children (and grandchildren) in and for the twenty-first century.

• It can and should also be an inclusive future, incorporating various backgrounds, understandings, and practices. It should be inclusive not only in regard to ethnicity and gender, but also in regard to socioeconomic status, personal temperament, education, vocation, and even (to some extent) theology and lifestyle. It should be as open, far-reaching, and welcoming as God’s grace. It is the task of the church to invite and attract people in, not to keep them out.

• And it can and should be a responsive, involved future, attending to human needs with appropriate action. It is not enough to read about AIDS in Africa or hunger and homelessness in our own countries and cities. The church should take these kinds of issues as seriously as Jesus took them, and respond just as actively and concretely. Poverty and hunger are destructive of humanness created in the image of God

To the extent that we actualize possibilities like these we will experience a truly effective, exciting Adventist future.

An effective Adventist future can—and should—be a distinctively Adventist future, standing out from the rest of the world in beliefs, values, and practices. In part, Adventism should be "countercultural," not timidly but enthusiastically and energetically. And also in part, it should be culturally fulfilling—again enthusiastically and energetically. Our beliefs, values, and practices don’t make us better than other people, and they certainly don’t give us a special status with God; but they do define our identity and our mission, and they are eminently worth sharing.

If we were asked to name the most distinctive Adventist beliefs we would surely begin the list with the Sabbath rest and the Advent hope, and I would quickly add human wholeness. In Western culture, at least, each of these has, in its own way, a growing relevance—a relevance that could hardly have been imagined a century and a half ago.1

• Consider, for example, the Sabbath. As we become technologically able to do more things faster, we find ourselves increasingly pressured by the expectations of others and by the demands we put on ourselves. The more "labor-saving" devices we possess the more we feel we must do, experience, and acquire—and so the more hurried and harried we are. We must travel faster, process data faster, and produce faster—all in the name of "getting the most out of life." We live in the fast lane, measure time in nanoseconds, and become skillful at multitasking. If ever humanity needed the quiet, slow time of genuine Sabbath rest, it is surely now, in the twenty-first century. The busier we are the more we need time just to be—to enjoy being who we are, to realize how much we are loved, to incorporate a past remembered with gratitude and a future anticipated with hope into a present celebrated with joy. It is significant—and perhaps a little embarrassing—that others in the Christian world are catching on to the value of Sabbath time, and writing books that we might well have written: Keeping the Sabbath Wholly; Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in Our Busy Lives; and Receiving the Day: Christian Practices for Opening the Gift of Time.2

As sacred time, the Sabbath is both transcendent experience and profound symbol. We experience the Sabbath as special, holy time that symbolizes the ultimacy of God’s love within the concreteness and particularity of our existence. The Sabbath points also to the absolute graciousness of the gift of salvation, and to its function of liberation. Thus the Christian meaning of the Sabbath is more than a continuation of its historic Judaic significance; in the light of the gospel the Sabbath is radically transformed. Marking the end not only of Creation Week "in the beginning" (Gen. 1:1) but also of Passion Week "in the fullness of time" (Gal. 4:4), the Sabbath reminds us both of God’s creative love for us and also of God’s suffering love for us.

Like our salvation, all of our time is a gift of grace: it is neither produced nor earned by our own efforts. And every Sabbath comes as a special gift; it is not something we create or achieve. Nor is it a reward, either for six days of hard work or for diligent preparation for the arrival of holy time. In the most profound sense, no one is ever truly "ready" for holy time anyway. Yet the gift of Sabbath rest comes anyway, not because we deserve it but because grace brings it to us.3

The Sabbath is a celebration of freedom from routine obligations—from tilling the soil, from cleaning the house, from mowing the lawn, from working for someone else. It means freedom from the tyranny of things—horse-powered things, electronic things, cotton and leather things.

In different cultural contexts the Sabbath can have different kinds of meaning. In an affluent society, for example, it symbolizes freedom from the pervasive obsession with comfort, convenience, entertainment, and possessions. In a culture of poverty, on the other hand, it symbolizes the reality of human dignity in the absence of even the necessities of human existence. In a thoroughly secular world in which everything is negotiable if the price is right, the Sabbath is an expression of an ultimate commitment to an ultimate value. But in every society and culture, the most important meaning of the Sabbath is the fact that God is love and that life is a gift of grace. Thus the Sabbath offers great existential power, providing a continuing resource for Adventist faith and life—and, indeed, for all human life—in the twenty-first century.

• The Advent hope is hope in the ultimate triumph of God’s love.4 Our vision of the future is centered in the second coming of God in the person of Jesus the Messiah.

This is the best thing that could possibly happen to us. It is not an interruption of our lives, but the ultimate fulfillment of our hopes, our dreams, our humanness. Everything good that we have known will be even better in the presence of God—without the defects and distortions that are the results of sin. For human existence to be truly meaningful, it must have a real future: there must be a plausible hope of something better beyond the present. This is not always obvious when life is prosperous and serene; but sooner or later even the rich confront pain, death, and failure.

Marxism once promised the ideal future of a classless society, but long before the collapse of communism in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, the historical evidence made it difficult to believe that the promise would ever be fulfilled. And the history of capitalism has not been any more encouraging: it may have produced a higher "standard of living" than has communism, but it obviously has not solved the problems of poverty, hunger, and homelessness even in the so-called developed countries, nor has it produced people who are more honest, compassionate, and generous.

But the Advent hope anticipates the ultimate fulfillment of humanness—of goodness and love, of understanding and celebration. For it sees the whole human future as part of God’s future. The second coming of God to our world in the person of Jesus the Messiah is the inauguration of a radically new and different context for human existence. It means the end of the negativities of sin, and the completion of all that is good. It is not the cancellation of plans or the suspension of hopes and dreams; it is their incomparable and continuing actualization. If we have some things we want to get done first, before the Advent, that just shows that we don’t understand what what the Advent is and what it means. If, while you were watching your favorite television program, someone came to your house and gave you $10 million, you probably wouldn’t think of it as an intrusion.

The Advent that is the fulfillment of humanness depends not on any human achievement but on God’s own activity.5 And because what we hope for is so good, we are eager for its realization; but because we trust completely the God who is coming, we are willing to wait. The Advent hope is such good news about the future that it makes pessimism impossible. It doesn’t mean that there will be no more problems for us to face, but it does mean that the problems are not the last word. The last word is the triumph of God’s love, the consummation of the process of salvation.

• Our historic Adventist interest in health is a result of our understanding that humanness is an essential unity of body and mind, of intelligence, emotion, and decision, of biological life, self-consciousness, and awareness of God. This wholeness is both comprehensive and integrative: every aspect of humanness is related to a personal center; and nothing—time, ability, health, sexuality, possessions, personal influence—is unimportant. And while these dimensions of ourselves are identifiably distinct, they are by no means separate. Each is always intimately related to the others, and in their unity lies the highest possibility of human flourishing.

Our behavior is therefore an expression of our central values as well as a matter of practical usefulness. Scripture consistently affirms the common-sense notion that our most basic religious commitments affect the way we think, feel, and act. Furthermore, an understanding of the unity of human personhood enlarges the behavioral consequences of religious belief to include concern for our bodies, our minds, and all our relationships.

Our culture cares about health, longevity, and interpersonal and social responsibility; so it recognizes principles of mental and physical well-being, stewardship of resources (including time, energy, and money), sexual integrity, and personal credibility. The dangers of recreational drugs (including alcohol) and even the advantages of a vegetarian diet are increasingly recognized.6 Overwhelming medical and scientific evidence has turned the long-standing Adventist objection to the use of tobacco into conventional wisdom. The idea of the unity of the human person is an accepted part of the modern consciousness.

So the Adventist claim that the human person is a unity of body and mind7 seems like common sense.8 It is just prudent to care for the body that provides the energy by which the brain functions as mind, and is the means by which the mind affects and is affected by the world around it. The mind that is the center of human personhood, making choices, adopting values, and determining personal identity is functionally dependent on the body.

Sexual activity and relationships involve an especially complex and intense interaction of mind and body. Sex is not only the means of procreation and a source of exquisite physical pleasure; it also provides a unique experience of human mutuality, intimacy, and fulfillment. The prevalence of pornography and depersonalized sexuality in the modern world is evidence of widespread failure to recognize and affirm the truly human significance of sexuality. So the Adventist theology of human wholeness has something important to say about the meaning of sexuality, and we should be saying it.9

Our Adventist understanding of Sabbath rest, Advent hope, and human wholeness are increasingly relevant at the beginning of the twenty-first century, and certainly essential to a distinctive and effective Adventist future.

Such a future can and should also be a spiritually and theologically progressive future—interesting, innovative, exciting. The twenty-first-century community of distinctively Adventist faith can and should be oriented to the future—not just the future in general, but a particular future that is God’s future.

Of course, that not every new idea is a true idea, much less a good idea. But if an idea makes sense, if it "works" spiritually and theologically, if it’s better than what we have had, then, wherever it comes from, we should adopt it. The early Adventists weren’t much interested in tradition; they were willing to appropriate the best of what was going on around them. These progressive Adventists didn’t invent health reform or Christian education, but they saw them as valuable possibilities, and they adopted and adapted them. This openness was part of the very spirit of Adventism, and it made Adventism relevant and exciting. True to its spiritual and theological heritage, authentic and effective Adventism in the twenty-first century will keep its eyes, mind, and heart open to new possibilities. There are several issues we may want to think about.

• We may want to do some additional creative thinking about "the great controversy between Christ and Satan."10 We have usually understood it as concerned about God’s sovereignty and law, and that is surely correct: the Creator certainly has the right to make the rules. But the fundamental issue here is not simply the fact of God’s sovereignty, but the character of that sovereignty. For whose benefit are the rules made? "Do not steal" is not for God’s benefit (except in the sense that God wants what is best for us), nor is it intended primarily to test our loyalty to God, or to develop moral character. All the instructions in Scripture are there to help us make our lives as good as they can be. A friend of mine wears a T-shirt that refers to the Ten Commandments as "Ten Ways to Happiness," and one of my graduate students calls them "ten ways to have more fun." We follow God’s instructions because we want to get as much out of life as we can.

• We may also want to think about the meaning and vocabulary of "justification." As a Baptist theologian observed a couple of decades ago, "If ever a mistranslation twisted theology, this translation of the Greek dikaiosis based on the Hebrew sedeq is one. A return to biblical exegesis requires a translation that denotes relationship rather than a legalistic declaration."11 Even in the secular Greek of the ancient philosophers and poets the meanings of the word dikaiosune, usually translated "justice," were more moral than legal.12 At least one translation13 uses the language of "making right," and this is helpful. More recently, the word "rectification" has been proposed to express "God’s making right what has gone wrong." In this way "the legal aspect . . . is toned down in favor of the relational."14 While "rectification" is etymologically correct, its rarity in our everyday speech makes it an unlikely successor to "justification." But we do need a way to talk about "making right what is wrong" without the misleading legal baggage of "justification."

A more accurate vocabulary and better understanding of "justification," especially in Romans and Galatians, might well have profound implications both theologically and experientially. It could, for example, modify the sharp Methodist distinction we Adventists have traditionally made between "justification" and "sanctification"—the distinction between "imputed" and "imparted" righteousness, between being declared righteous and becoming righteous, between a legal status and a moral condition. While such a distinction may be factually correct, it is not supported by the language of the Greek New Testament. We would do well to think and talk more about the right kind of relationship with God—a relationship of trusting God’s compassionate and generous faithfulness that becomes the center of our spiritual reality.

• A subject that just won’t go away is the time and manner of creation—that is, the relation of the creative activity of God to natural history. At the International Faith and Science Conference at Ogden in August 2002, the fundamental issue was the extent to which modern science influences our interpretation of the early chapters of Genesis. It is important to note that the issue was "the extent to which," not "whether," science influences our interpretation. Among the various presentations, not one was without this kind of influence to some extent.15 No one, for example, argued that the entire universe was created in six literal days a few thousand years ago. There seemed to be general agreement that the material—the matter—of the universe is very old, perhaps 14 billion years, an idea that certainly cannot be derived from Genesis or any other part of Scripture.

But there was considerable disagreement was about the age of life on planet Earth. Some argued that the evidence for a very long history of life is persuasive, and that Genesis 1 should be understood as a theological affirmation of God as the source of everything that is. Others insisted that the available evidence is not sufficient to invalidate the traditional understanding of Genesis 1 as a factual description of the actual process of creation. The general discussions were courteous and respectful, but the differences were deep and sometimes passionately expressed. A possible outcome of our continuing conversations might be a recognition and acceptance of a diversity of views on this subject.

• Another subject that won’t go away, but is in fact growing increasingly urgent, is the so-called "problem of delay"—the reality that, nearly 160 years after 1844, Jesus has still not come. How long can we keep on saying that Jesus is coming again "soon"? The question has been put bluntly in the form of a dilemma: On the one hand, if we keep on talking about the Advent as we always have, we become literally unbelievable. On the other hand, if we talk about the Advent in a new way, we seem to be repudiating our theological heritage.16 The problem is real, but it isn’t fatal The fact that Christ has not returned as we have hoped is not a "problem" to be analyzed and then quot;solved" in the way that an automobile mechanic attacks an engine’s refusal to start, or a medical scientist seeks to understand the biochemistry of aging. Instead, like the so-called "problem of evil," this "problem of delay" is a mystery to be acknowledged and respected.

The Advent hope needs to be appropriately modest in the presence of transcendence. We need to remember that in the Biblical revelation God insists, "My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways" (Is. 55:8). That is to say, from God’s perspective on reality, there may well be a quite different evaluation of what is and what ought to be. In addition, there is surely a different experience of time, which for God is not an experience of finitude and decay (as it is for us). So "with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day" (2 Pet. 3:8). This suggests that the idea of "delay" may be more a matter of human (mis)perception than of ultimate reality—something like our feeling that "it takes too long" for young trees to bear fruit, or for children to outgrow their childishness, or for an education to be completed. When the element of transcendence and mystery in our Advent hope is recognized, we don’t have to demand an answer to the question, "Why hasn’t Jesus come?" In the Biblical drama of Job, transcendent factors remain entirely unknown to the human participants even though they are crucial to the story.

The principal spiritual and theological danger of the Advent hope is not an otherworldliness that ignores human needs here and now (as is sometimes supposed),17 but an unwarranted assumption that we know all the factors involved in the return of Christ. Because we are so eager for him to come, it is easy to suppose that we know (or at least could know and should know) either when the hoped-for event is going to happen or what we can do to facilitate it. When we make this mistake, the Advent hope may be distorted into an enterprise of apocalyptic problem-solving—searching for hidden clues to the "delay," claiming to know what is not in fact knowable and forecasting future events, and then designing a program to make the Advent hope a reality in the foreseeable future.

Clearly and correctly understood, the Advent hope is expressed not in predicting the course of history or trying to identify the reasons for the "delay" and then remedy them, but in living in eager anticipation of the coming and presence of God in the person of Christ. The basic purpose of the prophetic and apocalyptic literature of the Bible is not to enable us to write history in advance or to satisfy our curiosity about future events. Its purpose is to reassure us of the presence and power of God in the face of the apparent supremacy of evil, to encourage and enable us to live with integrity and unselfish love.

An Advent hope that retains its sense of the transcendence and mystery of God cannot, strictly speaking, be "disappointed," For disappointment comes when predictions or expectations are not fulfilled and the anticipated events to not occur. The so-called "delay" is finally a "problem" only to the extent that the nature of the advent hope is misunderstood. The Advent hope itself is eager for the second coming of God in the person of Christ, but it is willing and able to wait until the time when God chooses to come to humanity again in this way. Our hope has no doubt that this second coming is part of the gospel of Christ, but it doesn’t know when it will occur. Its eagerness for the Advent endures because it is patient, knowing that the character of God is love, and trying to live the good news of God’s love.

• We may also want to clarify our understanding of the church—that is, to correct our misunderstanding of the church. For the church is not what it is often thought to be—a religious bureaucracy, an organizational structure. Organization is necessary if a group of people is going to continue after the death of its founders. As I mentioned before, the early Adventists who opposed organization were good at perception and prediction, but not so good at logic. All the negative consequences they predicted actually occurred; but organization was necessary. Yet organization is not the "essence" of the church. Like a person’s skeleton, it is "essential" but it is not the "essence." The church is the people whom God has acted to save and empower. The church is a community of faith, people who know they belong to each other because of what they have in common—an understanding of the gospel, a way of life, a fellowship of caring. These are the things that create a spiritual community and justify its distinction from other communities.

So the church belongs not to the administrative leadership, nor to the professional ministry, but to the people. They are the church, and they know that it is up to them to be the church. The church is not "they" at the conference office, or the union conference headquarters, or the General Conference. The reality of the church is the people, and this reality is reflected in a great Latin expression, congregatio fidelium—a gathering of the faithful. We sometimes think of the church as an army—"Onward, Christian Soldiers"—or as a business, with goals, objectives, and strategies. But probably the best analogy for the church is the family.18 Here relationships are more important than goals and strategies.

Too many of us think it is the role and function of the members to help the pastor do his work of ministry. This is exactly backwards. It is the role and function of the pastor to help the people do their work of ministry. The pastor is not the star player who wins the games, but the coach who encourages and facilitates.

Several years ago I was part of a La Sierra University group that visited the Willow Creek Community Church near Chicago. It was interesting in all sorts of ways—its use of drama and multimedia presentations in its worship services, and its programming the Sunday morning services for non-Christians, with services for members on Wednesday and Thursday evenings. But perhaps most impressive of all was the participation of the people. It was a large congregation, numbering about 7500 regular members. Of these 5,000 were church volunteers, working two to ten hours a week. There was good preaching and good church management, both of which are surely important; but most of all there was the involvement of the people—doing what they could do well, doing what they liked doing, and doing it with vigor and enthusiasm.

• And of course there are other areas we should probably explore. We could develop a theology of ecology; this would seem to be a subject of intrinsic interest to people who celebrate God’s creative goodness every Sabbath. Given our interest in health and wholeness, we could develop a theology of embodiment and sexuality. We may need to incorporate new forms of worship and to devise new means of service to the communities around us. We could pick up on Ray Roennfeldt’s suggestion of looking for new metaphors for salvation—metaphors for the twenty-first century that will touch human hearts and lives with transforming power.19 The fact that some steps in these directions have been taken by others20 certainly doesn’t keep us from looking at subjects like these from a distinctively Adventist perspective.

An effective Adventist future can and should be a broadly inclusive future, incorporating various understandings and practices. It should be as open and far-reaching and welcoming as God’s grace, which is for everyone. It should be totally inclusive.

• The Adventist future should be geographically inclusive. It is for people in Burundi and Bosnia, Mexico and Morocco, Afghanistan and Australia, and everywhere else.

• It should be ethnically inclusive. It is for Australian aborigines and Americans, Arabs and Africans, Hawaiians and Hispanics, and everyone else.

• It should be socioeconomically inclusive. It is for the affluent and the impoverished and the people in between, for the upper class and the lower class and the middle class, for the somebodies and the nobodies and all the rest.

• It should be educationally inclusive. It is for university graduates and school dropouts, for Ph.D.s and M.D.s and no-D.s.

• It should be culturally inclusive. It is for people who like Beethoven and Bach and people who like country and rock, for those who visit art museums and those who go to football games.

• It should be temperamentally inclusive. It is for extraverts and introverts, people persons and idea persons, intellectual and emotional, assertive and shy.

• It should be sexually inclusive. It is for women and men, for the single, married, widowed, and divorced, for the sexually active and the celibate.

• It should be developmentally inclusive. It is for children, teen-agers, young adults, middle-agers, and senior citizens, for those who believe in Santa Claus, those who don’t believe in Santa Claus, those who are Santa Claus and those who look like Santa Claus.

Once upon a time—the story is in Luke 15—some good, religious people came to Jesus with a complaint. "You really ought to be more selective about the people you hang around with. Some of them are pretty sleazy."

"Maybe so," Jesus replied, "but my Father loves them enough to want them with him. And if they’re good enough for God, they’re good enough for me."

Now of course that isn’t exactly the way Luke tells the story, but that is exactly the story Luke tells. The main difference is that Luke has not one story but three stories-within-a-story: one story about a shepherd who wanted a lost sheep so much that he went out looking for it in the middle of the night; a second story about a housewife who wanted so much to find a lost coin that she went through her house inch by inch to find it; and a third story about a father who wanted his son to come home so much that he when he thought he saw the boy coming he ran down the road to meet him. In spite of the title we give to these stories to identify them separately—the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin, and the Lost Son—they are really variations on the one theme of the strength, depth, and eagerness of God’s love for the world. Significantly, all the stories end in the same way: with an invitation to a party.21

The people who participate in an effective Adventist future will be as interested in everybody as Jesus was. These are people who know that God’s grace is not only for them but also for everybody else too; and they are excited about it.

Our final characteristic of an effective Adventist future is that it can and should be creatively responsive, actively involved in life around us. We want to feel good and we want to look good, and this is understandable for normal human beings; but it is more important to do good. In an effective Adventist future the church—that is, us, all of us—will be concerned about what is going on in the world. And this will be a positive rather than negative concern. This church of the future will be more interested in loving sinners than in denouncing sin. Of course it will be willing to take a position on moral and ethical issues, to stand up and speak out. But it will rather speak for the right than against the wrong (although opposing what is evil is usually easier than promoting what is good). And it will remember that actions speak louder than words, so it will be more interested in adopting unwanted children than in picketing family planning clinics.

The church of the effective Adventist future will not just care about people; it will care for people. As the New Testament says, "If a fellow human being is without clothes and regular food, and one of you says, ‘Go, in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about the physical needs, what good is that?" (James 2:15). A middle-sized congregation recently showed what an effective future can be when it became a relief and resource center during a huge brush fire. So did university faculty and students when they persuaded people to make more than 5,000 quilts for babies with AIDS. ADRA International—the Adventist Development and Relief Agency—is part of an effective Adventist future as it meets a wide variety of concrete human needs around the world.

The time has come for us to work together with others in doing good. We have our own Adventist Community Services organizations, and they do great good; and we could be doing other kinds of good as well, working with other agencies in response to poverty, homelessness, and hunger; and in response to ignorance, joblessness, and crime. Our teenagers and young adults could be tutoring in secular schools; our older members could assist in literacy programs for immigrants and others. Some of us could participate in the activities of Amnesty International, Habitats for Humanity, and Doctors Without Borders. We Adventists have long been interested in nature as God’s handiwork, as "God’s other book"; we could cooperate with efforts to preserve (and in many places improve) the quality of our natural environment. We could get the Pathfinders to clean up the litter along some of our streets and roads.

In an effective Adventist future, the church will be no ghetto, isolated from the rest of the world by fear or insecurity-or spiritual pride. It will be responsive to all sorts of human needs.

We can envision a future that is not only effective but also nearly irresistible—a future that is distinctive, progressive, inclusive, and responsive. This is possible because the church of the future will know with absolute certainty and clarity that its existence, its activity, and its accomplishments are the result of God’s grace. It doesn’t think of itself as "finishing the work" (which, after all, is God’s responsibility) as much as "living God’s love."

These and other possibilities are genuine possibilities. They are not pipe-dreams, not wild-eyed fantasies. God’s grace invites us to help make them part of the reality of the Adventist future.

End Notes

1 This section draws on my little book, Thinking Theologically: Adventist Christianity and the Inter­­pre­tation of Faith (Berrien Springs, Mich.: Andrews University Press, 1999), 237-49.

2 Marva J. Dawn, Keeping the Sabbath Wholly: Ceasing, Resting, Embracing, Feasting (Grand Rap­ids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1989); Wayne Muller, Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in Our Busy Lives (New York: Bantam, 1999); Dorothy C. Bass, Receiving the Day: Christian Practices for Opening the Gift of Time (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2000).

3 It is one of the great ironies of both Judaic and Christian history that the Sab­bath was dis­torted into an expres­sion of legalism. Any sym­bol, of course, can suffer this fate. But there is no more reason why this should occur in the case of Sabbath than in that of any other symbol, such as baptism or the Lord’s Sup­per. Because this kind of distortion did occur, and because the Sabbath was eminently worth reclaim­ing, Jesus, and to a lesser extent Paul, endeavored to clarify its meaning and function. But the fact that the Sabbath has suffered from legalistic distortion, together with the apparently negative tone of some of the New Testament comment about it (see Rom. 14:5-6; Gal. 4:10; Col. 2:16-17), has dis­couraged many Chris­tians from see­ing its potentially positive con­tribution to their experi­ence of God, the world, and their own humanness.

4 See Roy Branson, ed., Pilgrimage of Hope (Takoma Park: Association of Adventist Forums, 1986).

5 Jesus’ saying in Matt. 24:14, “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached through­­out the whole world, as a testimony to all nations; and the end will come,” is commonly misinterpreted as implying a causal rela­tion­ship between the proclamation of the gospel and the arrival of the “end.” But a care­ful exam­ina­tion of both the actual text and its literary context shows that the idea of causal­ity is not in fact there. The notion of post hoc ergo propter hoc can be an exegetical as well as logical fal­lacy.

6 A surprising example is Andrew Tardiff, “A Catholic Case for Vegetarian­ism,” Faith and Phi­losophy 15/2 (Apr. 1998), 210-22.

7 For a now-classic statement of the modern recognition of the biblical view of the soul, see Oscar Cullmann, “Immortality of the Soul or Resurrection of the Dead?” in Immortality and Resurrec­tion, ed. Krister Stendahl (New York: Macmil­lan, 1965), 9-53. For an influential theological account of “multidi­mensional unity” see Paul Tillich, Systematic Theology, 3 vols. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1951-63), 3:12-30 et passim. For recent accounts in the philosophy of science, see the description of “non­reductive physicalism” in Nancey Murphy, Reconciling Sci­ence and Theology: (Kitchener, Ont.: Pandora, 1997), 47-62, describing; and of “dual-aspect monism” in John Polkinghorne, The Faith of a Physicist: Reflections of a Bottom-Up Thinker (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1994), 19-25.

8 Except for those Christians whose understanding of human real­ity is shaped by Platonic dual­­­ism.

9 The only notable Adventist work in this area, however, is Sakae Kubo, Theology and Ethics of Sex (Nashville: Southern Publishing Assn., 1980). Otherwise, Adventist thinking about sexuality has been largely limited to sexual advice from counselors and therapists; see, for example, Charles E. Witt­schiebe, God Invented Sex (Nashville: Southern Publishing Assn., 1974); Nancy Van Pelt, The Com­pleat Mar­riage (Nashville: South­ern Publishing Assn., 1979); Alberta Mazat, That Friday in Eden: Shar­ing and Enhancing Sexuality in Ma­rriage (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press, 1981).

10 Even the notion of “the great controversy” was adopted and adapted. Ellen White’s well-known vision­ary experience occurred at Lovett’s Grove, Ohio, on March 14, 1858; and a written account appeared the fol­lowing September as Spiritual Gifts, vol. 1 (Battle Creek, Mich.: James White, 1858). But on March 18, 1858, the Advent Review and Sabbath Herald carried on its last page (11/18, 144) an anonymous “Book Notice,” announcing The Great Controversy Between God and Man: Its Origin, Progress, and End by Horace L. Hastings, (Boston: W. H. Piper and Co., 1858), “neatly bound in cloth, 60 cts., paper 50 cts.” The description began, “It contains a general outline of the more promi­nent events that have transpired along the stream of time, common to both prophecy and history. It abounds in graphic descriptions, showing the futility on the part of man of a controversy with his Maker—showing how God with an outpouring of divine vengeance cut short the controversy with the Antediluvians, the Sodomites, the Egyptians, the Canaanites, the Ninevites, the Babylonians, &c.—and showing, finally, the great issue of this controversy, and the cessation of man’s rebellion in the indiscriminate overthrow and ruin of the enemies of the Lord.”

The announcement continued with an expression of regret that Hastings didn’t tell the whole story as Adventists understood it: “And while every one must close the volume with a vivid sense of the manner in which the controversy will close in the triumph of the power and justice of God, and the certainty of this issue, we could wish that the author had dwelt more at length on the points of man’s rebellion, and the terms of reconciliation. When he speaks of the way we may approach to ‘a more glorious mercy-seat,’ of the position of Christ ‘in the heavenly places,’ and of the ‘ark of God’s testament seen in the temple of heaven, we could wish he had reminded the revolters of a certain law that reposes in that ark, beneath that mercy-seat, which is the constitution of God’s government, and upon which hinges the whole controversy between him and man. Had man never broken God’s law, there would have been no controversy, but men rebelled; and the controversy commended: he persists in disobedi­ence, and the controversy continues. And it will continue until the repentant few, who have been willing to turn and yield obedience to God’s just requirements, and seek through faith in Christ forgiveness of their past transgressions, receive the reward of their faithfulness, and the disobedient are wiped out of the universe as the just desert of their deeds.”

11 Dale Moody, The Word of Truth: A Summary of Christian Doctrine Based on Biblical Revelation (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1981), 326.

12 See for example Desmond Lee, ed., Plato: The Republic, 2nd ed. (New York: Penguin, 1987), 7, n. 1: “Dikaio­sune has a less legal and more moral meaning than ’justice’; it is in fact the most general Greek work for ‘morality’, both as a personal quality and as issuing in right action.”

13 Today’s English Version (TEV), also known as the Good News Bible (GNB).

14 Sigve Tonstad, “Pistis Christou: Reading Paul in a New Paradigm,” Andrews University Seminary Studies 40/1 (Spring 2002), 49, citing and commenting on J. Louis Martyn, Galatians: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, Anchor Bible (New York: Doubleday, 1997), 250.

15 The Reformation slogan sola Scriptura was often cited, as if were possible for a modern person to read Scrip­ture completely apart from modern science. But this use of the phrase reflects both a misunderstand­ing of its original context and meaning of the phrase (which was intended to deny the necessity of ecclesiastical tra­dition for a proper interpretation of Scripture) and a naïve view of human existence (which is thoroughly conditioned, though not completely determined, by its cultural environment.

16 See Edward W. H. Vick, The Adventists’ Dilemma (Nottingham: Evening Publications, 2001), 11.

17 An example is the observation cited by Winthrop Hudson, Religion in America (New York: Scribner1965) 347, quoted. by Roy Branson, “Adventists Between the Times: The Shift in the Church’s Eschatology,” Spectrum 8/1 (Sept. 1976): 15, repr. Pilgrimage of Hope, ed. Branson (Washington, D.C. Association of Adventist Forums, 1986): “Seldom while expecting a Kingdom of God from heaven has a group worked so diligently for one on earth.”

18 See Richard Rice, Believing, Behaving, Belonging (Roseville, Calif.: Association of Adventist Forums, 2002), 105-10. Regrettably, both the family and the church can be abusive rather than nurturing, toxic rather than healthful for their members.

19 See Ray Roennfeldt, “The Everlasting Gospel and the ‘Dynamics of Salvation’,” in this vol­ume.

20 In relation to ecology, see for example John B. Cobb, Jr., Sustainability: Economics, Ecology, and Jus­tice (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis, 1992) and Is It Too Late: A Theology of Ecology, rev. ed. (Denton, Tex.: Envi­ron­mental Ethics Books, 1995). In relation to sexuality, see James B. Nelson, Embodiment: An Approach to Sexuality and Christian Theology (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1978) and ­The Intimate Connection: Male Sexuality, Masculine Spirituality (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1988). In relation to church life, see Rick Warren, The Purpose-Driven Church (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1997); Bill Hybels, Courageous Leadership (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2002); Mark Mittelberg, Building a Contagious Church: Revolutionizing the Way We View and Do Evangelism (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2002).

21 For an elaboration of this theme, see Tony Campolo, The Kingdom of God Is a Party (Dallas: Word, 1990).

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