Christianity Today & Adventist Separatism
by Braden Way
It’s funny how I react to these kinds of things. Why should I get so excited when Christianity Today mentions Adventists? Am I looking for validation? As if Christianity Today will finally just admit that we are right about all of it so I can go to all my non-Adventist friends and say, “Ha! I told you we were right! See Christianity Today says so!” Sadly, this didn’t happen. As I read the article I was disappointed. The article, called The Season of Adventist’s: Can Ben Carson’s Church Stay Separatists amid Booming Growth?, is ultimately neither generous toward Adventists nor well-crafted. It paints a false dichotomy between Adventists and Evangelicals and then uses only quotes from conservative leaders to back up its points. It simplifies the differences of opinion in Adventism into two groups: those who hold to traditional Adventist practices and doctrine and who want to ensure continued and deepening separation from evangelicalism, and those who reject Adventist doctrine and practice and seek to join with evangelicals. This is problematic, because there are many Adventists who do not subscribe to either of these camps and have a more balanced view. In addition, the article never actually defines what it means by evangelical (is it referring to history, theology, politics, soteriology, mission etc?). In doing so it misses the fact that most Adventists actually consider themselves evangelical, at least in most areas. Its simply an incomplete analysis.
Honestly, I could continue to critique the article. There are problems with everything from the image to the summary of Adventist’s history with evangelicalism. But the fact is, on a personal level, the article comes too near to the truth for my own comfort. I could wax eloquent about the need to join with other evangelical Christians in the areas of common ground, to never be a group of people that ceases to learn from others (obviously with the Bible as the foundation and filter) in the areas of ministry and cultural interaction. I won’t because then I would miss the most important question. How many non-Adventist people have I actually engaged today? This week?
I ask this question as one who grew up in the Adventist Church, went to Adventist Elementary School, High School, and College. In High School I worked at Adventist summer camps and now I work at an Adventist company(albeit slightly unorthodox, I’ll get to that). We can get up in arms about our leaders’ quotes, or the article in a magazine, but how often do we stay in an “Adventist Ghetto” like Collegedale or Loma Linda long after we are done with school simply because we have friends that don’t eat pork, and a job that doesn’t require that we work on Sabbath.
Before about a year ago, if you had asked me to name the amount of interaction I had with those not in our denomination, I would have answered proudly, “Some classes at a public university, a job selling Aflac, and…Oh! For a class I had Bible studies with a Baptist!” Then God led me to a job as a Adventist-owned Christian radio station in a town where the Adventist presence is fractured. Essentially, if we want any ministry to happen we have to connect with other evangelical churches. It has been an amazing experience. A few weeks ago a couple of guys invited me to a ministry meeting at a restaurant on Friday night. My wife and I talked and felt like it was important to hold to our beliefs about the Sabbath. When I met up them later I told them that we couldn’t make the meeting and why. I was honestly a little nervous, as the new guy, the last thing I want to do is alienate any ministry. I was pleasantly surprised by their support and encouragement. Later in the conversation the topic turned to the radio station being a unifying force among area churches. I said that I hope we could be a bridge to connect people to different churches and he turned and said to me, “Yeah but we want to do it in such a way that it doesn’t pressure anyone to compromise their beliefs.”
Right then it hit me, the trick to acting as Christ acted isn’t to remove ourselves and create our own faux-culture with veggie-versions of everything (although I do love Fri-Chik). The secret to impacting culture is knowing what you believe and why and then being that person in the middle of life’s chaos.
So Christianity Today, next time write a better article, one that captures the complexity and nuance of Adventism in contemporary culture. But thank you…thank you for reminding us of our most important doctrine: that God sacrificed everything to connect with people that were utterly different than him and that its time for us to do the same.
Braden Way is a cool guy from Oregon who likes Fri-Chik and Starbucks. A theology graduate from Southern Adventist University, Braden now works at KTFY (88.1 FM), a radio station broadcasting a Christian contemporary format. You can follow his blog at 2worlds1god.blogspot.com
Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra. “The Season of Adventists: Can Ben Carson’s Church Stay Separatist amid Booming Growth?”. Christianity Today. January/February 2015, Vol. 59, No. 1, Pg 18.