In the previous post , the theological landscape of Adventism (henceforth ADM) was placed within a covenantal thought framework. This was ...

The Hole in Adventism (part 5)



In the previous post, the theological landscape of Adventism (henceforth ADM) was placed within a covenantal thought framework. This was done in order to identify where ADM fits regarding the continuum of covenantal thought. The conclusion placed Adventism closest to the views espoused by the 2nd London Baptist Confession, a covenantal framework that falls under the tradition of the Presbyterians, Congregationalists, and Baptists known as "Covenantalism". The post concluded by sharing some points on how this identification is helpful for the church.


As we launch into the final posts of this series I will re-introduce some of the concepts mentioned before in order remind the reader of the important elements before moving forward. The first concept was introduced in the second installment of this series and identified a categorical distinction regarding covenantal thought in the Protestant world. Covenantalism falls under Category A leaving the other two systems in Category B. The significance of this lies in the fact that the views under Category A all teach the perpetuity of the law, while the views under Category B reject said perpetuity.


Category A
Category B
Covenantalism
1) Westminster Confession
2) 2nd London Baptist Confession
(Embrace Perpetuity of Law and Sabbath)
Alternate views to Covenantalism
1) Dispensationalism
2) New Covenant Theology
(Reject Perpetuity of Law and Sabbath)

Below I have also included the chart which summarized the last post.




In today's post, the objective is to return to the start of our discussion on the narrative of Adventism and focus more on that which makes its narrative unique in the Christian world. Below is a visual of how that narrative was introduced in the first post. For a recap re-read the first post here.

META-NARRATIVE
(Big Story - God)
MACRO-NARRATIVE
(Middle Story - Universe)
MICRO-NARRATIVE
(Little Story - Earth)


In the first post, the question explored was "Why do Adventists seem to ignore covenantal thought?" The above breakdown was given on how Adventists generally understand the story of scripture followed by the following chart.


META-NARRATIVE
(Big Story - God)
MACRO-NARRATIVE
(Middle Story - Universe)
MICRO-NARRATIVE
(Little Story - Earth)
Who is God?
What is he like?
What are his attributes?
What is his essence?
(Arminianism)
Why is there evil?
Where did sin originate?
Is God responsible for pain?
Vindication of God's character.
(The Great Controversy)
How did man fall into sin?
How can we be saved?
How does God relate to us?
Where is our world headed?
(History/ Covenants/ Prophecy)

Because Adventists generally focus more on the Meta and Macro narratives we have tended to place less emphasis on the covenantal progression in scripture[1]. In today's post, I would like to briefly introduce the totality of Adventist thought within a covenantal framework and offer this framework to the Christian community to which we belong for their consideration. It is my hope that in doing so Adventist theology will make a bit more sense to those whose theological traditions differ from our own.


Before beginning a few disclaimers must be made. 
1) Please recall that these articles are brief and cannot include every detail.
2) Remember that ADM is not monolithic and does not hold to any confession or creed that delineates exactly what an Adventist must believe. 
3) In this particular post, I will be presenting ADM from the centrist/ mainstream perspective. Again, in the absence of a creed doing so is tricky. It is my task to present Adventist thought without injecting personal concepts along the way. Nevertheless, while everything mentioned in this post will be entirely consistent with the centrist camp it will be expressed in language that is unique to this author.

PRESUPPOSITIONS

The discussion begins with a brief overview of certain key presuppositions inherent in ADM. Because our presuppositions impact our hermeneutic which in turn impacts our theology it is important to introduce these before moving into an exploration of our world view. This overview is, once again, brief in that it touches lightly on hermeneutics - a hotly debated topic within the Adventist church[2]. Nevertheless, the points mentioned here are basic and necessary as we move forward in our exploration.

Sola Scriptura: While ADM adheres to all 5 of the principles of the Protestant reformation it holds Sola Scriptura higher than the others for without it we would have no concept of Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, Solus Christus, or Soli Deo Gloria. Thus, ADM seeks to base its entire worldview on that which is revealed in scripture and aims to be faithful to its teachings alone[3]. As a result of this approach, ADM has inherited and developed other presuppositions which we will now explore below.



Character of God: The Bible alone is our rule of faith and practice and its central theme is a revelation of Gods character of love - a picture of who he is and what he is like. For Adventists, the narrative of scripture cannot be properly understood with a wrong picture of God. Scripture is, without a doubt, full of stories and eventualities that are difficult to make sense of. But there can be no hope of discovering truth, if we approach these with a wrong picture of God. For an Adventist, Gods character of love has interpretive priority over any scriptural theme. One way of understanding this is illustrated below:









Mystery
METANARRATIVE
(Big Story - God)

Simple. No variables.
Complexity





MACRONARRATIVE
(Middle Story - Universe)

Complicated. Variables introduced.
MICRONARRATIVE
(Little Story - Earth)

Complex. Endless variables.



According to this chart, while the Meta-Narrative is the most mysterious theme in scripture in that our mortal minds can hardly fathom its depth, scripture nevertheless gives us an extremely simple descriptor of it when it declares that "God is love". This metaphysical declaration is so simple and clear that it is presented without any variables. God is love. Pure and simple. From there, we can see scripture introducing us to a Macro-narrative which Adventists refer to as the Great Controversy. This story is more complicated than the meta in that more variables are at play (creaturely free will decisions etc.) though it's not as mysterious. We have more information about it and our mortal minds can grasp it with more depth because this story deals with creation and the battle between good and evil in the universe. The Micro-narrative, on the other hand, is the least mysterious. It deals primarily with our world and as such, we can sink our teeth into it quite deeply. However, it is also the most complex for it interacts with endless variables (free will decisions, butterfly effect, chaos theory etc.). As a result, one cannot interpret the meta based on something that takes place in the micro. For example, God ordering the Israelites to slaughter the Canaanites is a complex micro event that can only be fully understood when a significant number of its variables are considered and thus cannot be used to redefine the simple, variable-free Meta-Narrative: "God is love".

Since the character of God is the Meta-Narrative ADM gives his character interpretive priority over Macro and Micro eventualities. As previously mentioned, this is one reason why, for Adventists, the covenants can never be understood to abrogate the law of God. If God's law is an expression of his character of love we cannot use a Micro-Narrative (covenants) to do away with a feature of the Meta-Narrative (love) for such an act would be illogical. This is why Jesus said, "It is easier for heaven and earth to disappear (Micro) than for the smallest point of God's law to be overturned (Meta)" (Luke 16:17). Thus, while a proper exploration of the covenants is still necessary in order to make sense of redemption history, God's requirements of his people today, and the way in which the Meta has interacted with the Micro, most Adventists are content to never question the place of God's law either in time or eternity so long as its in a right relationship to the gospel. Once again, this is one reason why many Adventists simply overlook the covenantal progression of scripture - a posture which I have argued against in this series. For them, so long as the law is in a proper relationship to grace they are content to put most of their emphasis on the character of God.

Sanctuary Narrative: ADM also approaches scripture with the view that God is within time. While ADM does not deny the eternality of God and holds that God exists outside of time, it does not attempt to define or explain this mystery on the basis of scriptures silence. Additionally, while ADM is compatible with an exploration of the philosophical implications of a timeless deity it does not use those implications to form a theology. Rather, ADM approaches scripture with a God-in-time motif which is referred to as a "Sanctuary Hermeneutic"[4]. Because scripture always presents God as acting and interacting within time ADM uses this principle, as opposed to a timeless view of God, to approach the narrative. The creation story, Sabbath day, theophanies, OT sanctuary, (which God instructed the Israelites to build so that he could "dwell among them"), incarnation of Christ, church, Holy Spirit, judgment process, and the New Jerusalem (located in earth, Rev. 21) all proclaim that God is not a distant, frozen, or aloof deity that cannot be impacted by the decisions of men but a present, intimate, and relational being who, while eternally sovereign, condescends to humanity. This presupposition is reflected in ADM's "Historicist" approach to Bible prophecy, in its concept of "present truth" (meaning God always has new truth to reveal which is why ADM is non-creedal), and in its views regarding the continuity of spiritual gifts (such as the gift of prophecy) which places God as active in the affairs of men throughout the entirety of human history which includes the post-canonical era.

The remaining presuppositions are all consequences of ADM's Sanctuary Narrative.

Christocentrism: As mentioned in the last post, ADM is a Christocentric approach to scriptures story. According to ADM, the Bible cannot be properly interpreted without Jesus as the beginning, center, and end of the entire account. The Sanctuary Hermeneutic makes this reality even more central for it sees the centrality and activity of Jesus as part of the pre-creation covenant (Rev. 13:8), creation order (John 1:1-3), Old Testament (John 5:39), New Testament (Phil. 2:9), and eternity (Phil. 2:11)[5]. For ADM, however, Christocentrism is not used as a way to avoid or discount other scriptural doctrines. While some Christian traditions use the centrality of Jesus as a means of devaluing other scriptural themes, Adventists use it as a means of strengthening every point of scriptures narrative. Christocentrism is the means by which we understand the other doctrines. Christ is the center and all other truths orbit around his person.



Anthro-peripheral: One unfortunate outcome of all the diverse covenantal traditions we have explored is that, although they each deal with numerous issues, it is clear that what most people seemed to be concerned with is personal assurance of salvation and how the relationship between law and grace impacts them personally. For many, this is the most important and central element of covenantal thought. This is not the case for ADM. ADM holds not simply to a Christocentric presupposition but it also holds to an Anthro-peripheral presupposition which basically means that mankind's salvation is not the main point of scriptures narrative. By using the Sanctuary Narrative as a hermeneutic ADM seeks to paint a gospel narrative that encompasses the entire narrative of redemption and not simply that which relates to human salvation. According to ADM's interpretation of the Sanctuary, the main point is the character of God which finds its fullest revelation in Jesus. Man's salvation - especially the assurance of salvation - is certainly important and far from a fringe issue, but it remains second to the vindication of Gods character over against Satan's lies about him. Thus, while the law and personal salvation are important in ADM, they are only small pieces of a much larger puzzle.

This is another reason why many Adventists simply don't lose sleep over things like the law and the covenants. In many regards, the entire discussion can appear to be an over-complication because it places man and his salvation at such a central point in the story that even God himself has to step aside (abrogate his law) for them - a concept which, as already mentioned, is self-contradictory in an Adventist worldview. Thus, for ADM, mankind is simply not what this is all about. The character of God is and while that character is revealed most fully in his salvation of man through Jesus' sacrifice the central point is nevertheless God's character and not man's salvation[6].

We will pause here for the time being and allow these presuppositions to sink in before moving into an exploration on how they impact our understanding of the story of scripture. In the next post that exploration will begin and will focus on the Meta and Macro-narratives of Adventism.


__________

[1] While it is true that Adventists place a lot of emphasis on prophecy - another aspect of the Micro-Narrative - it is important to note that prophecy, while a part of the Micro, is ever tending toward the return of Jesus, the end of the Great Controversy and the final restoration of all things. Thus it is a Micro event that ever points toward the Macro and the Meta. As a result, it plays a different role than the rest of the Micro-Narrative and consequently appeals to Adventist thought more.
[2] https://adventistbiblicalresearch.org/materials/bible-interpretation-hermeneutics/another-look-adventist-hermeneutics
[3] https://www.adventistbiblicalresearch.org/materials/bible-interpretation-hermeneutics/interpreting-scripture-according-scriptures-toward
[4] www.atsjats.org/publication/view/172
[5] This is one of the reasons (apart from exegesis) why Adventists are not afraid to suggest that Michael the Archangel is an angelic, pre-incarnate manifestation of Jesus. While ADM holds to the eternality of Jesus and his equality with the Father as an uncreated being it does not find difficulty in the suggestion that just as Jesus condescended to mankind as a man, he had an angelic manifestation as well in the person of Michael. Of course, this concept plays no role in our theological development (as it does for Jehovah's Witnesses for example who attempt to argue that Jesus is a created being) and is thus absent from our doctrinal formulation, it nevertheless is an often misunderstood by-product of the combination of our Christocentric/God-in-time pre-suppositions. See: http://www.pomopastor.com/2012/12/who-is-michael-archangel.html
[6] Sadly, this is a pre-supposition many Adventist's lose sight of quite easily. The result is an obsession with topics like the Sabbath, health reform, or some other doctrinal point. Once the Anthro-peripheral presupposition is lost sight of the entire narrative collapses and in its place emerges a doctrinal point which becomes the central feature of the persons entire theology. However, by keeping the Anthro-peripheral perspective alive the integrity of the Meta-Narrative is not lost and thus, doctrinal points remain in their proper sphere and relationship to the story as a whole as opposed to becoming the central feature. This tendency to forget the Anthro-peripheral perspective is at the root of why Adventists have historically been regarded as obsessed with the Sabbath, diet, or prophecy as opposed to what our narrative is truly all about: The character of God. For more information see also: a) https://www.adventist.org/en/beliefs/restoration/christs-ministry-in-the-heavenly-sanctuary/article/go/0/recognizing-heavenly-realities/ b) https://www.adventist.org/en/beliefs/salvation/ c) https://www.adventist.org/en/beliefs/restoration/christs-ministry-in-the-heavenly-sanctuary/ d) https://www.adventist.org/en/videos/episode/ml/0/did-you-know-that-jesus-christ-is-our-judge-and-advocate/