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The "Spirit" and the Bible PDF  | Print |  E-mail

THE “SPIRIT” AND THE BIBLE

(How the "Spirit" of Liberalism Undermines Biblical Teaching)
[Excerpted from the Author’s Must We Be Silent?]
By
Samuel Koranteng-Pipim, Ph.D.
Director, Public Campus Ministries, Michigan Conference
 


    Although the theological term fundamentalist is quite elastic, it is usually employed as a caricature of, if not put-down for, Bible-believing Christians who reject the higher criticism of theological liberalism. Their “progressive” counterparts often perceive such Christians as anti-intellectual, pre-scientific, third world, or intolerant (according to the canons of pluralism, the belief that contradictory theological views must be allowed to flourish in the church). [1]

    In the context of recent Seventh-day Adventists’ debates over the Bible, scholars who are attempting to revise the church’s beliefs and practices often invoke the term fundamentalist against their counterparts who seek to uphold the longstanding Adventist position on the Bible. [2] One such effort is contained in a document titled, Embracing the Spirit (1997) and circulated as an “Open Letter to the Leaders of Adventism.” [3]    

    The author of Embracing the Spirit, until recently a Seventh-day Adventist college administrator, argues thus: [4]

    (1) he applauds the efforts of North American thought leaders who are “refining and renewing” Adventist belief, and who are offering “substantive critique and revision” of the church’s theology,

    (2) he denounces those persons who are standing in the way of this “renewal,” “revision,” and “adventure of truth,” charging them with aiding the Seventh-day Adventist church in a “drift” towards religious fundamentalism, and with “nullifying the work of the Holy Spirit,”

    (3) he states that “the energy” for the church’s alleged movement towards fundamentalism has been partly generated by Receiving the Word, a work that explains why some within our ranks are challenging cardinal Adventist doctrines (e.g., the substitutionary atonement of Christ, a literal six-day creation, the infallible authority of Scripture, etc.) and embracing lifestyle practices that are incompatible with the tenets of Adventism (e.g., moderate use of alcohol, the eating of unclean foods, endorsement of homosexuality, the use of jewelry, etc.), and

    (4) he prescribes “the embrace of the Holy Spirit” as the antidote to the presumed drift of Adventism towards fundamentalism, claiming that through the Spirit’s guidance believers would be given insights into new truths, sometimes “hard to bear” and “unforseen by the disciples [of Christ].”

    Embracing the Spirit deserves some attention for the following reasons: (1) it may well represent the views of those seeking to “refine and renew” Adventist theology; (2) it is designed to be taken seriously by the leaders of Adventism; and (3) its contents have a bearing on, and illustrate, the concerns addressed in this present volume and my earlier work, Receiving the Word. [5]

    This chapter argues that before “embracing any Spirit” we must first “try the spirits” (1 John 4:1), determining whether the “embraced Spirit” is the Spirit of Him who inspired the written Word to be the norm of Christian belief and practice. The chapter also challenges the claim that the Adventist church is moving in the direction of religious fundamentalism. Finally, it identifies some crucial issues that should be addressed by those who subscribe to the views expressed by the author of Embracing the Spirit. [6]

    The Spirit of the Pioneers

    The Birth of A Movement. More than a century ago, in 1844, a group of young people embarked upon a genuine adventure of truth---truth grounded in God’s inspired Word. They were no ordinary young people, for they were converted and biblically knowledgeable young people who were willing to learn and to do God’s will no matter the cost.

    Among them was James White, who began preaching at 23, and Ellen White, who started telling her visions publicly at 17. J. N. Andrews held evangelistic meetings at age 21, and by age 24 he had published 35 articles. Uriah Smith became editor of the Review at age 23, having already written a 35,000-word poem called “The Warning Voice of Time and Prophecy” that the Review published in installments the year before.

    These Adventist pioneers humbly received God’s Word as fully inspired, trustworthy, internally consistent, and the sole authoritative norm for belief and practice. Following the example of the Protestant Reformers, they took the Bible in its plain, literal sense, without adopting a literalistic interpretation. [7]

    While searching the Scriptures, they also spent considerable time in prayer, asking the Holy Spirit to guide them into truths already revealed in His Word. With the Bible in their hands, and the love of Christ in their hearts, our young pioneers did not hesitate to challenge the unbiblical thinking of theological liberalism, and its method of higher criticism, that were pervasive in their day. [8]

    Identifying themselves as the end-time Remnant prophesied in Scripture, they called themselves Seventh-day Adventists, fully aware that they were a divinely constituted people, commissioned to declare the everlasting gospel “to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people” (Rev 14:6). The unique system of beliefs which our Adventist pioneers consequently developed is summarized by the following distinctive S’s:

    (1) Scripture’s sole and infallible authority, (2) the Substitutionary atonement of Christ, (3) Salvation by grace alone through faith in Jesus Christ, (4) the Sanctuary message, presenting Christ as our Sacrifice and heavenly High Priest (5) the imminent, literal Second Coming of Christ, (6) the seventh-day Sabbath of the fourth commandment, (7) the unconscious State of the dead and the teaching of a future resurrection (8) the Spirit of Prophecy as an identifying mark of God’s end-time remnant church, (9) Stewardship of body, time, talents, and possessions, and (10) Standards regarding food, drink, dress, entertainment, relationships, etc.

    Inasmuch as these doctrines are rooted in the inspired Word of God, our pioneers lived and proclaimed these distinctive truths with a sense of urgency. The result is that today, millions of people around the world have embraced the Adventist pioneers’ unique identity, message and mission. One can point to the inspiring mission reports and growth of the church, even in the industrialized areas of Australia, Europe and North America, as evidence that the spirit of the pioneers is alive and well.

    Startling Development. But alongside this revival and rapid growth come disturbing indications that some Seventh-day Adventists in certain parts of the world are facing an identity crisis. The church’s most distinctive theological doctrines are being challenged--from within. Uncertainty prevails over the church’s unique identity and mission, and its worldwide organizational unity is being defied.

    As a result of this identity crisis many students in our institutions are confused. There exists a generation of church members, preachers, Bible teachers, leaders, writers, and publishers who are unsure of some of our historic beliefs. And in the areas where the situation prevails, vibrant church growth and church life have been adversely affected.

    This startling development is well-known. [9] Yet not everyone sees this sophisticated internal challenge to our Adventist belief and practice as a threat. The advocates of theological change see themselves as offering bold and visionary guidance to the Seventh-day Adventist church by “refining” or renewing our beliefs and practices. In their estimation, their adventure of truth is veering the church off the course of fundamentalism, an overused theological slur often invoked against anyone refusing to embrace the spirit of the age.

    The document, Embracing the Spirit, is a classic example of such a use of the “fundamentalist” epithet. Since this document has been circulated as an “Open Letter to Leaders of Adventism,” we shall now briefly review its contents.

    Review of Embracing the Spirit

    Although the document, Embracing the Spirit: An Open Letter to Leaders of Adventism, reads like the private opinion of its author, it was written and signed in its author’s capacity as college president, and mailed out with the approval stamp of the college’s development office. [10] Inasmuch as this “Open Letter” seeks to be treated as the official position of the college and the constituency represented by its development office, the document deserves a brief analysis and evaluation.

    Summary of Document. Embracing the Spirit expresses concern over what its author describes as Adventism’s “drift toward hostility to truth,” “antagonism to the adventure of truth,” “stifling [of] the church’s quest for deeper understanding,” [11] and fearful accusation against “every prospect of substantive critique and revision of Adventism’s speech about God.” [12]

    While our scholar applauds the efforts of North American thought leaders who are “offering energetic and visionary guidance to Seventh-day Adventist conferences and congregations” by “refining and renewing [SDA] belief,” [13] he denounces those persons who are standing in the way of this “renewal of understanding,” arguing that their alleged “drift toward hostility to the adventure of truth . . . moves the church ever closer to religious fundamentalism.” [14]

    In so many words he repeats his opinion that “the church’s current drift . . . toward anathematizing the adventure of truth and nullifying the work of the Spirit” [15] is evidence that “the church is drifting in the fundamentalist direction.” [16] By fundamentalism, he indicates three tendencies: (1) a tendency toward a flat, mechanical reading of the Bible, (2) a tendency toward rigidity and arrogance with regard to customary understanding, and (3) a tendency toward reactive, inward looking separatism. [17]

    Embracing the Spirit intimates that Adventism’s alleged drift towards fundamentalism is a grave situation that “admits of one protection only: the embrace of the Holy Spirit.” [18]For our author, “embracing the Spirit” means that while the church has “the right and obligation to require them [“those charged with intellectual leadership” in our colleges and universities] to be faithful and effective in that leadership,” we must also expect them “to nudge us toward the insights, sometimes hard to bear, that Jesus said would come.” [19]

    When our scholar writes about “insights, sometimes hard to bear,” he explains that through the Spirit’s guiding presence Christians would be led “in ways unforseen by the disciples [of Christ].” He asserts: “The unmistakable implication is that new insight, insight yet to enter Christian minds, would sometimes entail a difficult departure from the customary. It would be insight the disciples themselves were not ready, at that moment, to bear.” [20]  According to our Adventist scholar, such an openness to the Spirit will rule out “the narrow, unimaginative thinking that develops from the three tendencies of fundamentalism.” [21]

    Interestingly, our author suggests that Receiving the Word, my earlier work challenging liberal reinterpretations of traditional Adventist beliefs and practices, is partly responsible for generating “the energy” or a “rallying point for those who (effectively, if not deliberately) are stifling the adventure of truth within Adventism.” [22]  One can understand our scholar’s exasperation over the book’s “larger-than-expected readership,” [23] given the fact that Receiving the Word has been warmly embraced by very large numbers of Bible-believing Adventists around the world---church members, pastors, students, scholars, and leaders.

    Though the author of Embracing the Spirit is careful to state that those he disagrees with---styled, “persons with the outlook and attitude expressed in Koranteng-Pipim’s writings” [24] ---are not “pure fundamentalists,” he asserts: “Still, to the degree that the church is drifting in the fundamentalist direction, he [the author of Receiving the Word] is abetting the drift, and so are those who endorse his writing.” [25]

    Perceptive readers of the above comment will readily observe that our scholar is opposed, primarily, to the theological direction of the Adventist church, which he characterizes as fundamentalist. His criticism of Receiving the Word, and hence of those persons who share the outlook expressed in this work, stems from the fact that the book is encouraging readers to keep moving in the direction of the church’s beliefs, not in the adventurous paths being suggested by the self-styled “energetic visionaries.”

    Those who fail to recognize this overriding concern of the writer of Embracing the Spirit may be missing the primary thrust of his “Open Letter to the Leaders of Adventism.” Our author has a complaint against the theological direction of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. This is why he purposes with all his “heart and mind” to “oppose the effort of a few in our circle to align the rudder of the church with the direction of the drift.” [26]  He is distressed by the writings of the author of Receiving the Word mainly because the latter “illustrates and reinforces the church’s current drift.” [27]

    A Brief Evaluation. Our scholar must be commended for his stated commitment to a “full-hearted openness to the adventure of truth” [28] ---even if he is silent on what that truth is or on whether each of the fundamental beliefs of Seventh-day Adventism is to be bracketed within that truth.

    He is also to be lauded for emphasizing an “embrace of the Spirit”---though he fails to clearly specify whether the Spirit he speaks about is the Spirit of Him who inspired the written Word to be the norm of all beliefs and practices (2 Tim 3:15-17; 2 Pet 1:19-21), or whether it is another Spirit which is none other than the spirit of our age. Such a clarification would also have been in order especially since there are presently some within our ranks who are jumping on the wings of the “Third Wave of the Holy Spirit” (i.e., the contemporary charismatic movement), in their flight from the biblical truths and practices upheld by Seventh-day Adventists.

    He must also be complimented for recognizing that “the Bible story ascends toward Jesus, who is the final ‘Word’ of God, and the final authority for thought and life” [29] ---despite the fact that he fails to note that we cannot recognize the true Jesus Christ apart from the written Word (John 5:39). Such an emphasis would have been in order to distance our scholar’s views from Barthianism or neo-orthodoxy, a mistaken theological view that jettisons the authority of the Bible for some undefined or nebulous concept called “the final authority of Jesus Christ.”

    The author of Embracing the Spirit also deserves our admiration for asserting the right of the church to “hire teachers and researchers who, in their various ways, assist in promoting and refining that [the church’s distinctive] vision”---even if he fails to state what recourse is available to the church when our institutional thought leaders teach, preach, or publish works that deny or fail to be “partisan to the mission implicit in the church’s calling as the Remnant.” [30]

    Again, our scholar must be applauded for accurately describing the “listlessness,” “stunted faith,” and the “alarming tedium (and non-participation) associated with many Sabbath Schools of North America and other strongholds of Adventism” [31] ---even though he misdiagnoses the cause as fundamentalism, and follows it up with a wrong prescription, namely, an “embrace of the Spirit,” including a “substantive critique and revision of Adventism’s speech about God.” [32]  He also fails to give evidence that his prescription will produce genuine church growth, faithfulness to God’s written Word, and vitality in “the church’s older strongholds [which are] suffering from flat or declining enthusiasm and faithfulness.” [33]

    Finally, the author of Embracing the Spirit deserves our appreciation for calling attention to the “destructive tendencies of fundamentalism”---though he fails to justify his claims to have discovered fundamentalism in Receiving the Word.

    Areas of Concern. But with all due respect, I beg to differ with our scholar’s assessment of developments within contemporary Adventism, with his debatable analysis and evaluation of a work that defends the church’s beliefs and practices, and with his puzzling silence on crucial issues on biblical authority and biblical truth.

    There may be a place for denouncing a book for abetting the Seventh-day Adventist church’s alleged fundamentalist drift. But negative criticisms that fail to demonstrate objectively that the position upheld in Receiving the Word is unbiblical or out of harmony with traditional Adventist belief does not deserve serious attention nor serve the cause of truth---however loudly one invokes the emotional catch phrase of fundamentalism.

    Therefore, instead of focusing on the straw man erected by the author of Embracing the Spirit, I will simply state the facts and identify some unanswered questions in our scholars work. In this way, I hope to correct our scholar’s diagnosis of, and prescription for, the church’s theological condition.

    The Facts. The book Receiving the Word argues that some within our ranks have been infected by the virus of contemporary higher criticism (the historical-critical method). The symptoms of this infection can be seen by all who care about the health of the body of Christ: it has created theological uncertainty among our people and paralyzed the growth and vitality of the church in the areas where the product of higher criticism has been embraced. Since this new approach to Scripture denies the full inspiration, trustworthiness, internal harmony, and sole authority of the Bible, Receiving the Word challenges the method as unbiblical and incompatible with Seventh-day Adventist beliefs. [34]

    But while opposed to contemporary higher criticism, Receiving the Word does not seek to promote the three tendencies of our scholar’s dreaded fundamentalism. Contrary to the subtle insinuations in Embracing the Spirit, Bible-believing scholars–whether in the first world or third world---do not shy away from intellectual pursuits nor seek to create “congregations of poorly educated members who win converts, it is true, but have great difficulty passing their vision to succeeding generations and make little if any transformative difference in their surrounding cultures.” [35]

    Besides, chapters 9 and 10 of Receiving the Word dismiss any intimation that we argue for a mechanical or literalistic reading of the Bible. Moreover, our call for upholding the ideals of God’s end time “Remnant” does not encourage the kind of “inward-looking separatism” alluded to by our scholar. [36]

    Embracing the Spirit would have gained some credibility if its author had pointed out that those who are promoting “inward-looking separatism” are: (1) the persons who fail to motivate “Spirit-filled” church members to be active in the outreach, evangelistic, and soul-winning mission of the Remnant church ; (2) those who have embraced a spirit that says, “I’ll defy or go my own way without regard to what the community of believers has to say on theological and ecclesiastical issues”; (3) the individuals who have accepted the so-called “principle,” “progressive,” or “dynamic” approach to biblical interpretation and, consequently, relativize biblical truth---all in the name of being led by the Spirit.

    The Bible-believing Adventism that is advocated in Receiving the Word and embraced by an overwhelming majority of Seventh-day Adventists around the world is not afraid to investigate, advance in, or clarify biblical truth. But its quest for biblical truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, compels it to challenge the kind of unbiblical thinking that for some has become the hallmark of scholarly enlightenment and spiritual insight.

    The Adventism encouraged in Receiving the Wordis a vibrant Christian movement that rejoices that Jesus Christ died for our sins in fulfillment of Bible prophecy and has called us to walk in His steps through a faithful, obedient commitment to Him. This kind of Adventism does not pander to the spirit of our age while believing or congratulating itself that it is transforming its ambient culture or renewing the beliefs of the church.

    Our college administrator is a scholar who claims to write “neither lightly nor recklessly.” [37] Hence his Embracing the Spirit should not be dismissed for being more noteworthy for its breadth than for its depth. He indicates that he has “considered the subject matter” and written his thoughts “with all the care” that he can muster. [38]  Thus, he should be admired for the brilliant way he attempted to invoke the fundamentalist epithet as a decoy for diverting attention from the key issues raised in my earlier book. [39] Still, in all fairness, it must be stated that his Embracing the Spirit can win the sympathy of only those who have already bought into the critical heterodoxy challenged in Receiving the Word.

    Some Unanswered Questions. One cannot help but notice that, in Embracing the Spirit, there is a deafening silence regarding major questions of biblical truth. A few examples will illustrate our observation.

    Our college administrator’s “Open Letter to Leaders of Adventism” speaks of “adventure to truth.” But he is vague on whether that adventure has a destination---i.e., a body of beliefs that may be accepted as the truth. One is left wondering if the emphasis on “adventure of truth” is not an euphemism for parrying with the truth.

    He encourages the “refining,” “renewing,” and “substantive critique and revision” of Adventist theology. However, he does not specify which of our Fundamental Beliefs needs this kind of modification. Is possible that the call for a change in Adventist theology is actually a clamor for the abandonment of some of our biblically established doctrines and practices?

    The author of Embracing the Spirit sees the Adventist church drifting in the direction of fundamentalism. Yet he fails to notice that his observation of the church comes from the vantage point of one who is riding a fast train of change called the “adventure of truth.” Could it be that those riding this speeding train are rather the ones who are drifting away from Adventism towards an unknown destination?

    He speaks about “embracing the Spirit.” Yet he is mute over whether that Spirit will ever contradict the Spirit who inspired the written Word to be the test of all spirits. One is left in a quandary over whether the call to “embrace the Spirit” is not a proposal for a paradigm shift so that the “People of the Book” will now see themselves as “the People of the Spirit”---as if the Holy Spirit ever quarrels with His inspired Book. [40]

    Bible-believing Seventh-day Adventists have always insisted: “The Spirit was not given--nor can it ever be bestowed--to supersede the Bible; for the Scriptures explicitly state that the word of God is the standard by which all teaching and experience must be tested” (The Great Controversy, vii). “To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them” (Isa 8:20; cf. Gal 1:8, 9).

    Finally, our scholar and college administrator acknowledges the church’s “right and obligation” to require our thought leaders to be totally committed to the message and mission of the church. [41] Yet when the advocates of theological change are called upon to give account of their stewardship, he characterizes it as an eagerness to “track down and penalize every effort at constructive innovation.” [42] Should we not expect those who take upon themselves the responsibility of a “substantive critique and revision of Adventism’s speech about God” [43]to (a) show why the church’s beliefs and practices are unscriptural, and (b) offer solid biblical basis for their new insights or adventure of truth?

    Since the author of Embracing the Spirit is silent on the above questions, it may now be necessary for us to call attention to some specific aspects of our Adventist faith that are currently being challenged by the advocates of theological change. Perhaps our author and all others who share his attempt at “refining and renewing” Adventist belief will, in the spirit of truth, offer candid answers to the questions that follow.

    In the Spirit of Truth

    Since the author of Embracing the Spirit failed to mention that key aspects of our faith are being challenged by some who seek “substantive critique and revision” of Adventist theology, I will do so in the next few paragraphs. Calling attention to these contentious areas of our theological disagreements will enable and encourage church members and leaders in their efforts to uphold sound teaching (1 Tim 6:20; 2 Tim 1:13) and counteracting false teaching and false teachers (1 Tim 1:3; 4:1, 6; Titus 1:9-11).

    Adventist Faith and Practice.
As we noticed in the previous discussion, our author correctly recognizes the church’s “right and obligation to require” [44] its thought leaders to commit themselves to the message and mission of the church. Church institutions have a confessional responsibility to demand this, and church employees have a moral obligation to honor it---unless it can be shown that the church’s biblical teachings are not biblically defensible.

    For this reason, the leaders of Adventism to whom Embracing the Spirit is addressed should demand from the document’s esteemed author, as well as those persons who presumably mandated him to send out his official document, to honestly declare if they still believe in the following time-honored Seventh-day Adventist affirmations---teachings that are being challenged in certain quarters of the Adventist church:

    (1) the substitutionary atonement of Christ--i.e., His death in our place pays the penalty for sin, provides forgiveness, and creates saving faith; [45]

    (2) the deity, virgin birth, miracles, bodily resurrection and the literal second coming of Jesus Christ;

    (3) the Bible as the Word of God--a fully inspired, internally consistent, infallible revelation of propositional truth. The Bible is its own interpreter, provides the foundation and context for scholarship and the totality of life, and is the unerring standard for doctrine;

    (4) Ellen G. White, as an inspired writer, possesses more than pastoral authority so that her writings are an invaluable tool for illuminating Scripture and confirming church doctrines;

    (5) the literal reading and meaning of Genesis 1-11 as an objective, factual account of earth’s origin and early history; that the world was created in six literal, consecutive, contiguous 24-hour days; [46] that the entire earth was subsequently devastated by a literal world-wide flood, and that since creation week the age of our world is “about 6000 years.” (This point is especially crucial since Embracing the Spirit seems to have problems with what its author refers to as “the arithmetic of the creation story” [47]);

    (6) a literal sanctuary in heaven, the pre-advent judgment beginning in 1844, and an eschatology that identifies the Seventh-day Adventist church as the remnant of Bible prophecy called to proclaim the three angels’ messages which prepare the world for Christ’s second coming; and

    (7) faithfulness to the Seventh-day Adventist church’s lifestyle practices, including the rejection of homosexuality, polygamy, wearing of jewelry, eating of unclean foods, moderate use of alcohol, women’s ordination, divorce and remarriage, and worldly entertainment and amusements.

    This last point is particularly critical in light of the apprehension expressed in Embracing the Spirit over certain distinctives that distinguish God’s people from others. When our author writes that “All too often, these markers---sometimes highly contestable, often merely external---have little to do with the mind of Christ and the soul of discipleship,” [48] does he include the Adventist lifestyle practices identified in #7 above, and is he suggesting that some of these are “highly contestable”?

    Method of Biblical Interpretation.
Besides the above theological affirmations, the “Leaders of Adventism” must also call upon the author of Embracing the Spirit and his fellow energetic visionaries to address the underlying hermeneutical questions that has occasioned much of the reinterpretations of our biblical beliefs and practices.

    Specifically, these advocates of theological change (the self-styled “refiners” or “renewers” of our beliefs) must be asked if they believe in the use of the time-honored Adventist method of biblical interpretation (the plain reading of Scripture), the necessity of relying on the Holy Spirit in this effort, and a rejection of the use of any form of contemporary higher criticism (i.e., the historical-critical method of Bible study).

    To encourage the champions of Embracing the Spirit to address the forbidden issues of hermeneutics, I will in the next chapter offer a brief summary of the most crucial questions of the current Seventh-day Adventist debate.

    I trust that the author who speaks so eloquently and admirably of “adventure of truth” and of “embracing the Spirit,” together with the “visionaries” of theological change, will, in the Spirit of truth, offer candid answers to the above questions and those which follow. For as Martin Luther said:

If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every position of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christ. Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved; and to be steady on all the battle field besides, is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point. [49]

    
Endnotes


[1]    James Barr’s suggestion that the word fundamentalism connotes “narrowness, bigotry, obscurantism, and sectarianism” highlights this point (Barr, Fundamentalism [Philadelphia, Penn.: Westminster, 1977], 2). For a discussion of Protestant fundamentalism, see C. T. McIntire, “Fundamentalism,” in Walter A. Elwell, ed., Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 1984), 433-436; G. M. Marsden, “Fundamentalism,” in Sinclair B. Ferguson, David F. Wright, and J. I. Packer, eds., New Dictionary of Theology (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1988), 266-268.

[2]    In a lecture given in Wycliffe Hall at Oxford University, British scholar Gordon J. Wenham aptly described the situation: “I suspect that if either you [a student] or your lecturers discover during your study that you are a Sabellian montanist or semipelagian gnostic [these were christological heresies in the early church], it will not cause over-much excitement. Such deviants are common place today and in this pluralistic society are usually accepted without much fuss. However should you be diagnosed as a fundamentalist your fate may be very different. In the modern theology faculty fundamentalism is the great heresy. It is regarded as nearly as dangerous as the HIV virus and is treated with similar fervour but with rather less tact and sympathy.” See, Gordon J. Wenham, “The Place of Biblical Criticism in Theological Study,” Themelios 14/3 (1989):84. Bible-believing Christians should not be intimidated by any pejorative labels--labels that are calculated to induce Christians to accept some “progressive” ideas (theological codeword for deviations from Scripture).

[3]    Charles Scriven, Embracing the Spirit: An Open Letter to the Leaders of Adventism (Columbia Union College, Takoma Park, MD, August 1997).

[4]    Until very recently, Dr. Charles Scriven was the president of Columbia Union College, a Seventh-day Adventist institution in Takoma Park, Maryland. [He is currently the president of Kettering Adventist College in Ohio].

[5]    The entire content of Scriven’s Embracing the Spirit: An Open Letter to Leaders of Adventism document was subsequently published in the liberal Adventist journal Spectrum , September 1997, 28-37. The editor, however, explained to me that because of space constraints only a portion of my response could be published alongside Scriven’s (see my “In the Spirit of Truth: Pipim Responds,” Spectrum 26 [September 1997], 38-44).

[6]    My complete response to Embracing the Spirit was originally published as In the Spirit of Truth [A Review of an Open Letter Titled Embracing the Spirit, in the Light of Key Issues on Biblical Inspiration and Interpretation] (Berrien Springs, Mich.: Berean Books, 1997).

[7]    An excellent review of the historic Adventist approach to Scripture can be found in C. Mervyn Maxwell’s “A Brief History of Adventist Hermeneutics,” Journal of the Adventist Theological Society 4/2 (1993):209-226; “’Take the Bible as It Is,’” Adventists Affirm 10/1 (Spring 1996):26-35; cf. George W. Reid, “Another Look at Adventist Methods of Bible Interpretation,” Adventists Affirm 10/1 (Spring 1996):50-56. A recent restatement of the historic Adventist hermeneutics is found in the carefully worded “Methods of Bible Study” document approved at the 1986 Annual Council meeting in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The entire document is published in the Adventist Review (January 22, 1987), pages 18-20, and reproduced in Appendix C of my recent book Receiving the Word: How New Approaches to the Bible Impact Our Biblical Faith and Lifestyle (Berrien Springs, MI: Berean Books, 1996), 355-362.

[8]    A detailed discussion of the Seventh-day Adventist pioneers’ attitude toward higher criticism can be found in Peter van Bemmelen’s paper, “Seventh-day Adventists and Higher Criticism in the Nineteenth Century,” Andrews University, 1977, available at the Ellen G. White Research Center of the James White Library, Andrews University, in Document File 391-h.; cf. idem, “The Mystery of Inspiration: An Historical Study About the Development of the Doctrine of Inspiration in the Seventh-day Adventist Church, With Special Emphasis on the Decade 1884-1893,” unpublished manuscript (1971), available at the James White Library, Andrews University.

[9]    For example, the then president of the General Conference stated this concern in 1995: “In many of the more developed and sophisticated areas of the world, I sense that an increasingly secular value system is negatively impacting many of our members. I sense a growing uncertainty about why we exist as a church and what our mission is.” See Robert S. Folkenberg, “When Culture Doesn’t Count,” Ministry, December 1995, 7. A brief documentation, detailing the underlying causes, of this identity crisis may be found in chapters 4 to 6 of my Receiving the Word, 75-206.

[10]    Charles Scriven, Embracing the Spirit: An Open Letter to the Leaders of Adventism (Columbia Union College, Takoma Park, MD, August 1997). Until recently, Dr. Charles Scriven was the president of Columbia Union College, a Seventh-day Adventist institution in Takoma Park, Maryland.

[11]    Scriven, Embracing the Spirit, (3:3, 4). Note that figures in parentheses show the page numbers and the full paragraphs in which the quotations are found in his original document. Thus, (3:3, 4) refers to page 3, paragraphs 3 and 4.

[12]    Ibid., (12:2).

[13]    Ibid., (3:4; 4:3).

[14]    Ibid., (5:1).

[15]    Ibid., (4:1).

[16]    Ibid., (6:3).

[17]    Ibid., (5:2-8:2).

[18]    Ibid., (5:1); cf. (6:1); (8:3-10:2).

[19]    Ibid., (12:3-13:3).

[20]    Ibid., (10:1). As examples of the new insights that entail a “difficult departure from the customary,” our author continues: “Down the centuries, minds indeed would change in ways unforeseen by the disciples: Christians would come to favor complete abolition of slavery; they would defend liberty over despotism; they would further weigh, and further support, equal rights and opportunity for women” (ibid., 10:1). In making this assertion, our Adventist scholar seems to be unaware of the fact that the Bible has never supported the practices of slavery, despotism, and denial of women’s equal rights, and that many of the people who championed the cause of the abolition of slavery, defense of liberty over despotism, and the support of equal rights and opportunity for women, did so on the basis of truth already revealed in Scripture. Readers will benefit from the following works: John Stott, Issues Facing Christians Today (Basingstoke, Hants: Marshall Morgan & Scott, 1984), 2-28, 45-61; Theodore D. Weld, The Bible Against Slavery: Or, An Inquiry into the Genius of the Mosaic System, and the Teachings of the Old Testament on the Subject of Human Rights (Pittsburgh: United Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1864); cf. Dale B. Martin, Slavery As Salvation: The Metaphor of Slavery in Pauline Christianity (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990); Guenther Haas, “Patriarchy as An Evil that God Tolerated: Analysis and Implications for the Authority of Scripture,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, September 1995, 321-326; George W. Knight III, The Role Relationship of Men and Women: New Testament Teaching (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1985), 7-15.

[21]    Scriven, Embracing the Spirit, (14:2).

[22]    Ibid., (4:1-2); cf. 8:2.

[23]    Ibid, (4:1).

[24]    Ibid, (4:2).

[25]    Ibid., (6:3).

[26]    Ibid., (3:3).

[27]    Ibid., (4:1).

[28]    Ibid., (16:2).

[29]    Ibid., (7:0).

[30]    Ibid., (12:3-13:1).

[31]    Ibid., (11:3).

[32]    Ibid., (12:2).

[33]    Ibid., (5:2).

[34]    An excellent exposition of the Seventh-day Adventist position on the inspiration, trustworthiness, unity and authority of Scripture is found in Seventh-day Adventists Believe . . . A Biblical Exposition of 27 Fundamental Doctrines (Washington, DC: Ministerial Association of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, 1988), 5-15. This work, produced by 194 thought leaders around the world, is to be received “as representative of . . . [what] Seventh-day Adventists around the globe cherish and proclaim,” and as furnishing “reliable information on the beliefs of our [SDA] church” (ibid., iv, v). For the general Seventh-day Adventist understanding of biblical interpretation, see “Methods of Bible Study,” Adventist Review (January 22, 1987), 18-20, reproduced as Appendix C in Receiving the Word, 355-362. “Methods of Bible Study” rejects as “unacceptable to Adventists” “even a modified use” of the historical-critical method.

[35]    Scriven, Embracing the Spirit, (5:3).

[36]    Ibid., (6:4-8:2).

[37]    Ibid., (3:3).

[38]    Ibid., (2:1).

[39]    These key issues have been summarized in the next chapter of this present work (Must We Be Silent?) as a set of ten questions on inspiration and interpretation.

[40]    Readers interested in a detailed treatment of the Holy Spirit*s role in Bible interpretation may want to consult my “The Role of the Holy Spirit in Biblical Interpretation: A Study in the Writings of James I. Packer” (Ph.D. dissertation, Andrews University, 1998). This 410-page work explores how the relationship between the Spirit and the inspired Word has been understood by major theological figures and movements since the sixteenth century Reformation and culminating in the works of one of contemporary Evangelicalism*s most widely respected theologians.

[41]    Scriven, Embracing the Spirit, (12:3-13:1).

[42]    Ibid., (7:1).

[43]    Ibid., (12:2).

[44]    Ibid, (12:3-13:1).

[45]    In 1994, one of Scriven’s published works generated considerable discussion in Adventist circles when it challenged the penal substitutionary atonement of Christ, the biblical teaching that Jesus Christ died in our stead, taking upon Himself the penalty of death that we deserved. See his “God’s Justice, Yes; Penal Substitution, No,” Spectrum, October 1993, 31-38; see also his follow-up letter, “Scriven Says Penal Substitutionary Atonement is Still Unbiblical,” Spectrum, July 1994, 63-64. For a brief analysis and critique of these works, see Samuel Koranteng-Pipim, “A Critique of Dr. Charles Scriven’s ‘God’s Justice Yes: Penal Substitution, No’,” unpublished manuscript, December 1994, available at the Adventist Heritage Center, James White Library, Andrews University.

[46]    The word “contiguous” is used to emphasize the fact that the six days of creation are not merely consecutive (in the sense of following in a successive order), but also that there are no gaps between the consecutive days. Thus, the days of creation touch one another, so that the second day begins just at the point when the first day ended.

[47]    Scriven, Embracing the Spirit, (7:0).

[48]    Ibid., (8:1).

[49]    I am indebted to the Internet website http://www.gospelcom.net/cquod/cquodlist.htm for the above quote. Each day this Christian web site provides a noteworthy quotation for reflection. The above statement was posted on the site on May 1, 1997. I have yet to track down successfully the exact source reference in Luther’s writings.