Post 25, Moore is in Oz: Here is his light on an Adventist trouble

BOOK REVIEW

A. Leroy Moore Questions on Doctrine Revisited! Keys to the Doctrine of the Atonement and Experience of At-one-ment.  Ithaca, Michigan, AB Publishing, 2005, 288 pages.

Irish folk may speak obliquely of “the troubles” long blighting the Potato Isle. Some Adventist troubles are so painful the church avoids frank analysis of them in its official magazines and journals, thereby making publications like Adventist Today and Spectrum essential.

Perennial controversy surrounds the 720-page volume Seventh-day Adventists Answer Questions on Doctrine (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald, 1957). Historian George Knight identifies this conflict as “one of the thorniest problems in Adventism,” a “casualty” that “has hurt the Seventh-day Adventist Church more dearly than most realize.”1 After almost half a century, many Adventists refer to this particular “trouble” in ways that indicate a high level of pain still surrounds it. While some interpret the events robustly, as a genuine and largely successful attempt to explain Adventism to an Evangelical wing of Christianity, stentorian voices still declaim against church leaders of the era, often in language borrowed from M.L.  Andreasen (1876-1962) and his trenchant Letters to the Churches. Thus General Conference president Reuben Figuhr and some of his closest associates continue to be charged with administrative errors and doctrinal “apostasy,”  “tampering” with or “downgrading” Ellen White’s writings, and reprehensible “conspiracy.”

Thankfully, A. Leroy Moore has distilled fifty years of his engagement with the issues in three books, most recently Questions on Doctrine Revisited! Keys to the Doctrine of the Atonement and Experience of At-one-ment. Moore’s analyses and proposals deserve close attention due to their potential to kick-start a fresh conversation about the conflict relating to Questions on Doctrine (QOD).

Revisited is in part spiritual autobiography. Born in 1932, by 1947 Moore was praying his way through The Desire of Ages as an enquiring teenager with an unusual penchant for heavy reading that would prepare his mind to engage with the Adventist-Evangelical discussion of the 1950s. Moore’s parents gave him the first name of LeRoy Edwin Froom (1890-1974) with adjusted spelling. Leroy Moore now presents Froom’s responsibility for the QOD conflict as perhaps greater than that of Figuhr, R.A. Anderson or any other Adventist leader (Chapter 24). As pastor, researcher and author Moore has struggled long with the issues, incubating his latest book for eleven years, anticipating its publication would be (like his Adventism in Conflict, 1995) from a denominational press. Suddenly, within weeks of the 2005 General Conference session, the book was hurried off an independent press to be available at the quinquennial event.

The processes that hone a book at Pacific Press or Review and Herald would have helped Moore’s revisitation, but his work must not be given less attention because AB did the publishing and was paid with borrowed money. Obvious mistakes in Moore’s book are within reasonable limits. The volume does lack both a bibliography and an index. However, commendable strengths are apparent: clear language that makes diligent effort to avoid semantic conflict; aversion to conspiracy theories; advocacy for placing “the best possible construction” on the motives of others; research and reflection informed by a lifetime of interaction with the doctrinal problems; helpful reference to little known data and studies by others.

Moore’s insights as a pastor may be his greatest single strength. QOD was the attempt of Adventist leaders in Washington to respond to written questions from Walter Martin as a foremost Evangelical writer on cults, preparing to write on Seventh-day Adventists. The QOD manuscript, evidently written in the main by Froom, was sent to 250 thought-leaders worldwide. Detailed responses in writing were comparatively few, but with one exception they sounded procedural and theological warnings. Did church leaders fail to understand these cautions? Why did they not heed them? Did they wilfully keep them secret? Enter Andreasen, Adventism’s “Great Dane” who became a whistleblower par excellence, losing his cherished ministerial credentials in the process and regaining them posthumously. Not only have Andreasen’s strident epistles been published or quoted since 1958 by independent presses worldwide, they have become a bible for criticism of Adventist leadership that flourishes to this day. For instance, Russell and Colin Standish have written 55 books; some of their periodicals and about 18 of their books focus on “the ills of God’s church.” For such authors the QOD affair is a fundamental deviation.  

Other strengths of Moore’s tome deserve unpacking. Adventists who live in places distant from the church’s archives in Washington often languish for access to primary sources, a reason why at Andrews University overseas students cherish the collections housed in the James White Library. However, an intentional decision made at Adventist headquarters in 1972 means costly research facilities have been established and maintained in the major geographical regions of the world. It is thirty-five years since I migrated from pastoral-evangelism via Andrews University to research and teaching focused on Adventist Studies; for eight years I was director of the Research Center serving the South Pacific Division. But Moore teaches me important things in his book, even though I thought I had reviewed most of the relevant documentation. The biography of Raymond Cottrell currently being written will likely put in place another important piece of the QOD jigsaw puzzle.

However, there are some crucial questions that Moore needs to comment upon as part of the ongoing Adventist conversation. Has he read Rolf Poehler’s Andrews University dissertation (1995) in its original form or as two published books and, if so, to what extent does he see Poehler’s illuminating work as providing a reliable framework for understanding the development of doctrine during the first 140 years of Sabbatarian Adventism? Moore’s Appendix D, “Pioneers Proclaim Atonement on the Cross” indicates a commendable interest in the big picture to which he needs to give more definition. Much of the unreasoned opposition to QOD derives from the false claim that Adventist doctrine is static, not dynamic.

Secondly, Moore seems to use the writings of Ellen White as doctrinally authoritative and fully harmonious, whenever they were written, without historical explanation or theological qualification. Has Adventism learned nothing on this issue from the discussions that began a new phase with a celebrated issue of Spectrum in 1970? What conclusions emerge from a careful reading of five recent books: Graeme Bradford, Prophets Are Human (2004) and its forthcoming sequel; Don McMahon, Acquired or Inspired? (2005); Leonard Brand and Don McMahon, The Prophet and Her Critics (2005); and Alden Thomson, Escape From the Flames (2005). Do we not better understand Ellen White’s prophetic witness as we keep in mind “time and place,” her symbiotic relationship with a developing movement and her remarkable ability to grow in understanding as she walked with the Lord during seventy long years?

Thirdly, Moore ardently believes he can resolve the conflict over the human nature of Christ. He rightly emphasises Adventism’s need to better implement the Protestant principle of the priesthood of all believers. How should this principle be applied? Christ’s nature during the incarnation is first of all a biblical question that calls the church to benefit from the spiritual gifts of its small army of New Testament scholars. Next, we need to learn from historical theology within the Christian church generally and Adventism particularly. Herbert Douglass has said some illuminating things about “The Ellipse of Salvation Truth” that seem to accord with some of Moore’s propositions. Moore needs to more fully explicate his view of these dimensions of the discussion.

Essentially, Adventists frequently ask contrasting questions about Christ’s nature during the incarnation: How can Christ be effective as my Saviour unless He is just like me? How can Christ be effective as my Saviour if He is just like me? Tragically, rather than listening well to each other we often divide according to pre-conceived  hunches about the issues and their implications. It would be wonderful if Moore has found the ultimate solution to this dilemma with his proposal of sinless spiritual nature and sinful physical nature. But there is probably much more than that needing to be said if the priesthood of believers is to reach effective consensus.  Moore helps this process by drawing attention to relevant analyses by Kenneth Wood (1978), Jerry Moon (1988), Woodrow Whidden (1995, 1997), Julius Nam (1995-2005), and others. But he misses vital research such as that by Paul McGraw. All these studies and others like them need availability worldwide to inform the discussion effectively.

Again, Moore has written an America-centric book. Currently, only about one of every fourteen Adventists live in North America. The QOD debate has a life of its own and proposed solutions in other parts of the Adventist world. Moore’s few dismissive references to Desmond Ford do not take adequate account of Ford’s attempts to elucidate the relevant issues. Nor does Moore mention the consensus statement developed by the largest-ever group assembled to focus on the ministry of Christ in the heavenly sanctuary (August, 1980). He doesn’t even allude to the report of the Righteousness by Faith Consultation rendered on the last day of July that same year. No attempt to understand Adventist teachings on the sanctuary and Righteousness by Faith from 1957 to the present can afford such omissions.

Such caveats do not negate the enduring value of Moore’s efforts. His 2005 book nudges the church to look beyond decades of destructive conflict toward a better asking of generic questions about QOD and a more fruitful evaluation of the full range of potential answers. Andreasen’s charges can never be published again, conscientiously, as “accurate to a fault” (to quote Joe Crews).

Moore encourages Adventists nurturing deeply held, opposing convictions to listen actively to each other as they navigate toward the harbour of salvation. He has braved turbulent seas to position another guiding light amidst shoals and reefs that have too often caused shipwrecks in terms of personal faith, church relationships and effective mission.

1 Knight’s analyses are well expressed in his “Historical and Theological Introduction to the Annotated Edition,” pages xiii-xxxvi, Seventh-day Adventists Answer Questions on Doctrine (Berrien Springs, MI: Andrews University Press, 2003). Of particular value are his comments in Appendix B: “Christ’s Nature During the Incarnation,” pages 513-547, plus his contextualisation of the issues in others of his many articles and books.

Note: I wrote this review of Moore’s book for publication in North America; it was published as “Moore’s Light on an Adventist Trouble,” Adventist Today 14, Issue 3 (May/June 2006), 22-23, 20. I am posting it today because currently Moore is speaking in Australia (including Cooranbong and the Central Coast); hence it is appropriate to recognise his long-term contribution to Adventist Studies.

Arthur Patrick, 21 November 2011

About adventiststudies

Arthur Nelson Patrick, DMin, PhD, is an Honorary Senior Research Fellow, Avondale College of Higher Education, New South Wales, Australia
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