Post 57: Understanding the QUESTIONS ON DOCTRINE Conference of 2007: Can Adventists move beyond the conflict?

Dear Reader: If you are going to invest an hour reading either the sdanet version or the Andrews University version of my paper entitled “The Questions on Doctrine Event: Contrasting Perceptions, Their Impact and Potential,” it may be worthwhile to spend a few minutes reading these paragraphs, first. They were written a few days after the historic conference that convened fifty years after the publication of the most controversial book ever produced by Seventh-day Adventists.

The conference at Andrews University that convened 24 to 27 October 2007 is already well reported on the Internet by Richard Rice, David Larson, Bronwen Larson, Ervin Taylor, Robert Johnson, and by me. These reports are on The Spectrum Blog, Ponder Anew, and Adventist Today Newsbreak. I have also read helpful perspectives by Leroy Moore, Rick Ferret, and others. Such reports and analyses may help you to understand the conference. Also, you may read about the organizers’ intention for the event on and elsewhere. Note especially Julius Nam’s blog at Loma Linda University.

My paper was assigned to me during November 2006. My initial preparation was greatly helped by reading again the main books written by the people I call “the enthusiasts.” I had not read parts of this material for a long time, even though my pastoral and teaching responsibilities have required me to deal with the issues constantly. I needed to read such basic materials again, “as though for the first time.”

I long for a better descriptor than “cautioners” for the passionate minority of Adventists who oppose Questions on Doctrine. If we are ever to move beyond the controversy that surrounds this important book, we much engage these earnest brothers and sisters in a conversation that embraces the full body of the evidence that is now available to every diligent Adventist. The historic and current voices include those of M.L. Andreasen, Al Hudson, Robert Brinsmead, Vance Ferrell, Ralph Larson, William Grotheer, Colin and Russell Standish, Herbert Douglass, Larry Kirkpatrick, and more.

Even more importantly, my paper contends that we must understand “the analysts,” especially twenty or so people who have written doctoral dissertations that help us understand “the big picture.” Of course, if we chose to read thirty other doctoral dissertations that are relevant to the discussion, we will much better understand Adventist identity and mission. An article I have written, “Contextualising Tensions in Seventh-day Adventism: ‘a constant process of struggle and rebirth’?” tries to summarize aspects ot these studies. Currently, that article is with the editors of The Journal of Religion History. Two of the journal’s referees have recommended its publication, a third should report on it soon.

I am very keen for the podcasts and the full text of the conference papers to appear on the Internet, a task that may take until early in 2008 to complete. Many features of my paper need the balance and wisdom of other presenters. For instance, George Knight gave us a superb historical introduction to Questions on Doctrine and the issues surrounding it on the first evening of the conference. Julius Nam brilliantly profiled the four positions adopted in response to the book. Paul McGraw built on this understanding effectively.

Minority viewpoints were also expressed clearly. The Standish brothers gave the attendees two books that detailed more fully their understanding of the history and theology of the book. Others presenters showed where the book fits within the historical development of Adventism (especially Ciro Sepulveda), or detailed its influence within major geographical areas like South America (Alberto Timm). The insights of contemporary Evangelicals were crucial (Kenneth Samples, Donald Dayton). Theologians and pastors gave us valuable analyses: Richard Rice, Roy Adams, David Larson, Woodrow Whidden, Larry Christoffel, and Leroy Moore, for instance. Moore emphasised fittingly the importance of both paradox and a Christian spirit.

But the impact of the conference cannot be understood apart from the messages of the devotionally-orientated speakers (Nik Satelmajer, John McVay, and Angel Rodriguez), as well as the panellists moderated by Merlin Burt, Robert Johnston, and Nicholas Miller. For me, exceedingly valuable input was given by three speakers on the Friday night: Denis Fortin, Mervyn Warren, and Jon Paulien.

What I am really saying here is that my paper needs to be read within the context and in the light of the content of the entire conference. Ten intense sessions filled the time from Wednesday night to Sabbath noon. There were from one to five speakers per session, not counting the panel discussions.

Did the conference cover all the essentials? Of course not. We now need to study anew the New Testament teaching on Christ’s nature during His incarnation; the proper and improper use of the writings of Ellen White; the biblical definition of sin; the ways in which sociologists can help us to understand ourselves, and a cluster of related matters.

But the conference was wisely conceived and brilliantly led. Thank God for what it can tell us about “the way the Lord has led us, and His teaching in our past history.”

Arthur Patrick, third draft, 9 November 2007, posted 22 April 2012

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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