Post 94, Adventist Studies Since 1986: Fractious Adolescent or Maturing Adult?[1]

Jesus left behind him thinkers not memorizers, disciples not reciters, people not parrots (Dominie Crossan).

The insights provided by Christ’s teaching are capable of almost infinite elaborations and explorations. The Christian matrices form a code to be translated afresh in each new situation, so that Christian history is a constant process of struggle and rebirth—a succession of crises, often accompanied by horror, bloodshed, bigotry and unreason, but evidence too of growth, vitality and increased undestanding (Paul Johnson).

Professor Bruce Mansfield, founding editor of The Journal of Religious History in Australia during1960, was still at the helm in the 1980s when I proposed the journal might publish an article on Seventh-day Adventist historiography. Mansfield could not have been more helpful in bringing to birth what he hoped would be “the first in a new, occasional, series” on sources for the study of religious history in Australia. One of my claims in the article was that the sources were already in hand for “substantial and accurate Seventh-day Adventist history to be written” that would “expose increasingly the inadequacies of numerous viewpoints current both within the denomination and beyond its borders.”[2] More than two decades later, it seems appropriate to revisit the burgeoning discipline of Adventist Studies and attempt analyses of its development. We shall begin with brief overviews of two recent examples of the genre, one undertaken in the United States and the other in Australia.

I. The McGraw Dissertation

A compelling PhD study by Paul McGraw of Pacific Union College offers fuller understanding of “one of the thorniest problems in Adventism”[3] and thereby strengthens the possibility that the Seventh-day Adventist Church can transcend a conflict that has engaged many adherents for half a century.[4]

 McGraw intimated the nature of his research at the Triennial Session of the Association of Seventh-day Adventist Historians in Portland, Oregon, on 11 April 1998; now his 315 pages fulfil the high expectations that seemed latent in his project from its beginning.[5] McGraw’s dissertation became available to me for extended scrutiny only on 3 August 2006; it was so interesting that I completed a first reading of it by the next evening. Coincidentally, on August 4 the Sydney College of Divinity gave notice that a doctoral study by an Australian pastor, Rick Ferret, had received the approval of its examiners.

I almost held my breath as I re-read Ferret’s final draft in the light of McGraw’s dissertation: both plough some of the same ground. But the two studies are vastly different in methodology. McGraw writes primarily as an historian, making effective use of copious and often new primary sources. On the other hand, Ferret offers a trans-disciplinary report with a strong sociological orientation that makes fresh syntheses and applications of existing literature. Both dissertations are greatly needed by the church, not least because they demonstrate why and how two scholars working in total isolation from each other arrived at conclusions that are congruent.

 An Adventist Problem

There are a small number of issues so close to the core of Adventist identity that constrictions of understanding relating to them threaten the wellbeing of the whole church. Elsewhere I contend that it required about one hundred years for the primary sources relating to the General Conference of 1888 to be adequately gathered, focused, understood and coherently interpreted in writing.[6] However, long before the century had elapsed, indeed, by the General Conference of 1950, a new phase of the conflict over the 1888 message of Righteousness by Faith was initiated. This controversy had little chance of an effective resolution before the Palmdale Conference of 1976 and the Righteousness by Faith Consultation that began in 1979 and published its findings on 31 July 1980.

The Adventist fire that re-ignited in 1950 was fed with explosive fuel as the reality of a sustained conversation between Adventist leaders and Fundamentalist Evangelicals became known and itself began a long process of misinterpretation. While the principal alternative viewpoint was given credence by the “Great Dane” of Adventism, Milian Lauritz Andreasen (1876-1962), it relied considerably on a rapidly developing independent press in the United States paralleled in the energetic Awakening Movement that was spearheaded in Australasia by Robert Daniel Brinsmead. By the 1970s, as other issues increased the complexity of the conversation about Adventist landmarks, their history and meaning, streams of publications were flowing over the church, many of them claiming that 1957 marked the commencement (or at least accelerated the process) of Adventism’s journey toward apostasy.

Since then, the two sides in this ongoing debate have found it very difficult to talk calmly to each other. Some strategists suggest that usually a particular conflict engages between twenty and forty per cent of the constituents of a nation or an organisation.[7] In other words, the majority (up to eighty per cent) may be unknowing of the issues or indifferent toward them. To quantify the participants in any Adventist struggle may be subjective, even risky. But there is a constructive truth that can be stated with reference to 1957: the warfare that began five decades ago can now be understood effectively in terms of the primary documents from that effervescent period.

Touring the Battlefield with McGraw

Back in 1978 at a conference in Washington, D.C., my colleague James Nix kindly offered to drive this naïve Australian to the Gettysburg battlefield. I assumed that to see Gettysburg may require an hour, or even two. How wrong I was! Nix introduced me to a particular battle but also to a war that was fought in ten thousand places, a struggle that told much about its participants, their nation, its past and its future. I came from Nix’s one-person tour of Gettysburg with a sense of profound humility and awe, sorrow and hope.

McGraw’s early chapters make clear the conflict that escalated with the publication of Questions on Doctrine must be interpreted in the light of Seventh-day Adventism as it developed after 1844 and later suffered unresolved traumas, including the departure of the stalwart evangelist D.M. Canright in the 1880s and the foreign missionary E.B. Jones in the 1940s. As a movement developing its landmark ideas in a hostile environment, Adventism cherished the distinctiveness of its remnant concept, fostering separation from the wider society and even from those Christians who also held a high view of Scripture. McGraw pictures well the towering need for a new appraisal of Adventism to occur by the 1950s and he details the pioneering efforts and considerable skill of such leaders as LeRoy Edwin Froom in effecting that process.

 McGraw’s history is not a partisan one; it is irenic, even-handed. He has listened to the confusing sounds of battle so well that he can interpret their meaning faithfully. He avoids the impulse to engage in “right-on-our-side” apologetics and the violent polemics that has often paraded as history. Like Nix at Gettysburg, McGraw’s tour leaves me with a profound sense of humility in view of documented human actions versus the way God appears to lead His people, with awe at what was actually achieved by Adventist and Fundamentalist/Evangelical leaders, with sorrow at the way in which both people and processes were misunderstood, and with hope that all of us who are members of the Adventist family can better value each other as we focus more intelligently on our identity and mission.

 A Brief Summation of McGraw, for Now

We are less than honest if we fail to admit that currently a deep rift exists in the Seventh-day Adventist church that derives in considerable measure from events that occurred between the initial representations by Robert Wieland and Donald Short to the General Conference (1950) and the death of M.L. Andreasen (1876-1962).[8] McGraw’s journey through the disputed terrain introduces us to the participants in the struggle with honesty yet empathy. His account makes sense in terms of the existing studies by those who have particular axes to grind as well as the responsible analyses offered by George Knight and others. Therefore, McGraw’s dissertation offers a potential capstone for the arch of understanding that has been built by others with diligence despite buffeting crosswinds. The builders have demonstrated enthusiasm and yet often they have encountered the need for demolition and redirection of effort.

McGraw also helps us interpret the theological climate of Reuben Figuhr’s presidency (1954-1966), the altered ethos in the era of Robert Pierson and his colleagues (1966-1979) and the far-sighted church councils fostered by Neal Wilson (1979-1990). He provides us with a way to begin to understand the nature and mission of both the Adventist Society for Religious Studies and the Adventist Theological Society. After taking McGraw’s tour, we can better appreciate who Adventists are, why conflicting maps of their journey since 1957 abound, and how the Adventist future may be more promising as we choose to learn from our past.

Such a limited review as this can only intimate some of the strengths of McGraw’s study, it cannot express or evaluate them adequately. McGraw’s dissertation illumines two related matters: Adventist identity and the relationship between Adventists and other Christians. His concluding paragraph illustrates something of the significance of his message:

Because of the fact that even in 2003 there continue to be individuals on both sides of the debate who hold to opinions which mirror those held by both sides prior to the Evangelical Conferences of 1955-56, this work is important. Just as the conferees on both sides realized that the issue which most deeply divided them was that of terminology, it is equally important for those who still see an insurmountable divide to look at the complete story in which at least some individuals on both sides tried to reach out the hand of fellowship and bridge the divide created in the minds of many by a simple word, “cult.”

That “complete story” has dynamic potential for the Adventist future. Internal unity is crucial for our mission as Seventh-day Adventists, as are mature relationships with other Christians.

II. Another Case Study: The Ferret Dissertation

For the past seven years Richard Ferret has juggled the demands of employment while undertaking a doctoral program with the Sydney College of Divinity (SCD). Earlier this year when Ferret completed his dissertation, the SCD appointed three examiners to assess it and provided them with fifteen criteria to apply in the process of evaluation. On Friday, 4 August 2006, the SCD advised Ferret that the reports were in hand: all three examiners rated Ferret’s work in Category A, accepting it as meeting the requirements for a PhD degree without change of argument or content. The comments of one typify the general tone of all: “the research is particularly thorough, academically responsible, historically accurate and complete, balanced, its conclusions credible, and expressed with a suitable academic precision.”

The two examiners in the United States and the one in Australia share long experience in higher education with particular expertise in history, theology and sociology; they were chosen by the SCD as matching well the historical substance of the dissertation, its theological content and its sociological orientation. “Charisma, Sectarianism and Institutionalisation: Identity Issues in Seventh-day Adventism” developed from Ferret’s long years of struggle with the history of his church since 1844, including its teachings and its controversies. A comparison of his text and bibliography (pages 384-416) indicates Ferret has a thorough grasp of the diverse literature.

Ferret suggests “Seventh-day Adventism has proved immensely successful in terms of both evangelism and institutionalisation.” He also states:

The proliferation of SDA institutions throughout the world suggests, however, that Adventism remains embroiled in tensions between imminence and occupancy; between apocalyptic ideals and modern realities, between what it teaches and what it actually does (361-2).

Light on the Dilemma

Ferret retains some of the patience and active listening skills fostered by his initial training as a nurse, to which he has added the insights of tertiary teacher, chaplain and pastor. To read his dissertation is to note the effective way that he incorporates published studies of Adventism like those of Rolf Pöhler (1999, 2001) and Douglas Morgan (2001).[9] Pöhler’s dissertation at Andrews University investigated the nature, extent and direction of Adventist doctrinal developments in the light of the religious background of the church and the sociological forces at work in it, analysing the Adventist response to doctrinal adjustments and discussing Ellen White’s involvement in and conception of doctrinal change. Based on Pöhler’s work, Ferret argues that Adventist teachings have been significantly affected by theological and hermeneutical developments under the impact of sociological forces that have tended to move the denomination closer towards evangelical Protestantism. Ferret also finds Morgan’s dissertation written at the University of Chicago particularly illuminating in the way it traces continuity and change in Adventist apocalypticism within American society.

However, Ferret also draws upon the insights of many other major researchers. He cites Michael Chamberlain’s trans-disciplinary study (2001) of Adventist education at Avondale College with its special interest in socio-cultural change and the associated need to develop a thoroughly informed hermeneutic for Ellen White’s writings.[10] Ferret is clearly appreciative of Bruce Manners’ dissertation (2004) and its implication that Adventist publishing is at its finest when it is frank. However, although Ferret drinks from many deep wells, he provides his own cup: an interpretive model that (he claims) fits the church’s need.

An Overview of Adventism

Ferret’s exploration begins with Millerism and the painful transition that birthed  Sabbatarian Adventism.[11] A long introduction (pages 9-51) introduces Weberian methodology, defines charisma, legitimation and its routinisation. Chapter 2, “American Revivalism, Millennial Dreams, Crisis and Charismatic Inauguration” prepares the way for two chapters on how Ellen White’s charisma was legitimised and Adventist identity was formulated. Chapters 4 and 5 (“The Routinisation of Charisma in Adventist Experience,” “Imminence and Delay: A Constant Impasse”) prepare the reader for two chapters that tour the sectarian controversies within Adventism from 1844 to the present. Chapter 8, “Doctrine and/or Deed: Dilemmas of Institutionalisation” summarises the main issue of the dissertation in readiness for ten pages of conclusions.

Ferret observes that the student of SDA theology “can easily recognise the themes of restorationism, perfectionism, Arminianism and revivalism that were common” in the society that birthed Adventism as one of 279 utopian communities established in the United States between 1787 and 1919. While he displays a deep commitment to the Adventist pioneers who transformed a Great Disappointment into a dynamic new movement, he wants contemporary Adventists to better implement Scripture as the church’s authority. He deems that in the controversies of the past generally, and particularly in those occurring since the Evangelical Conferences of the 1950s, too many of his fellow believers have polarised around rival extremes that may be described as reversionist or rejectionist. Ferret’s advocacy of a transformationist response to new data will resonate with those who seriously accept Ellen White as “the Lord’s messenger,” given to us as a lesser light to lead us to the greater light.

 A Subjective Interpretation

What potential is evident in Ferret’s work? It will stand the test of time and scrutiny as well as prove to have outstanding significance for the lively, ongoing discussion relating to Adventist identity. How might we compare it with other explorations of Adventism? Perhaps an illustration from history may help us at this point.

Some of my United States friends equate a difficult journey undertaken by Lewis and Clark as highly important within their culture. Before Lewis and Clark, Americans knew there was a West Coast with its Pacific Ocean. But was there a way from the Mississippi River via the Missouri and the Columbia to the Pacific? The courage, skill and effort of Lewis and Clark demonstrated that there was.

A major reason why Adventism lost so many ministers, teachers and members during the 1980s lay in our inadequate understanding of continuity and change with reference to Adventist teaching. Rolf Pöhler fills for Adventism a Lewis and Clark role, demonstrating with his Andrews University dissertation of 1995 that change was a reality and that it could be constructive if we related to it coherently.  There was a way through the Rocky Mountains of Adventist controversies; equipped with the grace and the graciousness of God the rivers could be forded and the dangerous passes negotiated.

Rick Ferret cannot be expected to redo the more pioneering explorations already undertaken by Rolf Pöhler and others. His work is that of a mapmaker for some of the road construction that is needed for the Adventist journey toward the Kingdom of God. Ferret adds to the growing evidence that historical and theological studies are crucial for our self-understanding and mission. More than that, his dissertation offers another indicator that it is time for the Adventist church to plan another baptismal service. Sociology has been in a “class ready” long enough; it has proved itself as a constructive discipline that can reliably assist the Adventist quest to understand the way the Lord has led and taught us since 1844.[12]

III. Identifying Other Pieces of the Jigsaw Puzzle

Even from such a brief overview of the dissertations by McGraw and Ferret, three comments can be made with some degree of confidence. The first of these observations presents a daunting reality: both studies demonstrate that the present is best understood in terms of the entire Adventist past, including the rise and development of the movement, its controversies, identity and mission. This reality offers an appropriate caution for those who investigate the modern period without reference to historical considerations. Secondly, as demonstrated best in McGraw’s work, there is a great need to mine thoroughly the primary sources that have become increasingly accessible since the church made an influential decision in 1972, as indicated in my 1986 article. Indeed, it is unlikely that the church can transcend controversies effectively without detailed attention being given to the specific witness of the documents that illumine its journey; this fact renders inadequate or irrelevant much of the publishing that has occurred even since the middle of the twentieth century. Thirdly, as Ferret’s work well indicates, trans-disciplinary studies are likely to offer particular rewards that are identifiable when numerous explorations are examined and compared.

Dissertations that intersect with the territory covered by McGraw and Ferret offer ways to more fully assess each of these observations. It has already been implied that

a number of studies form an effective foundation for Ferret’s overview. Some of these will be noted further due to their role as important pieces in the jigsaw puzzle that is being assembled over time.

Douglas Morgan, writing at the University of Chicago under the supervision of Martin Marty developed an impressive longitudinal study of Adventism as a major apocalyptic sect in North America. Morgan’s dissertation in its published form demonstrates the comparative complexity of Adventist apocalyticism, the influence that external factors may exert on biblical interpretation, the nature of the Adventist struggle for continuity in its teachings and the actuality of change in its biblical interpretations and applications. These and related themes are illumined further by the 1995 Andrews University dissertation already mentioned, published subsequently in two volumes, that offers a masterful depiction of Adventist theological development.[13] Morgan writes in a North American context whereas Pöhler’s work is influenced by the long engagement of a European mind with research in the United States.

By contrast, Michael Chamberlain’s doctoral research (completed 2001) was undertaken at the University of Newcastle in Australia. Effective scholarship transcends any limitations inherent in its provenance; the discipline of Adventist Studies needs to be as ethnically and culturally inclusive as is the membership of the movement. It is perilous to hope that the findings of any doctoral dissertation can be adequately depicted in such cursory remarks as this presentation affords. Therefore, in the appendices to the archived copy of this presentation in the South Pacific Division Heritage Centre and in the Ellen G. White/Seventh-day Adventist Research Centre, reports that I have made on various studies since 1980 are available for assessment. The Foreword written for the published form of Chamberlain’s dissertation implies there are controversial aspects to both the presentation and the content of his research. However, it is likely that two strengths will be recognised as the debate continues: the substantial accuracy of the big picture Chamberlain paints and the logic this provides for concerted attention being given to the development of a coherent hermeneutic for Ellen White’s writings.

Bruce Manners, like Chamberlain, completed a trans-disciplinary study (2004) in an Australian setting.[14] Manners’ dissertation demonstrates even more fully than Chamberlain’s the value of sociological inquiry. The Millerite phase of Adventism signalled the potential of print for the expression and development of ideas; publishing became a core activity of Sabbatarian Adventism from the 1840s. Manners is able to offer an irenic account that, even so, supports the concept that Adventist print is at its best when it is frank. The secular “history wars” in Australia and the current debate over Exclusive Brethren teachings and activities in New Zealand and Australia illustrate the discomfort that politicians and Christians are likely to feel in the spotlight of investigative reporting. In such conflicts within Adventism, some researchers take comfort from Ellen White’s assurances that truth has nothing to fear from the closest investigation and that “truth can afford to be fair.”[15]

The studies by Pöhler, Morgan, Chamberlain, McGraw, Manners and Ferret have either been completed or have entered the discussions within South Pacific Adventism during the past five years. Hence any conclusions that are submitted here need to be stated with due caution. One way to test the likely impact such recent studies may have for Adventism is to view them in the context of previous interpretative attempts. My remarks are, undoubtedly, heavily influenced by the fact that my study, pastoral and teaching experience are limited to Australia, New Zealand and the United States. Further, while Adventist history and thought           have been the central focus for all my inquiries since 1960, I have attempted to approach these subjects with an awareness of trans-denominational considerations (especially Catholic,[16] Anglican and Wesleyan insights) and trans-disciplinary perspectives (embracing Scripture, history, theology and sociology in particular). Any such endeavour is likely to merit criticism for its shallowness, especially from those who are expert in one of the various disciplines that speak to the component issues most powerfully. It is in this context that I wish to suggest, albeit tentatively, the potential of selected older studies.

When, in 1976, I was placed in charge of the first Ellen G. White/Seventh-day Adventist Research Centre in the Southern Hemisphere, the groundbreaking discussion of Ellen White’s life and writings initiated by Spectrum in 1970 was almost unknown in Australasia. However, by 1978 the church was conscious of particular names (like Donald McAdams, Ronald Numbers, Walter Rea, Jonathan Butler, Ronald Graybill) and it slowly developed an awareness that ministers, teachers, historians and other employees in the United States and the South Pacific were being marginalised or dismissed because they were aware of new data and their attempts to interpret it coherently were deemed heretical. A cluster of biographical studies needs to be undertaken in order to illustrate the development of Adventist Studies during the difficult conflicts that became painfully evident during the 1970s and spun out of effective control in the 1980s.

If my published contentions are correct that the past half century of research relating to the life and writings of Ellen White may be characterised usefully by such words as certitude, controversy and consensus, it is likely that the church will come to value the concept that some of the people it has disciplined have contributed constructively to Adventist Studies. Mention of one example of many potential individuals must suffice as an illustration of this claim at this point. Ronald Numbers not only was excluded from participation in Adventism in terms of his profession as an historian, it was mooted that any employee who had supported his research (for instance, by facilitating access to relevant sources) must be dismissed as well. However, several observations can be offered constructively after the passage of thirty years. Numbers’ career demonstrates that historical inquiry enriches the church; that since the publication of research allows “the dialogue and dialectic of a community” to function effectively, correctives are likely to be discovered and effective balance is apt to be achieved over time. In effecting the professional martyrdom of Ronald Numbers, the church sacrificed an historian who is now eminently credible in the public sphere. Numbers could well have applied his evident talents for the continuing benefit of Adventism as well as for the enrichment of American society.[17]

Tensions can be constructive, despite the sensitivity the church has demonstrated toward them, repeatedly. For instance, Michael Pearson’s doctoral dissertation illustrates the likelihood of tension between Adventist millennialism and the church’s engagement with ethical issues. Such tensions are inevitable, essential and potentially creative within Adventism if the implications that may be drawn from Pearson’s dissertation are viewed in historical perspective.[18]

Another of the evident tensions in Adventist Studies is illustrated by the sometimes contrasting perspectives of the Adventist Society for Religious Studies (ASRS) and the Adventist Theological Society (ATS). Some observers suggest that the ATS may have limited its effectiveness by requiring its members to sign a statement of faith that seems to constrain their openness to genuine research as well as the publication of research findings in peer-reviewed journals. However, two considerations are important in this regard. The ATS has recently modified it confessional statement and a case-by-case analysis of the writings of ATS members is essential if this issue is to be assessed adequately. For instance, the publications of Roy Gane well illustrate the fact that an ATS member (who is concurrently an ASRS member) can relate responsibly to such perceived barriers. Gane’s doctoral research at Berkeley embraced Hebrew language and literature within the context of Ancient Near Eastern Studies (assisted by seventeen different ancient and modern languages) while maintaining a clear focus on biblical exegesis. This background has enabled Gane’s volumes on Leviticus and Numbers to achieve publication from Adventist, Evangelical and scholarly presses. Gane’s related professional roles (directing M.Th., Th.D/Ph.D. programs at the SDA Theological Seminary as well as teaching and preaching) further illustrate the challenges and rewards of Adventist scholarship that bridges what is too often a daunting chasm between academia and proclamation.

At the North New South Wales convention (held 6-14 October 2006), twelve presentations by Gane illustrated well his engagement with the processes of exegetical study, pedagogy and preaching. Comment by attendees suggested that Gane’s use of computer technology to support linguistic, contextual and inter-textual studies of Scripture can engage the interests of a cross-section of believers. If Seventh-day Adventists in fact have no creed but the Bible, the depth of exegetical study modelled by Gane with reference to Leviticus at the South Pacific Division theological congress (early in 2006) must be applied to the entirety of Scripture.[19]

Undoubtedly, one of the most divisive issues faced by the Seventh-day Adventist church since the 1950s concerns the doctrine of revelation/inspiration. This was evident in such debates of the 1970s as those that caused the termination of scientists and biblical scholars employed by Andrews University and the Geoscience Research Institute. The church at the time could not provide Ronald Numbers with a viable doctrine of inspiration but it deemed it was necessary to dismiss him for not applying its dynamic concept of inspiration to his historical consideration of Ellen White. Matters flagged at Consultation I and II (early in the 1980s) came into prominence with the publication of Alden Thompson’s Inspiration and the spirited rejoinder published privately by ATS. Subsequent research by Ray Roennfeldt has the potential to resolve many of the tensions, were it applied effectively to the Adventist discussion.[20] That the issues are ongoing is evident: for instance, White Estate has this year, again, made public its negative categorisation of Graeme Bradford’s attempt to recount the Ellen White story in popular language.

As early as 1980, White Estate voted a comprehensive agenda for the study of Ellen White’s life and writings and the Biblical Research Institute accepted a supportive role in the daunting task.[21] Groundwork for such objectives was creatively started by Arthur White’s papers on inspiration developed during the 1970s, Ronald Graybill’s and Robert Olson’s work that flowered at the 1982 International Prophetic Guidance Workshop, Fred Veltman’s research on The Desire of Ages and related initiatives. A coherent overview from White Estate was needed urgently and promised in the publication by Herbert Douglass, Messenger of the Lord (1998). This was a constructive step in the right direction despite a profound limitation: an effective study typically begins with an inclusive literature review. As a consensus volume, the Douglass tome did not even name some of the most important researchers, let alone analyse in any detail their explorations of the component issues.

Perceived outcomes still seem somewhat daunting in some respects: in 2006 the agenda of 1980 is largely unfulfilled (in a comprehensive way) by the combined efforts of White Estate and the Biblical Research Institute; the ATS is only haltingly supporting the church’s efforts to embrace and proclaim a viable doctrine of inspiration, the Standish brothers channel millions of Adventist dollars into alternative programs deriving from their analysis of “the ills of God’s church” or in support of a doctrine of inspiration that claims “inerrancy in the autographs” for both the writings of Ellen White and the Scriptures.[22] Meanwhile, the church in some geographical areas of the world is still losing adherents who experience unbearable cognitive dissonance with reference to the issues.[23] Even so, the church is sometimes tempted to be hesitant in fostering research, to the point that on occasion dedicated individual members working individually are the ones who break fresh ground most effectively.

This observation is illustrated well by the research of medico Donald McMahon and historian Fred Hoyt. It is my published contention that the piece McMahon has contributed to the jigsaw is the single most important one relating to Ellen White’s inspiration that has been submitted since 1970. Even less is known by the world church about the illuminating research that historian Fred Hoyt commenced in the 1970s. Bulging filing cabinets and boxes of data in Hoyt’s crowded office enable a fuller understanding of early Adventist charismatic experiences, the education of Ellen White, the influence of Wesley on Ellen White’s life and ideas, the relationship between Ellen White’s literary indebtedness and the doctrine of inspiration and a cluster of related matters. Neither McMahon nor Hoyt claim any expertise outside their respective fields of medicine and history. Their findings need to be understood by the biblical scholars, systematic theologians and pastors who are able, in turn, to interpret their significance for the church at large.[24]

This brief report cannot mention a plethora of published studies from Adventist and non-Adventists presses, not least those by Ronald Lawson, Keith Lockhart, Malcolm Bull and Kenneth Newport. Bull and Lockhart’s update of their earlier sociological investigation will probably be read by some Australians before the end of 2006, before many Adventists even know there was a first edition of it published in 1989. In other words, the church is better supplied with research data and tentative interpretations than with initiatives that incorporate responsible studies into the warp and woof of its teachings, life and mission. Since 1970 the church has incurred an increasing debt to such independent publications as Spectrum and Adventist Today for venturing interpretations that at times become normative after a decade or two of vigorous discussion.[25]

This reality is well illustrated by the issue of origins. From their earliest years, Sabbatarian Adventists have been reflecting upon the significance of creation and the relationship between biblical cosmology and the Seventh-day Sabbath. Since the mid-twentieth century, enormous progress has been made in revising the ardent creationism of stalwarts like George McCready Price in order to better represent known realities understood by scientists working in biology, physics, archaeology, anthropology and related fields. Since the late 1960s, the Association of Seventh-day Adventist Forums (demonstrated by articles in its quarterly journal, Spectrum, as well as by numerous presentations made since 1980 at its chapters in San Diego and Sydney) has at times given effective voice to the struggle by selected biblical scholars, theologians and scientists to be faithful to Scripture and honest with scientific evidence. Avondale College, not least in a series of conferences organised by the Faculty of Science and Mathematics (led by its current dean, physicist Lynden Rogers), has exemplified the fact that rigorous scientific enquiry can proceed in tandem with a deep commitment to Scripture as divinely inspired.[26] Rogers’ teaching and preaching illustrates the way faith and science can be related coherently by an Adventist scientist. That Scripture can be expounded winsomely, in the light of such understandings, for a general audience, was demonstrated at the North New South Conference convention on 14 October 2006 when, in fifteen minutes, Rogers presented a Sabbath School lesson on Genesis 1. A further indicator that profound ideas can be conveyed in popular language came to my attention from reading a recent Spectrum Sabbath School commentary.[27]

An even more vexed issue (than that of origins) relates to whether or not the church can invite back to its fellowship at least some of the ministers, teachers and members who lost their professions and their membership in Australasia during the 1980s. To further this endeavour, I made a presentation along with others at the Sydney Adventist Forum on 22 October 2005; my script for that occasion has gone worldwide electronically and been published in summary and other forms.[28] Reactions have in the main been affirmative, although they vary from naming the presentation as “a masterpiece of concission and moderation” to further evidence that I can no longer call myself a Seventh-day Adventist. When time permits, it would be helpful to review the attempt made by Avondale College early in the troubled 1980s to ready itself for a visit by the accreditors of Pacific Union College, represented in a document on “Academic Freedom and Academic Responsibility.”[29]

IV. Assembling Pieces into a Picture

As one examines the individual pieces of information derived from the efforts of the many who have engaged in Adventist Studies since 1986, it is apparent that these can be considered to be fragments of a larger whole. In other words, they may be characterised as jigsaw pieces that suggest relationships, indicating it may be possible to assemble them into a coherent picture. Selected pieces may be identified in terms of the following observations.

1. The church has invested enormously since 1972 to implement its decision to enable research by enhancing access to primary and other sources that relate to Seventh-day Adventism. By establishing a worldwide chain of Ellen G. White/Seventh-day Adventist Research Centres (or equivalent heritage entities) to serve the various geographical sections of the world, effective research relating to Adventist history and thought as well as the life and writings of Ellen White has been facilitated.

2. It is evident that during the past two decades, trans-disciplinary research has flourished as individuals have crossed boundaries between component modes of inquiry that focus on Scripture, history, theology, pedagogy, education and an array of sciences (including the physical, biological, social, health and other sciences).

3. Such processes are enhancing the comparative study of Adventism, not least with their trans-denominational qualities. It is, for instance unlikely that the Adventist struggles over the human nature of Christ can be solved without reference to both the Christological controversies of the early Christian centuries and the specific input of Adventists who have joined the discussion since 1844. This principle can be extrapolated to every aspect of Adventist thinking and doing. It is best illumined by studies that investigate Adventism as an organic entity in terms of its antecedents, founding and development from 1844 to the present.

4. There is much to be gained from the processes that focus diverse minds on Adventist Studies, including believer-participants, researchers in Adventist and non-Adventist settings and those who do not identify with the church as adherents. In other words, the “prayer” of Robbie Burns is helpful: we need to see ourselves as others see us.[30]

5. Apologetics is a valid enterprise but it often presents particular perils.[31] The Adventist past is littered with casualties of credibility; it could be that these are diminishing in number as better research methods are adopted.

6. The church is increasingly moving to interpret data rather than seeking to control information. The advent of the mimeograph machine began to change the ethos of Adventist Studies; the ham radio and the photocopier accelerated the change; computer technology has completely democratised the process. Technology in its electronic and other forms means the church now functions in an increasingly different way.

7. This combination of realities means the church is aware of new issues, including those of justice and gender equality. The costly and demanding processes that have developed far-sighted approaches to Christian service (for example, ADRA), responses to the issues of sexual and domestic abuse (well illustrated by Adventist Support and its 2006 publications), also mean that the church’s employment practices are more transparent. It is unlikely that control of Adventist Studies will again be exercised in the mode of the 1980s.

8. The indicators suggest that in both the administrative and the scholarly spheres, the church will attempt to maintain a healthy marriage between academic freedom and academic responsibility. The self-correcting nature of effective scholarship, the ongoing dissemination of research through print and electronic publishing (including the checks and balances provided by the independent press on both the church’s right and left) will tend to maintain balance in this regard.

9. A major conclusion from the past two decades is that doctrinal development in Christianity and Adventism is a reality that may be destructive or constructive. It is a major responsibility of those individuals who engage in Adventist Studies to contribute toward constructive outcomes.

10. Further, the church is moving steadily toward fostering more effectively “the dialogue and dialectic of a community” rather than employing disciplinary measures to control research. At a time of particular concern in 2001, a substantial number of members in the College Church expressed a desire to better understand the issues that had proven unmanageable in Australasia two or three decades ago and seemed to be re-emerging in a new form. One of the initiatives spawned by this perception was the Adventist Studies series undertaken for a period of five years. In hindsight, Fritz Guy demonstrated the fruitfulness of a focus on Adventist heritage and the processes that created the church’s Fundamental Beliefs (2002). William Johnsson (2003) and Alden Thompson (2004) offered assurance that Adventists can faithfully interpret Hebrews and Daniel and live in community with each other. Kendra Haloviak (2005) enriched faith by presenting John as “the gospel of grace and glory.” Charles Scriven (2006) invited his hearers to perceive Adventism as a journey of transformation. Together these presenters gave a constructive, forward-looking vision of Adventist thought as focused on Jesus Christ as revealed in Scripture and cherished by a last-day movement since 1844.[32]

Conclusion

If this survey bears any relation to reality, it tends to support suggestions by Fritz Guy that Adventism benefits markedly from “the dialogue and dialectic of a community” and its theological development can be both a coherent and an illuminating process.[33] Long ago Robert Johnston contended compellingly that Adventism’s “most striking characteristic” is its quest for truth.[34] The past twenty years of Adventist Studies indicates progress is being made in terms of the perspectives offered by Guy and Johnston. Indeed, it is not unbridled optimism to contend that Adventist Studies is an emerging discipline that is on a very steep and mostly constructive learning curve. Indications are that, in 2006, Adventist Studies may be characterised less as a fractious adolescent than as maturing adult.[35]

Arthur Nelson Patrick, Honorary Senior Research Fellow, Avondale College. Script for a Faculty Colloquium, 26 October 2006; draft dated 26 October 2006.


[1] This document began its life as a script for a staff colloquium presented at Avondale College on 26 October 2006. It has been reused as an adjunct to oral presentations on the Avondale campus for students who have immediate access to the Avondale College Library, its Adventist Heritage Centre, the Ellen G. White/SDA Research Centre, the 1987 article referenced in footnote 2, the document entitled Adventist Studies: An Annotated Introduction for Higher Degree Students (May 2006) and its updated form as A Brief, Annotated Introduction to the Field of Adventist Studies for Higher Degree Students (Avondale College, 2009), and a plethora of other such materials. There is, therefore, no attempt herein to reference relevant studies comprehensively, since students are invited to ask questions about sources orally in the class discussion periods or to use the electronic and other indices that are readily available to them.. If other persons who read this script need help in identifying any particular information, they are invited to e-mail me: arthur.patrick@bigpond.com.

[2] See Arthur N. Patrick, “Seventh-day Adventist History in the South Pacific: A Review of Sources,” The Journal of Religious History 14, no. 3 (June 1987), 307-326. The article consumed eighteen months of part-time endeavour between two larger projects: “Ellen Gould White and the Australian Woman” (M.Litt. thesis: University of New England, 1984) and “Christianity and Culture in Colonial Australia: Selected Catholic, Anglican, Wesleyan and Adventist Perspectives, 1891-1900” (Ph.D. dissertation: University of Newcastle, 1991, published in a limited edition, 1993). Because the journal article was completed for presentation to the editor in 1986, that date provides a boundary for this presentation.

[3] See George R. Knight, “Historical and Theological Introduction to the Annotated Edition,” Seventh-day Adventists Answer Questions on Doctrine (Berrien Springs, MI.: Andrews University Press, 2003), xiii-xxxvi.

[4] For an earlier report on a constructive effort by Leroy Moore and the names of significant other researchers, consult my review entitled “Moore’s Light on An Adventist Trouble,” Adventist Today 14, no. 3 ( May/June 2006), 22, 23 20.

[5]Paul Ernest McGraw, “Born in Zion?: The Margins of Fundamentalism and the Definition of Seventh-day Adventism” (PhD dissertation: The George Washington University, 2004). Directed by Dewey D. Wallace, Professor of Religion, The George Washington University, it is available from University Microfilms International, Ann Arbor, Michigan. Hopefully, all Adventist institutional libraries will accession it in the near future.

[6] See Arthur Ferch (editor), Towards Righteousness by Faith: 1888 in Retrospect (Wahroonga: South Pacific Division of Seventh-day Adventists, 1989) as interpreted in a series of four articles in Good News for Adventists during 2006.

[7] See, for instance, David Brubaker, “Church fights and the ‘third voice’ middle,” Ministry, November 2001, 20-21.

[8] See sdanet.org/atissue for the biography of Andreasen by Virginia Steinweg, originally published as Without Fear or Favour (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald, 1979).

[9] Note archival documents that relate to this theme, including my review of Morgan.

[10] See the archived Foreword that I have written for the published form of Chamberlain’s dissertation.

[11] This era is now much better understood since a perceptive and thorough dissertation by Merlin Burt (2002) explored the years 1844-1849.

[12] In a recent article I argue that we should “baptise this illuminating social science … without further delay.” See “Beyond Richard Ferret: Should Adventists Baptise Sociology, Now?”

[13] Cf. Arthur Patrick, unpublished review of Morgan (2002) and “Doctrinal Development Studied,” Record, 15 March 2003, 10.

[14] See Arthur Patrick, “Studying Record,” Record, 27 November 2006, 11.

[15] See, for instance, Counsels to Writers and Editors, 35.

[16] Reinder Bruinsma’s University of London dissertation offers the best single study of Catholicism in the setting of Adventist thought.

[17] See Jonathan M. Butler, “Introduction: The Historian as Heretic” in Ronald L. Numbers, Prophetess of Health: Ellen G. White and the Origins of Seventh-day Adventist Health Reform (Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 1992), xxv-lxviii), within the context of various of my publications, including those on sdanet.org/atissue.

[18]Note Michael Pearson, Millennial Dreams and Moral Dilemmas: Seventh-day Adventism and contemporary ethics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990). Earlier this month Pearson referred me to a trilogy by Harry Williams in the Contemporary Christian Insights series published by Continuum International Publishing Group and distributed in Australia by Allen and Unwin. The 2001 volume by Williams entitled Tensions offers a bold agenda: “Tension is inherent in the universe, the smallest particle gets it dynamism from an internal relationship of positive and negative. This work describes some of the healthy, life-giving conflicts in which we are involved as moral and spiritual beings.” The conclusions that arise from Pearson’s dissertation are further illumined by Rick Ferret’s more recent doctoral study.

[19] See Arthur Patrick, “Exploring Adventist Identity: ‘Who is the Seventh-day Adventist?’ Report on Bible Congress 2006: a Conference in the South Pacific Division,” Adventist Today 14, no. 3 (May/June 2006), 8, 9, 6.

[20] Those who find Roennfeldt’s doctoral dissertation daunting may better enjoy his report, “God has not put Himself … on trial in the Bible,” Newsletter (Avondale College: Ellen G. White/SDA Research Centre), October 2006.

[21] For the list of topics (literary, historical, scientific, theological, hermeneutical, methodological) agreed upon and the context of the endeavour, see my paper “The Minister and the Ministry of Ellen White in 1982,” 5-6.

[22] Cf. my review of five books in “Prophets Are Human! Are Humans Prophets?” Spectrum 33, no. 2 (Spring 2005), 73-74.

[23] The strategy document relating to the life and writings of Ellen White, developed by the South Pacific Division late in the 1990s (the decade in which effective consensus started to develop) and recently updated, is the most constructive document of its type ever produced by an Adventist entity on this subject. Perhaps it is not a coincidence that the chairperson of the Biblical Research Committee of the South Pacific Division (who is also general secretary of the Division) earned a doctorate in the historical study of Adventism at Andrews University.

[24] Gilbert Valentine has recently published an illuminating account of efforts by White Estate to fulfil its mission respecting Ellen White’s writings: The Struggle for the Prophetic Heritage: Issues in the conflict for control of the Ellen G. White publications 1930-1939 (Muak Lek, Thailand: Institute Press, 2006). In a volume now being researched and written, Valentine offers perceptive analyses of Ellen White’s relationships with General Conference presidents during her lifetime of ministry. Early drafts of the forthcoming Ellen White encyclopedia indicate that the projected volume (number13 in the Commentary Reference Series that commenced in 1954) will meet a real need. Another long-term enterprise by a Newbold scholar will describe the people to whom Ellen White addressed letters.

[25] This observation is based on my impression of ninety articles about Ellen White published by Spectrum.

[26] Lawrence Turner may be one of the most balanced Adventist exegetes of Genesis; one of the useful interpretive publications produced by the Association of Seventh-day Adventist Forums is entitled Creation Reconsidered; next month the Adventist Today Foundation will publish a volume by well-informed authors under the title Understanding Genesis: Contemporary Adventist Perspectives; Lynden Rogers has participated in organising conferences about such matters as cell death, origins, old universe/young life, design and other issues related to creationism. Rogers hopes to develop a conference that will focus on brain function. Extensive publications from the Geoscience Research Institute help to provide a context for such discussions within Adventism.

[27] A recent e-mail to a friend in Europe refers to this matter as follows: “Rolf, this morning (4 October 2006) I woke up thinking about the presentation that I’m writing for delivery on October 26, ‘Adventist Studies Since 1986: Fractious Adolescent or Maturing Adult.’ When Adventism in the early decades of the last century was surrounded by war between Fundamentalists and Modernists, our people saw clearly the problems with Modernism and retreated into the Fundamentalist camp. We don’t belong there, either. For instance, Nichol in his Ellen G. White and Her Critics made a sincere and strenuous effort to defend Fundamentalist concepts and apply them to Ellen White. But the wall he built in 1951 was already crumbling by 1970; it is now in ruins. The reason why the issues of the 1970s so de-stabilised us is that by then we were realising Fundamentalism was decreasingly viable and already Post-Modernism was pressing us to better understand the human quest for meaning. So we had the issues of Modernism to deal with belatedly (essentially, the demand to ask how evidence relates to faith) as well as pressure on the existential issues. Your commentary [spectrummagazine.org] on this week’s lesson is aware of all these pressures but wisely does not mention them. It simply opts for some of the clear evidence that the Book of Genesis is “true” and suggests what it actually means. Thanks, Rolf, for doing this so winsomely. One of the finest things Spectrum has done (since its founding) for the church we love is submit this type of response to the Revelation/Inspiration issue, offering a more effective road toward a brighter future. I’ll send a copy of this to Leigh (another of my Adventist heroes). I’ve already sent it to a PhD friend who got churned up in the cogs of controversy but is again searching for meaning in the life of faith.”

[28] “Twenty-five Years After Glacier View: Using the Lantern of History, Anticipating a Brighter Future.” This may be read in the wider context provided by my “Visioning and Re-Visioning Seventh-day Adventist Tertiary Education in Australia: A Centennial Assessment of Avondale College,” The Inaugural Murdoch Lecture, 1997.

[29] Recently Graeme Bradford drew my attention to a stimulating article by Edward Heppenstall, “Academic Freedom and the Quest for Truth,” Spectrum (Winter 1972), 34-41.

[30] Observe the way that the 1970s changed the understanding of history in the United States.  Religious history that had been “replete with apologetical positions,” “a poor stepchild to historical scholarship,” tending “toward anecdotal, often uncritical celebrations,” was “transformed.” Marilyn Westerkamp, “Religion,” in Daniel Vickers (editor), Companion to Colonial America (Malden, Maine: Blackwell, 2006), 366-388.

[31] This matter, illumined by both the experience and the writings of Fred Hoyt, is aptly canvassed in the paper Hoyt is developing on Francis D. Nichol.

[32] Every Adventist needs to apply all such insights in the formulation of a personal expression of faith. See, for instance, Douglas Martin’s “Church Foundation” document that is under discussion at present.

[33] Fritz Guy, “The Future of Adventist Theology: A Personal View” (1980) and “The Theological Task of the Church: Observations on the Role of Theology and Theologians in the Church” (1980) expanded and contextualised in Thinking Theologically: Adventist Christianity and the Interpretation of Faith (Berrien Springs: Andrews University Press, 1999). Compare the thought of Alden Thompson, best reviewed with the help of his website at Walla Walla University and explicable in terms of the attitudes intimated in his article, “Conversations with the other side,” Spectrum 31, no. 4 (Fall 2003), 54-9.

[34] See Robert Johnston, “A Search for Truth,” Adventist Review 160, no. 37 (15 September 1983), 6-8; cf. George R. Knight, A Search for Identity: The Development of Seventh-day Adventist Belief (Hagerstown: Review and Herald, 2000), 28.

[35] A principal concern that troubled me as I reviewed this script before its presentation (beyond its likely need for more sub-editing!) resided in its “density” and its failure to adequately cover the wide range of issues in Adventist Studies that have assumed importance since 1986. This presentation is limited to what might be expected to be achievable in a single colloquium. Dr Ervin Taylor has proposed (in an e-mail on 19 October 2006) that an attempt should be made to review the progress of Adventist Studies annually. Should this excellent concept be implemented, it would be much more realistic than any single attempt to comment about Adventist Studies over a longer period (such as two decades in the present case). It may be that Taylor’s suggestion could incorporate an annual presentation on the topic given at an Avondale College colloquium each October and similar reflections offered elsewhere, particularly in the United States and Europe. A raft of ideas comes readily to mind as worthy of exploration for such an annual process. A focus on selected Adventist scholars and their writings (as suggested in a seminar at La Sierra University in 2003) might provide a starting point for a round table discussion of suitable options. Various research fellows might be requested to present on successive occasions, as might individuals who have completed M.A. or Ph.D. research projects. Currently, Kevin Riley, Mark Pearce, Peter Harper, Jeff Crocombe, Eric Livingston, David Thiele and others are undertaking such research under the auspices of Australian universities. Avondale students engaged in such studies could also give work-in-progress presentations on an annual basis. Avondale presentations might be published (in print or electronic form) along with similar endeavours made in other locations.

Posted in SDA theology

Post 93, Third in the Series: “Called at the Blackbutt Tree”

This piece, also written as an assignment for Mike Jones’ class in 1972, reflects on an experience in the Bellangry State Forest during 1949. I advise the previous two posts should be read before this one. 

The giant tree crackled, teetering in the light wind. Then, with a sound like a rifle shot it broke and gathered speed, ripping a great hole in the Australian bush. Even as he ran for safety Art knew everything would be different. There should have been a logical and orderly blending of events leading to this decision. But sometimes God changes things quickly. Very quickly. Let’s begin, though, with the events of the afternoon before.

The face of the November day was paling from pink to gray twilight as Joe plodded along West Road toward the tent. A pebble in the bottom corner of his gunny sack held one end of the rope that arched over his shoulder and grabbed the top of the bag. From inside the sack came the jingle of knife and spoon against enamel plate and tin cup. Art trailed to the left of Joe. Their hobnail boots left neat patterns in the dust of the dirt road.

Rusty, a ring-tail possum, crawled to the end of her hollow limb and blinked as the brightness blurred her sight. She yawned. Still too light. Two babies snuffling around their nest of bracken leaves in the lilly-pilly tree must wait for supper, Rusty decided. Far up the ridge in the more open forest a party of laughing jackass birds chuckled raucously, then flew to their roosting tree.

“I’ll get the water.” Joe’s voice was tired yet cheery. He emptied the canvas water bag into a blackened can and hung it over the ashes of the fire. The ferns scraped softly on the empty kerosene tin and water bag as Joe headed for the stream. The containers full, he splashed cold water on his face and neck and arms. How good it was to wash away the grime and sweat of the long day.

“This comb needs a trip to the dentist,” Joe said to himself. He dipped it into the little pool between the mossy rocks. The water, the few teeth left on his comb, and some dabs with his hands got Joe’s long black hair into some semblance of order.

As Joe hung the water bag on the end of the tent pole, Art put a second billy of water over the blazing campfire. “Joe, tomorrow let’s have a treat. Remember that jello we’ve got in our food boxes?”

The older brother nodded. Trust a fifteen-year-old to think of making jello in summer. “But we can always drink it if it doesn’t set or if its melts,” he thought.

The inky-black Australian night closed in around the small clearing before the supper dishes were rinsed and lodged among the bushes to dry. Art poured two packets of jello crystals into containers, gooey from a month of moist air. It had been a little better in Parker Brothers General Store thirty miles away.

Pulling up the flap of the tent, Joe fished in the flickering firelight for an oblong case kept on a platform of two sticks under his bunk. The light glinted on silver as he sat on a log and aimed the bell of his cornet at a low angle toward the stars. A frogmouth owl had grunted “Oom” only nineteen times, but he stopped to listen, shocked. Art thought the words as Joe played:

Anywhere with Jesus over land and sea,

Telling souls in darkness of salvation free;

Ready as He summons me to go or stay,

Anywhere with Jesus when He points the way.

Not quite out of range of the mellow notes, Rusty curled her tail around a low limb of the lilly-pilly tree and slid off the branch. Swinging back and forth for a moment, she dropped to the ground, landing easily on all four feet. Her babies, stomachs firm with fresh milk, pressed close to each other in the nest. The hungry mother tested the night air, her long whiskers twitching. Yes, they would be safe, she decided. There was the still unusual scent of man, but it was far enough away.

The undergrowth muffled the chirrup of a dozen crickets as Rusty nosed her way to a clump of saplings. She climbed easily, to swing by her tail at will and clutch bunches of tender leaves flavored with eucalyptus. Flat sides bulged slowly. At last, comfortable with fresh food, the possum knew it was time to lie near her wriggling children again.

Rusty gripped a branch here and there with her long, tapered tail. But the smooth gum trunk was nearly as easy to come down as it had been to go up. Her most direct path to the lilly-pilly tree was near the strange shape which came to the forest late last summer.

By now she knew it well, but still treated it with some caution. After her babies were born, she often carried them close to it as she hunted for scraps of fruit. Nestled in her pouch, she felt sure they were safe. But once a huge, two-legged creature had stepped from the great canvas tent. Rusty remembered having to flee in terror.

Now the woolly possum eyed the silent tent, testing the cool night air where two scents mingled. One was like the native bees nest in the knot of the blackbutt tree.  But the hole had proved too small and she couldn’t claw her way to the strong sweetness inside. Yes, this too was a sweet odor. But that was the uncertain scent of man.

Testing the air a dozen times, Rusty crept toward the tent. The sweetness invited her. It pushed her fear away. Faster now, she climbed one of the short poles that help up a wooden box. The delicious smell streamed from the cracks between the boards. Rusty clawed at several cracks before half the top of the tucker box moved. She pressed her nose into the crack. The lid slipped over her ears and rested on the middle of her back. It rattled each time she moved. But what was that compared to the taste of cool runny jello?

“Hey Joe, what’s that noise?” Art’s senses slowly came to him. Sitting up in his rough bunk made from large gunny sacks stretched between two poles, he fumbled underneath the patchwork blankets. Matches, at last. The match he struck glowed, showing a rusty-red female possum halfway in the tucker box. Art lunged forward and pressed the lid against the well-padded body, but with a great heave the animal was free.

“Joe, my jello!” With the help of another match Art peered into the food box. Half the strawberry jello was gone, and he had no appetite for the rest.

Hours later as the east tuned gray, Rusty crawled down the spout of her home in the gum tree and curled into a tight ball. It was half daylight by the time Joe gathered a handful of bluegum bark and started the campfire. Red sunlight was painting the treetops when Joe and Art knelt with thankful hearts and asked for guidance and protection during the long day.

“This fellow sounds good,” Joe said an hour later as he sunk his axe a second time into a huge blackbutt. The ring of the blow told Joe the tree wasn’t rotten or eaten out by termites.  He checked the direction it should fall, while Art put the lunch bags in the shade and returned with the saw, six-feet-six-inches long. The eucalypt was six feet through. Two keen axes cut a pie-shaped gash in the front of the tree, and then the saw tore strips of straw-colored sawdust from the back. The tree broke a great open space in the forest. It was barely cut to the right lengths for the sawmill before two pairs of sap-stained hands were groping in the tucker bags for lunch.

Across the newly-bulldozed road and along a hundred yards was a taller blackbutt. The first sixty feet of its barrel was painted black by forest fires. Beyond the fibrous bark was another forty-eight feet of smooth, blue-gray trunk before the umbrella of limbs.

“Three good logs in this one,” Art suggested.

Joe nodded. He was already deciding the tree would be least likely to break and easiest to saw into lengths if it was felled beside the small gully which made a deep furrow in the hillside. He marked a place six feet from the ground where the cut should be.

Practiced hands chopped two tight notches for the falling boards three feet above the ground. With a dull plunk the boards were thrust into place. A horse-shoe like piece of steel bit into the top of each notch and held each board steady. Six inches wide, a falling board is a safe, level, springy platform for an axeman to stand on.

Early afternoon sun filtered through the leaves and blotched brown bodies, bare from the waist up. Trickles of perspiration streaked the soot and dust on Joe’s chest and dripped from Art’s eyebrows.

With their axes in the half-done face-cut, Joe and Art sat on their falling boards to rest.

“Great life, this,” Art thought. “This forest has a thousand mountains. Every one can have its adventure. Its animals and birds, its trees and plants are friends. This is real life.  I’m staying at it.”

“Enough wood in this one for at least a couple of houses,” Joe’s voice cut Art’s train of thought. He swung his axe. The sound rang through the forest. His mind still full of the delicious green of the mountains, Art climbed to his feet.

As the patches of sawdust on the east and west of the tree got close to the face-cut, the giant tree started to crack. As it leaned, Joe grabbed the saw and leapt to the ground. The two scurried up the hill beside a crooked bluegum.

Dust drifted outwards from where the giant ploughed with a shuddering crash into the earth. Wisps of torn leaves floated down in a gentle, warm breeze. “Joe, I’m going to college,” Art said simply. “God’s changed my mind. Just while we worked on this tree.”

The older brother ran his index finger across his forehead and flung the perspiration at a tussock of flax. He looked knowingly at the lean teenager.

“I wanted to stay here. I love this life, these mountains. But I’ve got to go to Avondale. Not sometime. In six weeks.”

And looking back from this side of college, Art is sure God called him that November day at the blackbutt tree.

Arthur Patrick, posted 24 January 2013

Posted in SDA theology

Post 92, Another Narrative Illustrating How Their World-view Influences the Way Adventists Tell Their Personal Stories: “Does the Mountain Understand?”

This piece, also written for a Mike Jones’ class assignment at Andrews University (Berrien Springs, Michigan, USA) in 1972, reflects on my experiences during 1949 in the Bellangry Sate Forest, northwest of Wauchope, NSW, Australia. It would be best if the blurb that introduces Post 91 was read before Post 92. 

The evergreen crown of the Mile Climb rises above the heads of its brother mountains. More man-like than its fellows, one arm reaches north, fingers clutching at the deep gorge of the Wilson River. The other arm stretches south for a couple of miles, but at the elbow it arches to the sunset.

The backbone of the Mile Climb divides the watersheds of two rivers. Its spine plunges for a mile to the west, pauses, rises, falls, and levels off a hundred times.

A decade ago axemen wounded the brow of the mountain, cutting down the stately Australian hardwoods. From the scab of human ruthlessness sprout the four awkward legs of a tower. In his eagle’s nest, enclosed by glass, the fire watchman overlooks a vast forest. Squinting forty road-miles to the east, he sees a wisp of gleaming sand and ships passing in the Pacific.

The Mile Climb seems to understand human life. Every day it watches men come to peer through the windows of its tower. And a home, the only home for a handful of miles, nestles close to the tower. There children of the forest play and plant their wild garden with gladioli and zinnias. The mountain is a friend to them.

Around the south ribs of the mountain, bulldozers gouged a road for men to haul logs in their groaning trucks. On one of the ribs, close below the road, perch a few khaki tents known as Kelly’s Camp.

Big Ted spent his week nights in his tent at Kelly’s Camp, often alone. By day he nosed his huge orange caterpillar tractor into the steep gorges which plunged and twisted southwest of the Mile Climb. Autumn mellowed the April afternoon as he eased his shuddering machine against a towering brush box tree and set the winch to slowly unwind its inch-and-a-quarter steel cable.

Big Ted jerked the wire through the undergrowth until he had enough length to circle the brown end of the box log the cutters felled during March. His huge frame heaved with the exertion as he scrambled uphill to stop the winch. Steel splinters bit at his rough hands as he lassooed the log.

The Cletrac’s engine roared as Big Ted made it claw uphill, winch freewheeling. A hundred feet up he backed against another box with feather orchids decorating its rough bark. The steel cable tightened and then inched the forty-foot log upward. Forward again. Winch the unwilling log, its four-foot diameter ploughing a long black scar on the mountainside.

“That winch’s is fouled up,” Big Ted announced to himself. Setting the safety brakes, he clambered down and dropped on one knee behind the tractor. For a split second his brown face froze white as the brakes shuddered free and the monster lunged at him. He dived for safety, but tripped. Rolling as he fell, a fallen sapling sheltered the back of his head.

The blade of the first track chopped across Big Ted’s shoulders. The next one caught the middle of his back. His tractor flattened the undergrowth. Its cable made the log thrash a clearing before it snapped with a metallic twang. The crunch of steel on stone was muffled by the forest. Wedged between two rocks, the big cat purred until, its tank empty, it too slept.

An evening westerly nodded the blackbutt trees far up near the crest of the Mile Climb. Did the mountain understand every man’s brief life is given in some cause?

All that winter the Mile Climb felt log-cutters at work on another of its ribs a mile east of Kelly’s Camp. Sometimes they mentioned Big Ted and his tragic death. October warmth made being wet bearable, but Joe and Art had little use for their canvas water bag that day. Every leaf of the dense underbrush added to the rain which played muted music on a million leaves.

“Here’s a spot to eat lunch,” Joe half shivered. The pair had enough space to stand beneath the shelter of a huge eucalypt, curved centuries ago when it was a sapling. The drip-line of the incessant rain was inches from their faces as Joe and Art pulled sodden bread and canned peaches from the gunny-sacks sheltering between their feet.

“There’s the next victim,” Joe jerked his whiskery chin in the direction of a blackbutt, slim and elegant among its fellows, 108 feet of millable trunk beneath the canopy of limbs. Axemen, cold from standing for lunch, wielded their axes to cut clean and deep.

The peg-and-rake crosscut saw hissed as it tore strips of wood from the slim wound in the back of the tree. Water, running down the trunk, softened the usually harsh sound of the saw. The giant teetered. But it was balanced, its fingers lightly clinging to the hands of its companions.

“I’ll get a wedge, Joe.” The fourteen-pound sledge hammer blanked out the music of the rain. Still the blackbutt only swayed. More quick, cautious rasping with the saw. Then the ring of steel on steel.

“Okay, Art, move back and be on the lookout.” Joe, approaching thirty and older by a decade, always took the crucial risks. The lookout had his job, to watch, to shout the warning. Mostly his was a cry from comparative safety.

Joe pounded the wedges again. The tree leaned slightly. Cracking splinters sounded a staccato, dominating the soft music of the rain. A few more swift bites singlehanded with the six-foot-six-inch saw.

“Run, Joe. Timber-r-r.” The cracking swelled to a crescendo as the blackbutt leaned. Joe dived into the narrow escape track through the underbrush. A long-fallen sapling, chest height, still swathed in tough vines, forced him to drop to his knees and crawl under.

One-hundred and fifty feet up a dry limb broke loose and fell, a spear hurled by the hand of gravity. The tearing of branches shrouded Art’s cry of terror as Joe’s head emerged from the tangle of vines toward the falling missile.

Joe’s tattered felt hat was inches from the free-falling spear that dug deeply into the wet soil. As the thunder of the falling tree rumbled through the forest, Joe shook the water from his sodden hat, and ran sap-stained fingers through his black hair. It was just another of the many times he assumed necessary hazards to safeguard another’s life.

Rivulets coursed seaward between the ribs of the Mile Climb. Did the mountain understand that the finest motive in man’s brief existence is to give even his life for another’s well being?

For another month the mountain felt spring growing toward summer. November sun filtered through leaves and blotched brown bodies bare from the waist up, watered by trickles of perspiration. On the south of the Mile Climb, a hundred yards past the elbow where West Road curved from south to west, a small gully grooved the hillside. Beyond it grew another blackbutt, curiously, 108 feet from stump to limbs. The shoes of two falling boards chewed at the notches in the tree as Art and Joe chopped the face-cut in this much-stouter tree.

The early summer heat made even lean men pant. And so the two rested. Art relived his dreams during those moments. The dominant color which played on the screen of his mind was the green of the mountains. The Mile Climb was only one of a thousand. On every one adventure waited to be discovered. The fur and feather and friendliness of the wilderness flashed individual frame of ecstasy. No black-and-white vision, this. Here was wild, rough, lonely, free existence. This was real life.

Enough lumber was housed in that blackbutt for several frame houses. The pile of chips on its north side was augmented by straw-colored sawdust on its east and west. But before that giant crashed to the forest floor, Art’s whole outlook had changed. There was no sudden light, no arresting voice. But the Spirit planted an unshakeable conviction. It was time to forsake a cherished dream for years of arduous preparation to serve.

Six weeks later Joe and Art walked from the shimmering baptismal waters of Lake Macquarie. Calloused hands gripped in farewell. Joe returned to axe and saw. Art stepped into a new world at Avondale College.

Joe lived for a cause, a bigger dream than adventure. He uses a chain saw now. It roars on the mountains west of the Mile Climb. But if mountains understand, they know that many a woodman’s clearest picture of God is captioned Joe. And some of those who know him best are joined to his saving Christ.

“The best experience in a man’s short earthly span is found in full response to the call of God,” Art muses on this side of graduation.

Perhaps the Mile Climb senses that Joe’s is only a faint replica of the Ultimate Pattern for every life.

A cause consumed the brief existence of the Galilean. He still beckons us to join Him. His scarred hand is imperative in its appeal: “I demand that you love each other as much as I love you. And here is how to measure it-the greatest love is shown when a person lays down his life for his friends” (John 15:12, 13, Living Bible).

That laying down may be assuming the risk in the rain-soaked bush. Or responding, “Yes, God,” on a November day. In essence, and for all, it is living to “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19, RSV).

It isn’t even important that the mountain should understand. But if you understand, maybe you’ll move the mountain.

Arthur Patrick, posted 22 January 2013

 

 

 

 

Posted in SDA theology

Post 91, Narratives Suggesting An Adventist Worldview: Number One, “The Angel’s Push”

The following incident happened in the early 1940s on our family’s Pappinbarra Junction farm in New South Wales, Australia. I wrote this script in 1972 as an assignment for a Mike Jones writing class at Andrews University (Michigan, USA), and reproduce it here with its jarring Americanisms still in place, masking its Australian provenance. A few editorial additions are included in brackets. This, and the following two posts, are meant to illustrate the need for Adventists to become aware of  the way that their worldview may condition how they interpret and narrate their personal stories.

Brown grass crackled under bare feet as Alice and Ivy raced toward the squat farmhouse at the edge of the cool forest. The morning chores were done. Contented cows, already grouped in pools of shade under wattle and eucalypt trees, munched their cuds, eyes half closed and tails switching at persistent flies.

Hungrier animals hunted among tussocks of flax for any grass which had survived raspy tongues and fierce sun. A pair of bucket-fed calves still tried to suck each other’s ears. But the rest sprawled in the warm shade.

“Let’s go swimming,” Alice shouted as she and Ivy burst in the open door. Joe and Art, with windows and doors wide open, were munching big chunks of watermelon. They answered only with their eyes.

“What a beauty, “ Ivy exclaimed, her eyes feasting on the two melon quarters in the middle of the table. January melons, the first of the season, would be delicious. As the girls placed the big pieces on two plates and paused, spoons in hand, for grace, Alice determined to enjoy every mouthful. Next month at school the melons would be scarce and the slices small.

Joe poked the white ashes through the grate of the wood stove. The oak coals were glowing enough to make toast. It tasted great.

“Hunger is the best sauce,” Joe grinned as Ivy pulled her second piece off the sooty, three-pronged fork he held toward her. The family needed no appetizers. A few hours of chores before breakfast made them ravenous.

The soot-blackened kettle stopped its wheezy song as Ivy lifted it off the stove and poured water into a wide, tin basin. Alice cleared away the melon rind, eaten down to the white. But Don and Trixy would enjoy it even so.

“Come and we’ll make a raft,” Joe invited Art. He laid hammer and saw on the earth floor of the porch while the two collected a pocketful of nails. The lumber pile was in the woods behind the chicken house. As Joe rummaged through it, a hungry jackass bird (kookaburra) swooped down from his perch in the apple gum. The wood beetles scurried faster, but not all of them got away.

Joe was making quick work on the raft. “He’s a man already,” (Art thought of his sixteen-year-old brother). The Australian hardwood planks bent so many nails that Art dashed across the kikuyu grass lawn to hunt out a fresh supply. The raft was six-by-four feet. Perspiration dripping from his black eyebrows, Joe was sawing the last planks as the girls rode up on Don and Trixy, leading Creamy.

“You harness Creamy while I get the slide.” Joe was anxious to try the raft. The heavy slide was made from planks nailed across a forked tree. Joe pulled it near the raft. While the girls backed Creamy into place, he slid the raft on to the slide.

Summer air would do the work of towels, and old clothes felt cooler when wet. So swim suits were neither owned nor needed. With a sharp, “Get up, boy,” Joe picked up the reins as Ivy scrambled aboard with him. Creamy ambled down the rough grass track toward the creek.

Art’s skinny legs smarted where Don’s salty sweat burned at wild raspberry scratches. But the creek was only ten minutes away. Trixy pranced and tossed her head, champing the bit as Alice reined her in behind the slide.

Joe steadied Creamy as he neared the smooth boulders of the crossing. In the deep pool that reached under huge willows and upstream to the bridge, the water was lazy, motionless. Here it rippled, then gurgled among smooth rocks glazed with green slime.

Creamy launched the raft as he splashed forward slide and all until the cool water reached his belly as he sucked up great gulps of water. Joe shoved the raft off the slide into deeper water and sat on it. Roars of laughter from the younger three echoed up the creek-bed as Joe sank until only his head showed above the surface. Gum and tallowood are about as heavy as water. Almost useless as a raft.

“Let’s get the Paddle Wheel Steamer,” Ivy called. With the horses tied under the willows, the four scurried across the bridge. The gravel road burned tough soles keeping the steps brisk. Joe led the way down the steep bank to where a large, softwood log was baking on an outcrop of slate rock near the bridge. The water level had fallen since it was beached. A couple of stout sticks made good levers, and in a moment the log splashed into the water.

“Look out for the wasps,” Art shrilled. A dozen feet up, the log which held up the shady side of the bridge was caked with hundreds of palm-sized paper nests. A few wasps stirred to challenge the intruders, but they kept close to the shade of the bridge.

“All aboard.” Joe held the log while the other three scrambled on. The round log had less curve than Creamy’s back.

“We’re like roosters on a clothes line in wind.” Ivy remembered the bantams bobbing one way and then the other as they tried to keep their balance. The secret was to keep the Paddle Wheel Steamer balanced with six arms stretched sideways. The other pair of arms inched it forward. They were the paddles.

Art was glad Joe was near as they teetered over the black pool. The clean water was so deep here that it looked dark and frightening even outside the shade of the willows. But the water felt good. Finally, with the Paddle Wheel Steamer beached, it was the horses’ turn.

Trixy pawed the water as Alice dug naked heels into her ribs. Don insisted on lying down and rolling in the delicious relief of the cool water. Art remembered how he had done the same thing in a patch of knee-deep mud, saddle and all. Creamy took a quick breath as his feet left the gravel bed of the creek, and he started to swim. He always seemed half frightened of deep water.

Alice clung to Trixy’s mane as she turned her under the willows. Long leafy fingers tickled the clean face of the creek. Red roots reached out into the water. Trixy swept Alice through the veil of willow braches and curved back to the shallow water at the crossing.

“I’ll go and get dinner ready,” Ivy volunteered.

“And I’ll put the horses away.” Joe hitched Creamy to the empty slide. “Don’t drown yourselves and come home soon,” he called to Alice and Art, never dreaming what would happen next.

The thudding of hooves on the unused road was dying away as Alice had an exciting idea. The raft was bobbing against the boulders at the crossing. It was easy work pushing it upstream into the deeper water. One of the boards, held by a bent nail, had already come loose at one end. It floated at right angles from where it was meant to be. Art watched as Alice laid her hands on the raft and pushed off into the black pool.

“See, it’ll hold me up,” Alice chortled, as she drifted upstream toward the middle of the bridge.

“Artie, how can I get back?” She was frightened now. Down where her feet dangled the water seemed cold. Eels and catfish were happy there. It was safe for them. But Alice couldn’t swim. Suddenly her arms felt weak. To climb onto the raft was to risk going under. There wasn’t much to cling to, either. Would her fingers lose their grip in her fright?

“I’ll get you, Sis.” (seven-year-old) Art hurried toward the bridge near the left bank, beside the fallen tree which for years had been half-buried in the creek bed. The chest-deep water covered fine gravel which sloped away sharply. Out in the deep water Alice’s aching fingers clutched at the cracks between the boards of the raft.

“Wish I could swim.” There was a tremble in Art’s shrill voice. “But I think I can reach that loose board.” Toes digging deep into the yielding gravel, Art stretched toward the raft. The water was chin deep as he reached helplessly for the half-loose plank four feet away.

“Help!” The fine gravel on the deepening creek bed pulled Art’s feet toward the blacker depths. He jerked his chin upwards. All the pool seemed to be cramming into his open mouth as he gurgled for help. Terror flashed from his eyes and then the water blotted out willows and sunshine.

Suddenly Art found himself back in the chest-deep water by the smooth, slimy log. Alice’s finger nails still bit at the hardwood raft. Her face was white with fear for herself and Art. Now he was safe, but her lips were still tight and her throat dry from shouting for help. Her cries had echoed up the valley. Would they never be heard?

Art was still shaking, his eyes riveted on the weakening Alice, when Joe splashed with long strides into the shallow water at the crossing. He swam with a few thrashing strokes out to the raft. Grasping it with his left hand he tugged it-and Alice-back to safety.

Weak and relieved the trio headed for home and lunch. Ivy had tomatoes, cucumbers, bread, milk, and a bowl of lumpy salt on the table. She brought a big bowl of cream from the cupboard in the porch. Glad for more than thick cream on homemade bread, Joe thanked God for his care.

And the angel’s push? Years later Art found the Bible verse which he thinks tells how God saved his life at that terrifying moment when he was drinking water and didn’t mean to. He believes the strong hand of his guardian angel rescued him with a quick shove to safety. “For the Angel of the Lord guards and rescues all who reverence him” (Psalm 34:6, Living Bible).

Arthur Patrick, 21 January 2013

Posted in SDA theology

Post 90, Living with cancer as an Adventist: My first nineteen years

The pathology report, dated 17 March 1994, is before me as I write. Stark words like “tumour” and “carcinoma” convinced me then that the message the symptoms suggested was real. In fact, I had high grade (grade 3 of 3) cancer.

With that report, my world changes, instantly. Long-term plans suddenly seem irrelevant. I want to see family, now; what if there are only months to luxuriate in the sunshine of their love? At best there will be months of treatment and years of frequent tests. My specialist suggests that survival for five years augurs well for a longer future.

My daily work as a chaplain offers the opportunity to journey with patients and their families facing serious illnesses, long-term interventions, desirable remissions–and deaths. During one especially-taxing week I am called to attend ten deaths, more of them from cancer than any other cause. Patients and families pour out their fears and hopes. They rejoice when medical science triumphs. Some face the end of life with fear and anger; others simply cherish each day of comparative wellness.

My therapy for the first-diagnosed form of cancer was highly successful; the five-year horizon has lengthened to nineteen years. Some of the side effects of the therapy were profound–as when a combination of two powerful drugs unexpectedly attacked my nervous system, resulting in diminished sleep for eighteen months.

War on a new front

 

Nine years after the first encounter, a quite different set of symptoms indicated another of the many forms of cancer was attacking a different part of my body. It was 2003, and by then the Internet had radically changed our world. Enormous volumes of new information were available at the press of a few computer keys. This reality heightens patients’ expectations and multiplies their options. The questions for me were legion: Is surgery the preferred choice? Is treatment best in Australia, or is it more likely to succeed overseas? If local specialists and therapeutic centres are chosen, which have the best track record?

After careful listening to several specialists, I unwillingly accepted that surgery was not an option in my case; instead, a combination of chemical weapons and radiation may win the war. I remain eternally grateful to a specialist who offered me aggressive therapy when at least some others seemed likely to refuse to make any such attempt. The treatment obviously bought me a hoped-for, five-year remission. But then the symptoms began to return, unmistakably. During the four years, helped by the generous subsidies available to its citizens from the Australian Government, many thousands of dollars have been invested to help my body fight its foe.

A few things I’ve learned

 

In the years that I’ve lived with cancer, I’ve learned several things that seem to be important. First of all, from the moment of initial diagnosis, I’ve cherished the unfailing understanding of family and friends. We cancer patients live on borrowed time, a reality that also deeply impacts those we love. They need to be kept informed; we are all helped by freedom to laugh together, to rejoice when the news is positive, and talk through the reports that are the opposite of our hopes.

My family and friends have always respected the essential boundaries I needed, but one problem has emerged. There are a host of alternative therapies that people are tempted to advocate with caring enthusiasm. I could never read all the articles, books and blogs recommended to me, or ingest all the miracle liquids or remarkable substances advertised as certain cures. One lives with a measure of guilt for roads not taken but, on the other hand, unthinking compliance would raise insuperable problems.

Second, I profoundly respect yet seriously question everything my medical team recommends. In number, these highly-skilled people compare well with my fingers, and they live on different continents. All of them have done their best, of that I am convinced. But in hindsight some of their advice was dangerous, perhaps deadly. A patient has a right to a second or even third opinion; if I had not exercised such rights, I wouldn’t be writing this article.

Next, a diagnosis of cancer includes a healthy element. Wordsworth had it right when he exclaimed, “The world is too much with us; late and soon, Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers” (William Wordsworth, 1807). To know we are living with cancer helps us focus upon the things in life that matter most.

Further, our society offers valuable help for the cancer patient’s journey. During the early stages of diagnosis and treatment, it is of enormous benefit to talk with others who have been on the same road for months or years. (Oh, I have many messages on my computer from a person I met as we undertook radiation therapy. Barrie is close to my age and although we had not met before, it has been helpful to compare notes as we travel through new and potentially daunting terrain.) I have not yet joined any of the available groups that offer group nurture for cancer patients, but the time may well come when I will.

Again, cancer in its many forms is a disease that strikes celebrities as well as the rest of us, indiscriminately. When a celebrity is attacked, that is news, bigtime. Think of Jane McGrath: young, beautiful, well-known as the wife of famous cricketer Glenn–and the loving mother of two children. Jane’s charitable foundation, memorialising the fight she lost with breast cancer, like the widely discussed struggle of broadcaster Alan Jones with prostate cancer, have helped to demythologise those forms of the disease. Think of the way Jones confronted the illness that takes the lives of some three thousand men in Australia each year. “I told them I didn’t do dying, that I just try to make the most of living,” he stated laconically.[1]

The most enduring dimension of my learning is a fuller appreciation for the plain words of Scripture. Three thousand years ago a shepherd-poet wrote some of the best-known expressions of faith in God, including Psalm 23:4:  “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me: your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” God, the Ultimate Shepherd, is best known through the Incarnate Jesus who declared, “I am the bread of life,” and “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 6:35; 10:11). That quality of spiritual sustenance caps the wonderful support of family, friends and skilful medical personnel.

Reflections

 

I often remember how one of my specialists, more than nine years ago, worked through the criteria that led her to offer me vigorous treatment when other specialists seemed likely to refuse all such interventions. Important to her was my overall state of fitness, including the fact that I was not overweight. Evidently she deemed the chances for the therapy to be successful depended a lot on a patient’s weight. All these years later my weight is a couple of kilos less than it was at the critical point of diagnosis. Almost seventy per cent of Australian men are overweight or obese, and my prescribed drugs make weight-gain particularly easy. I owe a lot to my wife and elder daughter for encouragement to stay slim, and their penchant for exercise. (My other daughter can be relied on to understand the journey of the mind. I rely on my son for his pragmatic buoyancy).

The human body profits from wise lifestyle choices. The same can be said for a positive state of mind. I cannot prove that a simple, lacto-ovo vegetarian diet that followed all my life until a couple of years ago, when I changed to a dairy-free diet, helps the fight against cancer. Nor can I prove that optimistic attitudes actually influence what is happening in the cells of our bodies. But the sense of wellness that one feels when one’s food choices are made intelligently and the essential joy that accompanies an upbeat attitude are well worth cultivating.

In my limited experience, a principal source of optimism is the essential message of Christianity. The Old Testament Scriptures assure us that we humans were created intentionally by a loving God. The biblical narrative proceeds with the message that, despite the tragedy of sin and the reality of suffering, we are invited to plan for a future where “there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain” (Revelation 21:4, NIV). I find significant challenge in the writings of the Apostle Paul that fill about a third of the New Testament; he suffered beyond my capacity to fully understand (see II Corinthians 11:21-29) but later in life he could write, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances” (Philippians 4:11).

The families of cancer patients who have asked me to conduct funeral services for their loved ones usually find particular comfort in Romans 8:31-39. Paul states in verse 38:

I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

 

Yes, cancer may be lethal for this life, but how limited it is in the face of twin realities–God’s love and eternity!

Arthur Patrick, drafted 22 June 2010, updated and posted 9 January 2013

Here are some further points to ponder:

“I enjoy convalescence. It is the part that makes illness worthwhile” (George Bernard Shaw, 1921).

“Illness is the night-side of life, a more onerous citizenship. Everyone who is born holds dual citizenship, in the kingdom of the well and in the kingdom of the sick” (Susan Sontag, 1978).

.


[1] Alan Jones, “My Fight for Life,” The Australian Women’s Weekly,” March 2009, 118-121.

Posted in SDA theology

Post 89, Reviewing Adventism in 2012, with help from ADVENTIST TODAY

 

Hearty thanks and warm regards to the thousands of people who have logged on to this little website during 2012. It seems appropriate to offer a few comments about the old year, as it becomes history.

Seventh-day Adventists, more than most Christian groups, identify with particular dates. There is 1844, a year of sublime expectation and bitter sorrow; the hope was so lofty and the disconfirmation so disastrous that ever since our religious community has spoken of the GreatDisappointment. The years 1860-63 were memorable in that, after a long struggle, we at last found a name for ourselves, developed state conferences and an over-arching General Conference structure. The year 1888 began an explosive debate about the central truth of Righteousness by Faith; it would take almost a century for rationality to supplant rhetoric. In 1901 we reorganised our denomination in a way that better accommodated the needs of a growing movement that was reaching out to a diverse world. The memorable conference of 1919 was almost totally lost to living memory for more than a half-century, until we realised that to ignore history made us liable to repeat its mistakes. The year 1970 marked a turning point as we were confronted by a powerful need to interpret our history from its primary sources rather than through the tinted glasses of our traditions. The years 1980 and 1982 witnessed something of a climax for this process as we faced the disturbing issue of how evidence shapes faith.

 

All these crucial dates (and many more) are rather familiar to readers of this website. So, the insistent question arises: How does 2012 look when compared with the years of acknowledged significance from the Adventist past?

The weekly Adventist Today newsletter that arrived on my computer (as expected) on the morning of December 29 carried its usual freight of interesting reports. Many of its narratives are unmentioned in the church’s official media, although (commendably) Adventist Review recently made a conscious decision to report the discussion about women’s ordination. Even so, it remains an arresting fact that, without independent news agencies such as the electronic and printed reports made available by entities such as Spectrum and Adventist Today, we would be ignorant of some of the crucial developments taking place within the church we value so highly.

The newsletter tells us:

“Adventist Today published more than 225 news stories this past year to provide an independent record of the Adventist community, unfettered by promotional goals and institutional interests. A number of these were controversial. Some resulted in a large number of comments and correspondence, as well as occasional internal debate among our journalists and the policy-makers at Adventist Today. There were even times when other publications made our reporting part of the news itself.

“Picking ten of these stories as the most important for 2012 is a difficult task. The most important events or trends are not always the most interesting or debatable. Feel free to nominate you own additions or replacements for these ten in the ‘Comments’ section at the end of this article.”

Here is the first of the ten issues selected from 2012, cited in the precise words of the AT report:

“Six union conferences in North America and Europe took a stand to end gender discrimination in ordination to the gospel ministry. At least two of these unions have already seen the ordination of women clergy and it has come to light that the Seventh-day Adventist Church in China has been doing so since the 1980s.

“The year began on an inauspicious note related to this issue; the North American Division (NAD) officers notified the members of their governing body that they would not publish a policy repeatedly voted by significant majorities over the previous three years, due to a ruling by the General Conference (GC) legal office that the body lacked then-necessary authority. The policy E 60 had been revised to permit women with credentials as Commissioned Ministers to be elected conference presidents.

“In early March the Mid-America Union Conference executive committee voted to support the ordination of women but did not take steps to immediately implement that position. In April retired GC President Jan Paulsen told the GC executive committee that he wished the issue had been settled during the 11 years he served as the denomination’s global leader. ‘The Spirit is ready to lead us where we, for various reasons, are reluctant to go,’ he told the denomination’s top leaders.

“On April 22-23 during a regular constituency meeting, the delegates to the North German Union Conference voted by a two-thirds majority to approve the ordination of women pastors in its territory. July 29 delegates to a special constituency session of the Columbia Union Conference in the United States voted four out of five by secret ballot to immediately authorize ordinations without gender discrimination. On August 19 the delegates to a special constituency session in the Pacific Union Conference voted the same thing by the same overwhelming majority. On both occasions Pastor Ted Wilson, current GC president, made a personal appeal to the delegates to not adopt the new policy.

“Since that time the union conferences in the Netherlands and Norway have voted the same policies. As a result there are now three union conferences in North America and three in Europe clearly on record. It is likely that others will eventually join them, even if they do not go so far as to implement the policy along with the scores of women who have been ordained or issued the credentials of an ordained minister in view of their having previously had a ‘laying on of hands’ when they were commissioned.

“The GC officers issued a statement expressing their view that these actions were regrettable and not valid. Rumors flew about possible sanctions that the GC might put in place against these union conferences. Adventist Today published analysis by former GC officers and well-known Adventist theologians. There was extensive debate among many of our readers about ‘unity versus uniformity’ and the role of women in the church. At the annual meeting of the GC executive committee in October the three hours of discussion were respectful and no sanctions were applied or suggested in the draft distributed to the committee members. A month earlier, Bill Knott, editor of the Adventist Review had announced that the ‘general paper’ of the denomination would again open its pages to the topic of women’s ordination after decades of silence.”

However, is the suggestion that 2012 may rank in importance with 1844, 1888, 1901, 1919, 1980 (and such) sustainable? I think not. Yes, the ten examples that are named and described are indeed impressive but, should our Lord tarry for another decade, will 2012 still appear as a towering peak?

The quoted report is succinct and meets the journalistic standards that we have come to expect from the news team at Adventist Today. The progress made on the issue of female ordination is indeed significant. You may want to read the other nine reasons given why 2012 seems particularly significant, and then judge for yourself just how 2012 fits within Adventist history. While I recognize the importance of the ten issues that the AT news team elaborate, I will be waiting for a while before I elevate 2012 to the level of importance claimed for dates such as those listed above.

Arthur Patrick, 30 December 2012

Posted in SDA theology

Post 88, Alexander the Great and Adventist Biblical Interpretation

Yesterday Joan and I, in company with a small group of friends, travelled 125 kilometres South to view a remarkable exhibition of some 400 artifacts that are currently on display at the Australian Museum. Alexander the Great is the focus of this particular exhibition; we are grateful to people like Catherine the Great of Russia who helped to stock the world-famous State Hermitage in St Petersburg with a great many such treasures that illumine the past. It is a wonderful privilege to have these items on loan from Russia, touted as “the most exciting and prestigious classical culture exhibition ever to be hosted by the Australian Museum in Sydney.”

Why refer to Alexander III (356 BCE to 323 BCE), usually simply named as Alexander the Great, in a blog about Adventist Studies? Because, in part, Alexander is one of the most important historical figures alluded to in the Book of Daniel, an apocalypse written by a Jewish prophet who was exiled to Babylon by crown-prince Nebuchadnezzar’s first raid on Jerusalem in 605 BC.

Uriah Smith (1832-1903) published his Thoughts Critical and Practical, on the Book of Daniel in 1873. At last, Millerite prophetic interpretation was re-packaged in a more-sustainable but still experimental manner. Smith standardised for Seventh-day Adventists the concept that the Greek empire was the shaggy goat of Daniel 8 that “touched not the ground” and “had a notable horn” between its eyes, symbolising Alexander its “first king” (verse 21).

My interest in Daniel and Revelation was (as mentioned elsewhere on this website) enhanced when LeRoy Edwin Froom delivered a series of lectures at Avondale in 1955. Froom was able to offer us an historical context that helped us to better understand how we arrived at our interpretation of Daniel, not least with his four volumes entitled The Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers. Also, about that time, I bought a newly-published book that I couldn’t really afford, Volume 4 of the Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary. Our church was on a journey toward a faithful exegesis (leading out of the meaning) of Scripture, including its apocalyptic portions, such as Daniel. We can now more adequately, with the help of a vast literature, interpret the complex symbols of Daniel. Chapter 2 depicts various metals (Greece is the kingdom of bronze that was to  “rule over the whole earth”); Daniel 7 portrays fearsome beasts (Greece is the creature that “looked like a leopard”); Daniel 8 describes a ram and a goat in deadly conflict (Greece is the goat that “became very great”).

The exhibition emphasised that almost 2,500 years ago Alexander, as a twenty-year-old Macedonian, embarked on a military campaign that, within a decade, enabled him to rule the then-known world and thus experience unparalleled power. It also documented for us, yet again, that Alexander was a multi-faceted personality whose “conquests dramatically shaped history with effects still felt today” in Western civilisation and even Asia. It further portrayed how history shaped Alexander; indeed, it created many “Alexanders” over the centuries, “few of whom would be recognisable to those who knew him.” Was he a ruthless destroyer, a chivalrous liberator, a military genius, a visionary statesman, an alcoholic, a god, a megalomaniac and a murderer? Yes, and much more.

“Alexander’s life was what legends are made of – gods and heroes, love and war, murder and betrayal, adventure and conquest.” Therefore, it is understandable that “his deeds were used to inspire or terrify, his name was invoked to achieve glory and his face became an artistic ideal.”

I had not realised the extent of the ancient sources that are available, nor the many fascinating ways that medieval legends and modern biographies have depicted Alexander the Great. A BBC series of DVDs on Alexander, that was kindly loaned to us, also helped us prepare for the Museum exhibition. Back in 2009, we spent about six weeks in Turkey, constantly confronted with evidence of Alexander’s travels, conquests and cultural inclinations. That experience spurred me to read the 2005 book by Paul Cartledge, Alexander the Great: The Hunt for a New Past. Now the exhibition in Sydney offers a marvellous visual experience for anyone interested in either ancient history or the symbolism of Daniel’s prophecies. Even the story of the New Testament would be different without the influence of Alexander the Great on Greek language (koine) and society. Rome ruled the world of the first century when Christ came to earth, but is was Greek speech, writing and culture that helped to facilitate the founding and development of Christianity, “the religion of Jesus.”

Arthur Patrick, posted 20 December 2012  

 

Posted in SDA theology