Adventism 202, Part 2 Beyond List Theology

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Adventism 202, Part 2 Beyond List Theology

In the previous article, we identified a deficiency in the discipleship and reorientation of converts to the Adventist faith, namely a lack of theological growth and maturity in seeing Adventist doctrine as an interconnected whole as opposed to a list of statements.

We then began our journey together towards a systematic view of Adventist doctrine by taking a cursory look at the logical reasons and arguments for the existence of God. We established that it is probably more likely that God does exist, but we did not give a compelling reason to actually believe in God and try to develop a relationship with Him. We now turn to this next logical step by employing Pascal’s Wager.[1],[2]

Theological Risk Analysis (Pascal’s Wager)

Blaise Pascal is the inventor of what is known in philosophical circles as “Pascal’s Wager.” As an intellectual exercise or game, the essence of Pascal’s Wager is to help the mind to come to the acknowledgment that regardless of whether God actually exists or not, it is safer to believe in God (and thus practice a religion) than to not believe in God. My paraphrase of Pascal’s Wager is as follows:

You are playing a game, which involves a decision. You must decide whether to believe in God or not to believe in God. After careful reflection of your options, you realize that there are only 4 possible outcomes for your decision:

  1. If I choose to believe in God and He actually exists I have the opportunity to gain everything (i.e. eternal life, enlightenment, nirvana, etc.).
  2. However, if I choose to believe in God but it turns out that He actually does not exist, I have lost nothing.
  3. And, if I choose to not believe in God and He actually does not exist, I have gained nothing.
  4. However, if I choose to not believe in God, but he actually does exist, I have lost everything.

Q. Assuming you want to take the least risky approach to the game, which option would you choose?

But before you choose, your options can be simplified even further.

Which of the two options below is the most appealing and safest to choose?

A. Believe in God in order to possibly gain everything with the risk of losing nothing if it turns out that God actually doesn’t exist.

OR

B. Don’t believe in God in order to gain nothing with the risk of losing everything if it turns out that God does exist.

Which option is more rational (the safest) to take? What would you be willing to stake your life and possibly eternal life on? Many people conclude that it is more rational to believe in God and risk nothing than to not believe in God and risk everything.

Thus, the safest thing to do in life is to believe. Now as stated earlier, one should not believe in God based purely on one rational argument, but it is a place to start one’s walk of faith. In a later article, we will discuss what our faith should be based on once we have accepted the possibility that there is a God, which is the thrust of this article.

But is this Biblical?

Before we go any further, let’s take a quick theological “pit stop.” If you’re reading this article, you’re probably already a Christian and I think it is safe to assume with a high level of certainty that you are a Seventh-day Adventist or at least familiar with Adventism. As Adventists, we hold the Bible with supreme regard and as in our previous article in which we established whether the pursuit of General Revelation was Biblical, it would be wise to take a cursory look at the Biblical injunction for the intellectual exercise we just walked through. What we have basically done is what Jesus called “counting the cost,” which you can find in Luke 14:28-32:

Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’ “Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand?  If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. (Luke 14:28-32, NIV; emphasis added).

Essentially Jesus instructs any would-be disciple to rationally weigh their options before choosing to become His follower. By doing so the disciple will have something solid to point back to as the reason for their faith decision when they encounter difficulties in their spiritual journey. Likewise, by weighing the cost of believing in God versus rejecting Him by rejecting a belief in His existence, we establish for ourselves a guide stone to remind us why we have gone down the path of theism, and ultimately Christianity. We owe it to ourselves, and God wants us to think through our eternal decisions carefully and weigh our options.

Ellen White put it this way,

If you lose heaven you lose everything; if you gain heaven you gain everything. Do not make a mistake in this matter, I implore you. Eternal interests are here involved.[3]

We would be wise to heed her counsel.

East or West?

Now that we have looked at a few arguments for the existence of God and one hopefully compelling argument for developing a relationship with God, we will now turn our attention to the next logical question which is

Q. How should I relate to God?

What this question is really addressing is what religion should I practice, because religions engage with God in different unique ways.

At this point, what we will do is use the principle behind Pascal’s Wager, identifying the least risky option, to determine what faith would be the safest and thus the most logical to follow.

Keep in mind however as we go through this exercise that we are not determining which religion is true but rather which is the safest (the least risky in terms of losing salvation or enlightenment or whatever it is that God wants to offer us).

Now one approach to doing this would be to compose a list of all of the religions in the world and then work our way through them one by one studying their doctrines. Unfortunately, we don’t have time for all of that so we’re going to take what I deem to be a justifiable shortcut. The shortcut is to find common denominators. We’ll begin this exercise by examining Eastern religions.

The Tie that Binds

There are many Eastern religions, by which I mean deriving from countries east of the Arabian Peninsula in the continent of Asia. A few of these religions include Buddhism, Zen Buddhism (a derivative of Buddhism that has no sacred text), Taoism, Jainism, Shintoism, and the probably the progenitor of them all Hinduism.[4]

According to most eastern religions, human beings are trapped in a cycle of existence. This cycle is called reincarnation or samsara in which every human being lives and dies and is reborn as another human being (hopefully).[5] The goal of life is to escape this cycle by living virtuously, by meditation, or some other means. But the way to escape the cycle is irrelevant to our risk analysis.

Keeping in mind that there are other religions in the world that teach that we only have one life to live and develop a profitable relationship with God, we can safely ignore Eastern religions. From a risk analysis perspective, it is too risky, without evidence of having lived a previous life, to wager your relationship with God on Eastern religions. Let me explain using an analogy from school.

Imagine that you are at the end of a semester in college and you are only taking two classes. In fact, they are the last two classes you have to take before graduating. Would you study for an exam in which your instructor informs you that you will have an infinite number of chances to retake the exam until you get an “A+,” especially if you have another exam to take with no such guarantees?

It doesn’t make sense to spend your time studying for an exam that gives you an infinite number of do-overs when there is another exam you need to take and pass and you only have one shot to do it. Similarly, it doesn’t make sense to spend your time on a religion that gives you an infinite number of do-overs. It is safer to invest your time in religions that only offer one shot at “salvation.”

Those religions that offer an infinite number of do-overs and retakes should be a low priority. Simply put, what if you were wrong about not becoming a Buddhist in this life. According to Buddhism, you have an infinite number of opportunities to get it right!

Consequently, by identifying that one common factor we have just eliminated nearly all Eastern religions.[6] But you don’t need to just take my word for it, in fact, I’d prefer you didn’t. We want to be thinkers and so we must look for evidence to confirm the claim that Eastern religions teach reincarnation.

As stated earlier Hinduism is probably the progenitor of nearly every other Eastern religion. It is one of the oldest religions on earth and thus it has bequeathed to the many religions that it has spawned, a universal doctrine of samsara or reincarnation.

As a consequence, reincarnation allows for an “infinite” amount of “do-overs” when it comes to attaining salvation (enlightenment) because it offers an “infinite” amount of lifetimes to get things right. But where is the evidence for this claim? Looking at one of the holiest scriptures of the Hindu Vedas I, the Bhagavad Gita, we find ample evidence for this belief in a conversation between Krishna (a Hindu deity) and an Indian warrior prince.

Never was there a time when I did not exist, nor you, nor all these kings; nor in the future shall any of us cease to be. As the embodied soul continuously passes, in this body, from childhood to youth to old age, the soul similarly passes into another body at death. A sober person is not bewildered by such a change… (Bhagavad Gita 2:12-13).

As we can see from the above quote, reincarnation is indeed a foundational teaching of Hinduism, and because of Hinduism’s dominance of the Asian continent, it has been inherited by nearly every Eastern religion in existence today. It is the common denominator.

However, since most of us would agree that we cannot remember and have no evidence of existing in a past life it is theologically too risky to assume that we have an infinite number of lives in order to find the truth, especially when there are other religions that only give you one shot at salvation in this life.

Once again, even if you’re wrong about not becoming a Buddhist or a Krishna devotee, you have an infinite number of opportunities to get it right if reincarnation is actually the truth! Thus, by identifying the one common factor (reincarnation), we have eliminated nearly all Eastern religions for consideration in our quest for the safest (least risky) religion to follow.

It is less risky (or safer) to practice a religion that teaches that we only have one lifetime (the one you are in right now) to attain salvation. It is safer to invest your time in religions that only offer one shot at “salvation.”

Those religions that offer an infinite number of do-overs and retakes should be a low priority. From that conclusion, we can now turn our attention to the great Western faiths of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity, also known as “The Big Three.”

“One of These Three is Not Like the Others…”

The big 3, Islam, Judaism, and Christianity in a general sense all claim to worship the same God known to Christians as “The Father.” We must, however, continue our risk analysis by narrowing the playing field even more by looking for common denominators that will allow us to cancel out some of these faiths as risky options. In other words, what religion among the big three is too risky to ignore!

To do this analysis we’ll need to take a look at the primary sources of each of these religions, just as we did with Hinduism (the basis for nearly all Eastern Religions).

As you are probably familiar, Islam’s primary source for doctrine (at least it should be) is the Quran.[7] But before we take a look at what the Quran has to say about salvation it should be noted that the Quran is very different than the Bible in that it is claimed to be a direct dictation from God.

In other words, the Quran should not be controverted in a debate over what Islam teaches since it claims to be directly dictated words of God. If this is the case, let us see what the Quran has to say about Jews and Christians. In other words, does Islam compel Christians to convert to Islam in order to be saved?

Surely those who believe, and those who are Jews, and the Christians, and the Sabians, whoever believes in Allah [Allah] and the Last Day [Final Judgment] and does good, they have their reward with their Lord, and there is no fear for them, nor shall they grieve. (The Holy Quran, Al-Baaqara [The Heifer] 2:62).

Notice that both Jews and Christians are covered under Islam’s umbrella of salvation. But then we have to ask ourselves a pertinent question:

Q. If according to the Quran, God already grants a Christian salvation, does it make any sense to convert to Islam if you are already a Christian?

The answer is obviously “no.” It is too theologically risky to convert to Islam if you are a practicing Christian, since Islam, according to the Quran, already covers you under its umbrella of salvation.

But what about the other two great monotheistic faiths? Is Judaism just as generous as Islam? In actuality, it is. Let’s take a look at what Judaism says about salvation for non-Jews.

According to traditional Judaism, G-d[8] [sic] gave Noah and his family seven commandments to observe when he saved them from the flood. These commandments, referred to as the Noahic or Noahide commandments, are inferred from Genesis Ch. 9, and are as follows: 1) to establish courts of justice; 2) not to commit blasphemy; 3) not to commit idolatry; 4) not to commit incest and adultery; 5) not to commit bloodshed; 6) not to commit robbery; and 7) not to eat flesh cut from a living animal. These commandments are fairly simple and straightforward, and most of them are recognized by most of the world as sound moral principles. Any non-Jew who follows these laws has a place in the world to come.[9]

As we can see from the above quote, the basis of Gentile salvation is found in the covenant made with Noah after the flood. This new covenant made with Noah, who is the new father of humanity, applies to not just him but all his descendants (Jews and Gentiles alike). Noah’s descendants who comply with the covenant of Genesis 9 have “a place in the world to come,” which is the Messianic Age or what Christians would call the New Heavens and New Earth.

But just like our analysis of Islam’s umbrella of salvation, it is better to go to the primary sources for our understanding of what Judaism actually teaches and so turning to the Hebrew Scriptures (the Christian Old Testament) Genesis 9 we find the following:

Everything that lives and moves about will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything. But you must not eat meat that has its lifeblood still in it. And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each human being, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of another human being. Whoever sheds human blood by humans shall their blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made mankind. As for you, be fruitful and increase in number; multiply on the earth and increase upon it. (Genesis 9:3-7, NIV; emphasis added).

What we see here are two requirements for salvation for Gentiles according to the Noahic Covenant: (1) do not murder, and (2) do not consume blood.[10] What this reveals is that the Judaic Umbrella of salvation covers all Biblical Christians.

Galatians 5:19-21; Romans 1:28-29; and Acts 15:1, 19-20, 22-29 plainly show that Biblical Christians are already required by God to fulfill the injunctions of the Noahic covenant. So now we must again ask the question:

Q. Does it make sense to convert to Judaism if Judaism already grants you salvation as a Christian?

The answer once again is “no.”

What we have learned so far is that Judaism and Islam grant salvation to the adherents of Christianity. Islam has no requirements, except that one be faithful to his or her monotheistic convictions. Judaism’s requirements are already satisfied—Biblical Christians are to observe the Ten Commandments and the diet recommended to Christians in the book of Acts which is essentially a traditional Adventist diet.

What this means is that once we see the claims of Christianity it becomes extremely apparent that it is too risky to convert to Islam or Judaism. In other words, we can ignore Judaism and Islam since the odd man out of the big three is not so generous with its umbrella of salvation. The claims of Christianity are too risky to be ignored.

The Safest Faith on Earth

Is Christianity too risky to ignore? Let’s allow Christianity’s primary sources, Jesus and His Apostles tell us.

Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father [God] except through me.’ (John 14:6).

‘Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.’ (John 17:1-3).

And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son [Jesus Christ]. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. (1 John 5:11-12).[11]

One of the big three is definitely not like the others. Christianity “fails” the test of relativism and post-modernity. It has a tiny salvation umbrella and does not sanction any other religion, thus, its claims are way too risky to ignore without proper investigation even if that investigation were to take a lifetime.

Congratulations, you just found the safest faith on earth. By extrapolating the theological risk analysis principle behind Pascal’s Wager, we have identified the most exclusive religion on earth and also the safest religion on earth since its adherents are covered by every other religious persuasion or at the very least given an infinite number of “do-overs.”

In other words, if you are a Christian, it doesn’t make sense to convert to Judaism or Islam, as these faiths already grant you salvation as a Christian. Furthermore, it makes more sense to be a Christian than to convert to an Eastern faith as Eastern faiths give you an infinite amount of “do-overs,” while Christianity only grants one chance or one lifetime to connect with God.

If it turns out that the Buddhists were right after all regarding the nature of the human soul and reincarnation it’s no big deal, we still get another chance to get it right. However, if the Western faiths are correct and you only have one shot at salvation, it is best to be a Christian. But there is a caveat in all this.

The Caveat

Earlier I stated that Christianity has a tiny umbrella of salvation for humanity when compared to other religions, but this is not entirely accurate. The caveat to this claim is that Jesus is a God of love, and He loves all His children regardless of their religious persuasion. We find in Romans 1-2 a hint of the real size of Christianity’s salvation umbrella, that it indeed covers the entire planet.

But if that is true, how can a person actually be lost and lose out on eternity with God? The answer is that, what causes individuals to be lost is not that they practiced another faith other than Christianity but as to whether they lived up to the light they had and did not reject Jesus if given the opportunity to learn about Him.

But now that we have found the safest religion on earth we must now face the dilemma.

The Dilemma

Though we have come to the conclusion that Christianity is the most exclusive, and thus the safest religion to follow in light of what other religions have to offer, we must now face a new decision. Which Christianity should we practice? There are hundreds if not thousands of denominations of Christianity in the world today. Do they all basically teach the same thing or are they different?

Many Christians believe that as long as you are a believer in Christ and practice some version of Christianity it will take you to the same end, which is Heaven and communion with God. However, remember your principles of logic.

Two things that are the opposite of each other cannot be true at the same time.

Even on the most basic of concepts that you would think Christians would be able to agree on there is a wide variety of opinions. Take, for example, the nature of Christ. Some Christians believe Jesus is fully divine as the Son of God. While others only see Jesus as a man. These two things are incompatible.

If Jesus is God then He should be worshipped. If He’s just a man, then many Christians who worship Jesus as God are guilty of idolatry. Eastern orthodoxy says Jesus became the Son of God on the cross. Evangelical Christianity claims that Jesus has always existed as the Son of God. And centuries ago Arian Christians said Jesus was just a man and not divine in any sense. Who is right? And does it matter?

What about other doctrines like Baptism? Some believe you need to be baptized by immersion to become a Christian, some believe in triune baptism, others believe in baptism by infusion (pouring), others by sprinkling, others don’t even use water but opt for oil, salt, or rose petals. I have even heard of baptism by mail. But perhaps the most astounding is the belief that you don’t need to be baptized at all to be a Christian in spite of the testimony of Scripture all over the New Testament. Who are we to believe?

The best place to go to sort this mess out (and it is a mess) is to go back to the Bible. Jesus said:

Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” (Matthew 7:24-27; emphasis added).

Jesus, the God of Christianity, promises His followers that if we heed His words our religious experience with Him will not be a tragedy or come to a disastrous end. But Jesus also has something to say about His religion, His church:

I will build my church, and the gates of Hell will not overcome it. (Matthew 16:18).

Personally, I take this to mean that no matter how befuddling the denominational smorgasbord may become, God still has a denominated people on planet earth and thankfully He tells us the characteristics of these people.

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ (Matthew 7:21-23; emphasis added).

And the dragon was enraged with the woman, and he went to make war with the rest of her offspring, who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.” (Revelation 12:17; emphasis added)

This calls for patient endurance on the part of the people of God who keep his commands and remain faithful to Jesus. (Revelation 14:12; emphasis added).

From these texts, we see that God continues to have a church to the very end of this world and as “thinking Adventists” we must search for and find that true church or movement that composes God’s visible remnant, the “offspring of the woman” of Revelation 12. But I have good news. Chances are if you’re reading this article you’ve already found God’s true church, the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

My prayer is that you will be more convinced of this than ever before by the time we arrive at the end of our series and our journey towards becoming systematic, thinking Adventists. Hopefully, it will be a change in your Adventist experience in which your theology (the Fundamental Beliefs) is no longer a memorized list but a worldview that colors and informs your entire life. But in order to correctly and safely make the pilgrimage from List-Theology Adventists to Systematic Adventists, we will need a trustworthy and reliable map to show us the way.

Click here to read the rest of Ingram’s series on the Adventism 202

______

Notes.

[1] There are other factors that may push us to want to have a relationship with God, all of which are used by the Holy Spirit to draw us to God. For example, conviction about one’s enslavement to sin can draw us to the Savior who can liberate us.

[2] Blaise Pascal (1623–1662), was a French mathematician, physicist, inventor, writer, and Christian philosopher. (Wikipedia).

[3] Ellen White, Our Father Cares (Washington, D.C.: Review & Herald Publishing Association, 1991), p. 315.

[4] An argument can be made that Hinduism is not a solitary religion but actually a family of religions that are interrelated and thus one should not speak of Hinduism but Hinduisms.

[5] In some versions of Hinduism, if you are born to the untouchable caste you will probably remain trapped in Samsara forever since you are constantly being defiled and thus failing to build good karma. However, for our purposes, if one finds that they are born in the untouchable caste it would make even more sense to ignore Hinduism and wager on another religion. I personally would recommend Christianity.

[6] Jainism which does not have an afterlife is the only exception I’m aware of.

[7] Note that we are not consulting Imams or Muslim clerics as the Quran should be a higher authority.

[8] Many Jews insist on preserving the sanctity of the divine name by not using the term Yahweh (YHWH) and often omitting the vowel “o” when spelling “God.”

[9] See http://www.jewfaq.org/gentiles.htm#Noah; emphasis added.

[10] Rabbinical teaching extrapolates these two requirements into the 7 previously mentioned.

[11] At this juncture, we need to review something that we briefly observed towards the beginning of this article. Arrogance does not equal falseness. A nice, kind, or generous attitude does not equal truth. Arrogance and niceness are attitudes; they are not indicators of facts and truth. From a Post-Modern mindset, it may be tempting to dismiss Christianity because its founder and apostles sound arrogant. But claims should be evaluated on more than just our perceptions of a person’s attitude. Whether I tell you what my name is in an arrogant or humble way does not change the fact that my name is still my name. And whether we choose to believe Christ’s claims about his identity as the exclusive gateway to God, does not change whether his claims are true or not—objectively. What am I getting at here? Essentially it is this, you owe it to yourself to investigate the claims of Jesus and the Bible because there is so much to gain in having a relationship with Him and so much to lose in rejecting Him.

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About the author

Ingram London

Ingram London is a consulting editor for The Compass Magazine.