Adventism 202, Part 3: Searching for God’s “John Hancock” in the Bible

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Adventism 202, Part 3: Searching for God’s “John Hancock” in the Bible

In the previous article, I proposed that one of the major problems in Adventism today is a lack of deep understanding of our doctrines as a holistic system. Many Adventists seem to think that our teachings are simply a list of beliefs (the 28 Fundamentals). Furthermore, because many Adventists do not have a systematic understanding of our doctrines they often make the mistake in thinking that we can tweak, change, and even replace entire doctrines in the Adventist doctrinal canon and still be authentically Adventists because they naively believe that they have “only changed one thing.” The outcome of this approach to doing theology (as a list of beliefs instead of a system of beliefs) is a serious threat to the unity and mission of the church leading to division and splintering, not to mention the potential jeopardizing one’s personal salvation in some instances. To avoid this, there is a need for many of us to be introduced to the systematic beauty of Adventist doctrine, not as a list but as an interconnected whole with a central non-negotiable doctrinal core that is the basis for all of our other beliefs.

 

But before we began to reconstruct the Adventist faith, we first had to establish why we should be Adventists (or Christians for that matter) in the first place. First, we determined through engaging with general revelation that it was actually more reasonable to be a person of faith then to be an atheist. Essentially, we saw that it makes much more sense to take a gamble with religion and believe that there is a God, in the hopes of gaining “everything” including salvation and enlightenment and risk losing nothing, as opposed to not believing in God to gain nothing with the risk of losing everything. Next, we saw that even though there are a plethora of religions out there to practice, many have commonly held beliefs, which allows us to categorize and eliminate risky options.

 

One such commonly held belief is reincarnation, which is particularly prevalent in Eastern religions. We then concluded that it actually makes more sense to focus the limited time we have in this life on religions that teach that we have only have one life time to get things right with God. The reasons for this is simple, if we’re wrong about the number of life times we have and reincarnation actually is true then we’ll still be ok because we get another chance in the next life cycle. On that basis, we eliminated Eastern faiths for consideration and turned our attention to the west. Next, we found that two of the three great monotheistic faiths, Islam and Judaism also have a common denominator in that they both teach that practicing Christians are already saved and do not need to convert from Christianity.

Finally, we came to a major dilemma. We have concluded that Christianity is the most reasonable faith to practice given the conditions explained in the last article and alluded to above, however we were left with the question as to “Which Christianity is the least theologically risky to practice since there are literally thousands of Christian denominations around the world?” Christ assures us that throughout Christian history He has had a church, a group of people who have remained faithful to him “and the gates of hell” have never been able to overcome the Church. And by looking at the teachings of Christ found in the New Testament Gospels and the writings of the Apostles, we found that God’s last day Church (AKA the Remnant) are a people who keep the 10 Commandments, have the Testimony of Jesus, and have the faith of Jesus, a claim that only the Seventh-day Adventist Church makes and can justifiably defend.[1]

 

Personally, I believe this visible denominated group of people, the Seventh-day Adventist Church is the safest and least theologically risky expression of Christianity to practice, and as we go through the rest of this series I hope you will be convinced of the same. At the very least, I hope to challenge your belief structure to the extent that you will be compelled to become a life-long seeker for theological coherence regardless of what expression of Christianity you choose to follow.

 

But before we go any further we need to keep in mind our goal. Our goal is to move away from being List-Theology Adventists to Systematic Adventists. We want to understand the Bible and our doctrines in a holistic healthy way that helps us adopt a Biblical worldview and inoculate ourselves from the final deceptions predicted in the New Testament as well as rampant heresies and distractions that seem to be metastasizing in the Adventist Church today. In essence, we want to determine how we can progress and move away from an elementary understanding of Adventism with lukewarm Laodicean tendencies (and thus highly susceptible to deceptions in the last days) towards a systematic in-depth understanding of our doctrines and be passionately on fire for God and His truth. To make this journey successfully we will need a map and compass.

 

Traversing the Theological Wonderland

Growing up you may have come across the literary classic Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. In this fairy tale a young girl named Alice is lost in wonderland and is trying to find her way around. In her journeys she comes across an interesting character, Cheshire Cat and begins a conversation with him. 

 

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”

 “That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.

 “I don’t much care where –” said Alice.

 “Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.

 “– so long as I get somewhere,” Alice added as an explanation.

 “Oh, you’re sure to do that,” said the Cat, “if you only walk long enough.”

 

We are about to undertake a journey just like Alice in wonderland. But as we saw in the last article, navigating the world of religion can be a confusing task and it doesn’t take long to find ourselves disoriented and lost in a sea of opinions. However, considering the short portion of Alice in Wonderland above, what are 2 things we need to find our way when we are lost? For example, if I’ve been bitten by the “travel bug” and desire to get in my car and go on a road trip I’ll need to establish/acquire at least two things: (1) a destination, and (2) a map.

 

For our journey from List-Theology Adventists to Systematic Adventists we will need the same: (1) a destination or goal, and (2) a reliable map with trustworthy information.

 

As with most things in life if we don’t have a goal we won’t accomplish much and without a reliable guide, compass, or map the journey can be unnecessarily frustrating and difficult. So before we dive into the doctrinal core of Adventism we need to answer 2 critical questions:

 

(1) What is our goal?

 

(2) What can we use as a map or reliable source of information to reach our goal?

 

In the last article our goal was to find the safest or least theologically risky religion to practice but in order to do this we needed reliable sources of information. Thus we went to the primary sources for the religions we investigated. For Eastern religions we looked at the Bhagavad Gita, for Islam we looked at the Koran, and for Judaism we looked at the Torah. These are reliable sources of information on what to believe and how to practice the faiths they are associated with. They all claim to be the authentic trustworthy reliable dictates of God and thus they are primary sources for those particular faith traditions.

 

But since we have already established that Christianity is the path that we should take as the least theologically risky, where should we go to find the preserved, trustworthy, teachings and instructions of the founder of Christianity, Jesus Christ? Of course the answer is the Bible, both the Old and New Testaments.

 

Reason to Belief to Faith

The previous articles in this series were an intellectual exercise to look at general revelation and reason ourselves into a belief in the existence of God. But that is not a good place to stay! Resting your spiritual destiny on the possibility of God and theological risk analysis is simply a step towards faith, but it is not faith. Faith is a combination of intellectual belief with trust and relationship. So even though we know that if we are going to be authentic Christians, then we will need to study the teaching of Jesus we should also ask the question as to how we can know that the Bible is a reliable source of theological information about Jesus Christ. The answer is that the Bible is a self-authenticating book.

 

Looking for God’s “John Hancock”[2]

When you want to know that a document such as a check or legal contract is binding, authentic, genuine, and enforceable, we know that we must look to see if the document has been signed. Signatures authenticate documents, works of art, etc., but not only should we look to see whether the document is signed but also whether the signature itself is authentic. In order to authenticate the Bible, we shouldn’t just accept any signature as genuine. We any document makes great claims about itself, such as the Bible or scriptures from any other tradition,  we must demand more than an ordinary signature. We must demand a “John Hancock,” a unique, ornate, flamboyant, unmistakable signature that couldn’t possibly be duplicated by a pretender or con-artist. This is what is necessary in order to authenticate the Bible’s claim as the unique word of God.

But in order to do this we will need to undertake another intellectual exercise in making connections between apparently disparate theological clues in Scripture itself, mostly from the book of Isaiah.

Searching for Signatures in Isaiah

During the time of Isaiah the people of God in the kingdom of Judah were at a theological crossroads. Before the time of Isaiah, the Israelites were not monotheists in the strictest sense of the term. Monotheism denotes belief in only one God. In the best of times the people of Israel worshipped only one God (Yahweh) but they did not deny the existence of other deities.[3] In the book of Isaiah, we find a prophet proclaiming a revolutionary message. Not only was the prophet calling for a return to the worship of Yahweh, but also for the people of Israel to become strict monotheists, to deny the existence of any deities besides Yahweh. Isaiah presents God’s message as a challenge, a theological throwing down of the gauntlet by illustrating his ontological uniqueness among all beings in the universe. For example, in Isaiah 45:5-7, God through the prophet begins to describe His unique characteristics as an entity.

 

I am the Lord, and there is no other; apart from me there is no God. I will strengthen you, though you have not acknowledged me, so that from the rising of the sun to the place of its setting people may know there is none besides me. I am the Lord, and there is no other.  I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the Lord, do all these things. (Isaiah 45:5-7 NIV) [Emphasis Added]

 

 

Here God alludes to one of his unique abilities as a challenge to any other “gods” to replicate, the power to create. The creation language is evident from referencing light and darkness. Furthermore in Isaiah 55:11, Isaiah relates to us the means of creation, specifically through the power of the spoken word of God.

 

So is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:11 NIV)

 

Isaiah clams that when God speaks the fabric of the universe literally changes in adherence to the commands of God. So essentially, God claims that He and He alone can create Ex Nihilo (from nothing) and the means by which he does this is through his word.[4] But Isaiah continues to elaborate on the creative energy of God in chapter 61:10-11.

 

I delight greatly in the Lord; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. For as the soil makes the sprout come up and a garden causes seeds to grow, so the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations.(Isaiah 61:10-11 NIV)

 

Just as God creates the grass and foliage of the earth to sprout and grow, he also causes righteousness and salvation to be produced in humanity. The creative power of God is not simply in changing the physical nature of the world but also contains a spiritual dimension. These two works of creation are tied together in Isaiah 43:1, 11-12.

 

But now, this is what the Lord says—he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. (Isaiah 43:1 NIV)

 

I, even I, am the Lord, and apart from me there is no savior. I have revealed and saved and proclaimed—I, and not some foreign god among you. (Isaiah 43:11-12 NIV)

 

What Isaiah provides for us here is the definite proof and authentication of the Scriptures by giving us definite claims as to the unique attributes of divinity, namely the power to create, whether it be an original creation as described in Genesis 1-2 or a re-creation in the lives of sinful human beings. Both phenomena are evidences of divine activity. One must be accepted on faith (original creation) but the other can be experienced on a personal level (salvation or re-creation).

 

But how does this show that the Scriptures are the word of God? It is simply the fact that Isaiah has also revealed the means by which God is able to accomplish these divine acts, namely through his word. Thus if the Bible can be shown to be able to recreate, specifically to change a person’s life from debauchery and wretchedness to holiness and purity it is self authenticated as the word of God; for if the Bible truly contains the written words of God it should be able to perform the same power as the spoken words of God.[5] The message of the Bible transforms the life through the power of “re-Creation” as an internal verification of the Bible’s authenticity. Personal conversion and deliverance from sins that enslave us are the greatest internal evidence. Many people who have studied the Bible have found comfort, forgiveness, self-worth, and the inexplicable power to overcome sinful habits that have enslaved and ruined their previous lives.

 

But the power of creation is not the only signatory mark in the Bible. Returning to Isaiah we see another line of evidence for the divine origins of the Scriptures. In Isaiah 41:21-24, Yahweh once again throws down a theological gauntlet.

 

“Present your case,” says the Lord. “Set forth your arguments,” says Jacob’s King. “Tell us, you idols, what is going to happen. Tell us what the former things were, so that we may consider them and know their final outcome. Or declare to us the things to come, tell us what the future holds, so we may know that you are gods. Do something, whether good or bad, so that we will be dismayed and filled with fear. But you are less than nothing and your works are utterly worthless; whoever chooses you is detestable. (Isaiah 41:21-24 NIV)

 

“I am the Lord; that is my name! I will not yield my glory to another or my praise to idols. See, the former things have taken place, and new things I declare; before they spring into being I announce them to you.” (Isaiah 42:8-9)

 

Here we see another uniquely divine attribute that cannot be authentically replicated by non-divine beings, the phenomena of prophecy, which is a subset of the divine attribute of omniscience (the all-knowingness of God). Through fulfilled prophecy we can establish that once again the Bible is what it claims to be, namely the word of God. Since God is the only one who can declare the future before it happens with 100% accuracy, if we find the Scriptures to possess the same ability we can be sure of their divine origin and authenticity. Therefore prophecy serves as an objective external[6] verification of the authenticity of God’s word.[7]

 

Unfortunately, we are not born with a knowledge of world history to actually check if the predictions in the Bible are accurate. So we have to do research and verify things outside of our own limited observations and personal experience. That is why I call it external verification. There is a third party now involved which is world history.[8] Classic examples of this prophetic power of the Bible can be found in Daniel 2, Daniel 7, and perhaps the greatest of all prophecies Daniel 8-9 which reveals the exact time of the coming of the Messiah.

 

So what we have seen so far is that God has signed the Bible in at least two ways to authenticate its divine origin that you can test: (1) subjectively and internally, through personal conversion or recreation through the reading of Scripture and (2) objectively or externally, by comparing the prophecies of the Bible with recorded history.

 

Simply put we have answered the question of “What makes God, God?” through identifying His unique attributes. Those attributes are: (1) the power to create, and (2) his power to predict the future. These then serve as the keys, the signatures, the “John Hancock” to identify and authentic the genuine revelation of his words. Thus, if the Bible is a book that claims to be from God and contain the words of God, and it can be shown that it does the very things that God claims are unique attributes to himself, then guess what, we have found a reliable primary source of information in our quest for a deeper knowledge of God and his teachings. The Bible is our map and compass. God’s signatures are all over His Book.

 

The Goal in 3D

So far we have discussed the need to have a reliable source of information to map our way to our goal. For the Christian we have determined that the only source for us that can serve as a map and meet the necessary requirements of authenticity is the Bible. But we have not established in detail is our goal. Previously we stated that the goal was to move from a “List-Theology Adventism” to a “Systematic Adventism,” to see Adventist doctrines as an interconnected system with a non-negotiable doctrinal core. At this point however, we need to refine our goal in three dimensions.

 

Personal Salvation

I have often heard in church that we don’t need knowledge in order to be saved, but this is not true. Jesus says that we need knowledge AKA theology in order to be saved. But what type of knowledge is required in order to secure personal salvation? Jesus answers this question in John 17:3 “Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” Relational intimate knowledge with God is a must for the journey we’re undertaking together.

Related Link: Is  Knowledge a Requirement for Salvation?

Unity

The second dimension of our goal can be found in 1 Corinthians 1:10.

 

I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. (1 Corinthians 1:10 NIV)

 

One could be forgiven in thinking that this verse must be missing from most Christian’s Bibles due to the amount of friction and divisiveness in the body of Christ exhibited today, but in our journey towards systematic Adventism we want to emphasize the reality that God calls us to be in community with other believers with a common Biblical worldview. And with a common worldview we won’t have the deep divisions that exist in the Adventist Church today. We will be able to come into unity on all types of issues that are tearing away at the fabric of our faith.

 

Mission

Lastly the third dimension of our goal can be found in Matthew 28:18-20, the Great Commission.

 

 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

 

By adopting a systematic view of Adventist doctrine you will be equipped to actually share your faith in the current climate of postmodernism. You will be more effective in mission because you will be able to relate our doctrines holistically instead of as disparate statements of belief. Simply put you will be able to make disciples who have actually adopted a Biblical worldview and understand the grand metanarrative of existence.

 

In summary, John 17:3 tells us that eternal life (salvation) is acquired through a knowledge [“to know” in the intimate Hebrew sense of the term] of God that is both intellectual and experiential. This deeper “knowing” requires more than memorizing a list of God’s attributes and acts. 1 Corinthians 1:10-13 tells us that if we want unity we must all say (preach & teach) the same things, but if the last few decades have taught us anything, a list of beliefs does not and cannot hold the church together. It is a shared common worldview, a Biblical worldview infused into us through the study of Scripture and the power of the Holy Spirit that will give the church the unity it so desperately needs at this time. Lastly Matt 28:18-20 gives us the orders and mission of the church, which includes not only the instructions, to go out into the world but also restricts what we are to teach. We are commanded to teach only the doctrines (the system of theology) that Christ has revealed throughout the entire Bible.

 

In our journey towards systematic Adventism we will find and/or reaffirm our own personal salvation, we will find unity with those on the same journey, and we will be more effective in our mission as disciples making disciples.

 

The Holy Scriptures Makeover

Thus far we have shown why we can trust the Bible as the authentic source for the words of God and we have discovered the three dimensional goal of adopting a systematic Adventist perspective. But how does this transformation occur? In seminary a few years ago Dr. Fernando Canale presented an impressive lecture on the transformative power of the Bible on the human agent. Below is the short version of what he shared that day based on what is now one of my favorite passages of Scripture, John 8:31-36.

 

To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching [continue in my word, KJV], you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” They answered him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?” Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. (John 8:31-36)

 

In the passage above we can trace the progression of what happens to a Christian as he or she transitions from simple elementary belief to a systematic faith. There is an initial believing in Jesus, which I identify as the basics of Christianity (the lists, creeds, fundamental beliefs, etc.). It is intellectual assent to the facts of the Christian faith (One God, Salvation, Inspiration of the Scriptures, etc.). But notice Jesus is not satisfied with this surface level relationship with “believers.” But if we “continue in the word,” as it is stated in the KJV of this text, we will then become disciples. Notice that we must study the Scriptures, the word of God, in order to truly be disciples. There is no alternative method to discipleship. It is always Scripture based. As a result of studying the Scriptures, one will eventually learn the truth, a deep systematic understanding of God’s word, and this learning of the truth inevitably leads to spiritual freedom. This is the process we are about to undertake as we gain a deeper extensive understanding of the system of truth found in the Scriptures.

 

In the next article, we will lay the foundation of our system by reconstructing what has been called the doctrine of Scripture. We know the Bible is the word of God, and we know that it is trustworthy but beyond that we need to understand how the Bible came into existence and ultimately how to interpret the Bible. Without this foundation the search for a systematic understanding of Adventism would be extremely difficult if not ultimately futile.

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

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Notes.

[1] We’ll address these claims later in the series.

[2] A portion of what follows is a Bible study that was presented to me circa 2005 while I was an undergraduate in college by the local Seventh-day Adventist minister, Pastor Throstur Thordarson. This study which highlighted the divine attributes of God impacted me significantly and helped me towards thinking about Adventism in a systematic way.

[3] This is one of the reasons they found themselves often slipping back into idolatry, polytheism, and syncretism.

[4] This can be seen in other places in the Bible as well. Hebrews 11:3 is a clear demonstration of this “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command [word], so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible. [ex nihilo]” (Hebrews 11:3 NIV)

[5] This connection is also made in the New Testament. “For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,”made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:6 NIV)

[6] It is an objective-external verification is the sense that one cannot be certain of a prophecy’s fulfillment in many cases without external sources to verify it. The subjective-internal verification of character transformation needs no external party as the one reading the scriptures (the subject) is transformed, he or she knows for themselves the changes that are being made internally. With creation/recreation only you and the text are necessary to see and experience the creative power of the word.

[7] Other passages outside of Isaiah communicate the same message. See Daniel 2:28 and Revelation 1:1, 19.

[8] If you are unfamiliar with the prophetic message of the Adventist Church I recommend reading the book Daniel and the Revelationor availing yourself of the many Bible study guides used by the Adventist church and independent ministries. Amazing Facts is an excellent resources for learning the basics of Bible prophecy https://www.bibleuniversity.com/University/Questions.asp

 

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About the author

Ingram London

Ingram London is a consulting editor for The Compass Magazine.