Beyond the One project: The War Over the Local Church (5b)

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Beyond the One project: The War Over the Local Church (5b)

Editorial Note: This article is the conclusion to Adrian Zahid’s series on the One project. If you’d like to learn more about the One project read the rest of the articles in this series here.


At the Create Conference, Pastor Alex Bryan called upon the audience to learn from a Vietnam war POW’s (prisoner of war) ability to face the brutal facts of his/her circumstances to survive. We begin part two of this article by drawing some key lessons from that war to understand the nature of the war over the local church.

As the war in Vietnam came to a close, the United States sent Colonel Harry Summers to Hanoi to negotiate the US withdrawal from South Vietnam. Five successive US presidencies had poured money and soldiers into the Vietnam War. For fifteen years, the two countries had waged a war that had cost the lives of 58,220 US soldiers and over 1.1 million Vietnamese and Viet Cong soldiers and the lives of several million more civilians not counting the related casualties of Cambodia, Laos and other surrounding regions. The US generals had primarily waged war in Vietnam, the way they had been taught, using methods honed and developed in World War II. It was a chess game like strategy: find the enemy, deplete his resources, isolate and crush him using overwhelming troop numbers backed by naval and air support. During this war, the United States dropped more bombs than it had dropped during all of World War II.[1] It won every confrontation in the field yet here was the world’s greatest superpower, at the table, to discuss with a third-world country, how it would leave voluntarily without a clear victory.

Years later, when the North Vietnamese generals began writing their memoirs and revealing their successful strategy, it became clear not only why they won but also why their win was inevitable. Before the war with the United States started, Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh and his chief general Vo Nguyen Giap, reasoned that their country did not stand a chance in a conventional war with the United States on an open battlefield. So rather than fight a war of the United States’ choosing, they fought the war that they knew they could win. Instead of a conventional war with a chess-like strategy with brute force tactics, they chose an insurgent or guerrilla war with a positional strategy similar to the game Go. In this strategy, they did not need to conquer large swathes of land and spend precious resources holding it against the combined might of the American Air Force and Army. They merely needed a few key strategic troops dispersed here and there to maim and kill US troops in skirmishes at the place of their own choosing to discourage the United States from propping up the South Vietnamese government and keep the US army from progressing northward to Hanoi. A few key people in key places held back the world’s superpower. This strategy was aimed at defeating the morale of the United States civilian population so that they would exert pressure on the US political leaders to sue for peace. Fifteen years later, Colonel Summers and his delegation were at the table to negotiate an end to the brutal conflict. At the end of the negotiations, Colonel Summers shook the hand of his North Vietnamese counterpart and remarked, “The truth is that you never beat us on the battlefield.” His North Vietnamese counterpart thought for a moment and replied, “Well. That’s true. But, it’s also irrelevant.” Vietnam had won. And the United States had lost.

The war over the local church has changed its characteristics to suit the strategic counter-play between the insurgents and the church administrators over the decades since 1960. To give you an overview, I’ll describe this war in the form of a timeline from what I would perceive to be the point of view of a church administrator.

From 1863-1915, the predominant strategy for the “concerned brother” was to make his concerns known by publishing an article in the Adventist Review and then others would analyze his arguments and reply back. If he was correct, others would accept it (albeit grudgingly), if he was wrong, they would “bury” him with their research. And if the brother was still inclined to follow his conscience regardless, he would go and find employment with the Baptists, Methodists or some other Protestant denomination. Moses Hull, DM Canright, A.T. Jones and others followed this well-worn path to obscurity and oblivion.[2]

But then the church administrators began to restrict heated theological discussions in the Adventist Review so from 1930-1950, the strategy for the “concerned brother” was to gather up his followers and then announce that they were leaving the church. They would leave the church with their followers and start up a rival organization. L.R. Conradi “innovated” this approach. However, over time, most of the leaders that left the church realized that other than the initial breakaway individuals, few followed them, and soon they were forgotten and the church moved on without them. Some of the followers gave up and returned back to the church while others simply grew old and the movement would literally die. Church leaders from that time used words like “rebellion” to described the conflicts with these individuals. The post-1950s, “rebellious” realized that leaving the church was a losing proposition. The word was out. There was to be no more coming out Adventism. When given a long enough time frame, the church would always win so the rebellious realized that the way to win, was to stay in the church, and keep fighting by teaching, preaching and publishing their books. In doing so, they unconsciously or unwittingly embraced the positional strategy of an insurgency and thus become insurgents. It was this turning point in the war that the local churches began to bleed members.[3]

But as the 60s wore on, the “insurgents” were seemingly no longer enjoying the winning edge. The church administrators were mirroring the US government strategy and tactics: the chess-like strategy of seek and destroy. From the late 60s till the early 80s, the church administrators marched onward into war, committing precious resources, and massive amounts of manpower to defeat these insurgents. Their chess-like strategy was to find an “enemy” like Desmond Ford, or Brinsmead for example, and summon a large contingent of pastors, scholars, administrators and conduct hearings, investigations, publish papers, and then use every administrative tool in the policy book to remove the “enemy” from their position or employment.[4] Many from that era long for the “good old days” of “strong” and “courageous” leadership. Some leaders in our church today are still carrying on with that losing strategy. Losing, because for every insurgent the church administrators removed, it seems like one hundred others took their place and followed their leader’s advice to “stay in the church and change it from within.”[5] Every now and then you will read published articles from nostalgic conservative leaders asking liberals to “leave the church.”

From the 1980s onward, the insurgents grew in number and sophistication. Theological factions matured and now instead of isolated individuals, the church administrators faced whole independent conservative organizations and ministries fueled by their own tithing systems, complete with their own camp meetings, publishing presses, sanitariums, and education centers outside the church structure. Within the church, other theological factions gained a small presence in the form of departments at key institutions for higher learning and conference offices. Soon lofty words like “academic freedom” and the “freedom of conscience” began to be brandished as weapons whenever a church administrator made an attempt to reconcile what was being taught in the universities with what was being proclaimed by the General Conference.

By the early 2000s, the independent organizations were beginning to collapse under the weight of their own hubris, and failed business models. They were now being “baptized” back into the church through various reconciliation efforts by church administrators.[6] By 2010, the local churches, had bled away millions of members. Five pastors gathered in a hotel room, over a weekend, and came away convinced that the answer to the conflict was Jesus. All. Over the course of seven years, and thirty or so Gatherings, the One Project leaders explained their vision and built a platform for those who shared their worldview. Then, they announced that they were shutting down. With their announcement, came a glimpse of what is to come: a renewed focus on the local church.

Around 2012, the war mutated. Once upon a time the conflict was restricted to individuals and a few breakaway groups and the odd cult or two. Now whole conferences and unions are currently engaged in a war against the General Conference itself.[7] A full in-depth discussion of the war at the institutional level exceeds the scope of this current series.

I can almost picture a church administrator saying to an insurgent group or theological faction, “In a head-to-head theological debate, you would never win against the combined might of the Biblical Research Institute.” To which, the faction could credibly reply, “yes.” “But that is irrelevant.”

In the last part, we saw how the New Testament believers understood what being a disciple of Christ meant. We also know from history how the New Testament church was faithful to the Great Commission that Christ gave to it. We saw how the church gradually departed from the New Testament era model for the local church towards a clergy dependent one and the implications of that shift that resulted in the rise of the Papacy and the Christian empire. We saw how the Protestant reformers reasoned that the Church needs to be separate from the State to accomplish God’s work on earth and reverted back to a priesthood of all believers. Despite their best efforts, the reformers failed completely to recreate the New Testament model of the local church. Their failure to revert completely back to Sola Scriptura resulted in the theological fragmentation of Protestant Christianity. We saw the rise of Adventism and their re-creation of the New Testament model that emphasized discipleship and member care. We noted their aversion to the concept of settled pastors and the biblical growth they experienced as a result. We also saw the gradual departure from the biblical model to a clergy-dependent one, and the shift in evangelism methods and the lack of emphasis on discipleship and its disastrous effect on the local church and the NAD.[8] We also saw the proliferation of many diverse views on the theological concept of the Remnant and how this confusion of our identity has a direct effect on the war over the local church. We now turn our attention to understand the nature of the war at its most visceral level.

To understand the war and its contributory dynamics within the local church, we need to agree on a few things:

  • To solve the problem, we need to be convinced that it exists. We need to be relentless in our pursuit of the facts. The church in the North American Division is not moving forward and it’s not running in place. It’s falling behind.
  • We need to dispense with the idea that this fragmentation in the church can be fixed easily. What has taken decades to take root cannot be uprooted by administrative action or a weekend seminar.
  • We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.[9] One of the problems here is that vast majorities of the NAD are reading Scripture differently. To say, we need to be faithful to Scripture, means different things to different theological factions. Each faction, claims to believe what the Bible says however, they do not agree on what it is that the Bible says.”[10]
  • We need a theological method that can withstand the scrutiny of men and angels. This method must lead to theological unity at the hermeneutical level.
  • This cannot be solved by one person no matter how consecrated. It is going to take all of us working in our sphere of influence, faithfully doing our part to bring about change.

In part two of this article, we will first examine the different approaches to Scripture and theological methods to see how they can lead to competing worldviews and mutually exclusive concepts of identity, mission, and models for the local church. We will then analyze the effects of these approaches to Scripture and the different theological methods used by each faction and its resulting contribution to the fragmentation of the denomination at the local church level. We finish the series with a final look at the necessary solutions at every level of the church to return to theological unity of purpose and mission in the North American Division.


Section 4: Theological Method and a Constructing a Biblical Worldview

In this section, we will see how the presuppositions of each faction in Adventism shapes entire groups within denomination and creates divergent theological methods. In other sections of this article, we will look at several presuppositions and see how they shape views within a denomination and its local churches, which in our case is the NAD. The key to understanding how entire groups of people (theological factions) come to believe a certain way that differs widely from other groups or theological factions in the church lies in how they interpret Scripture. We will then see how that understanding of Scripture’s authority gives rise to theological methods.

Early in our history, the pioneers shared the same biblical worldview because of their primitive theological method. They set aside Christian tradition, their personal experience of the Great Disappointment, and embraced a Sola Tota Scriptura method to reading Scripture.[11] This led them to discover biblical doctrines and set those doctrines in the system of truth outlined by the Sanctuary. This system of truth and their understanding of the Three Angels’ Messages led them to embrace a worldwide mission and an organization to accomplish that mission. It was the principle of stewardship led to the formation of the organization of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. As we noted in article three, a departure from that Sanctuary-based hermeneutical articulating principle and an adoption of a Christo-centric hermeneutic (Not to be confused with “Christ-centered”) led to the beginnings of fragmentation in the church. A careful analysis of the early theological debates (post-1844-1888) will show that they predominately centered on interpretations of certain passages of Scripture but the theological method of Sola Tota Scriptura remained intact. As long as the theological method remained intact, the debates, important as they were to those involved, were limited to variations in interpretations for example the law in Galatians or the horns in the book of Daniel, etc. on the micro (exegetical) and meso (doctrinal-theological) levels. These debates rarely reached the macro-hermeneutical level to which naturally gives rise to differences in doctrinal-theological (meso level) articulations which necessarily and naturally includes the questioning or redefining of the Remnant identity of the Seventh-day Adventist church, the purpose of its organization, and the logic of its structure.

It was during the post-1888 debates, which featured several bruising theological fights over the structure of the General Conference, which later led to the reorganization of the church from 1901-1903, where cracks in the macro-hermeneutical level began to develop. The reorganization fights pitted the ‘Christ-centered’ organization model of Jones, Waggoner, and Kellogg[12] vs the pragmatic ‘mission-oriented’ organization model of Willie White, AG Daniells, and AT Robinson. But even these arguments over reorganization did not reach the level of a theological crisis of identity. Jones (personality conflicts and personal doubt regarding Ellen White’s testimonies to him), Waggoner (marital problems and panentheism), and Kellogg (pantheism) would ultimately leave the church after losing faith in Ellen White’s ministry and the leadership of the church officers for separate reasons. Still, the theological method stayed intact although a new hermeneutical articulating principle had been introduced which would radically shift the church’s foundation that was built on the Sanctuary metanarrative. It is only after 1919, that we see theological arguments leading to a questioning of the remnant identity and the organizing purpose of the Seventh-day Adventist church. A systematic analysis of the arguments in theological debates after 1919, will reveal changes in the theological method and a shift in the hermeneutical articulating principle.[13]

Earlier in the series, I briefly referenced other efforts to ‘investigate’ the One project.[14] Most of those efforts centered on the idea that these men had been “influenced” by Dr. Leonard Sweet. Some went to great lengths by delving into the One project founders’ personal lives, taking personal photos and other materials to build elaborate theories of when and how such infiltration took place in the minds of these men. However, the founders of the One project said that their theology was shaped before they went to George Fox University, rendering moot a large part of the ‘research’ mentioned above.[15] This kind of ‘research’ and the theological method used by historical Adventists is the reason why Historical Adventism has failed to meet the theological challenge of Evangelical Adventism and Progressive Adventism in the church. [16]

The central thesis of this series rejects such ‘research’ by showing that: (1) presuppositions profoundly shape theological thinking. We all have them. (2) the theological method a person employs when studying Scripture matters. From the newest member to the expert theologian, everyone employs some theological method or another when reading the Bible. Both presuppositions and theological methods deeply affect biblical hermeneutics and play an indispensable role in the outcome which is expressed in a worldview that includes theological thinking as expressed in writings and sermons and ultimately how one lives. When there are theological differences in interpretations of the same text, one can safely assume that different theological methods are at work therefore an analysis of any theological contribution should also take into consideration the presuppositions that precede the macro-hermeneutical level.

We will now look at some of the critical issues that underlie this foundational area of theology regarding Scripture’s authority. Central to understanding the issue of biblical authority are the concepts of the Biblical Canon, Sola Scriptura, and the Theological Method.

Paul wrote that all Scripture is given by the inspiration of God (2 Tim. 3:16). The logical questions that follow then are: What is Scripture? What is revelation? What is inspiration?[17] How do we determine that which we have is given by the inspiration of God? And what role does Scripture play in the construction of doctrine? Whose authority determines the rule for faith and practice? Is it the community or writings that comprise Scripture or is it the Holy Spirit, or is it arbitrary? In this article, we will build the case for using the canonical approach to Scripture and the Sola-Tota Scriptura method using an epistemic approach and a canonical approach.[18]


Understanding What Constitutes Scripture

How does one decide which books to keep in the biblical canon and which to discard? What process should we use? The questions are complex and far from settled in the Christian world. For those of us who grew up in the Seventh-day Adventist church, the Protestant Bible with its sixty-six books is the only Bible we have ever known. In fact, we don’t even think of it as the Protestant Bible. We just call it the Bible. However, there are other Bibles that large numbers of Christians use that are different from “our” Bible. The Catholic Bible contains seven extra books that they consider to be part of their biblical canon or inspired by God. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church has eighty-one books in their Bible. It may come as a surprise to some but Martin Luther tried to remove four books from the Protestant canon! He thought that the books Hebrews, James, Jude and Revelation were against the Protestant ideals of Sola Scriptura and Sola Fide.[19] Thankfully others disagreed with him and those books stayed in the Protestant canon.

Dr. John Peckham, Associate Professor of Theology and Christian Philosophy at Andrews University, writes in his book Canonical Theology: The Biblical Canon, Sola Scriptura, and Theological Method that the perspectives on this issue can be divided into two large groups: those who favor an intrinsic canon perspective (wherein God is the determiner of the scope of the canon) and the community canon approach (wherein a community determines the scope of the canon).[20] “At the heart of this debate”, he writes,

“is the vital philosophical division between those that believe that the canon is a community-determined construction (the community canon model) and those who believe that the canon is divinely appointed and thus recognized, but not determined, by any given community (the intrinsic canon model). The intrinsic canon and community canon models posit different definitions of the canon, see the nature of the canon differently, and consequently identify different functions for the canon.”[21]

We briefly look at both the community canon model and the intrinsic canon model to further understand the philosophical differences between both models as we build our overall understanding of the elements that contribute to the philosophical and theological differences in the North American Division. Dr. Peckham’s key question to ask here is, “is the canon determined by humans or by God?” [Because] the intrinsic canon model and community canon model sharply diverge regarding precisely this question, with significant theological implications.” The divide here, is not whether the community plays a role with regard to the canon but precisely what that role is, particularly regarding what makes the canon “canonical” and by whose authority is the “rule” or “standard.”[22]

The Community Canon Model

In this model, “the community determines the canon.” This tends toward defining the canon as a “collection of books deemed authoritative (and thus made canonical) by a given community.” As such, “the canon might be viewed as an extension of community authority.”[23] “The community canon view is itself split in this regard between those who believe the canon was fixed by the church at some time in the past (the ecclesial fixed canon view) and those who favor a more fluid definition of the canon as shaped by contemporary community consensus (the adaptable canon view). It is “basically a community’s paradigm for how to continue the dialogue in ever changing socio-political contexts.”[24] Despite variations regarding the fluidity and authority, within the community canon model, Peckham finds that the “common denominator of community approaches is the location of the canon-determination in the community such that the canon is defined as those books that some community makes authoritative (and thus “canonical”).[25]

 The Intrinsic Canon Model

Dr. Peckham defines the intrinsic canon as the “corpus of writings commissioned by God to be the “rule” or “standard” of Christian faith and practice.” He quotes Gerhard F. Hasel who contended that “the canon developed at the very point when the biblical books were written under inspiration.” Thus, Peckham concludes that “intrinsic canon refers to those writings that are intrinsically canonical by virtue of what the canon is as the result of divine action (i.e. via divine commission). This does not mean that the canonical writings result from exclusively divine action but that their intrinsically canonical nature is derived from the uniquely divine activity that, combined with human activity, resulted in the product of Scripture (cf. 2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Pet 1:20-21). Canonical books have three traits that distinguish them from other books: 1) The books must be divinely commissioned as prophetic and/or apostolic, 2) consistent with past “canonical” revelation, and 3) self-authenticating.[26] He finds that the thirty-nine books of the OT and the twenty-seven books of the NT do in fact meet the criteria of recognition and thus “make up the divinely commissioned canon, authoritative for all faith and practice.”[27]


The Challenge of Determining Doctrine & the Rule of Faith

In a related fashion, Peckham describes the debate over the role of the canon and community in establishing doctrine. “Some advocate the exclusive authority of the canon for all matters of faith and practice (canonical approaches) while others consider the community to be the arbiter and community in establishing doctrine and/or the final interpreter of Scripture (communitarian approaches), with a wide spectrum of opinions in between.”[28]

The number of reasons for adopting communitarian approaches to Scriptural authority are directly proportional to the number of theological methods each community endorses and thus are infinite in number. This approach logically leads to fragmentation as each community decides for itself what it considers as inspired Scripture. Most members understand this fragmentation at the denominational level and it is the reason why so many Christian denominations exist. Few understand that this fragmentation also occurs within a denomination. For this reason, when each region or local church begins to interpret Scripture using a communitarian approach, theological unity, denomination wide, is theologically impossible. This issue also has huge implications for the world church at large and its ability to make decisions and follow through on those decisions.


Why Sola Scriptura is an Important Principle

Dr. Peckham notes that, “the meaning of Sola Scriptura, varies considerably depending upon the approach to Scripture. Some advocate the “embedding of culture” into theology.[29] According to Dr. Peckham, “the meaning of the phrase Sola Scriptura varies considerably depending upon who is using it. Accordingly, it is necessary to begin with a working model that carefully defines what the principle means and does not mean.” He defines canonical Sola Scriptura as: 1) Scripture is the uniquely infallible source of divine revelation that is available to contemporary humans collectively; 2) Scripture alone provides a sufficient and fully trustworthy basis of theology; and 3) Scripture is the uniquely authoritative and final norm of theological interpretation that norms all others.

He goes on and offers four integral corollaries of canonical Sola Scriptura which guard against misapplications: 1) Tota Scriptura holds that all of Scripture together functions as the infallible source of revelation, sufficient basis of theology, and authoritative and final norm of theological interpretation (2 Tim. 3:16; cf. Matt. 4:4); 2) Analogia Scriptura means that Scripture is internally coherent, thus any Scriptural text should be understood in light of the biblical canon as a whole (Isa 8:20; Luke 24:27, 44-45); 3) Scriptural things are Spiritually discerned (1 Cor. 2:11-14) teaches that the Holy Spirit should be sought for illumination of all biblical interpretation; and 4) the primacy of Scripture recognizes that, although Scripture is the uniquely infallible source of revelation that is collectively available, it is not the only source of revelation (cf. Rom. 1:18-23; 1 Cor. 14:29).[30]

What happens when Scripture is not the only source for theology? Dr. Canale writes,

“Various interpretations of the sources of theology and the inspiration and revelation of Scripture continue to generate divergent views on the material condition of theological methodology. In turn, this diversity of opinion on the identification and nature of theological sources produces different schools of theology that generate various traditions and communities. Classical and modern theologies adopt a multiplicity of theological sources from which theological data originates. In spite of holding a high view of Scripture and inheriting the Reformation sola Scriptura principle, most evangelical theologians subscribe to multiple sources of theology. In theory, they minimize the role of extrabiblical sources as “small,” “utilitarian,” or “eclectic.” In practice, however, whether explicitly or implicitly, theologians use philosophical (ontological, metaphysical, and epistemological) and scientific (cosmological) sources to shape the hermeneutical principles of their theological method. In so doing, philosophy and science become the “guiding lights” that theologians follow in their interpretations and systematic construction of Christian doctrines. This approach lies at the foundation of the Roman Catholic theological method and, in a less overt fashion, is still operative in Protestant theological methodology. Among the sources from which Catholic and Protestant theologians draw theological data are Scripture, tradition, reason, philosophy, science, culture, and experience. Theologians consider that all these sources are, in one way or another, products of divine revelation.”[31]

Sola Scriptura vs Prima Scriptura

Dr. Canale continues, “In regard to Adventist theology, there are two competing views on the source of Christian theology. While some hold to the traditional sola Scriptura view, others hold to the notion of prima Scriptura.”[32] The sola Scriptura view maintains that Scripture alone can provide theological data. The prima Scriptura conviction maintains that Adventist theology should build its doctrines upon a plurality of sources, among which Scripture has the primary or normative role. Evangelical circles identify this plurality of sources as the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. Roman Catholic theology also accepts a plurality of theological sources. What are the consequences of Sola Scriptura and Prima Scriptura when it comes to the interpretation of Scripture and the creation of a worldview? Canale writes,

“On one hand, it is not difficult to see that when Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience are accepted as valid sources of theological data, any change in scientific or philosophical teachings becomes a change in theological data that might require changes in the hermeneutical conditions of theology. On the other hand, it is also easy to see that when Scripture alone is the source of revealed theological data, changes in science or philosophy will not alter theological reflection or understanding at the level of methodological conditions.”[33]

There is wide ‘diversity’ in the Adventist church regarding theories of revelation-inspiration however Canale concludes that

“Theologians who adhere to the “thought” or “encounter” theories of revelation-inspiration and to the Quadrilateral sources will be more likely to contemplate a harmonization between the biblical doctrine of creation and the theory of evolution and to consider such a harmonization as a positive scientific advance that Adventist theology should recognize. Theologians who believe that inspiration of Scripture reaches not only its thoughts but also its words and who hold the sola Scriptura view will be more likely to reject the theory of evolution as being incompatible with Christian teachings. Thus, the choices regarding the material condition of theological method clearly determine the coherence and viability of harmonizing biblical thought with scientific theories.”[34]

Constructing a Worldview based on Evolution?

In Progressive Adventism, Scripture is often challenged historically using textual criticism[35] and the epistemological certainty of evolutionary theory. “After reviewing alternative approaches,” (La Sierra University theologian and Professor Emeritus) Dr. Fritz Guy concludes: “Wandering around the highways and byways of recent theology, I have not encountered even one example of a serious, sustained theological argument for affirming the creation of the world in six literal days a few thousand years ago.”[36]

Guy’s statement is an excellent example of what Dr. Canale writes in his book Creation Evolution, and Theology: An Introduction to the Scientific and Theological Methods,

“When evolutionism becomes a presupposition to explain other areas of reality, it ceases to be a scientific theory and becomes a metaphysical or religious belief we accept by a leap of faith… Creation and evolution are not only competing in the scientific attempt to interpret the history of our planet, but as they elicit our assent, they become metanarratives we accept by faith and use to build our understanding of the world and of Christian theology. Each narrative generates conflicting views of the entire world of human experience. Creation and evolution are metanarratives in conflict.” [37]

“Evolutionary theory challenges much more than the deep historical-theological meaning of Gen. 1-2. It calls for a wholescale deconstruction and reinterpretation of the fundamental principles of Adventist theology and the rejection of the historical understanding of salvation as presented in Scripture. Accommodation to evolutionary history implies rejecting and replacing the theological [ground] from which Adventism originated. In turn, the community will lose the uniqueness that is its reason for existing. Adventists need to consider these points carefully before harmonizing Seventh-day Adventist beliefs with evolutionary patterns and history.”[38]

If Dr. Canale is correct and Dr. Guy is wrong then this calls into question the administrative ‘pragmatism’ at the Union-Conference levels of the church and at our institutions of higher learning that have accepted the idea that theological plurality on origins, the remnant and other mutually exclusive theological concepts can coexist in unity of purpose and mission of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

The higher criticism method,[39]theistic evolution and scientific-evolutionary approaches all fundamentally question the confidence in the trustworthiness and accuracy of Scripture. It is not sufficient to dismiss these challenges to Scripture’s authority by embracing the approach that some follow to defend historic beliefs simply because they are historic to our denomination. Nor can we fall back on the writings of Ellen White to defend Scripture as many do in Historical Adventism. Biblical Adventism needs to meet these challenges head on with the vast array of theological disciplines with the canonical approach to Scripture as their foundation. Peckham believes that our confidence in doctrines and systems should be indexed to our degree of confidence in their canonical rootedness.

Historical Adventists understand that when debating or discussing theology with Christians of other denominations only the Bible is to be used. They fail however to realize that within the Seventh-day Adventist church the principle of Sola Scriptura also applies just as well. In Historical Adventism, Scripture is often placed side-by-side with Ellen White’s writings. Often historical Adventists will say, “I read the Bible and then read Ellen White to balance my understanding of Scripture.” This view robs Scripture of its own authority to “balance” its reader’s understanding. When constructing a theology or theological argument Historical Adventists will resort to quotations from Ellen White’s writings. As anyone who is familiar with her works, one can string quotes to prove virtually anything. Few realize that in their own selection of her quotes they are putting theological and hermeneutical constructions on her writings that she never intended. Even theologically trained and highly educated Historical Adventist leaders admit to what amounts to a canonical use of her writings.[40]

During her ministry, she resisted attempts toward a canonical approach to her writings and expressly requested that individuals not use her works in polemical debates and exhorted individuals to rely on Scripture alone for their theology and theological arguments. She never equated her writings to Scripture. And like other non-canonical and yet God inspired prophets like the Prophet Nathan and others, she understood her writings to reflect Scripture and refer people back to Scripture. Her reasoning is both logical and biblical. When her writings are misused, by well-meaning individuals, they unwittingly contribute to the theological fragmentation in the denomination, as well. This epistemic misuse of Ellen White’s writings is the chief reason why Historical Adventists can never unite on anything. Paradoxically each manuscript release of her writings leads to more ‘theological’ constructs and results in ever more ‘testing truths’ which inevitably lead to division and disunity among Historical Adventists. Biblical Adventists affirm her inspiration but recognize her as a Post-NT era non-canonical prophet that God has sent to guide His people back to Scripture.

Biblical Adventism recognizes the dangers that come from the communitarian approach and thus use the intrinsic canonical approach to Scripture.[41] Biblical Adventists derive their theology and worldview using Sola Tota Scriptura because they see the fragmentation that occurs when using anything less. Prima Scriptura methods lack the safeguards that Scripture alone can provide and are subjective by nature and lead to theological fragmentation.



A critic of Sola Scriptura and the Canonical approach from the Historical Adventist faction may accuse Biblical Adventists of minimizing the prophetic calling of Ellen White. This charge can be easily refuted because biblical Adventism’s historical-cognitive model for revelation-inspiration, the Sola Scriptura method, and the canonical approach to Scripture, always leads the Biblical Adventist to accept the possibility of prophets outside the New Testament canon. Biblical Adventists recognize the role the Spirit of Prophecy plays in the end-time remnant church.[42] Biblical or Canonical Adventists affirm the prophetic calling of Ellen White because she meets the biblical tests of a prophet.[43] By using the totality of her writings on any subject, within their proper context, one can gain insights that are valuable for the Christian walk. A careful use of her writings will always lead the conscientious reader back to Scripture.[44] She upheld Scripture as our only safeguard in the time of the end and commended the Bible at her last address to the General Conference.[45] [46]

The Evangelical Adventist critic may charge the Biblical Adventist as not being true to the “Protestant Ideal.” To this charge, the Biblical Adventist will point out that throughout human history God has reserved a remnant that has stayed faithful to Scripture’s mandate. Pioneer Adventists rejected the Greek and Christian philosophical hermeneutical constructs that eclipsed Scripture which resulted in their coming out of Protestantism. Adventists hold the highest ideals of Protestantism, which include the correct conception of the Sola Scriptura method, a complete rejection of Tradition, an embrace of the Sanctuary hermeneutical articulating principle, and the Three Angels’ Messages.

The Progressive Adventist critic may say that Biblical Adventists ignore or are not intellectually honest because they refuse to engage Scripture in a scientific way. To this charge, the Biblical Adventist would show that evolution and creation both represent mutually exclusive metanarratives or worldviews. Both approaches, the scientific method and the Sola-Tota Scriptura method are rational but the data that they build their metanarratives from are different. Science builds from empiricism using nature as its data. The biblical Adventist theologian uses the Bible as his source for data.[47] This conflict of metanarratives can only be solved by the coming of Christ.

Communitarian models are not new. They are as old as the Old Testament. If communitarian model was the way to go, Peckham notes, the Bible would have endorsed it. Judging the calling of prophets using the communitarian model led Elijah to be hounded left and right for his life (1 Kings 18:17). The faith community of his day rejected Isaiah and according to tradition sawed Isaiah in half. The faith community of Jeremiah’s day rejected him and threw him into the city cistern until he was neck deep in it (Jer. 38:6) Circumstances were so dire in Ezekiel’s day regarding the reception of his message from God by his faith community that he had tonegotiate with God over His command that he use dried human excrement as part of an act to drive home an unpopular message (Eze. 14:8-15). Zachariah was thrown by his faith community leaders from the heights of the temple and his blood seeped into the temple pavement (Luke 11:51). And the Greatest example of all of course is Jesus who heard the Jewish nation reject Him saying, “We have no king but Caesar,” and “His blood be on us and on our children” (John 19:15, Matt. 27:25). Interestingly, one man followed the communitarian model and beat and arrested the followers of Christ for death and participated in the stoning of Stephen. Apostle Paul, as he was later known as, switched from communitarianism to canonical approach and changed the world (see Phil. 3 for his testimony).

Each Adventist member will at some point, in their spiritual journey, have to decide which approach to Scripture they want to take. It will be the most profound choice they will ever make and everything else will flow from that decision. Without a theological method based on Scripture alone (Sola Scriptura), hermeneutically deriving a prophetic identity based on Scripture is impossible. If we reject Sola-Tota Scriptura and its intrinsic canonical approach we implicitly accept other sources as authorities above Scripture. The communitarian approach is the end result of what the founders of the One project talked about when they recommended a “local expression of Adventism” during the Create Conference. In Bryan’s view, each region or local church even, could come up with their own Sabbath School lessons and their own concept of what their local “expression” which would presumably free them from any biblical concept of the Remnant if the local Adventist community so chooses. This view is the logical outcome of the communitarian approach to Scripture and the result of theological methods employed by Evangelical Adventism. Its effects directly mirror the inner or intra-denominational fragmentation that is so prevalent in other Christian denominations. And this is why the One Project was unable to articulate a concept of the remnant or tie their concept of mission to the understanding that the Adventist pioneers had regarding the prophetic role of the Seventh-day Adventist church, because in their view such a view of the remnant would exclude the local church from truly joining in the fellowship of the other ‘tribes’ of Christianity. In other words, a going back to Protestantism instead of a coming out of it. We now turn our attention to the theological factions and their theological methods and their effects on the war over the local church.


Section 5: The Impact of Theological Factions on the Local Church

In this section, we will look at the various local church models before turning our focus on the theological factions and their individual and combined impact on the war over the local church that is currently raging across the NAD. With a few exceptions, most Adventist churches, outside the mega Adventist centers, are not theologically diverse. They usually identify with historical Adventism or evangelical Adventism. Progressive Adventist churches are multi-generational Adventist members who are disaffected from the other two factions and usually exist exclusively within mega Adventist centers.

Ethnic Churches Local Model & Race-Based Conferences

The North American Division is the most racially and ethnically diverse division in the world. Ethnic churches and race-based conferences are also a unique feature of NAD Adventism. The Ethnic churches today are mostly Asian, South American or African however in Mrs. White’s day ‘ethnic’ churches were comprised of Swedish, Polish, Italian and other European immigrants. Most ethnic churches exist because of language impediments for first generation immigrants and the sad fact that integration in “regular” churches is dismal. Conference administrators would rather not broach this minefield and thus despite Mrs. White’s writings against divisions along ethnic lines, the practice persists. Most ethnic churches are filled with first and second-generation immigrants who value their cultural heritage and old-country social and moral mores and desire to pass their cultural identity to their children. In most ethnic churches, that I have observed, the emphasis is on culture preservation rather than evangelizing new immigrants.

The conflict between the first-generation immigrant Adventist and their US born children is present as the children have to decide between their “Americanness” versus their parent’s cultural identity. These conflicts also take place in the church life as these children desire to attend church with their friends from school while the parents want them to attend the “English” church at their ethnic church. Often these children try to straddle both worlds and however their parents lack of cultural adaptation to the United States or a mismatch of church experiences plays a profound role shaping their spirituality and religious identity. Because immigrant parents place a high value on advanced education for their children, the children attend Adventist colleges and go on to Adventist institutions for higher learning for degrees in medical, dental and allied health specialties. While at school, and away from their parents and their ethnic church, these young adults gravitate toward churches in the community that surround the Adventist University. They feel more comfortable at churches that are culturally diverse and often these churches tend to be Progressive Adventist churches. The mismatch between their “new” faith and that of their parents more “biblical” understanding of Adventism,[48] also creates distance between them. The young adults view their parent’s faith as a “cultural” phenomenon while the parents view their children’s new-found practice of Adventism as “cultural” as well. Many ethnic churches have their own camp meetings with speakers from their home countries being prominent denominational officers or other pastors. A full theological analysis of the immigrant Adventist and ethnic church ecclesiology exceeds the scope of this series however research in this area will prove to be rich with profound implications for the NAD. Compass Magazine has a series of articles with excellent analysis on race-based Adventist conferences, in the NAD.

Historical Adventist Local Church Model

Historical Adventist local church model is the most prevalent in in the North American division and predominantly based in rural areas. These churches tend to be culturally conservative and predominantly Caucasian. The liturgy is traditional worship with hymns accompanied by the piano and organ. Their financial support forms the backbone of the NAD financial prowess among the global church divisions. Most of them have at least one settled pastor because of their high tithe output. Some of these churches have pastors who also have ‘self-supporting’ or independent ministries. These pastors tend to be charismatic individuals with large followings that are division-wide, and occasionally global. Some of these churches also invite other independent ministers to present a series over the course of a weekend on topics that range from eschatology, to soteriology, and lifestyle. These independent ministers are the remnants of the pioneer itinerant preaching model however they are not attached to any conference or the formal Adventist church structure and thus lack the accountability that early pioneer preachers had. Evangelism is primarily done through proclamation based-evangelism in the form of a 21-day series that is done on a 3-year cycle. Retention numbers for historical Adventist churches is the same as the other factions, with most new converts leaving within three years.

Evangelical Adventist Local Church Model

Evangelical Adventist local churches are mostly based in Adventist mega centers as ‘university’ churches and in larger metropolitan areas. Their audiences tend to have above average education levels and are multi-generation Adventist. Most of church life in these churches revolves around programs: pathfinders, VBS, Camp meeting, Sabbath church service, prayer meeting (rarer these days). Church service tends to be planned at least one moth in advance if not more, so very little innovation or spontaneous programming occurs at these churches. The liturgy ranges from traditional to charismatic. Proclamation-based evangelism is rarely done these days and it is mostly driven by Conference-wide initiatives. The senior pastors at these churches spend most of their time fundraising for church infrastructure or programs and often have conference responsibilities as well. Most growth at these churches tends to be internal. Baptisms of children from age 9 onwards is common. Most attendees tend to be denominationally employed or Adventist hospital-based employed. 

Progressive Adventist Local Church Model

Progressive Adventist local churches are centered around the mega Adventist centers. Most of their membership is comprised of disaffected Adventist members who tend to be above average socio-economically and possess post-graduate education. Their Adventism is largely a sociological experience built around their faith community events such as game nights, beach vespers, camping trips etc. Their liturgical and worship style is mostly charismatic/Pentecostal. Their evangelism tends to center around community events such as health fairs, garbage pickup, social justice or civil organizing. Most of their Sabbath Schools are discussion-based groups where everything is discussed from the lens of culture, science, and personal experience. Sermons preached contain references to contemporary cultural events and occasionally entire series are preached on using Lord of the Rings, the Matrix, or other movies as theological vehicles for bringing “Present Truth” to the members. Their model of ecclesiology is heavily clergy dependent. The local church will often serve coffee and breakfast for the members as way to “meet the needs” of the members.

Adventist Mega Center Ecclesiology

If you are like me, and you live in an Adventist “ghetto,” you can experience the entire NAD theological gamut in a single Sabbath morning, by church hopping. One can attend “early church” at the local university church and then head over to a Historical Adventist church for a robust Sabbath School discussion and then attend second service at a Progressive Adventist church and finish off with potluck at an ethnic church. Most young adults in Adventist mega centers, ‘church hop’ regardless of their theological persuasion. This church hopping culture creates instability for the local churches and it is difficult to gain commitment from the members for anything. Discipleship and evangelism are often the biggest problems because of the low commitment factor. Clergy dependence is the other significant influential factor on this specialized Adventist experience. The young adults that go from church to church across the theological divide are often aware of the theological differences between these expressions of Adventism. If they are historical Adventists, they tend to view the Evangelical Adventist churches as ‘lukewarm’ and ‘Laodicean’ and Progressive Adventist churches as “liberal” or “Babylon” and their own church as “Adventist.” If they are Evangelical Adventist, they tend to view their own church as “traditional,” Historical Adventist churches as “conservative” or “fanatical” and Progressive Adventist churches as “different” or “Progressive.” If they are Progressive Adventist, in the rare event that they attend an Evangelical Adventist church, it will be for their graduation or their friend’s graduation, otherwise they will avoid the “extreme” historical Adventist churches and find their own Progressive “faith community” to be the ideal expression of Christianity and currently consistent with their own spiritual experience.

We now turn our attention to the theological factions in the North American Division to understand at depth how these factions are waging a war over the local churches for the very soul of Adventism. We will look at the combined impact of the factions at the local church level. Many members understand that there are variations in North American Adventism when it comes to theology and practice however few are aware of how their own faction contributes to the problem. The largest faction in the local church is a non-theological one. Cultural Adventists take on the theological characteristics that match their local church or the geographical area they are in. Historical Adventists represent the most widespread faction in the church existing in the majority rural areas and around big cities. Evangelical Adventists are well-represented in the church’s educational, healthcare, and administrative levels. They primarily exist around Adventist mega centers but are diversely spread throughout the North American division like Historical Adventists. Progressive Adventism is the smallest theological faction and the highest educated per capita. Biblical Adventism is mostly centered outside of North America however it has influential members in administration, educational centers, healthcare, and among the highly educated laity in the NAD and the General Conference. For additional reference please refer to article three in this series where I discuss the hermeneutical articulating principle for each of the theological factions in Adventism. All these churches whether they are wholly comprised of one theological faction or split between several, contribute toward the fragmentation in the NAD. We now deconstruct each theological faction and see the inner logic that contributes to the overall dynamics within the local church and the NAD.

Factions in North American Division

Non-Theological Faction: Cultural Adventists

Cultural Adventists represent the largest non-theological faction in the Seventh-day Adventist church. For Dr. Clifford Goldstein, editor of the Sabbath School Quarterly at the General Conference, the reasons why they don’t align with any theological faction is unknown.[49] According to Pastor James Coffin, they tend to have a sociological connection rather than a theological connection to the church, they are “conformists.”[50] They faithfully or habitually attend services on Sabbath week after week, with their main involvement being classic “pew warming.” Their worship and liturgical preferences tend to reflect the local church they are attending. They often joined the church because of a spouse or while they were having a traumatic life experience, and the kindness of members keep them coming back week after week. Their expression of faith presents to the other factions a challenge and an opportunity. Most theological factions are set in their ways and are difficult to convince otherwise, however this group is open to considering and adopting the views if they can reconcile the irreconcilable mutually exclusive factional theological points of view in their minds.

Theological Faction #1: Historical Adventism

As noted in the third article of this series, Historical Adventism has a rich history within Adventism and some of their positive contributions to the church must be recognized here. First and foremost, most Historical Adventists know their Bible and can give a strong defense of the 28 fundamental beliefs. They are equally able to recall every major event in the history of Adventism and show a firm grasp on central tenets of our faith. They have a high view of Spirit of Prophecy and hold Mrs. White’s writings in supreme regard. Often you will find that they have read most if not all of her books and many of the manuscript releases as well. The theological leaders of this faction and influencers have built a strong repository of knowledge from Ellen White’s writings and construct their theology using her writings along with the Bible. They believe deeply in the health message and are well-able to prescribe effective natural remedies that can reverse many lifestyle related diseases. When they do evangelism, which features a thorough introduction to the faith, it is usually through the 21-day series using the informational model and aimed at converting non-Adventist Christians. Their converts can be turned into regular contributors to the church through tithes and offerings if they are brought into a historical Adventist local church that has strong connections to ASI and the NAD.

A ‘Church within a Church’ Movement: Historical Adventism operates simultaneously as a reform movement and also as a ‘church within a church’ movement. It seeks to reform practices and theological trends that it believes have removed the church from its core focus of producing a people who keep the commandments of God and have the faith of Jesus (Rev. 14:12). Knowing how they arrive at Revelation 14:12 is the key to understanding this important and influential theological faction in our church. This passage and text is understood from the interpretive lens of ML Andreasen’s Last Generation Theology. Andreasen held a theodicy view of the final generation in which they would achieve victory over sin (perfection) and in doing so prove to the angels and un-fallen beings in the universe Satan’s charge, that God’s law could not be kept, as being false. This supreme test would bring about the close of the Great Controversy between Christ and Satan culminating in the Second Coming of Jesus.

Andreasen integrated the theodicy views of many of the Adventist pioneers and his understanding of Mrs. White’s writings, to create his theology of the Last Generation. While many in this faction are familiar with the central concepts of his now famous theology, few are cognizant of the conditions that led to his creation of it. Fewer still, recognize the effects of his theology on the dynamics of the local church.

Historicist-based Prophecy Interpretation: When Mrs. White passed away in 1915, it marked the end of an era. The church had never been without her prophetess and it struggled to cope with the magnitude of the loss. The first-generation pioneers of the movement were dying by the day or had already passed on to their rest in the last decade of her life. Many in Mrs. White’s day were confident that she would not see death but would be alive at Jesus’ coming. This was until, she received a message from God that she too would sleep in death before His coming. Her passing combined with World War I produced a strain on the church.

Uriah Smith had built his entire eschatology from his understanding, complete with predictions, from Daniel 11. World War I, smashed to pieces his theory of the central role that Turkey would play at the end of time. Andreasen sought to answer the question of the ‘delay’ and he refined his answer over two decades to what is now known as the ‘Last Generation Theology.[51]

Central Pillars of Last Generation Theology: Last Generation theology is built on three main presuppositions: the post-fall (fallen) nature and humanity of Christ, the possibility of victory over sin, and the need for God to be vindicated by a people who prove once and for all that His law can be kept, through a combination of God’s help and the sanctified human will, in the presence of the watching universe without a mediator.

Any attempt to critically analyze his works brings about a sharp reaction from historical Adventists. Decades of fighting theological wars over the Sanctuary doctrine, grace, justification, atonement, and other aspects of soteriology, have hardened historical Adventists and they have come to consider the defense of his theology to be the defense of the very essence of Adventism. To many of them, a discussion regarding the theological method that is central to the beliefs that make up Last Generation Theology is tantamount to a rejection of the Bible and Spirit of Prophecy. The defensive reaction is as swift as it is reflexive. Charges of being ‘soft’ on sin, denying the prophetic calling of Ellen White, and a ‘rejection’ of the Sanctuary message form the frontline of defense. Historical Adventists believe that Mrs. White was inspired by the Holy Spirit just as Paul, Peter, and other writers of the Bible were. Biblical Adventists would agree to that assertion. Mrs. White never equated her writings to be at the level of the biblical canon. However, while in theory Historical Adventists uphold Scripture as the highest authority, in practice, their theological method shows that they give Ellen White’s writings an epistemic value that is equivalent to Scripture. Thus, they, as Dr. Davidson put it, “give lip service to Sola Scriptura.” The defensive reaction from Historical Adventists is not without some merit because Evangelical Adventism has long sought to redefine the nature of sin by putting a greater emphasis on the nature and presence of it, revised the view on the pre-fall nature of Christ, and emphasized justification at the cross at times over sanctification and atonement through the mediatory role of Christ in the Heavenly Sanctuary.

How Historical Adventism Effects the Local Church

Use of Ellen White’s Writings to do Theology: Because historical Adventism has such a high view on Ellen White’s writings, and her writings are increasingly available to anyone who wants to read them, it is easy to develop a theological point from a collection of her quotations on virtually anything. Anyone can put in a few keywords and search her writings and compile quotations aligned with their own views to prove a point. Often when it is pointed out that those quotations are ripped from their context, historical Adventists equate this with a ‘rejection’ of Mrs. White, and therefore a rejection of the Holy Spirit. Often these quotes, while valuable in their original context, are removed from their context and arranged to present a view that Mrs. White did not intend. Because most of their theology is constructed through the writings of Ellen White, it is impossible for them to engage with individuals who do not believe in her writings. One has to come to an acceptance of her writings, and then accept their theological constructions built from her writings to understand what Adventism is.

Historical Adventistism Remnant Model (Sinless Perfection & the 144,000):Historical Adventists see themselves like Enoch and Elijah preparing for translation. While many historical Adventists have moved past the issue of the literal number of the 144K, some still adhere to the literal interpretation of Revelation 14:6-12. Regardless of their differences, both groups in historical Adventism combine ML Andreasen’s exposition of Revelation 14, with Mrs. White’s numerous statements on the non-transferability of character, the importance and possibility of victory over sin[52] to build an austere ‘survival-mode’ of Adventism.

In this view, everything and everybody is a threat to you and your salvation. You have to set up barriers to sin so that you can “see” sin coming a mile away and be prepared to summon your will power to battle it. Thus, everything around you is potentially a threat to your place in the last generation. This threat-matrix evaluation system leads many who interact with Historical Adventists to view them as cold and insular.

This threat-matrix evaluation mentality gives rise to a potent influence in the North American local church: the independent ministry.


Independent Ministry “Watchmen” & the “Sin-Threat Matrix”: Many independent (self-supporting) ministers create niche ministries and go from local church to local church in the NAD. Often, they start out as apprentices to older more experienced men who have a bigger brand name and gradually work to the point where they too have an established presence in the local churches. Professional expertise in the subjects being presented varies widely due to the non-traditional training background of the independent minister.[53] Some develop relationship ministries, others develop “back to the country” ministries, and still others develop ministries around specialized theological topics such as eschatology (Daniel & Revelation), soteriology, or revival ministries.

The Independent Ministry Model: The independent minister gains entrance into a local church through an influential member who picks up their book or increasingly nowadays watches their videos on Social Media. Once they arrive at the local church, they preach 6-8 sermons on a weekend, and sell their books and materials afterwards to earn enough to make a living. Those that are well established, will announce on social media their itinerary and it is not uncommon for the local church to experience a ‘surge’ of believers who travel as far as 50-100 miles to hear “Present Truth.” These speakers often preach the same series at church after church, weekend after weekend, and have their delivery and content polished to perfection. The ‘regular’ pastor cannot compete with such ‘perfection.’

Because they are often competing with other independent ministries for the same number of churches who are open to such speakers, they have to differentiate and establish their “unique selling point” against that of another independent minister. It is a zero-sum game. Either they are invited to churches and they quickly establish urgency in the minds of the members regarding their topic and sell materials at the end of the weekend series or they and their family will starve. Enormous pressure, is therefore put on the independent minister, to present information in such a way as to create a thirst in the mind of the member that can only be quenched by buying the materials on sale after the series is ended. The member then adds the materials to their ‘threat-matrix’ system so that they can see this latest ‘spiritual danger’ coming at them a mile away. Often the member does not have the time to really study the materials in any organized fashion or depth because the next weekend another speaker is ready to present yet another ‘testing Truth’ or ‘threat’ that they have to be vigilant about. And the cycle repeats itself.

The effect on the local church is tremendous. First, members contrast these articulate speakers (who are preaching the same sermon series for the 52nd time) with their pastor who has to come up with a new sermon every week. Second, the theological nature of the presentations is manifestly skewed towards sensationalistic topics, which creates in the mind of the member a state of perpetual urgency that is unsustainable. Third, members develop a strong affinity to these independent ministers rather than to their local church, and thus “bunny hop” from church to church to hear these speakers. Members transfer to these independent ministry pastors the need to do theology and theological research, and are thus more destitute than ever regarding their ability to discern Scripture for themselves. Fourth, the local church cannot adequately train and equip new members in any meaningful fashion if week after week the members’ attention is fixed to obscure quotations from EGW manuscripts and prophetic interpretations to build theological constructs that are in fact conspiracy theories. And lastly, fulfilling the mandate of the Great Commission for discipleship is impossible if each member is for himself or herself, and every person views the other as a potential spiritual threat to their salvation.

That the greatest effect of these ministries’ theology is on the local church is logically manifested in several ways: Loss of confidence in the church administration, loss of confidence in accredited institutions of higher learning, and trust in the independent minister.

Loss of Confidence in the Church Administration: The first great problem with historical Adventism’s ecclesiological model is that they have no need for the denomination’s organization and structure. They have no incentive to participate in it, other than to constantly critique it and their independent ministers raise millions in donations and sales while doing it.[54] 

Because these ministries are independent, they resist any attempts at accountability whether it is theological, financial, or personal in nature. Thus, they are free to attack, without the burden of providing any verification of their claims. And when they sense that the members are ‘saturated’ with the content on a particular issue, or they are confronted regarding their claims they simply and quietly ‘move on’ to another topic. While the pioneer Adventist model of the itinerant ministry had theological accountability built into the system, the historical Adventist model does not have that theological accountability in place because it exists outside the Adventist system. When preachers in this faction take a deep dive into fanaticism or have a moral fall, there is no one to stop them until the conference or division steps in and blocks their access to the local churches. Often the church administration moves too slowly or is incapable of coordinating its countermeasures across the NAD and new theological heresies gain a foothold in the local churches. And even when the church administration does take active measures, often these measures are spun to members as the church being “papal” leading to further erosion in confidence.

Loss of Confidence leads to Lack of Involvement: When the member hears about all these important (in the view of the independent minister) theological differences that are not being ‘addressed’ by the church administration, they begin to lose faith in the structure and organization of the Seventh-day Adventist church. Often as this support slips, so does involvement at the local church level which also manifests itself in tithes and offerings being diverted to these ministries that are “actually preaching the Truth.” Sometimes members become ‘evangelists’ of these independent ministers and travel great lengths to camp meetings, GYCs and the General Conference Session and other events to pass out literature, DVDs, and other materials to fellow Adventist members. Evangelism is redefined as converting people within the Seventh-day Adventist church to a ‘movement within a movement’ to become part of the “7000 who have not bowed their knees to Baal.”

Loss of Confidence in the Seminary: Young historical Adventist men look at the prominent leaders in this faction and see them successfully bringing in millions of dollars and rightly ask themselves why they should be “stuck earning $40K a year” when they can have the “freedom” to say what they really need to say and do ministry like they want to.

Assessment of Historical Adventism

Lack of Metrics for Gauging Success: Due to the transient nature of these ministries, it is difficult to quantify or qualify the results the local church gains from their efforts. Even if these ministers are providing a good service to the local church (I’ve attended some very useful seminars) it is hard for them to track those results over a long period of time. Thus, the local church never quite knows if the ‘training’ they received was useful and helped them in their goal of fulfilling the Great Commission. So many local churches are struggling for cash that they justify these weekend events purely on the basis of the financial spike they get from the ‘surge’ that attends for the day.

Loss of Talented & Consecrated Young People: In the days of the pioneers, “calling to the ministry” was defined and measured by the prospective minister’s ability to raise up a church in an un-entered area. Today success in Historical Adventism is largely measured in how many people came up for the final appeal with little thought or planning given for follow-up. On another note, success is also determined by the financial support the ministry gets. For every successful independent minister, there are tens if not hundreds, who are deemed to have failed simply because they were unable to attract the attention of members and convince them to part with their hard-earned money. Alone, destitute, and unable to find any gainful employment elsewhere in the church, these souls are lost to the church at large. The saddest part is that no one in the faction is looking for them. Everybody is focused on the next threat on the horizon and busy working on perfectly reproducing Christ’s character in themselves in order to hasten His Coming.

Prospects for Success in Fixing NAD Problems: A serious attempt must be made to engage them on the grounds of theology, eschatology, soteriology, and ecclesiology. The prospects that Historical Adventism will contribute towards fixing problems in the NAD is low. Their anti-organizational nature coupled with their strong reactions to Evangelical, Progressive and Biblical Adventism makes any bridge-building efforts impossible without dealing with their theological differences with the church. Any attempt to fix the local church in North American Adventism will fail unless the conferences and the local churches come to grips with historical Adventism and its austere individualistic brand of ecclesiology.

Often Historical Adventists will defend their ecclesiological approach and their independent minister circuit as the only theological defense against Evangelical Adventism. Any suggestions for reform are quickly brushed aside or minimized because the “real problems in the church” exist in the other factions. For decades now, Evangelical Adventism has been in a ‘war’ against Historical Adventism and the fallout has been a boon for Progressive Adventism. Biblical Adventism needs to distinguish itself apart from Historical Adventism and directly confront Evangelical Adventism. We now turn to Evangelical Adventism.


Theological Faction #2: Evangelical Adventism

Evangelical Adventism developed alongside Historical Adventism as we saw in the third article of this series. So much of Evangelical Adventism is a reaction to Historical Adventism’s perfectionistic phase of the 1950s and 60s that it is somewhat hard to distinguish its distinct contributions to Adventist ecclesiology.

Evangelical Adventism like historical Adventism contains diverse strands of its iterations in Adventism that range from fundamentalism to post-foundationalism. Evangelical Adventism’s ecclesiology differs from Historical Adventism in that where Historical Adventism is individualistic in nature Evangelical Adventism is communal in nature. It’s community-based expression of Adventism however is also individualistic or ‘congregational’ for reasons that I will explain shortly. 

Central Theological Pillars of Evangelical Adventism: Evangelical Adventism’s Christo-centric hermeneutical articulating principle binds them with the larger protestant movement. While historical Adventism sees itself as a clarion call to go back to a more pristine version of Adventism, evangelical Adventism seeks to return Adventism to a more pristine form of Protestantism. They view the eschatological basis for Adventism to be in error and the sanctuary doctrine to be a construct of a literalist hermeneutic of the horse and buggy age. Armed with a more inclusive view of the remnant they view their main task is to reconnect Adventism to the other “tribes” in Christianity. Others have noted this about the One project which I have mentioned in previous articles in this series.


How Evangelical Adventism Effects the Local Church

Towards a Post-Foundationalist View of Scripture: While true post-foundationalist Evangelical movements in Adventism are admittedly rare, the view that the local “community” decides what “Adventism is for themselves” is a concept that is gaining strength particularly in the North American Division. This view borrows from Progressive Adventism its deep skepticism of Scripture and whether it contains the Word of God. Using Prima Scriptura method and the Communitarian approach for interpreting Scripture, they combine multiple sources of authority to judge Scripture’s claims. Evangelical Adventism in its current form isn’t trending fast enough yet towards post-foundationalism to cause alarm among Biblical Adventists. But there are some key indicators that are somewhat easier to qualify and quantify. We note them here:

A Proposed Redefinition of the Theology of the Remnant’s Impact on Evangelism: Various attempts have been made to establish Adventism on a different basis than biblical theology. To claim a biblical mandate for existence is to be “arrogant” and “divisive.” These attempts at redefining the Adventist identity include sociological views that merely see Adventism as a subset of a larger group of apocalyptic movements that began in the mid 19th century and it has now “matured” to a “respectable” denomination. Others have sought to downplay Adventism’s identity because in their view it hinders the “work of the gospel.”

A common way to de-emphasize the remnant concept within this faction is to claim that pioneer Adventists were “rabidly anti-Catholic” and interpreted Revelation 14:1-3 from a 19th century lens and victims of the anti-Catholic, anti-immigration movement of their day that opposed immigration of Irish citizens during the Great Famine. This charge has deep implications for Adventism that manifests itself in the areas of theology, discipleship and evangelism, organization, worship, among other areas of ecclesiology. If Adventism was susceptible to regional and national bias and read into their interpretations of Scripture those biases then according to them our faith must be “cleansed” of such xenophobic views. In fact, our theology must then be cleansed of other cultural phobias too. Our hermeneutic then becomes a reflection of the cultural and intellectual “progress” around us and people are attracted to our denomination because we are at the forefront of such progress. Thus, it may be a “crisis” and a hindrance of “mission” to some if our denomination is viewed as being “backward” regarding cultural or human progress.

Evangelism is viewed as “sheep” stealing, and the prophetic emphasis is minimized as “exclusionary.” If everyone who is a “churched” is viewed as already been “saved” because of the knowledge of Christ’s death on the cross then what need do we have to invite them into “our tribe” when their “tribe” may be some other protestant denomination? Therefore, Evangelical Adventist churches would rather engage in community organizing or humanitarian work rather than have a conversation about why God is calling out those who will, through faith in His Word, become his sheep out of Catholicism, Protestantism and other world religions. 

Discipleship: Belonging before believing?: As we’ve noted elsewhere in this series, a common attribute of Evangelical Adventism is to focus on belonging and then believing in their paradigm of discipleship. The prospective disciple of Christ must feel like the belong before they commit to the truth. This puts truth on the level of impulse rather than a rational intellectual commitment. It has vast implications for the local church. Commitment is redefined as attendance and discipleship is redefined as participation in church programs. Like historical Adventism, living faith becomes an information transfer model. In this model, all a believer needs to know is Jesus. “Who you know is more important that what you know.” This shift towards knowing Jesus as a Person is born out of good intention; historically it served as a counter-balance to historical Adventism’s strong emphasis on doctrinal belief systems. However, as we looked at in section I, knowledge regarding Christ and mere belief in Him is not sufficient for discipleship. The disciple is also called to walk in the footsteps of her Master. She is called to be obedient to the truth. Paul understood the relationship between obedience and faith to be intrinsic to being a follower of Christ and His teachings.

Redefinition of Adventist Structure and Organization: As the remnant concept and the prophetic identity of the church is erased from the local church, the need to support a global organization is seen as a hindrance to the local expression of Adventism. Churches become resistant to due process and chafe at policies regarding participation, money, and other aspects of church polity. As Pastor Alex Bryan suggested, community becomes the overarching emphasis of these congregations and the sense of a global mission fades from the view. Pastors believe Adventist doctrines with their minds but follow evangelical practices with their hearts.

Worship & Liturgical Practices: Evangelical Adventist pastors will tell you that between the years of 1950 and 2017, the world changed. Secularism is rampant and with the rise of technology, attention spans are increasingly fleeting. Thus, there is a need, in their minds, to create and “package” as Dr. Canale writes, the church to attract the secular crowd. Therefore, these pastors divide what they consider “essentials of Christianity” from “non-essentials” and package the “non-essentials” in a secular package to attract secular audiences to the sacred “spiritual” content of Christianity.[55] Doctrines and beliefs of the church are pushed aside for the Gospel. “Worship becomes central and new cultural forms become the chosen tools to call multitudes to “experience” the gospel through emotional excitement. “Ministerial pragmatism replaces biblical truth.” Whatever works is seen as what the “Holy Spirit” wants for the church, even if this contradicts biblical teachings and practice. He continues, “they are convinced that to reach a new secular audience, the Charismatic-entertainment model of “worship” is the solution with Willow Creek and Saddleback Church as guides.[56] Consciously or unconsciously, many are joining the Charismatic movement and bringing it into the church’s self-consciousness and mission. As a result, they advocate joining the new “spiritual ecumenicity” sweeping all Christian denominations.[57]

Canale describes that in an overwhelming number of our Adventist churches,

“A new “sacrament” mediating presence of the Holy Spirit is the popular beat or rock music. Music then replaces the Word. Concerts replace preaching. Feeling replaces mission. Spirituality replaces obedience. Religion becomes a mechanically induced existentially spiritless experience in the midst of spirited shouting and external expressions of joy. As a result, Bible study and personal commitment to biblical truth is disappearing. From the consciousness and imagination of Evangelicals in general and new generations in particular.”[58]


The road to fixing the problems in the North American Division goes directly through this faction. Biblical Adventists need to directly confront and engage this faction using the canonical approach to Scripture as their basis for theological discussions. Evangelical Adventists need to provide answers to the church at large regarding their views on soteriology, so that the church at-large can decide whether their going back to Protestantism is in the long-term interests of the world church’s mission or not. Ministries like the One project and pushback from administrative entities regarding accountability at universities and union-conferences must be engaged on the merits using the vast array of solutions from administrative, to theological, to pastoral. Their theological hermeneutical incompatibilities with Adventism are second-to-none and their Prima Scriptura method is being exported overseas through institutions of higher learning. Soon biblical Adventists will have to deal with growth of evangelical Adventism with a local ‘Muslim,’ ‘Hindu’ and other world religion and ‘cultural’ flavors. The NAD denomination’s primary school theological instruction is completely based on Protestant evangelical Christianity. It is only a matter of time before this generation of Evangelical Adventists grow up and begin to supplant the current Adventist identity with something directly built from Protestantism.[59] See the note below for an assessment of the One project which was produced by Evangelical Adventism.[60]

Theological Faction #3: Progressive Adventism

Introduction: Progressive Adventism is a faction of Adventism that has abandoned the Sola Scriptura principle and the resultant hermeneutical articulating principle from which Adventism sprang.[61] It has replaced it with the multiple sources approach on which Roman Catholic and Protestant theologians constructed their theological views. They no longer understand Christianity and the world from Scripture. Instead, they attempt to understand Scripture from contemporary science and culture.[62] For this group, Dr. Canale writes, “progress” means adapting the Adventist “faith” (doctrines and biblical teachings) to modern science and contemporary culture. This faction of Adventism emerged around large institutions and has a high concentration of college and university-trained believers.[63] While the church has formally addressed Evangelical Adventist Dr. Desmond Ford’s rejection of the Sanctuary doctrine, it has yet to address Progressive Adventism’s principle theological architect, Dr. Fritz Guy’s views on the nature of revelation and inspiration and his departure from the Sola-Tota Scriptura principle that undergirds Adventism’s theology.

How Progressive Adventism Effects the Local Church

Progressive Adventism’s Call for “Intellectual Honesty”: Progressive Adventists seem to consider that the stark incompatibility that exists between their way of thinking and Biblical Adventism does not endanger the future of the church. On the contrary, they think their contribution is indispensable for the very survival of Adventism in contemporary society. They are committed to redeeming Adventism from its humble intellectual beginnings and its nineteenth-century mistakes.”[64] Progressive Adventism’s theological views and that of Biblical Adventism’s theological views stem from deep intellectual and religious convictions and Canale believes that it is “unlikely that further reflection will integrate them in one harmonious theological system.” 

Community Trumps Theology: Progressive Adventists view community as primary over theological thinking.[65] Canale writes that according to them “theological divisions should not threaten the unity of the church because unity does not depend on theological understanding but on the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit generating communitarian love. They reason that since love is all-inclusive, it should be enough to build unity among all Adventist believers – no matter how incompatible their theological views may be. On this basis, there is little motivation to examine, evaluate, or reject divergent theological views in the light of biblical thinking.

Worship Model: They share their worship model with Evangelical Adventism. More and more their churches reflect less of Adventism and more of a non-denominational experience. One can attend their services and participate in “discussion groups” that “intersect” at the crossroads of philosophy, culture, science and “faith” and never feel the need to open the Bible because according to their multiple-source matrix, truth is found in all those sources. It isn’t uncommon to hear entire sermon series preached using a movie or a TV show as the theological backdrop in a progressive leaning church. Scripture is interpreted using innumerable hermeneutical approaches that produce mutually exclusive interpretations. The community’s faith experience (a present truth for them) replaces the pillars of the church according to Canale’s analysis of Dr. Fritz Guy’s book, Thinking Theologically.[66]

Re-Interpretation of Ellen White: Along with their commitment to reinterpret Scripture from a more intellectually “honest” approach, they are equally committed to bring to the knowledge of the church the humanness of Mrs. White’s visions and dreams. In their view, Ellen White like Bible writers of old, saw visions but lacked the knowledge modern science and other tools to correctly interpret what she saw. Thus, God inspired her thoughts but her published counsels reflect her culture and times and their relevance to our more “advanced” society is limited. Any relevance or impact of her counsels to our time must pass through the prism of science, culture, tradition among other things to determine if they are valid. While Biblical Adventists will readily accede to a careful evaluation of Ellen White’s writings and their use, they differ in their understanding of Ellen White’s inspiration from that of the Progressive faction. Progressive Adventists reject every claim to inspiration of Ellen White that conflicts with their source of present truth (science, culture, tradition etc.). Thus, her writings on the six-literal day creation, or her upholding of Scripture above science and her view of the Sanctuary doctrine as being inspired from God, are all rejected because her view is outdated, and present truth progresses at the pace of culture and science. What they do hold to are her statements on the progression of truth and the openness of Adventism to accept new light. They accept her call to judge that new light and progression of truth from the standard of God’s Word and do so using the multiple sources matrix as their interpretative tools to arrive at their understanding of truth. They reject any claims of other factions as being superior or more “honest” regarding the Bible because in their view the multiple sources they use do not obscure the meaning of Scripture but enhance it.

Deep Skepticism Towards the General Conference Administration: Progressive Adventism sees almost every policy, initiative, or attempt at accountability or theological unity as a centralization of power and an existential threat against the essence of Adventism by the General Conference administration.[67] Through their forums, in local churches, and publications, they broadcast a message of deep skepticism regarding the leadership of the church. Some of them are employed in tenured positions at Adventist universities, or outside entities thus they are immune from removal from their positions of influence. Their theology of local church naturally leads them to embrace a congregational style of governance that is philosophically and theologically derived from their community-based interpretation of Scripture. In this view, every community can hold radically differing beliefs on matters of faith and theology and still lay claim to the title of Adventist. They reject any attempt at theological unity because it is antithetical to their guiding principle of “diversity.”


Progressive Adventism with its theistic evolution and deep-time evolution-based worldview is completely at odds with the rest of the Seventh-day Adventist church. The church can only engage constructively with this faction through humanitarian efforts but even these efforts may clash with the church’s theological presuppositions for action and the social justice platform that Progressive Adventists espouse. Because of their focus on social justice as their “evangelism” tool, it is a crisis for them to see that the church has not “evolved” into the 21st century with the rest of culture and society to fully embrace homosexuality, transsexualism, and other causes.

Given the evident incompatibility, many thoughtful leaders and scholars have asked if Progressive Adventism can theologically justify its place in the denomination. The answer seems to lie around the parable of the wheat and the tares. Collegial efforts in academia to bridge the chasm and personal outreach seem to be the only viable options with this faction. In the arena of Science, Biblical Adventists need to critically engage in the philosophy of science, theoretical physics, and biological sciences to create alternative scientifically-valid theories that others can build upon. However we note that a complete resolution of creation-evolution is impossible this side of eternity. 

Summary: The Critical Role and Importance of the Local Church

Where We Are

We have embedded insurgents in our local churches, our schools, and even in our administration. These insurgents for reasons best known to them have either given up on our faith or have embraced a different theological method that is not based on the sola Scriptura principle. They have convinced us that to remove them is a betrayal of Adventism and that the collateral damage would be catastrophic. However, how much more catastrophic can it get after losing more than double the Jewish holocaust? Fifty years from now, if we continue in the same way, we will never accomplish the mission that God has revealed to us through His word that was the basis of our organizing in the first place. Fifty years from now, we will register losses in the tens of millions as this contagion spreads to other divisions and they begin to use dangerous applications of prima Scriptura, to integrate their local culture, science and traditions of other religions into their theology and build on other foundations than the one our pioneers started on. They too will begin to produce different types of Adventists who will live to fight theological wars and their local churches will bleed members. The same conflicts in our higher levels of structure will be repeated there with the same level of emotion and intensity as members will come to view their administration as the enemy of progress and the agents of division. Even as we speak, students graduating from our seminaries here are taking jobs in other seminaries in the world and replicating the theological DNA in the church leaders of today and tomorrow. They are sowing the seeds of division that will one day produce a bitter harvest. It isn’t only the organized work but the irregular work or independent ministers who are gaining access to hearts and minds across the world through social media, satellite TV, missionary efforts, and the printed page. Multitudes there are also learning to distrust church administrators and accredited education in general. The thing about this war is that it is asynchronous and amorphous. It does not discriminate by age, sex, national origin or even theological faction.

How We Got Here

Some may shudder at the description of the future given above and retreat to the relative comfort in the knowledge that Christ is still leading this church. That He is leading is true. However, they tend to think of His leadership of the pioneers rather than His leadership from the 1960s till now. They think that His leadership insulates the church from the consequences of its own choices. They sincerely believe that they can explain away Scripture’s plainest commands on tithe and not experience the ‘locusts’ of failed business models. They fervently believe that “this world cannot get more evil, than it is currently” forgetting that the 20th century saw more efficient killing than most centuries combined going back to 4004 BC. They conveniently forget that 13 million Adventists or 43 out of every 100 Adventists baptized into the church are gone but still believe in our message in spite of our failure to love them in Christ. It is easier to write them off as the weak, the ungodly, and those ‘predestined’ to stumble rather than do the easy work of winning back. Easy because data shows that they would return if they felt someone cared for them. Because of our failure to follow Scripture’s guidance regarding member care, biblical discipleship, and local church ecclesiology we have experienced the same losses as ‘Babylon’ and yet we run to copy Babylonian methods of worship and church. We forget that the principle of stewardship involves not only seeking those who are lost, but preserving tender lambs from theological wolves in sheep’s clothing present in our schools and our local churches. We embraced the abolitionist movement in our infancy and refused to march in war against those whom Christ died to save and now we celebrate our “diverse” race-based conferences. Our conference liberty departments believe in separation of church and state while our members believe in church in state.

How to Move Forward

The local church is the basic unit or the foundation of the Seventh-day Adventist church. It is at the local church that members are trained and equipped for ministry and service. It is also where the majority representation for delegates at each succeeding level of the church organization originate. The local church is ground zero for the war. Delegates vote their conscience and their beliefs at every constituency session including the General Conference Session. These votes translate into the direction the church must go for the next five years. These votes also refine the collective belief statements of the church. It is vitally important that the delegates understand the issues at stake and base their decisions on Scripture. Here the canonical approach to Scripture and the theological method using Sola Scriptura all come into play. If delegates do not have a clear understanding of what our prophetic calling is and what are Remnant identity is then which way will they vote for the church to go forward?

The local church produces every generation of Adventists. As theological factions gain strongholds in the local churches, different kinds of Adventists are created. Each Adventist has a particular worldview that guides their thinking and their approach to fulfilling the Great Commission. With conflicting views, any unity in action is impossible because mutually exclusive interpretations of Scripture give rise to mutually conflicting actions, votes, and support. What has taken decades to take root will not be easily changed.

Any rational person looking at the different factions in Adventism will realize that the biblical discipleship we looked at in the first part of this article, is impossible when half of the church believes in a literal creation and the global flood described in Genesis, while one fourth or more of the church does not. One fourth of the church believes in the remnant as being the last generation with their victory over sin being the central event in bringing an end to the Great Controversy. Worship, lifestyle, values, principles, philosophical differences that are rooted in fundamentally different approaches to Scripture are the leading cause for theological conflict in our local churches. The apathy, neglect, clash of purpose, all take their toll on the members.

The only way to end this war is to reintroduce Sola Scriptura and the Canonical approach to Scripture in the NAD. This canonical approach to Scripture is the hallmark of biblical Adventists and it is the basis upon which the Adventist remnant identity is built, defended, and experienced in the life of the believer. Biblical Adventism needs to build on the foundation that the pioneers started on, using the Sanctuary as its hermeneutical articulating principle with the Bible being the rule of the faith and the standard by which all reforms must be judged in our church.


Section 6: The Hard Thing About Hard Things 


In this section, I will cover some of the solutions towards resolving this conflict. Most of the solutions here are unexciting. The hard thing about change is that it doesn’t take place over night. And it does not accompany recognition and applause. The solutions here range from personal, to the local church, administration, seminary, and the General Conference. Most of these solutions are foundational in nature and when put into action bring about change from the grassroots up. 


Secret Prayer Life: Understand and commit to a deep personal prayer life. If you don’t have one, get one, period. The school of prayer teaches a person how to bring into conformity one’s own will to the Will of God. Ellen White wrote and spoke eloquently regarding the critical importance of prayer. E.M Bounds and Andrew Murray’s books are excellent resources on how to develop a prayer life. Care should be exercised to critically evaluate all their suggestions with Scripture however I’ve found their material to be rich in insights regarding a vibrant prayer life. 

Embrace the use of the Sola-Tota Scriptura Method: Like having a personal prayer life, no one can do Bible study for you. The best place to start is to get a version that is easy to read like the ESV and then start reading from Genesis to Revelation. Among the best reading plans are those that mix Old Testament and New Testament readings for variety. Sola-Tota Scriptura is the most logical way to read Scripture. Understand from Scripture, the Sanctuary hermeneutic and let it set all the truths in the Bible like jewels in a crown. The local church organization is built on the assumption that you read your Bible at home. The church is strengthened when members take the word of God into their hearts and minds every day.

Have Family Devotions: The frequency of family devotions in the Adventist church is declining at an alarming rate. The NAD lags the other divisions in family worship.[68] Using age appropriate morning watch devotional books and reading the day’s reading just before breakfast is an excellent way to start the day. Children must see you putting God first in order for them to develop the habit of doing the same. It is never too late to start. Make the time.

Embrace Complexity: Many members are ‘brain-dead’ by the end of the week. This leads to laziness. It is far easier to hear a sermon than to read Scripture. It is also easier to let someone else do theological thinking for you instead of reasoning through Scripture yourself. Issues in the church are hard and complex. Don’t let anyone tell you that there is a simple answer to everything. The solution is often hard to find and even harder to implement. Don’t let this discourage you. Rather let it motivate you to find long-lasting solutions to the problems at the local church level.

Your Concept of the Remnant Matters a lot: Determine from Scripture what you think of the Remnant concept. Your identity as a member of the Seventh-day Adventist church depends on it. The concept of the remnant in your local church is the difference between success and failure to carry out the Great Commission in your neighborhood.

Embrace Biblical Discipleship as a Way of Life: It is easy for any church member to think that they are an insignificant part of God’s church especially if they are not the ones that are up front every week or on the church board, etc. A careful study of Scripture will reveal that every member in the church has an important role to play and the most significant of which is found in the Great Commission and the Three Angels messages. I have personally found that members who thought themselves to be unlearned and unskilled to be extremely effective in a small group setting after a little training.

Beyond personal evangelism, anyone can open up their home or gather a small group at work to study God’s word or work through an easy set of Bible-based small group studies. Because of the ubiquitous secularism many are biblically illiterate and would benefit greatly from the small group approach to learning about what the Bible says. Even leading people through the 28 fundamental beliefs or the Gospel books is a huge improvement over nothing. Some secular minded people are curious about spirituality or consider themselves spiritual and wouldn’t mind discussing simple truths from scripture over a home cooked meal. A good source for small group materials can be found at the Gateway Seventh-day Adventist church website.[69] I have used their small group study resources for over a decade with very good results. Many church members who previously thought they could only warm the pews have used these resources and untapped hidden abilities they didn’t know God had gifted them. In fact, the more the members used their spiritual gifts they found their capacity for service and usefulness grow. 

Engage at the Local Church: Read the SDA church manual. Understand your role as a member and that of the local church officers. Contribute your tithes and offerings faithfully. Serve where you are asked to but don’t get caught up in thinking that all there is to the Christian walk happens on Sabbath or the weekend. Read a chapter from the Testimonies to the Church once a week. Over a three-year period, you will get an excellent understanding in Adventist ecclesiology from her writings and important historical context of how the Lord has led us in the past. Hold your pastor and local conference leaders accountable to Scripture.


Local Church

Commit to member care: Either commit to planting a new church or commit a significant percentage of your budget to sustaining a local church plant. Encourage your pastor to work on planting churches and cell groups around your area and free him or her up to be able do this important work. This will lead to a strengthening of your local church[70] and through your concerted efforts in theological and biblical studies of Scripture put your church on solid ground.

Embrace a Cell Group-based Church: Train your members to run small groups for bible study and fellowship in their own homes for their friends, and co-workers. Take a minimalist approach to church service by cutting back on as many preliminaries as possible. This puts the focus during the Divine hour on the preaching of the word and reduces the member anxiety that comes from having to prepare to “perform” on Sabbaths. Your members will enjoy the worship and rest more than they ever thought possible on Sabbath.

Embrace a biblical model for discipleship: Shun the practice of early or quick baptisms after a series. Work with individuals until they have become disciples of Christ and give evidence than can be measured using biblical metrics.

Understand the presence of theological factions in your local church: Every local church is filled with individuals who represent shades of each theological faction. By learning to identify these factions, you can put into place training at the Sabbath school and divine service levels to help members transition to a biblical model. Not all members will make that shift however it is important to help them understand the implications of their way of doing theology.

Make hard choices regarding your speakers: You may need to say no to itinerant speakers and ministries because the focus of your church has shifted from that model to a biblical one. Put greater emphasis and training of your local elders to handle the preaching and teaching of the word. Work with your pastor to lessen his load for preaching every Sabbath and have the elders take over some of those duties. These and other seemingly small acts will go a long way toward encouraging others to join you in the great work of returning the North American Division to a biblical foundation and again see biblical growth.

Implement a Theological Curriculum for Your Members: This is not hard to do. One Sabbath a month can be set aside as a teaching Sabbath. Each quarter the church can study one book of the Bible in-depth. Over the course of time, the local church members should be able to break down a Biblical book into its constituent parts and be able to explain structural, theological, historical, and methodological considerations contained in the book. Each member can be trained to think systematically using our Sanctuary hermeneutic and develop a greater appreciation of the prophetic identity of the Seventh-day Adventist church, and see a greater integration of its biblical teachings in their personal life.

Send Competent Delegates to Conference & Union Constituency Meetings: Every delegate that is sent from the local church must be trained in the basics of parliamentary procedures and must understand the theological issues at stake in the North American Division. They must understand “the in’s and out’s” of running a local church. They must have a good grasp of Adventist history. It goes without saying that they should be deep students of Scripture and the Spirit of Prophecy. They must embrace a canonical approach to Scripture and be well-versed in the Sola-Tota Scriptura method.


Embed Professors into Local Church Environments: Create a two-week sabbatical where a professor and some of his students embed in the local church environment. Access to members will help professors understand the dynamics in the local churches so that their research will reflect some of the needs at the local level. The members will get to know the professors and learn of their theological research areas and gain access to their books and published papers.

Create a Nano Master of Divinity Program for Local Elders: Create a program track for local elders to get theological training delivered on-campus and remotely at the union college campuses or church academies. Have second or third year students teach the curriculum under the supervision of the theological faculty. Conferences can tie this training to elections at the local level to ensure compliance. Local elders need to have a good understanding of local church governance, basic elements of Christian and Adventist theology, and reach an agreed upon level of competence for biblical understanding. This program should be delivered over a 3-month period with opportunities for advanced levels of education beyond the basic level of competence. All seminary classes should be distributed via YouTube or made available to the members for free on an open courseware platform.

Create an In-Ministry Master of Divinity Church Planting Track: Create an in-ministry church-planting track that allows a team of church planters to receive free advanced theological training that is geared towards the needs of church planters. Lobby the General Conference and Unions for funding to be set aside for the sustenance of the workers and for their education. The financial return on investment to the church alone should convince any church administrator of the viability and soundness of this proposed solution to the anemic NAD growth rate. 

Administrative Solutions

Union-Conference Levels: Reevaluate the compatibility of scientific evolution (and theistic evolution) and Adventist theology. Ask the boards of your institutions of higher learning to state in writing how the continued employment of theistic and scientific evolution believing professors of theology contributes to the theological unity mission and remnant identity of the Seventh-day Adventist church. There must be a balance between academic freedom to think and fail and theological integrity and affinity to Scripture and the beliefs of the Seventh-day Adventist church. When theological staff on the university campus no longer believe in foundational Adventist teachings is their continued employment an exercise of biblical stewardship of the young students entrusted to your care? Evaluate concrete ways to scale up member-care and biblical discipleship in your churches and create a strategic culture for biblical growth by sustaining opportunities for church planting in your region. 

North American Division

Make Planting Cell-based Churches the Strategic Priority: The division needs to embrace planting churches not as a priority among many other priorities but as the key strategic priority for returning to a biblical model of ecclesiology. It needs to enact policies and procedures that move our churches away from the settled pastors practice in order to strengthen the laity as Mrs. White suggested.

Reevaluate the Ministry Entry Point: Those who desire to enter the ministry must first be given opportunities to find out if they have heard correctly God’s call. This process must be systematized and have qualitative and quantitative data points beyond mere affirmations of the local church board and personal references. 

Create a System for Accountability for Independent Ministries: The ministerial department needs to create and publish a public system for accountability for pastors and speakers who have ministries that are based in their union. All independent ministries’ access to local churches should be granted on an objective case-by-case basis. A division-wide certification system can be established to inform local conferences of the independent minister’s abilities, results, and theological views as well as provide opportunities for transparency regarding their ministry finances and fiscal policy, ministry board strength and structure/oversight, and personal accountability. If a ministry refuses to provide the requested information, the conference should be empowered to block their access to the local church. If a local church refuses to follow guidance from the conference, then their status as a sister church in the conference may need to be reexamined. The One project should have been classified as an independent ministry and ministries that will arise in the future like the One project should be classified as independent ministries. 

Embrace Total Member Involvement (TMI)

Buy-In at the Local Level: The NAD should create a curriculum for local churches to study through to develop the concept of biblical discipleship before discussions begin about transitioning them to a bible based-member care model. Local elder leadership needs to be trained and equipped to handle local church governance. Strong ties need to be established between the local churches and the local conference ministerial department. Buy in at all levels of the division from the members all the way up will take time and effort but the return on investment will be a greater representation and voice at the global level, a return to biblical-based growth, and a strengthening of the spiritual vitality of the members. Churches that are resistant to change should be given the option of paying 15-30% of their budget towards a church-planting budget or their members planting a church where one is needed.

Reevaluate Long and Short-term Infrastructure Commitments: The NAD and unions should make 5, 10, and 15 year plans to move all existing churches to the Biblical member care model. Decisions regarding infrastructure investments, employment numbers, retirement benefits etc., will need to be adjusted gradually. We may need to reevaluate how we use physical space for church. We need to find ways to wind down our investments in areas that are no longer viable where a physical building exists such as rural areas.

Evaluate the Impact of Non-Adventist Recruiting in Our Union Schools: The Adventist school system will get worse before it gets better as the NAD transitions the churches toward a biblical model of ecclesiology. The GC’s International Theological and Mission Accreditation board will need to incorporate curriculum that takes into consideration the needs of non-Adventist students and the church’s need to maintain theological integrity and standards. Legal ramifications for federal funding need to be reexamined.

Funding & Staffing Levels: Unions and Conferences should be asked to cut their staffing levels by 15-30% and the money saved should be used towards church planting and local church leadership education & ministerial education. 

General Conference

Sola Scriptura Group: This group of scholars comprised of systematic theologians and biblical exegetes and other experts are working towards reestablishing the Seventh-day Adventist understanding of canonical theology and Sola Scriptura. Members who desire to see a wholescale change the church should support this group and use its materials to implement its theological method of Sola Tota Scriptura in the local church.

International Board of Theology and Mission Accreditation: Support the efforts of the General Conference to oversee and provide accountability to every university, college and school within our educational system. This work is essential to maintaining the integrity of our message and ensuring that our teachers, professors, and researchers are continually upholding the highest ideals and standards of Adventist education. 


There are many well-meaning individuals who care about our church and see the issues that plague the church. Some of these people are brave enough to stand up and try and fix the problems. These individuals belong to all factions of the church and include the founders of the One project and also those who spoke out against them. But sincerity and good intentions cannot substitute or constitute “a thus saith the Lord.” Scripture alone is infallible. Our theological systems and theological reasoning are not infallible. The way to understand Scripture correctly is allow Scripture unfold God’s revelation itself. Scripture is to be our only safeguard, according to Mrs. White, in the last days. According to her we will not be able to rely on our senses even. A return to a canonical approach to Scripture using the Sola Scriptura principle and method under the influence of the Holy Spirit is what we need.

I am thinking of how much the NT writers wrote about false teachers in the church and how the church battled such teachers through the middle ages down till the founding of the SDA church. The Adventist pioneers spent a lot of time talking about false teachers and putting in place an organizational structure to guard against them.

These days, however, all discussion of false teachers has vanished from our language. In its place words like ‘diversity,’ ‘supporting,’ ‘independent’ to justify departures from the theological foundations of our message, mission, and organization.

We’ve become accustomed to discordant voices and mutually theological exclusive views in our church in the name of freedom of religion. Any attempt to deal with this, or pull people back together elicits strong reactions from those whose interests are vested in maintaining the status quo.

Thus, the progressive Adventist can go on believing that the world was created over millions of years, the conservative Adventist can create independent structures of organization and siphon tithe, the educator can promote theological ‘diversity’ at an institution of higher learning in the name of academic freedom. and the members can shout epithets at administrators for ‘curbing’ their ‘freedom’ all the while claiming to be faithful to the word and the church because there is no system of accountability, or those systems are rarely used these day.

Yes, we are free to believe in theistic evolution, independence of association and organization, and academic freedom. But what has this ‘freedom’ bought us?

We currently are losing 49 of every 100 members that join the church. 13+ million so far.

And we are still on earth, instead of heaven.

Missional drift, loss of remnant identity, and the lack of unity are some of the rewards or fruits that we’ve reaped from our failure to test all things by the word.

For too long we’ve bought into their argument that a return to Sola-Tota Scriptura, our hermeneutical foundation of the Sanctuary and all the necessary changes in the way we do things will produce collateral damage. The solution isn’t to do away with the liberty of conscience, the freedom of academia, or the necessary work of para-church organizations. The way toward a solution is to realize that such blessings from God are vulnerable to human misuse and abuse. We need to recognize that in this war over the soul of Adventism even good things in the hands of the wrong people can and are being weaponized. And together they combine to keep the church from finishing the work of God on earth.

The Bible says that the prophet Elisha’s servant looked over the city wall and saw the entire city surrounded by enemy soldiers (2 Kings 6:8-23). He quickly alerted his master to the imminent threat to his life. The prophet calmly prayed that God would open the eyes of the servant and He did. The servant saw that those who wished to harm them were vastly outnumbered by God’s angels who were protecting them and thus his faith was strengthened.

The concept of opening the eyes is repeated throughout Scripture and reinforced in Laodicean message in Revelation chapter three. Jesus offers us eye salve so that we can see our true condition. Only by accepting the eye salve from Christ can we truly see the beauty of His person and understand His way of the Sanctuary in Scripture. In Genesis, we see Christ at creation, beside Abraham, in Exodus we see Him talking as to a friend with Moses, in the succeeding books of the Old Testament we see Him leading the children of Israel in their spiritual journey, we see Him with the disciples and then with the church through the presence of the Holy Spirit. We comprehend in Scripture His work on our behalf in the heavenly Sanctuary, and by faith we can look forward to seeing Him sitting in the clouds that from afar appear to be the size of man’s hand. We can do all this because we as a church rose from the ashes of the Great Disappointment and made Scripture the sole authority for our faith and practice. Through the Sanctuary doctrine we have held to the concept of Jesus. All. even if at times in our history, we’ve been ambivalent about this teaching. It is by returning to the Sanctuary that Jesus truly is celebrated in our Church. God designed the Sanctuary concept to be a constant reminder of His Presence in our lives. He isn’t some distant being, inaccessible or unknowable. He walked and talked with men in the Old Testament and the New. And it is this hermeneutical articulating principle that unlocks all of the prophecies in the Old Testament and to see their fulfillment in the New.

We need to stop viewing each other as the enemy and realize that our theological “diversity” is due to our incompatible theological methods. Fixing the theological method fixes the theological diversity and that goes a long way toward eliminating the theological fragmentation. If the New Testament church could be loving enough to accept Paul into its midst, we too can be loving enough to accept those who are currently working at cross-purposes of the church because of their theological thinking is informed by their current method. We must have the humility of Christ to be able to lovingly reason with our friends in the local church and together seek the Lord in prayer and study of His Word using the Sola Scriptura Principle.

Back in William Tyndale’s day, the study of the word was restricted to the wealthy and the educated. He changed all that by translating the Bible into English, essentially replicating John Wycliffe’s effort centuries before. His efforts stirred up opposition and he was betrayed into the wrong hands. As he stood on the scaffold ready to give his life, he is said to have prayed, “Lord, open the King of England’s eyes.” Within four years, a Bible was published in the common language.

It is my prayer that God will open His people’s eyes. We need to press together and unite under the bloodstained banner of Jesus. It will require all of us working together. Mrs. White wrote,

“The work of God in this earth can never be finished until the men and women comprising our church membership rally to the work, and unite their efforts with those of ministers and church officers.”– Gospel Workers, p. 352.

The future of Adventism depends on those who decide to participate in it. Every level of the church’s structure depends on the participation of the membership. That participation is predicated on the concept that each member understands what the Bible is saying regarding the mission and identity of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. When we truly unite on Scripture’s sure foundation, we will be able to experience the unity that Jesus talked of in John 17. Our unity will be a witness to those in other denominations as well as the world. Our secret to success lies in our willingness to do the hard things. Christ is our Leader. He is our Hope. He is our Salvation. He is leading this church! And victory is assured. 


When I walked into the One Project Gathering over a year ago, I saw people in the audience open their Bibles and do their best to discern God’s will for their lives. I saw people wanting to make Jesus first in their life, in their church, and everything else they do. That filled me with hope. I knew the One project founders were going to talk about the local church in the Create Conference and I knew that was where we needed to be. Like them, I too came to that conclusion in 2010. With a friend, I developed a workshop for GYC that over 6500 attendees participated in on the local church called Total Church. Unfortunately, I was unable to convince the then GYC leadership to create and plant local churches as models for the North American Division. Six years later, when I initially saw what the One project gathering was like, that it wasn’t emergent like some had said, and that it was indeed Adventist, albeit with different music tastes, for a moment you can understand why I thought perhaps God had moved on to another group who was interested in working in the local church. Back then, I thought that perhaps God would be able to overlook the theological deficiencies that I noticed during One project gathering. Sadly, the interviews and the Create Conference shattered my hopes. My year-long research convinced me without a shadow of any reasonable doubt that the One project’s current method would lead to further division in the church. It also showed why my former theological faction (In 2012, I believed in LGT so thoroughly that I agreed to defend it in a debate at a local Progressive Adventist church) was failing in its goal of producing a generation of people who would perfectly reproduce the character of Christ. I realized that the Achilles’ heel of conservative Adventism, the reason why no one our side can ever unite on anything, let alone unite the whole church, was its theological method. And that’s when I decided to pursue higher education at the Seminary in Systematic theology committing myself all the way to contribute and build from Scripture on the Sanctuary-based hermeneutical foundation that our founders started. I am convinced of the importance of the local church. Dr. Damsteegt’s paper on the local church convinced me of that back in 2005-06, it just took me till 2010 to deeply internalize it. I’ve also committed to changing the local church and stopping the bleeding. I hope you will join me wherever you are at your local church using Scripture alone as the standard for faith and practice.

Read the previous articles in this series.



[1] See for example the bombing of Laos. Between 1964 and 1973, the United States dropped around 2.5 million tons of bombs on Laos. While the American public was focused on the war in neighboring Vietnam, the US military was waging a devastating covert campaign to cut off North Vietnamese supply lines through the small Southeast Asian country. The nearly 600,000 bombing runs delivered a staggering amount of explosives: The equivalent of a planeload of bombs every eight minutes for nine years, or a ton of bombs for every person in the country—more than what American planes unloaded on Germany and Japan combined during World War II. Laos remains, per capita, the most heavily bombed country on earth.


[3] See this study on lost members of the church. More than 80 percent of those surveyed, who have left the church still believe in the Bible, the SDA doctrines, and prophetic ministry of Ellen G. White. The reasons behind the losses are largely the same for every division.

[4] This is not to say that Ford’s theology wasn’t antithetical to the church, it was.

[5] Desmond Ford is quoted as having encouraged Pastors to remain in the church after his dismissal from denominational employment.

[6] See administrative overtures to independent ministries at the 50th Anniversary of the QOD book publication at Andrews University.

[7] Regardless of whether one believes in women’s ordination or not, the constitutional nature of conflict within the structure of the global church itself is significant.

[8] See several studies listed here: Including this one:

[9] Quote historically attributed to Albert Einstein.

[10] Paraphrasing from John C. Peckam’s Canonical Theology. Pg. 129.

[11] Late Adventist Church Historian C. Mervyn Maxwell identified four basic characteristics of the hermeneutics and method on which early Adventist theology was constructed: deconstruction of Tradition, the Tota Scriptura principle, typological understanding, and the Vision

  • Deconstruction of Tradition: While Protestant reformers rejected some customs and traditions as we noted earlier, Adventist writers manifested a sharper rejection of tradition. Early Adventists were aware of the traditions of Christianity their former churches embraced. Yet, instead of taking them as either sources of theology or hermeneutical guides for interpretation of Scripture or understanding doctrines, they decided to engage them critically. Unless we deconstruct tradition and distinguish it from Scripture we may be in danger of confusing ideas received from tradition with biblical ones.
  • The Tota Scriptura Principle: Luther was well known to have rejected the Epistle of James and made very little use of the book of Hebrews, and set up a cannon within a cannon. Calvin virtually rejected the book of Revelation. Contemporary theologians of the Adventist pioneers rejected the entire Old Testament. The Adventist pioneers however insisted on taking truth from the entire Bible.
  • Typological understanding: Maxwell remarks that ‘whereas the Reformers made enthusiastic use of the Old Testament types of the cross, Adventist writers made richer use of biblical types and antitypes that were seen to anticipate last day developments.’ The Adventist pioneers used the first three characteristics of their hermeneutics to derive the fourth one.
  • The [Macro-Hermeneutical] Vision: The final difference between Protestant and Adventist hermeneutics should be traced back to the early pioneers use of prophetic fulfillment as a hermeneutical tool. Once established as scriptural, the fulfillment of prophecy in the Second Advent movement became a hermeneutical tool for helping establish the Sabbath, sanctuary, spiritual gifts, the true church (remnant), Second Advent and other doctrines.

[12] AT Jones argued that those who accepted Christ and had Christ “in them” would be perfectly able to maintain order and organization. AG Daniells and others felt that the pragmatic approach to organization pioneered by James White was the way to go. Dr. Barry Oliver’s analysis in his dissertation cited in article three shows that Jones’ ignored the “effect of sin on the structure.” People need accountability and structure. This is not to say that the ‘pragmatic’ mission model doesn’t have its short-comings, but Jones’ model proved to be too idealistic and thus was discarded. Kellogg’s attempts to “pack” the General Conference committee did not help things either and as his fight with the General Conference escalated from the personal to the institutional level, Jones and Waggoner sadly sided with him and eventually they all exited the church.

[13] It seems like the shift in the hermeneutical articulating principle came first and then the shift in the theological method. But a persuasive argument can be made that abandoning the Sola Tota Scriptura method renders the reader incapable of realizing the metanarrative/articulating principle of the Sanctuary. LR Conradi was the first person to start a different Adventist church after the initial founding in 1863. Other groups began their versions of Adventism right after 1844 as noted in the endnotes of Article three. For a deeper mention/analysis of these alternate Adventisms please the see the article I cited by Dr. Fortin and his dissertation in article 3. Here is the note from Article 3: Post-Disappointment Millerites developed into at least three distinct groups according to Dr. Dennis Fortin. Here is an excerpt of his paper on the subject.

“Evangelicalism was first of all a religious temperament. Using Doan’s paradigm to analyze the nineteenth-century statements of beliefs of Advent Christians, Evangelical Adventists, and Seventh-day Adventists, one can conclude that Adventism was truly part of evangelicalism. Whether it be in its Arminian soteriology and Pietist lifestyle, biblical message, emphasis on mission, and premillennial eschatology, Adventism reflected the broad evangelical religious perspectives. Our study also demonstrates that these three Adventist denominations had common evangelical religious roots and temperament.

The theological comparison of Adventist statements of beliefs with the Basis of the Evangelical Alliance shows theological similarities and differences between Adventists and evangelicals. Evangelical Adventists were clearly in the same theological tradition as other evangelicals; the theological similarities between the two statements are evident. For their part, Advent Christians and Seventh-day Adventists shared basic evangelical theological roots and, at the same time, showed important theological differences with evangelicalism. Each had a different understanding of anthropology. Seventh-day Adventists were the most theologically removed from evangelicalism in emphasizing their doctrine of the sanctuary as the center of their theological articulation.”

Andreasen represents a significant shift in theological method where he used a modified version of Prima Scriptura by using Ellen White’s writings and Scripture to construct his theology of the Last Generation. His fight with the General Conference officials and his subsequent letter to the churches campaign communicated his loss of trust in the church officers and led to the beginning of the modern historical Adventist movement and its church within a church concept complete with its own model of self-organization. [Please see later sections of this article for analysis of Historical Adventism.]


[14] See the 1st Article in this series.

[15] Please see this direct interview.


[16] Interestingly, Pastor Larry Kirkpatrick was one of the few voices in LGT wing of historical Adventism [He considers LGT the essence of Adventism] who raised caution regarding the assertions made by Pastor Rick Howard in his review of Pastor Alex Bryan’s paper on the One Project and Adventist ecclesiology. In spite of his cautionary note, I doubt Kirkpatrick’s theological method [analyzed briefly here in the endnotes of this article] could adequately counter the One Project. You can read Pastor Kirkpatrick’s concerns in the comment section on the Advindicate website:

[17] For a good introduction to Revelation-Inspiration please see article 3 and Dr. Fernando Canale’s book on Revelation-Inspiration, the Cognitive Principle of Christian Theology.

[18] For a discussion on an epistemic approach to canonical theology please see Roy Graf’s dissertation cited in article three and Mike Manea’s article cited here.


[20] Peckham, John C., Canonical Theology: The Biblical Canon, Sola Scriptura, and Theological Method. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. Grand Rapids, MI. 2016. Pg. 1


[21] Ibid. Pg. 2

[22] Ibid. Pg. 19

[23] Ibid. Quotes from Pg. 17

[24] Ibid. 18

[25] Ibid. 19

[26] Ibid Pg. 32. Each trait is described in detail in his book. I quote/summarize some of the findings for each trait here.


Prophetic & Apostolicity: If the books are “canonical” in virtue of divine commission, it follows that those seeking to recognize “canonical” books should look for evidence of divine commission. The canon identifies prophets and apostles as divinely commissioned and thus “canonically” authoritative messengers of divine revelation. God sent “prophets and apostles” (Luke 11:49, cf. Rom 16:25-26) and the very “household of God” is “built on the foundation of the apostles, Christ Himself being the corner stone” (Eph 2:19-20; cf. 3:3-5; Rev 22:6). As such, a genuinely “canonical” book must be the written record of covenantal prophetic and/or apostolic testimony, written either by a prophet/apostle or close contemporary associate thereof (see Luke and Mark). Accordingly, “prophecy of Scripture” is not “made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (2 Pet 1:20-21; cf. 2 Tim 3:16). The NT writers treat the “Scriptures of the prophets” (cf. Matt 26:56; Rom 1:2, 16:26) as a “rule” or “standard” (i.e. “canonical”); Jesus Himself frequently appeals to the Law and the Prophets as authoritative (see Matt 5:17; cf. 23:37; Luke 13:34). Properly recognizing convenantal prophets is, then crucial. Accordingly, Christians are exhorted to “test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone into the world” (1 John 4:1; cf. Matt 7:15; Deut 18:20; Jer 7:25; 14:14; Ezek 13:6). NT writings must consist of the testimony of apostles – those eyewitnesses to the risen Christ appointed as His witnesses (cf. Acts 1:2-4; 9:3-15; 10:41043; 26:12-18). Accordingly, “the New Testament is filled with references to the apostles as Christ’s foundational witnesses” (Luke 24:48; Acts 1:8, 22; 3:15; 5:32; 10:39-41; cf. Eph 2:20). Genuinely apostolic testimony consists of direct witness to Christ and, therefore, must be written during the time of the apostles (60 – 100). While Paul names himself in some of his epistles other writers do not because it is likely that their original recipients knew the authors and thus could vouch for their authentic apostolicity. Here the NT’s insistence on properly recognizing divinely commissioned messengers over and against “many false prophets” (1 John 4:1; cf. Jer 14:14;) are noteworthy.


Given that historical certitude is beyond our reach, however, caution should be exercised in the application of the prophetic/apostolic criterion. In this regard, Peckham writes that it is helpful to consider two further criteria that themselves impinge upon whether a given book should be confidently recognized as prophetic and/or apostolic.


Consistency with Past Revelation: From early in Israel’s history, the Law (of Moses) was set forth as the divinely revealed rule of faith and practice and subsequent revelation was to be tested thereby (cf. Deut 13:1-5). As such, any genuine revelation would not contradict any genuine past revelation. In this regard, Isaiah 8:20 exhorts: “To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak, according to this word, it is because they have no dawn” (cf. v. 16). That is, new light from God will not contradict old light (Num 23:19; 1 Sam 15:29; Deut 4:1-2; Mal 3:6; Matt 5:17-18; 24:35; Tit 1:203; Heb 6:17-18; 13:7-9).


Application of this criterion of recognition in post-apostolic times would be analogous to the way those living while the canon was in process should have “test[ed] the spirits to see whether they are from God” (1 John 4:1). Israel was expected to do this in OT times (Jer 14:14; cf. Luke 6:26) and Christ and the apostles called on their contemporaries to do so in NT times (Matt. 7:15; 24:44; Mark 13:22-23; 2 Pet 2:1). Implementation of such testing is exemplified by the Bereans, who “received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11), and in Paul’s statement that he believes “everything that is in accordance with the Law and that is written by the Prophets” (Acts 24:14). Christians were further exhorted to “hold fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching” and refute “those who contradict” (Tit 1:9; cf. Gal 1:8-12; 2 Cor 11:2-4; 2 Tim 1:13; 2 Thes 2:15; 3:6; 14; 2 John 9-10; Jude 3).


It follows from this and the requisite divine commission generally that only writings that are consistent with one another could be properly “canonical.” This criterion of consistency alone rules out many writings that have been put forth as prophetic or apostolic. Since evaluation regarding different texts are consistent depends upon how such texts are interpreted, it appears impossible to prove conclusively that the “canon” is internally consistent. This criterion of consistency, however, may nevertheless exclude some writings that are put forth as claimants, insofar as they demonstrably contradict previous revelation (e.g., the so-called Gospel of Thomas).


Self-Authenticating of Divine Commission: Canonical books are also self-authenticating (cf. John 7:17; 10:27; 1 Cor 2:10-14). The intrinsic canonicity of writings derives from divine action. Revelation and inspiration are, therefore, prerequisites of canonical writings. However, not every inspired writing is thereby canonical. In numerous instances, the Bible refers to prophetic and apostolic writings that are not part of the canon. Some examples of explicitly prophetic books are the book of statutes (1 Sam 10:25), the book of Nathan the Prophet and of Gad the Seer (1 Chr 29:29), and the book of Shemaiah the prophet and of Iddo the Seer (2 Chr 12:15), among others. Such prophetic books, and apparently some apostolic writings (1 Cor 5:9; 2 Cor 2:4; cf. Col 4:16), were not preserved through the ages for the present community. [In the same way, Ellen’s White’s writings also while inspired are not canonical and are not part of the biblical canon. It is also the reason why she cautions against using her writings for theological constructions and in polemical and/or theological debates].


Other books such as Shepherd of Hermas, were considered by some to be inspired but were not recognized as canonical because they did not meet other criteria, such as apostolicity. Inspiration is, then, a necessary but not sufficient characteristic of canonicity. Accordingly, no post-apostolic inspired prophet would be “canonical.”

[27] Ibid 41

[28] Ibid. Pg. 1

[29] See Stanley Grenz’s Book: Beyond Foundationalism cited elsewhere in this series.

[30] Canonical Theology. Pg. 142

[31] Canale, Fernando. Creation, Evolution, and Theology: An introduction to the Scientific and Theological Methods. Editorial Universidad Adventista Del Plata. Entre Rios, Argentina (2009) pg. 89

[32] Portion of Canale’s footnote: In his book, Thinking Theologically, Guy departs from the sola Scriptura principle of the Protestant Reformation, which the first Fundamental Belief of Seventh-day Adventism clearly states, and replaces it with a plurality of sources and the prima Scriptura principle. See also Woodrow W. Whidden, “Sola Scriptura, Inerrantist Fundamentalism and the Wesleyan Quadrilateral: Is ‘No Creed but the Bible’ a Workable Solution,” AUSS 35 (1997): 211-226. Cf. Dr Nicholas Miller’s article on his view of Sola Scriptura sourced in article 3.

[33] Canale continues in his book, “The application of the sola Scriptura principle means that the hermeneutical condition of the theological method, including the principles of divine, human and world realities, is interpreted only from biblical thought. The tota Scriptura principle refers to the interpretation of all biblical contents and the inner logic from the biblically interpreted hermeneutical condition of theological method (sola Scriptura). The prima Scriptura principle refers to the fact that the hermeneutical principle, interpreted from scriptural thought (sola Scriptura) and the entire content of biblical thought (tota Scriptura), will guide theologians in critically selecting and incorporating from other sources (philosophy, science, experience) information as the teachings and inner logic of biblical thinking may require.

[34] Canale, Fernando. Creation, Evolution, Theology. Pg. 108

[35] See for example Clinton Baldwin’s Paper “The reciprocal influence of Text and Church in the Evolution of Sacred Text.”

Several of his points are listed here.

In this regard, probably there is need to revisit how we state Fundamental Belief number 1 which categorically speaks of “Scripture as the infallible revelation of his (God’s) will.” (Please, no assassination, this is only a suggestion, not a campaign). It is indeed very difficult to speak of infallibility or inerrancy, when: 1) there are multiple divergent originals of scripture, 2) we do not have the authorial originals and cannot claim that we have reconstructed them in their entirety, 3) our earliest texts are centuries removed from the authorial texts (which is also multivalent) and, 4) there are literally thousands of evidences indicating that the text was changed in its fundamental content and does not in many cases represent the views of the original framers. In fact, when we remember that the NT that we now have is to a great extent OUR modern construct (it was never used by anyone in the early church), we should be careful how we speak of infallibility or inerrancy lest we attribute these qualities to ourselves 3. Whereas inspiration of scripture is not an individual endowment but a community bestowal and whereas the text continues to develop, we too are involved not just in the interpretation of scripture but in the decision of what constitutes scripture itself. We concede to this reality every time we reference our current Greek New Testament and differentiate between textual variants. Probably, the question concerning whether or not the bible is the word of God or contains the word of God should not be closed among us as SDA thinkers. Maybe such discussions could lead us to become more of a people of the spirit than a people of the book. Honestly, we need Jesus more than we need the bible, we should not equate them. One is a book in process the other is a person in perfection. His Paper Sourced here:


Compare with the view with this interview and paper which uphold the veracity of the Text refuting Baldwin’s claims above. and


[36] Canale cites Dr. Fritz Guy from “Genesis and Geology: Some Contemporary Theological Perspectives,” in Creation reconsidered: Scientific, Biblical, and Theological Perspectives,” ed. James L. Hayward (Roseville, CA: Association of Adventist Forums, 2000), 300. Quoted from Dr. Canale’s book Creation, Evolution, and Theology: An Introduction to the Scientific and Theological Methods.

[37] Canale, Fernando. Creation, Evolution, and Theology: An introduction to the Scientific and Theological Methods. Editorial Universidad Adventista Del Plata. Entre Rios, Argentina (2009) pg. 89


[38] Ibid. 136

[39] Rejected by the General Conference in Session but apparently still prevalent in some Adventist institutions of higher learning and theological factions.

[40] See for example an interview by Dr. Julius Nam (NM) with Pastor Larry Kirkpatrick (LK). In this interview, Pastor Kirkpatrick differentiates slightly between what he calls ‘historic’ Adventism and “LGT.” However, his answers on revelation-inspiration and theological method are clearest exposition that I have found of LGT leaders. I consider LGT to be a part of Historical Adventism because it shares many theological characteristics but is perhaps a little less abrasive in its approach to the global church administration.


The entire interview was sourced here:

Theological Method

JN: Could you describe LGT in a nutshell? Is this essentially the same concept advanced by M. L. Andreasen in mid-20th century?

LK: Last Generation Theology teaches that Jesus Christ is not only fully our Substitute but fully our Example, affirms that Christ overcame sin in flesh like ours, insists that the gospel plan is for Christians to cease from sin before the Second Coming (indeed, before the Close of Probation), and confesses that the close of the age has been delayed by unconsecration in God’s people but can be accelerated by their living holy lives.

LGT has tremendous pulling power, because many of those who are theologically and historically astute recognize that it represents core Adventism, particularly that which obtained for the generation that coincided with and followed Andreasen. Andreasen did much to develop the implications of Adventism, and LGT was the result.

Interestingly, Herbert E. Douglass developed essentially the very same concepts but independently of Andreasen. Douglass told me that when he was writing his editorials in the Review in favor of the same ideas, people kept suggesting that he was echoing Andreasen, but he had never read Andreasen. Finally, after these repeated questions, he did sit down and read Andreasen. He did find much commonality. But Douglass had developed his concepts–just as Andreasen had—via his careful study of Scripture and reading of the Ellen G. White writings.

Likewise, I developed most of my understanding in the same way. It was mostly by following up key ideas in the Bible that I developed my view. Of course, the Ellen White elements came strongly to the fore. I recall in one of Woodrow Whidden’s books he follows the development of Mrs. White’s theology up to about the turn of the century, and claims that he goes no further because there were no serious points of development after that time. But Christ’s Object Lessons (COL) came out in 1905 and certainly represents a further ripening of her concepts in these areas. We might even say that COL represents White’s working-out of the implications of Adventist theology—and landing with LGT.

So Andreasen, Douglass, myself, and even Ellen White, seeking to draw the strands together into a developed whole, all land at LGT. This is Adventism. We might say much more, but I would only add that we have especially developed the gospel concepts. Look again; it’s not the Grinch under the bridge it has been portrayed as!


Revelation-Inspiration & Theological Method

JN: How would you answer the charge (that someone like myself might raise) that you’re building theology out of Ellen White and not directly from Scripture and that your view of Adventism seems too narrow and restrictive?

LK: Julius, the principles of LGT are very clear in Scripture. No one needs Ellen White to get it, although I do think it is fair to say she has jogged us. But look at your Bible. Genesis starts with “In the beginning,” and that implies an ending. In Numbers 14 you have the aborted entry of Israel into Canaan and their faithlessness forces a delay. This is undisputed Bible history. You have texts pointing to the vindication of God’s character, like Romans 3:4, texts showing a cooperative human role in the plan of redemption (compare Genesis 3:15 with Romans 16:20), you have direct discussion of hastening in 2 Peter 3:11, 12, and beyond this several lines of approach in the gospels and Revelation. There is no shortage of sustenance for LGT ideas in the Bible, doubtless the original source.

But what if we were building theology from the Bible and EGW? Inspired is inspired, revealed is revealed; there are no degrees of inspiration. That would not be a problem to me, except from the standpoint of sharing; obviously sharing with others who have not been introduced to the concept of contemporary prophecy would be a problem. We are always better off making our whole case from the Bible.

On the narrow and restrictive question, try this. The church exists to facilitate the completion of God’s goals. It has a definite message. And yet, the tendency in certain kinds of denominational institutions in the North American setting is to defenestrate the message. That is a basic, parasitical relationship. If the view of mission in certain kinds of institutions is so radically different than that of your basic serious Bible and Spirit of Prophecy believing SDA, then that very different mission should be pursued under another entity. Go ahead and see whether a message of doubt can pay for itself. If a too broad definition of what Adventism is undermines the very mission of the church, then the church is neutralizing herself. Without boundaries and definitions there is no Adventist mission. Few join because they want to belong to a vanilla evangelical church. Without the tighter definition of what Adventism is, we die.

[41] Biblical Adventism therefore does not experience the conflicts regarding the prophetic Remnant identity of the Seventh-day Adventist church and see a logical continuation of its embrace of the Three Angels’ messages and the global mission. Consequently, Biblical Adventists, unlike Historical Adventists, Evangelical Adventists, and Progressive Adventists, see a biblical and theological underpinning for a centralizing organization and accountability through a global administration and strong member-led leadership of the local church. See part one of this article in the discussion of the biblical Adventist remnant model.

[42] See the book Historical-Cognitive Model for Revelation Inspiration by Dr. Fernando Canale.


[44] See The relation of Ellen White to the Bible

[45] See Scripture our Only Safeguard in the book Great Controversy.

[46] See Description here:

[47] See Dr. Canale’s Book Creation, Evolution, and Theology.

[48] In most third world countries, Ellen White’s writings are rarely available, and the religions that they grow up with around them make theological borrowing impossible, thus the Adventist experience in those countries in built on the Bible and thus they tend to be biblical Adventists. Most immigrants assume that biblically based or doctrinal understanding they have based from Scripture that was taught to them by American missionaries is the “same” as the faith being preached in the “English” churches. They are unaware of the theological differences even as they may recognize what they believe to be “cultural” differences (Music styles, worship styles, etc.)

[49] Goldstein, Clifford. Cultural Adventists. Adventist Review. Accessed here:


[50] Coffin, James. Who are the real cultural Adventists? Accessed here:

[51] His concept has again reached fever pitch with some Historical Adventists with the rise of ISIS. However, by the time of 1919 Bible Conference, the church had to come to grips with the reality that his predictions and interpretations of Daniel 11, were in error. ML Andreasen, by then well into the second decade of his ministry, sought to provide a justification for the ‘delay’ from the writings of Ellen White. Over the course of next two decades, he made lasting contributions in the area of soteriology and eschatology by integrating them in the area of theodicy. His theology provided a coherent integration of prophecy, soteriology, and eschatology and crucially provided a rational answer to the delay in Christ’s second coming. LeRoy Froom took a separate approach from Andreasen. Over the two decades of research, Froom sought to anchor Adventist prophetic and eschatological views in Christian history in general and Protestantism in particular. His contributions to Adventism through the discipline of Christian historical theology are equally monumental to that of Andreasen. The difference in the two approaches provided the church during the 30s, 40s, and early 50s, a strong grounding in Protestantism, and a firm belief in its prophetic heritage however it came at the cost of the church’s original Sanctuary-based hermeneutic of the pioneers. As the church discussed its beliefs with the reformed evangelical brethren, the three-member committee sought to make redefine some aspects of our understanding of the nature of Christ, the two-fold aspect of salvation, and a redefinition of the nature of sin. They labeled those who believed in the fallen nature of Christ as part of the ‘lunatic fringe.’ Andreasen reacted to that charge vehemently and vociferously and eventually took his concerns public. Just before his death, Andreasen apologized for his part in creating a rift in the church but not for his theology. Subsequent and thorough research into his writings have revealed his integration of first and second generation, pioneer Adventist theology and his interpretation and integration of Ellen White’s writings into his understanding of soteriology and eschatology. So well integrated and articulated is his theology using Pioneer contributions that is difficult for the average member to untangle the strands to understand his sources and theological method.

[52] Which some EA’s term as “perfectionism”

[53] Some historical Adventists have rejected the church’s education system particularly its theological seminaries. Some take the hybrid approach where they receive a degree from the church, and then either start their own ministry, or have a private ministry that runs concurrent to their ‘main’ ministry as a pastor in the Seventh-day Adventist church. The dynamics of this arrangement in all its forms exerts a powerful influence on the independent minister and the local church.


[54] You can search for Adventist charitable organizations and religious ministries by name to see their yearly donations and financial paperwork with the IRS here: For example, Secrets Unsealed reported $7,022,907 in donations/sales for the years 2013-2015, during which several Symposiums on the One project were held.

[55] Canale, Fernando L. “From Vision to System: Finishing the Task of Adventist Theology: Part 1: Historical Overview.” Pg. 30. Accessed at

[56] Canale notes that in some Adventist churches in America, one can hear more quotations from C. S. Lewis and Dietrich Bonhoeffer than from Ellen White. A recent example [at the time of the writing of his paper in 2006] of the trend of the use of Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002) by some biblical Adventist pastors in Sabbath School and lay training. The entire premise from which the book proceeds is the Calvinistic foreknowledge, predestination, and providence that stands in direct contradiction to the biblical understanding of these issues. When we do not understand these issues in their biblical systematic context, implicitly we let their philosophically grounded interpretation become a hermeneutical principle that shapes the entire constellation of Christian doctrines. When pastors promote this sort of book, we should not be surprised when believers get the impression that Adventism is compatible with and supports the ideas they contain.

[57] Ibid.

[58] Ibid. 32

[59] Please see Dr. Canale’s Protestantization of Adventism and The Eclipse of Scripture series at the Adventist Theological Society Journal (AJATS).

[60] A Serious Solution

As stated before, the One Project represents a solution to the fragmentation in the church. They have a well-thought out model and are doing what they think is best. It is a view that informed from their own study of Scripture and the development of their theology within the Seventh-day Adventist church.


Christo-centric Hermeneutic

Their Christo-centric hermeneutic (Not to be confused with “Christ-Centered”) is an Evangelical Adventist creation that continues from the Protestant tradition. As such, their reading of Scripture leads them to conclusions that are mutually exclusive with the Seventh-day Adventist church’s Sanctuary-based hermeneutic (which is truly Christ-Centered). The fact that they gained such widespread report among three of the world’s divisions and a majority conference leaders and even some General Conference leaders speaks to the depth of the divisions in the church.


Conflicting Views on the Remnant

The founders’ views on the Remnant conflict with the Seventh-day Adventist church. These conflicts are not restricted to them but are prevalent all over North American Adventism. These conflicting view, keep the church from uniting on a singular prophetic-identity driven purpose.


Approach to Ecclesiology through Christology

Their ecclesiology through Christology conflicts with Christ Himself. Instead of building the Church on His Person, He sought to anchor the church on Scripture. Scripture’s teachings are Christ’s teachings throughout the history of humanity. To imply that we need Christ without His teachings is to deny Christ Himself. Admittedly, there have been times when we have left Christ out of our focus, 1888 served as a course correction for that. However, to depart from Scripture and build a Barthian or Neo Orthodox Christianity based on the Gospels alone or have the Gospels reinterpret and redefine the Old Testament is unscriptural.


The One Project’s Legacy

The One project announced that it was shutting down. In the same news bulletin, they announced a renewed focus on the local church. We do not need to speculate as to the reasons behind their unexpected decision to shut down. The Gathering/Conference movements in our church are a waste of time and resources. The local church is where real change takes place. It is where the war is being waged over the future of the church even as you read this. Their willingness to put the focus on what matters most: the local church, speaks volumes of their dedication to being the change they want to see in the church. It takes guts to walk away from the applause, the adulation, and the support to do something that is hard and unglamorous.


Unfortunately, due to the One project’s choice of hermeneutical articulating principle, their efforts to unite the church will elude them. Instead of uniting the church, they will drive the divisions deeper in the church. More members will bleed out from the war over the local churches. Unless they switch their hermeneutical foundation and whole heartedly integrate the biblical teachings of our church which include the Three Angels’ messages, a coming out of Protestantism, a calling of others out of Babylon, and an embrace of Christ-centered theology as expressed in the sanctuary all through Scripture, their legacy unfortunately will be that which added to the fragmentation.


[61] Canale, Fernando, L. “From Vision to System: Finishing the Task of Theology Part 1.” Accessed Online:


[62] Canale notes that this paradigmatic change in Adventist hermeneutics clearly appears in an article on the interpretation of Genesis 1. In the introduction, the author [Dr. Fritz Guy] lays down his hermeneutical approach: “Our central question is this: in the light of what we understand scientifically and theologically in the twenty-first century, how shall we interpret Genesis 1?” Thus Canale writes, that Guy understands Scripture in the light of science and not the other way around. That this approach is a reversal of Adventist hermeneutics can be appreciated when we learn that Ellen White understands science in the light of Scripture. “The Bible is not to be tested by men’s idea of science, but science is to be brought to the test of this unerring standard. When the Bible makes statements of facts in nature, science may be compared with the Written Word, and a correct understanding of both will always prove them to be in harmony. One does not contradict the other. All truth, whether in nature or revelation, agrees” (Selected Messages 3, 307-308).


[63] Some representative Progressive Views on Hermeneutics and Inspiration are listed here for the reader. Due to the multiple source matrix for theology in the Progressive Faction, it is impossible to classify or list all the different approaches to Scripture that are espoused by this faction.


[64] See Richard Rice, Believing, Behaving, & Belonging: Finding New Love for the Church (Roseville Association of Adventist Forums, 2002), 110, 208. Cited in Canale’s Vision to System Part 1, 25.


[65] See Richard Rice, Believing, Behaving, & Belonging: Finding New Love for the Church (Roseville Association of Adventist Forums, 2002), 110, 208. Cited in Canale’s Vision to System Part 1, 25.

[66] Guy, Fritz. “Thinking Theologically.” Pg. 92.

[67] See for example this article “A Betrayal of Adventism” where two individuals discuss the efforts of the General Conference administration to ensure theological instruction in our institutions of higher education meet denominational standards for mission and theology.



[69] See “Care Group Bible Studies and Model.”

[70] See outside data on this subject.

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About the author


Adrian Zahid is a recent survivor of advanced-stage cancer, he is trying to make the most of the second lease on life that God has given him. He is the co-founder of Intelligent Adventist and in his free time enjoys helping nonprofits be sustainable and the Seventh-day Adventist Church succeed in fulfilling the Great Commission.