I spent several evenings last week at Vacation Bible School, teaching Bible stories to groups of children. On Wednesday I started out: “Today’s story is about my favorite person to talk about in the whole Bible. Can anyone guess who that is?”
“Queen Esther!” shouted a cherub-faced girl with curly blond hair.
“Jonah!” guessed someone else.
“Nope,” I said. “It’s Jesus!”
“Jesus?” chorused the kids in indignant tones, as if I had asked a trick question. Maybe my use of the word “person” had convinced my theologically astute audience that I meant to exclude individuals who also possessed a divine nature.
“Without Jesus, the whole rest of the Bible would be meaningless!” I explained enthusiastically. My students still looked skeptical, apparently unconvinced that the Savior of the world could be as exciting as an orphan girl turned queen.
Jesus Is the Answer
I had expected my opening question to be a no-brainer. I mean, every kid learns that the correct answer to virtually every question asked in church is “Jesus.”
We adults, of course, have moved beyond such pat answers. In the process, perhaps we’ve unconsciously relegated Jesus to the “milk” of the gospel, priding ourselves on our grasp of deeper, more substantive topics. Recent emphasis within the Adventist Church on our primary task of proclaiming the three angels’ messages (see Ellen White, Evangelism, p. 119) has at times created the impression that since any Christian can preach Jesus, we Adventists don’t need to talk much about Him.
But when my spiritual life seems barren, when I need heart religion and not just head knowledge, when I’m discouraged over the state of the world or the church, looking to Jesus is what cures my spiritual ills. When I need a Savior, only Jesus will do.
That’s why I recently read through Steps to Jesus (a paraphrase of Ellen White’s Steps to Christ) once again. And that’s why I’m looking forward to attending this weekend’s gathering sponsored by the One project in Boulder, Colorado. The One project’s motto is “Jesus. All.” Hence the weekend promises 24 hours saturated with Jesus—His life, His ministry, His character.
The Boulder event will feature presentations by eight speakers, ranging from university chaplains to local professionals. Each presentation is followed by discussion time. The theme, “Relationships of Jesus,” looks at individuals Jesus connected with in His ministry: Peter, Nicodemus, the widow of Nain, and others.
This is the organization’s first “mini-gathering” (it’s being held at the One project’s home base, the Boulder Seventh-day Adventist Church). But its focus is the same as that of 19 previous events in several countries attended by nearly 6,000 people of all ages: “Celebrating the supremacy of Jesus through the Adventist Church” (see Col. 1:18).
Too Much Jesus?
Seeking to follow Paul’s determination “not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2, NKJV) sounds as uncontroversial as it gets. But some Adventists express concern that “Jesus. All.” dramatically oversimplifies the Christian faith. “What about the Father and the Holy Spirit?” queried my husband when I described the One project’s goals. “Are we not supposed to talk about them?”
Others see much darker influences at work. Critics accuse the One project and its leaders of promoting mystical, spiritualistic practices and downplaying Adventism’s distinctive message. Recent books by Rick Howard and Dave Fiedler point to the group as prime evidence that the Emerging Church is infiltrating Adventism with its relativistic, ecumenical philosophy. These authors argue that pious Jesus-talk masks the greatest heresy to hit the Adventist Church since John Harvey Kellogg’s pantheistic ideas in the early 1900s. (It doesn’t appear that these critics have actually attended a One project event. For those interested, dozens of presentations from recent gatherings can be viewed on Vimeo.)
The One project’s response to such critiques can be found on its FAQ page, especially questions 15 and 16. Ministry cofounder Japhet De Oliveira, senior pastor of the Boulder Adventist Church, adds his own twist: “I am deeply critical of the One project myself. The entire leadership team glean comments and suggestions from leaders all over the world. We are constantly growing and changing.”
We Would See Jesus
The Compass Magazine’s goal in attending the One project event is to connect with potential readers and report on the event. I’ll be blogging on our site, sharing my impressions of the weekend.
I’m approaching my time in Boulder with anticipation—and a bit of trepidation. It seems I need to attend events in the Adventist Church these days with my spiritual radar on alert, wary of what theological ditch I might be led into. Will the teachings strengthen the core of my faith or distract me from it? Will I find dangerous philosophies packaged in godly wrappings? Or will I experience genuine spiritual renewal and growth?
After a summer focused on controversies in the church, I’m looking forward to a whole weekend of Jesus.
Because you can’t go wrong talking about Jesus.
Or can you?
[Art: Ecce Homo by Mateo Cerezo, c. 1650, from Wikimedia Commons]