Reimagining Adventism, Part 11a: The Remnant and Absurdity

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Reimagining Adventism, Part 11a: The Remnant and Absurdity

A man may die, nations may rise and fall, but an idea lives on. Ideas have endurance without death. — John F. Kennedy

 

In the previous article, we closed off by moving from the concept of church to the concept of the remnant. During that transition, I took for granted the acceptability of a theological construct like the remnant. However, the truth is remnant theology is one of the least popular beliefs within Adventism itself, with the vast majority of millennial Adventists finding it distasteful.[1] It is likewise one of the doctrines that has given rise to evangelical hostility toward Adventism and damaged our ability to develop a meaningful connection with them.

 

In the same token, remnant theology (the belief that the Seventh-day Adventist church is the only true church at the end of time and a prophetic movement predicted in Revelation) has given birth to a narcissistic sectarian attitude within the church—an attitude which dominated previous generations and is now increasingly shunned by younger ones. All this is to say that the idea of a remnant church at the end of time as encapsulated by the Seventh-day Adventist church is not a popular doctrine at all, even within the ranks of Seventh-day Adventists. To make matters worse, remnant theology carries within itself assumptions and contentions which are repulsive to a post-modern society.

 

Perhaps few examples of the repulsiveness of sectarian ideology are as potent as that of the seemingly endless clash between three great religious traditions all claiming to be the only truth: Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. The hatred, indifference, and violence exhibited by the proponents of these religions has led the culture toward what Nietzche and other influential skeptics have concluded—that religion is a toxic parasite that fuels division where there could otherwise be unity, and violence where reason alone would engender peace. It is no surprise then that Nietzche has been regarded as a sort of forerunner to postmodernism in that the denial of an absolute objective truth was popularized by his pen. While those of a religious persuasion may find this appalling, the more clever student of the culture will discern a desire to lead humanity toward a harmony that religion threatened to oppose.

 

For Nietzche—as well as for most secular, postmodern thinkers—the very proposal of an absolute objective truth is the grounds upon which injustice and oppression are sown, watered and birthed. Thus, in our interactions with the secular world be it through evangelism or Bible study, the very notion of a remnant church that alone has the truth raises immediate red flags that scream of militancy, separatism, and supremacy—all elements which will, in most cases, repel the secular seeker altogether.

 

Of course, there remain those who wish to retain this doctrine regardless of the tensions explored above. Those of such persuasion, however, do so at the expense of relationships. In reaction to this toxic and bigoted stance, emerging generations have trended toward the rejection of remnant theology but have done so at the expense of something valuable (to be explored in the next article). Therefore, in this present article, I want to revisit remnant theology and offer some insights on how to connect the Adventist millennial and secular sojourner to this otherwise repulsive idea. In order to do so, we will lay three simple foundations that will help us reframe the doctrine in the next article. Those three simple foundations are:

  1. The axiomatic permanence and ethereal essence of ideas
  2. The necessary coherence of ideas
  3. The somatic embodiment of ideas

 

The Axiomatic Permanence and Ethereal Essence of Ideas

 

The Civil Rights activist Medgar Evers once said, “You can kill a man but you can’t kill an idea.”[2] This statement is so self-evident it hardly requires any defense. But if you, against the obvious axioms of life, doubt its validity, history is always there to prove you wrong. Time and time again, violence, oppression, and coercion have failed to stamp out the advance of ideas. The birth of Christianity is a perfect example, for as Tertullian said of the persecuted and emaciated church—“the blood of martyrs is… seed.”[3]

 

But this isn’t simply true of Christianity. Many other religious ideologies that have had to endure terrible persecution continue to grow and expand. Likewise, the war on terror has been dubbed an ideological war because the enemy that humanity now faces is not so much an army as an idea. The use of force has done little to stay its tide as Islamic extremism continues to endure. The defeat of the Third Reich in WW2 likewise did not bring an end to Aryanism as the defeat of Jim Crow failed to bring an end to racism. In fact, White Supremacy is on the rise within the very nation that was most instrumental in Hitler’s defeat and which later declared the Jim Crow policies unconstitutional. And if these examples are not enough to convince you, perhaps the fact that despite incredible social and academic ridicule there remains—to this day—a flat earth society, should suffice. There appears to be a universal rule, an axiom if you will when it comes to the permanence of ideas: they do not die.

 

But it’s not simply that ideas are self-evidently immortal but that they are immortal precisely because they are intangible and transcendental. What this means is that ideas cannot be contained within physical barriers. There is no wall you can erect, no fortress, prison cell or border you can establish to restrain or subdue an idea. To the contrary, ideas—like disembodied ghouls—walk gracefully through our barriers and spread through the earth, entering whichever host will have them. There is an ethereal essence to ideas, almost Elysian, that prevents all man-made attempts at their destruction from ever coming to fruition. This reality is what has prompted Malala Yousafsai’s message that Islamic extremism can only ever be defeated through education for the only thing capable of dismantling the discorporeal is not physical, but rather ethereal itself. In short, ideas transcend physics and, as such, cannot be physically restrained or repelled.

 

Understanding this foundational concept—that ideas never die and cannot be restrained—allows us then to enter into the next concept.

 

The Necessary Coherence of Ideas

 

Back in 2008 one of the most popular shows on television was the series Lost. The entire series was about a plane that had crash-landed on a mysterious island filled with secrets and mysteries that kept the viewers on the edge of their seat. However, when the series ended there was an explosion of anger and hostility toward the show’s writers. Somehow, the plotlines in the story had become so complex that the writers got to the point where they didn’t know how to wrap things up. The story lost its coherence to such a degree that as the credits rolled at the conclusion of the series finale, the viewers were left with a mountain of questions and plot holes that had never been resolved.[4] The anger toward the writers was so intense, that eventually one of the show’s writers had to take down his Twitter account due to the overwhelming flurry of hate-messages he kept getting.[5]

 

What this demonstrates is that as human beings not only do we love stories, but we love stories that are coherent and cohesive. Stories riddled with internal contradictions and plot holes are frustrating. When a human being is immersed in a story, the rhythm of the story’s flow is what will keep them and inspire them. Thus, stories without internal consistency lose their impact while those that exemplify this become classics—memorable tales to be passed on from one generation to the next. This necessity of coherence doesn’t simply apply to stories, however, but to ideas as well. Ideas need cohesion in order to be applicable, which means for any idea to be taken seriously, a level of internal consistency is necessary.

 

Perhaps few have captured the importance of this as well as the TED Talks’ founders. TED Talks is an annual international event that invites speakers from all disciplines and backgrounds to share their ideas with the world. However, the TED organizers do not simply invite people to speak—they have a particular speaking model that they require of their guests. This model is taught in the book “TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking” and includes, among other principles, that each and every speech given at their events must communicate one key idea and nothing more. By forcing the speakers to commit to one idea they are harnessing the power of cohesion. For 15 minutes, each speaker communicates one key concept that is supported by illustrations, research, anecdotes, and other sources—all of which tie back to the main idea. The cohesion of ideas has made TED Talks a go-to source for great talks and is also at the core of what makes a speech good versus bad: cohesion.

 

Consequently, despite the impact of postmodernity and its fluid take on ideas and propositional beliefs most people instinctively continue to search for a system of belief that offers them some level of coherence that can afford them the capacity to make sense out of the chaos and absurdity of life. This need for coherence in ideas and coherence in stories is key to understanding why remnant theology is not simply a palpable idea but rather, an incalculably meaningful one.

 

The Somatic Embodiment of Ideas

 

Ideas are imperishable, non-corporeal, and necessarily rhythmic but there is one more aspect to ideas that cannot be ignored—they embody a host and as they do so, that host comes to live the ethereal idea out in tangible and practical ways. Thus, while ideas are abstract concepts they do not remain that way. Instead, they become, through the conduct of their hosts, effectual in the sphere upon which their host has influence. This means that ideas move from the theoretical to the actual the moment they find a somatic manifestation—a person who now embodies and acts out the practical outflows of the idea.

 

As a result, no idea worth its salt is ever purely abstract. Those that tend to be regarded as irrelevant or find acceptance only among the most erudite or academic circles. But for an idea to have legitimate cultural impact, it must move from the abstract to the sensory, from the theoretical to the experiential. It must become a tool through which both the philosopher and stay-at-home parent with bills to pay and kids to raise finds meaning. And regardless of how attractive an idea may sound in the theoretical realm, it is at the level of action and practice that most people will eventually decide its worth. This is one of the reasons why so many rejected communism despite its promise of utopia. Communism sounded good in a theoretical sense, but at the level of action it has never manifested in anything but the opposite of utopia.[6] Likewise, this is the reason why so many today reject Christianity because the sad reality is that Christendom has never manifested a desirable or attractive outcome despite the inherent beauty of the teachings of Jesus. (But I am getting ahead of myself here.)

 

In short, the somatic embodiment of ideas refers to the phenomenon that takes place when an abstract idea is applied tangibly in the chaos of life through the actions of its host. Over time, as more people come to embody a particular idea patterns of outcome develop which are either positive or negative (or more complex). And further along in time, most people come to relate to a particular idea based mostly on its practical outcomes rather than its theoretical promises.

 

Now that we have explored these three concepts we need to bring them together and ask, how do these foundations impact the way we understand remnant theology? We will see this in the next article where with all these foundations in place (all of which are inherently axiomatic) the theological construct itself can easily manifest into a meaningful and necessary perspective of faith. However, for the remaining moments, we have together allow me to demonstrate a simple way in which these perspectives impact remnant theology.

 

John F. Kennedy once said,

 

A man may die, nations may rise and fall, but an idea lives on. Ideas have endurance without death.[7]

 

Captured within this sentence lies the permanence of ideas which we have already explored, and also its transcendence. An idea does not die with the death or end of physical things (people, nations) but rather, transcends and outlives them all. Therefore, if there is to be a remnant church at the end of time, its meaning must necessarily be derived from the realization that whatever it is, it cannot be physical (institutional), but must necessarily transcend the physical. This simple realization demonstrates that the remnant cannot possibly be constrained within the Adventist institution because the remnant is an idea in motion, and ideas cannot be restrained. This simple shift in perspective can provide us in turn with the needed foundation from which to reimagine remnant theology in a way that avoids the sectarian and narcissistic pitfalls of its historic development and at last, experience it in a way that truly glorifies God rather than us and thus, birth a way of being that transforms the world. In short, the problem with much of how we present remnant theology is that we institutionalize it thus “trapping” the idea within the borders of Adventism which damages the cohesive story it aims to tell and in turn results in a practical application that perpetuates injustice rather than correct it. In the next article, I will explore each of these in more detail.

Click here to read the rest of this series on Reimagining Adventism.

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Notes.

[1] See the Barna Group, “Adventist Millennial Study,” p. 42.

[2] Robert Koehler, “You Can’t Kill an Idea.”

[3] Tertullian, “Apologeticus,” ch. 50.

[4] Jarred Keller, Fans Split on Masterful, Frustrating ‘Lost’ Finale.”

[5] Andrew Sims, “Damon Lindelof exits Twitter – possibly due to continued outcry over ‘LOST’ finale.”

[6] Ilya Somin, “Lessons from a century of communism.”

[7] TV Tropes, “You Cannot Kill an Idea.”

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About the author

Marcos Torres

Marcos Torres is a pastor in Western Australia where he lives with his wife and children. He loves talking about faith, culture and Adventism. You can follow his blog at www.thestorychurchproject.com.